Ass Hattery

The ass-hattery is rampant. I cannot add anything meaningful to the cacophony regarding the murderous police state antics by the wizards of evil, but I can without equivocation state that ass-hattery is rampant. Lately… Well, more than lately — for some time, I have felt that the USA is a pile of stinking poo. It’s been sitting there a while. The outside layer got dried and bits of weed and grass began growing in that outer layer giving it the appearance of normal soil, a mini mound, a chapeau upon the earth.

But dig oh so slightly under the shelac and discover a mighty stock of goo underneath festering and filled with maggots. The outer layer has been getting gradually invaded, exposing the muck. Now it’s unmistakable. The rest of the world has been sitting out there, true hillocks most of them, and some of them actual shit piles without any shiny false exterior hiding their foul innards like that in the USA. Now these others see that the US is not true earth, but excrement. Rotting excrement. Gooey, diarrhea excrement. Poop. Feces. Fecal matter. Guano. Coprolite.

Okay, you get the idea. No need to go to the thesaurus for all the words for shit. In fact from now on all one would need to do when they’re trying to find another word for manure is to put a little map of the USA there instead. Voila! Perfection.

This culture…

…makes me want to blow something up.

Link to ban pig cages. Click this link if you want to sign an online petition that will do nothing and go nowhere, but will make you feel better for having done “something.”

I have spent the last 3 days nursing a baby chicken that will probably die. She is in my bra right now, keeping warm against my breast, peeping when I move. She is weak and I’m not sure what is wrong with her. I prize her little beak open with a toothpick and pop in pieces of chick feed. I dip her beak in water laced with probiotics and electrolytes. She was born in an incubator, fed some gel with vitamins in it, and mailed in a box with 24 other babies the day she was born. Her mother lays eggs. Constantly. She will never know this baby and her baby will never know her mother. These eggs are placed in the incubator that makes the babies that get shipped around the world. It takes too much time for Mama to brood those babies. Better to get them in an assembly line and send them out. Oh, and before they’re mailed out, someone who is trained to run their thumb along their vent, essentially their anus and egg tube, ascertains whether they are male or female. If the person isn’t careful they can kill the chick by destroying its internal organs. This sometimes happens, but you know. Collateral damage and all that. So they separate the girls and the boys. The males, no one talks about what happens to those chicks, though in death culture, it’s a pretty good bet that it’s nothing pretty. Those who pass the test are mailed out. They usually toss in a couple of extra because it’s a given that some won’t make it. The weak ones. The weak ones, who if they get as far as the farm store or the home of the well meaning buyer, will likely die soon and get picked on in the process. Nature, you know. She’s a bitch. Except this isn’t fucking nature. It’s fucking insane and I’ve been just grieving it because to me, this entire way of doing things is a perfect metaphor for just how fucked up this culture is. Taking these babies BABIES! and fucking MAILING them. We have no soul.

In any case, I went to the farm store to buy some food for my horses. I peeked in the chicken cage to see the babies and I saw her sitting there, not doing well. A couple of the strong ones went and pecked her, and yeah, if it really were nature and she were out in the wild and were weak, that would be the best place to leave her. But this wasn’t fucking nature. This was a steel cage with red light bulbs and people staring in at these babies, so I opened the door and I scooped her out and I have kept her on me ever since. She has slept two nights sleeping in a bandana around my neck because it keeps her warm. Then tonight I turned on the facebook—a foolish thing to do, because there was this damn online petition to stop the caging of pigs and the photo accompanying it was so awful and so TYPICAL and so like the situation with these baby birds. Right. Sign an online petition and maybe someone will give a shit and ban these cages? Somehow, I doubt it. But the people “signing” it can feel like they did their duty and then get on with their lives. Fuck. Part of me doesn’t begrudge them trying to survive. But part of me does. Part of me begrudges them a damn lot. I’ll say something on the facebook and be that person again who turns the mirror at people and they’ll remove me from their notification list so their posts of online petitions don’t show up in my feed  and then I’ll tell them how useless this is. So turn me off because they don’t want to fucking know and this MAKES ME CRAZY. I post a happy picture of the baby chicks who were healthy frolicking on my desk and everyone gives me a thumbs up. I post all the bullshit that is wrong with this world and it’s crickets. My posts are a veritable field of crickets. Lonely crickets chirping through the night. No one likes the naysayers.

Ack. Why am I writing this? So I might feel a tenuous connection to someone, anyone who might get it. Might understand this frustration and grief. I HATE this culture with my entire being and soul. Saying it doesn’t make it better. I only hope I can save this one baby chick from this fucked up messed up WRONG world that hurts so much I can barely take it. It really and truly makes me want to blow something up.

Addendum the next day: I realized this morning that getting stuck in being angry just keeps the ugly going. Rather, I am going to continue to focus on being decent and loving. This doesn’t mean I’m not angry; just that if I think about blowing things up it just makes me feel worse. Doesn’t the anger come from the deepest love? It’s the manifestation of the anger that can be soul sucking. This culture likes to suck our soul through helplessness and frustration. I will instead put all my focus into loving this little darling right here. She made it through another night. Her breakfast this morning was cottage cheese, which was way easier to feed than chick crumbles. She perked right up then got super sleepy. Her little eyes closed, then her head gradually fell forward onto her little beak. Snore… Oh my goodness, she is the most precious little dear. I am in love with her sweetness. My poodle Oliver is lying on my lap snoring too. The sleepy family. They are wonderful.

Addendum later the next day: She died. I’m lucky I got to spend the time with her that I did. She was a blessing.

All of this is a Tragedy

This essay can also be found here on Huffington Post.

I woke up too early and made the mistake of looking at Facebook. I had disabled the account for years, but reinstated it because it was how the boarders at my barn communicated, and I needed to be able to communicate with them. The timing couldn’t be worse. The election was right around the corner and everyone was doing that dance. I figured out pretty quickly that I could “hide” a post, so that made it more tolerable when I would go online. The thing about Facebook is that it can be easy to turn to it in times of boredom or whatever. I went for years without doing that, but picked it right back up again when I turned the thing back on. What a mistake.

Since the election is over, most of my feed is filled with people literally freaking out and losing their minds over this election. They are so upset that Trump won, and they’re so fearful of the outcome, they are ruining every moment they are in being upset. Yet some of the people in my feed were posting stuff I agree with, describing just how wretched things would have been with Clinton, too. Scrolling through my feed, I came upon one of these posts and read through it. In this post I discovered something I had not known. I knew the US murdered Gaddafi. I knew the politics surrounding this murder. I knew about Clinton laughing about it.

What I didn’t know was that the man had been sodomized and tortured before he was murdered.

Seriously. This human being. This person. He was SODOMIZED and murdered, and then Clinton laughed about it!! This person took pleasure in the torture and murder of another person. And these people, my “friends,” are all upset about this person not being the president? How could any of these people want this person to be their leader? What is wrong with people? She is just as bad as he is. They are BOTH evil! Why can’t people get this?

I can hear the arguments in support of this murder. He was a dictator! He killed people! He tortured too! My response to them? So what? It doesn’t matter. It DOESN’T matter! He could have been as evil as her, but does this justify and make what was done to him okay? It does not. It simply does not. What he did does not justify doing what was done to him. Just because someone was horrible does not give you a free pass to be horrible, too. To do so is pure hypocrisy.

After sharing the post on Facebook I tried to go back to sleep, but couldn’t. I kept thinking about this sodomization of Gaddafi and it made me horribly, horribly sad. I finally called my night owl friend, Debbie. I knew she would be awake. I said to her, “I read that they did something to Gaddafi’s anus. Is this true?” She told me that it was, that he was sodomized and murdered.

Gaddafi was a human being. Clinton was a huge part of this. She laughed about it, and my friends are upset she didn’t win? She is just as bad as Trump. In fact, she is worse. If she were the President-elect, all my friends would be celebrating and back to business as usual, and more murder would go on in our names.

Trump winning isn’t something to mourn. It’s an opportunity. It’s a chance to look in the mirror and see what responsibility we bear in creating this mess, because we all bear some responsibility. Turning our backs on the actions of our so-called leaders is our responsibility. Ignoring the actions of those who murder in our name is our responsibility. Everything that this country does that we make no effort to know about, the way that the poor are stigmatized and ignored, or kicked to the curb because their tents are in our way is our responsibility. The way this planet is being raped and pillaged and destroyed for the gains of a few is our responsibility. So much and more is our responsibility.

Feeling sad about the “pretty” Obama family leaving the White House? Feeling sentimental and worrying that your new President isn’t “Presidential” enough? Here is a snapshot of what was done in your name by the pretty President while you were busy choosing what car to buy or where to send your kid to preschool:

* Put boots on the ground in Syria , despite 16 times saying “no boots on the ground.”
* Despite campaign pledges, planned a $1 trillion program to add more nuclear weapons to the US arsenal in the next 30 years.
* Started a new war on terror – this one on ISIS.
* Dropped bombs in 7 Muslim countries; and then bragged about it.
* Said, “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being.”
* Bragged about his use of drones: I’m “really good at killing people.”
* Deported a modern-record 2 million immigrants.
* Signed the Monsanto Protection Act into law.
* Started a new war in Iraq.
* Initiated, and personally oversees a ‘Secret Kill List’.
* Pushed for war on Syria while siding with al-Qaeda .
* Backed neo-Nazis in Ukraine.
* Supported Israel’s wars and occupation of Palestine.
* Deployed Special Ops to 134 countries, compared to 60 under Bush.
* Did a TV commercial promoting “clean coal.”
* Drastically escalated the NSA spying program.
* Signed the NDAA into law, making it legal to assassinate Americans without charge or trial.
* Given Bush absolute immunity for everything.
* Pushed for a TPP Trade Pact.
* Signed more executive memorandums than any other president in history.
* Sold $30 billion of weapons to the dictatorship in Saudi Arabia.
* Signed an agreement for 7 military bases in Colombia.
* Opened a military base in Chile.
* Touted nuclear power, even after the disaster in Japan.
* Opened up deepwater oil drilling, even after the BP disaster.
* Mandated the Insider Threat Program which orders federal employees to report suspicious actions of their colleagues.
* Defended body scans and pat-downs at airports.
* Signed the Patriot Act extension into law.
* Launched 20,000 Airstrikes in his first term.
* Continued Bush’s rendition program.
* Said the U.S. is the “one indispensable nation” in the world.
* Waged war on Libya without congressional approval.
* Started a covert, drone war in Yemen.
* Escalated the proxy war in Somalia.
* Escalated the CIA drone war in Pakistan.
* Sharply escalated the war in Afghanistan.
* Repealed the Propaganda ban, making it legal to spread government propaganda via news outlets.
* Assassinated 4 US citizens with drone strikes.

Source:-
https://www.stpete4peace.org/obama-fact-sheet

One they missed was failing to close Guantanamo.

Cry and whine and go lick your perceived wounds, or try to do something different. There is the challenge. Good luck with it.

Mass Shootings and Profit

After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, I wrote this article for Huffington Post about the reason we can’t get changes in gun legislation is profit. The profiteers exploit the fear of citizens to ensure legislation never passes and the deaths continue. Here we are again over three years later! and STILL no changes. Every time one of these shootings happen, the weapon profiteers make a killing.

I get the fear of our government. I understand the anger and frustration Americans feel as those in power take from all of us, but gun protection legislation needs to happen. Stopping it just keeps the wealthy coffers full and decent people end up dead.

To read the article, go here…

A Society of Bodies Running Around with No Heads

I realized today thinking about writing this that I have not had television in my home in over a decade. I have not missed it, and in fact whenever I’m around it, it makes me jumpy. I do not like it. It’s invasive and disconnecting. This is interesting considering what I was thinking about writing about, which is this feeling of disconnection at the end of a long, extremely busy period.

Over the last several weeks, I have found myself noticing things and thinking to myself, “How did I forget about that?” I would see tire marks in some mud along a curb with bits of gravel smudged into it, or a brown bird sitting on a wire cheeping, or thick grass swaying in the wind and rain, and I would stare at whatever thing it was in that moment and marvel, wondering, “How could I forget this?” After a time I started putting these noticings together and became curious as to their origin. “What is wrong with me?” I’m running too much, going too fast, too disconnected from the world. How did I forget the way that the color of the bark on a tree is darker and lighter, the depth of hue changing with the texture in the tree’s outer covering?

One afternoon driving home from the high school where I have been student teaching, I was sitting at a traffic light waiting for it to turn green when I turned and noticed a car sitting next to me also waiting for the light to turn. The car was older and kind of dirty. Faded mud streaked the metal behind the front wheel well. The tire had no hub cap. I glanced inside the passenger side window and saw faded upholstery. The sun was warm and I could imagine the smell inside that car. I sat there in those moments staring, and it was as if time had slowed down. Again, I had that sense of remembering, recalling this physical thing and thinking, “I forgot that, too.”

It dawned on me then that I was disconnected from earth. Before I began this grad program, I would have days where I felt like I was running and getting nowhere, usually related to driving to picking up my daughter, then driving to get the other daughter, then driving to get to some activity, then driving to go see my horse, then driving home, hastily throwing together a meal while picking up the house, taking care of the pets and children, setting things up for the following morning, then doing it all again. But there would be time in between this when I could reconnect, get back in the garden, head out into the woods for a hike, or spend enough time at the stable that I could pull the string holding my balloon head out from my body and drag it down and reconnect it to myself again, like an astronaut connecting the helmet to her spacesuit. Turn and click.

The master’s degree on top of that changed everything. I added days of classes on top of student teaching on top of working on top of parenting and animals. Activities got whittled down to nothing. My horse got almost no attention from me. Writing all but disappeared.

And here I am now and the string holding my head is long and thready. I am not attached to my body. I am not grounded. I feel like I’m falling apart. My attention has gone to hell. I want a vacation, but that would require more effort than I can muster. As was always the case in the past when I had long periods of intensity and then a break, I am getting sick. Today is my last day of student teaching and I can barely keep my head up. Three weeks ago I sprained my ankle. Last week I fell down my basement stairs. I am so disconnected, my body is just going on without my head and it’s not a good thing.

For me, television puts me in this place without even having to have grad school on top of an already too busy life. It makes me feel that same disconnection. I really hate it. I wonder if it disconnects other people as well, but they’re too disconnected to notice it. I’m sure it does. We are a society of bodies running around with no heads.

Yesterday I had acupuncture followed by a chiropractic adjustment. I needed both. Usually in acupuncture, I fall into a semi-comatose sleep that leaves me dazed but reconnected. I never got there. My daughter was in the appointment with me, and while she was somewhat distracting, it was more the head rest that was just uneven enough from the table to hurt the neck and shoulder that already hurt after my tumble down the stairs. My gown kept falling off my right butt cheek and the chill wasn’t pleasant. My nose filled then dripped. Isabel got me a tissue. I reached around with my less needled arm and stuffed it into the dripping nostril. This made my face fill, pressure building under my eyes and through my cheeks. All of this coupled with the uncomfortable head rest kept was so disagreeable that I finally gave up, pulling the tissue out and letting the mucous fall on the floor. Drip. Drip. Drip. I let the head feel misery in the face rest. I held my arm out to an angle to relieve the ache in the shoulder. I let my ass freeze in the air conditioning always too cold.

Lying there, I realized that I cannot remain this disconnected. I have to slow down. I can’t live in a city where the traffic app on my phone is solid red every single night and getting anywhere takes four times as long as it should. There are too many humans in this same state and I fear that too many of them are not even aware that they are zombies with helium heads. It’s scary for me imagining being in a place where so many people are so cut off from themselves and the earth they inhabit. It makes it easier for them to do things thoughtlessly with all the other zombies in their path. We are all a bunch of crazy pinballs banging into one another, the strings from our heads getting tangled and torn. It’s no way to live. Something has to give or the giving will be me. I’ll be at the end of my life, my children will be grown, and I’ll have no idea what happened along the way.

Population Reduction

I read another article today about how humans need to change their eating habits if we are going to survive. In it, the author presumed a human population of 10 billion by 2050.

What I would like to know is why the population numbers are taken as a given and considering reducing population numbers is never even explored. If humans really want to make a meaningful impact, we are going to have to do more than change our eating habits. We are going to have to reduce our populations to much smaller numbers. We are going to have to accept that some of us cannot have children. That is the price we all have to pay in order to have any possibility of survival (which is slim anyway, considering our many destructive impacts on this planet).

Of course, any time anyone brings up the possibility of reducing population everyone starts screaming and jumping up and down that we are going to infringe on rights or force poorer populations to stop having families, but overreacting and assuming the worst-case scenario doesn’t alter the current trajectory and distracts from the reality that if we don’t do it, nature is going to do it for us, and it’s going to do it in a much crueler manner than we could. Death by starvation is not pretty. Humans cannot continue living as they have. Humans with greater resources cannot continue living like their needs are the only needs, and ignoring the entire planet in the process.

It’s a fact–the planet is not limitless and living like it is will ensure its destruction.

Portland is so Friendly

Portland is so friendly. There is a show about how hip and nice everyone is. Lots of people are moving here. But shhh, don’t mention that the livability everyone raves about is virtually gone. Rents are sky high. Traffic is abominable. Food prices remain stagnantly high even though the price of gas has been consistently low for years. Jobs are scarce and wages are below national averages, but hey! We have a great t.v. show named after us and that’s just swell, right? If we told the truth about how Portland really is, all the people who think it is so wonderful might not make the move and the city “leaders” would lose all that commerce kickback and that would be bad. Other Americans watch the special show and see the Subarus at the stop signs waving one another through, and the friendly restaurant customers making sure they know the chicken’s history before they will eat it, and think Oh! I want to be in a place like this!

Let me you in on a little secret: It’s all an act. Portlanders aren’t really so friendly; they just want you to think they are friendly. It’s friendliness for an audience: I’ll speak really loudly in the grocery store offering you the cantaloupe we both reached for so everyone knows how friendly I really am; I’ll wave through the car in front of me so all the cars at the stop sign can see I’m friendly while ignoring the 18 cars stuck behind me; I’ll drive really slowly behind the bike in the middle of the road going 4 miles per hour because Hey! I’m chill with with it. Nevermind that the biker isn’t friendly at all and will chase you down and flip your ass off if you dare go around him because “sharing the road” means people driving cars are all assholes who deserve to die while bikers are revered Gods who can do whatever they want. They get a pass from the courtesy rules of Portland because they are riding bikes and that is better for the planet, right?

If I seem sarcastic (and how could I not, because I am being incredibly sarcastic), it is because I have lived in Oregon my entire life and Portland off and on since 1988 and I know that the marketing campaign that paints Portland as it is is complete bullshit. I’ve known this for years. Anyone who has lived here most of their adult life knows it is bullshit. We talk about it being bullshit. So why now am I suddenly discussing the bullshit on my blog?

I live in the Overlook neighborhood of north Portland. I don’t live in the Overlook neighborhood proper overlooking the ridge for which the neighborhood gets its name. I live over toward Arbor Lodge. It is less ostentatious, more racially diverse, and less economically advantaged over here, but that is changing rapidly.

Mine is currently a BadAss neighborhood. A few years ago, some guys made a Portland Badassness Map. They put together all the little things they thought made the different neighborhoods in Portland cool and hip, that is Badass. See it here. My neighborhood is moving up that list. I think their criteria included the ability to walk to bars, beers, food carts, strip bars, and coffee, but really it comes down to the most gentrified and expensive. (They could have sorted it by which neighborhood had cast out the most poor and colored people and replaced them with white educated people and it would have kept the same parameters. The Pearl (and these italics are so that the name is stated with a hint of sarcasm) is a “Hella Badass” neighborhood, the Pearl being the most stolen-from-the-poor-and-given-to-the-rich-neighborhood of all and one of the reasons all those people keep flooding in.)

I realize that in my neighborhood I am one of the gentrifiers. I didn’t know I was doing it when I did it. I just wanted a house I could afford and when I bought my tiny little house that had been a rental for 20 years I had no idea that my neighborhood would soon be a hotbed of coolness and that the value of my house would nearly double within three years, but such is the nature of gentrification. One of the things I valued about the neighborhood when I bought it was the fact that there were many brown faces walking by. Lately, the brownness is disappearing. I also valued the fact that all of the children in my daughter’s school weren’t wealthy. I’ll bet that will disappear too as the prices continue to climb.

But I digress. I was on a rampage about the Overlook Neighborhood Association. I never did go there, did I?

So I live in the Overlook neighborhood and there is an Overlook Neighborhood Association. They hold meetings and print a paper that is favorable to building ugly cement monstrosities along Interstate Avenue that don’t fit with the character of the city or the neighborhood. Basically, I think they may be a bunch of rich assholes who moved here from somewhere else. All of the meetings have been when I have either had to work or could not find a babysitter so I haven’t gone, though it is my goal to attend one, especially since they have decided to vehemently oppose the homeless camp at the bottom of the overlook ridge. They claim they would like the camp to be “managed responsibly,” but really that just means they want to move them out. Here is a quote from one of the emails I get from the association:

The Overlook Neighborhood Association Board at its monthly meeting on Tuesday discussed the homeless camps at N Greeley Avenue near N Interstate Avenue. Board members expressed particular concern that the city has neither communicated with the neighborhood nor followed through on its promises to manage the camp responsibly.

Therefore, the Board today sent the following letter to Mayor Charlie Hales and members of City Council asking that the city immediately close the camp, exercise emergency authority to open humane shelters throughout the city, and help campers relocate into them or other more suitable places.

Yes. Get them out of here. We don’t like the way they are, all homeless and whatnot, because homeless people don’t act like we do. They live in tents and are dirty and all that. They pee outside! So we want you to shut them away somewhere else. If you can’t do that, then we will just have to do this:

About 75 people attended the Overlook Neighborhood Association special meeting on Wednesday to discuss the homeless camps on N Greeley Avenue near N Interstate Avenue. The OKNA Board heard from a couple of representatives of Hazelnut Grove and about two dozen neighborhood residents. They provided thoughtful, compassionate ideas about how the neighborhood association should respond to the current city plans for the homeless campers.

After the neighborhood testimony, the board discussed the options and voted to take two steps in parallel:

First, we will send a letter to the city reiterating our opposition to allowing the camp to exist on a site that is unhealthy and unsafe. If, over the neighborhood’s objection, the city chooses to issue a permit for the camp, we request that it include provisions that will address concerns raised by neighbors and will improve health and safety for all. Among them, we will ask:

That campers be required to register under their legal name as residents so that the city and neighbors know who is living there. That there be a cap on the number of campers allowed. That a firm deadline be established by which the camp will shut down no later than the expiration of the city’s emergency declaration in October 2016. The mayor’s office has repeatedly stated that this is a temporary, short-term solution. It’s time to define what that means. The full letter and list of requests is in the works. It should be available early next week. The Board will post it to the OKNA website and send it out to our email list.

Second, we will consult with an attorney regarding our legal options to address the city’s plans through litigation if necessary. We remain deeply disappointed that the city has refused to engage with us in any meaningful way and regret that legal action seems to be the only course forward to have our concerns addressed by the city.

Essentially, this is the thoughtful and compassionate view of my neighbors who care: that we get to know everyones’ names (even though we don’t know all of our own neighbors’ names, but hey, homeless people are all criminals), they have to leave by next year (because money and jobs are plentiful in beautiful Portland and they block our view), and since you haven’t done what we want all along, we are hiring a lawyer to sue your asses and send those skanky homeless people packing. They ruin our view of the industrial wasteland along the river! But if we say we are compassionate, we are, and that’s what counts, right?

The City of Portland gave Hyatt Hotels something millions of city dollars to build an ugly hotel by the convention center so more people could come and stay here before moving here and making the city ever less livable by the second and so that the NBA would hold an all star game here, because THAT is important (more traffic, more people, more homeless hidden away in outer Gresham or somewhere). The City cares about its rich friends who build hotels. They are busy! They are important! They invest! The City is too busy being busy and important to be spending the money of its gentrified citizens making sure that people without money have a warm and dry place to live or food in their bellies. Most of those gross homeless people are probably mentally ill too, so the truly compassionate thing to do would be to just kill them because they aren’t able to fully participate in the capitalist dream anyway. Although I did discover in attempting to find links to back up this claim that there are lawsuits trying to block the payment to Hyatt. I am heartened that some people can see that it is fully insane, but my cynical self supposes it has less to do with any real compassion and more to do with hubris.

Meanwhile, in Iran, part of the Axis of Evil, residents have created spaces where those in need can take the excess from those who have too much. See the BBC article here. These spontaneous charity drives were created to help those in need. Interestingly, as these charity walls increased in number, the citizens saw them as evidence that their government wasn’t doing enough to help people in need. Imagine that, expecting those who govern us to take care of everyone rather than making sure their views aren’t sullied or that hoteliers have a free rein to build.

I can see such walls popping up in Portland. However, here citizens would not see such charity as proof of lack by their government, but as proof of how good we are. We could make a Portlandia episode out of it. Portland, the do-gooder city, gets rid of its old clothes and helps out the poor! Aren’t we wonderful? Why don’t you move here and join us? When you get here, make sure to kick out the homeless people you probably displaced when you drove up the costs of living because such an eyesore would ruin the image you have created of yourself as friendly and compassionate. Welcome!

The Customer is Always Replaceable

This is a repost from a blog posting I wrote in 2008. I don’t go to Taco Hell now either, but I like the rant so I’m reposting.

The Customer is Always Right. I used to see this sign in businesses. The theory behind it is a pleasant one, although I usually only saw it invoked as a means for bullies to treat customer service representatives like crap. But today, it seems the idea has gone completely out the window. It’s like stores don’t give a shit anymore if we don’t patronize their businesses; 800 people will be standing in line behind us if we don’t like the service that we get. It’s this way with stores, restaurants, customer call centers, you name it. I don’t eat out much. For one thing, it’s expensive as hell. For another, I heard Portland has had an outbreak of Hepatitis A and that it is often spread by restaurants. Since I had to get a shot in the butt in 1990 for an e-coli outbreak, and the thought of eating someone else’s poo is just more than I can manage, I avoid restaurants.

But sometimes you’re across town and starving as hell and ready to run people over your blood sugar is so low and you’re willing to eat all the things you wouldn’t normally touch from a mile away because you’re that hungry. That was me today. I recognized intellectually that I felt like a wretch and I didn’t care because I needed food.  So I went to Taco Hell. Yeah, I know it’s gross. But it’s cheap and they have this burrito with rice in it and I don’t get cheese so I went. The service was horrendous. The charming “customer service” representative who took my order informed me that the burrito I like “cannot be grilled.”

Huh? I told her when I’ve patronized the Taco Hell by my house they always grill it for me. Well, she sneered, that’s another franchise. Uh, okay. Small problem. When I’m hungry, I don’t care how big a bitch I am, at least when I’m that hungry. And I was that hungry. But I’m working hard on living in the moment and I did not want to be the bully customer who makes a worker feel like shit. I sat there in my car waiting to pull up to the window and thinking how irrelevant all this is and what a waste of my energy, but I was still getting annoyed. So I decided to be calm, but I still wanted to know why can’t they just grill my fucking burrito?

I pulled up and asked the kind lady how come they couldn’t grill my burrito. She said it is just a store policy. I said that isn’t an answer, it doesn’t tell me why the policy is in place. She said she didn’t know. Across the way a man who was probably a higher up manager because he wasn’t wearing the fancy Taco Hell outfit but instead had on a cheap shirt and tie came over and asked the problem. I started to say there wasn’t a problem, I just wanted to know why my burrito couldn’t be grilled. He said they are not allowed to grill them, company policy. I said that I get them grilled at the Taco Hell by my house. He said they aren’t supposed to. Then the girl helping said something to him and he turned to me and said it was a health issue. Huh? I said how in the world is it a health issue? He said it’s like giving them a cup and asking them to fill it. It has my germs on it. I was VERY confused at this point. My lack of blood sugar addled brain couldn’t quite muster what was going on. I said how in the world can it be a health issue to grill a freaking burrito? It’s in the restaurant, you put on all the ingredients. I never touch it. He just walked away.

At this point, I didn’t give a shit if my burrito was grilled or not. I just wanted to eat. I sat and waited until the girl handed me the bag. I asked for my water and drove off. I pulled to the side of the parking lot to eat it and it was grilled. Weird.

The main thing I kept thinking about after all this was that had I threatened to take my business elsewhere, they would have said fine, go ahead. We don’t need your two dollars. Companies have gotten so big that the customer isn’t right anymore. Everyone puts up and shuts up about crappy customer service because there is nowhere else to go where it will be any better. This is another byproduct of our one-size-fits-all one dimensional corporate society. Hate waiting on the phone on hold for 20 minutes when you call the phone company? Fine, go somewhere else. And while you’re at it we’ll charge you $200 because you’re in a lopsided bullshit contract.  Hate the piece of crap you bought at the Dollar Store? Too bad for you. No refunds.  Who cares if the state law allows you to return a defective item to a store with no refunds. You planning to sue us over a dollar? Don’t want to wait in line at a store with no employees? Fine, leave. Better yet, stand in line for 10 minutes, then leave. See if we care. Want your burrito grilled and we won’t do it?  Go fuck yourself. We don’t pay our workers enough to care. We don’t hire enough workers so they’re all pissed off all the time. Go somewhere else. Again, see if we care. That’s capitalism. It leaves no one alive.

I know this is a cynical bitchy rant. I shouldn’t complain without offering some solution. But I don’t know what the solution is. I go out of my way to avoid patronizing monster corporations, but sometimes it’s inevitable.  Sometimes it’s just being so damn hungry I’ll eat a rat in the gutter or Taco Hell. Those are the times those places get my business. I never go to Walmart or McDonald’s ever, and I mean never. They could be the last businesses on earth and I wouldn’t go there. Maybe there isn’t a solution unless enough people say enough, and judging by the lines in SkankDonald’s and Taco Hell or the mass of cars in the SkankMart parking lot, that isn’t going to happen anytime soon. In the meantime I guess I’ll rant on my blog.

Our Illusion of Connectivity

Three years ago I wrote a blog post about the illusion of connectivity. It said:

“I go to Facebook. I go to email. I check all the addresses. I go back to Facebook. I check my blog. I go back to Facebook. In all, I find not what I am looking for. It is not satisfying. I see posts I share. I read here and there. On email I get Truthout, read through the articles. Find one that is really interesting. Read to the bottom. Post on Facebook. Go back to email. Go to Facebook. Read Salon, click on the link to “Continue Reading.” Go back to email. Nothing. Something from Powell’s. Something from Bug of the Day. Go back to Facebook. Share a picture of some cute animal or funny thing from George Takei, but overall, no connection. Not really.

To keep reading, please click here.

When Ice is Fire

Humans, humans. Going about their business. Living their lives. Making their sounds. Taking up more than their share of space everywhere. Assuming they are the center of everything. Ignoring the meteor heading right toward Earth.

Ah, there she goes again, getting all caught up in that climate change hype again.

Yeah, that’s me. Certain our future at this point is a ball of fire headed in a trajectory straight toward the center of the planet. I keep leaning toward the possibility of something else, then turn my face toward the sky and see that meteor hell bound for us and feel that reality forcing me to acknowledge its existence. I feel that meteor’s heat upon my skin. I see the path it is burning and it is impossible not to feel a little frightened, not to feel overwhelmed by the probability of it all, not to feel ashamed for my race, not to feel desperate to do something, anything besides sit back and let it happen.

A huge West Antarctic ice sheet is starting a glacially slow, unstoppable collapse. Alarmed scientists say this means even more sea level rise than previously expected.

Genius, humanity. Good for you.

Privatized Suffering

This excerpt comes from the John Steppling blog. Disheartening as it is, this is truth.

Privatized Suffering
by John Steppling

“The white liberals today are defending Obama and Hillary because they don’t recognize their own dead zone and because they really don’t care about the poor anymore than the ruling 1% do. They don’t care about the targeted abuse of the poor, especially black and brown, and they are able to provide expensive education for their own children, so they don’t care about the absence of education for marginal classes. And that same expensive education is the one that trains people for shopping, for compliance to authority, and to think just like they think. The reproduction of a dead *now* is by design. Liberals are not in conflict with Reagan values, they only tell themselves they are. This is intellectual three card Monte.”

Keep reading here…

Bully Nation

Bully Nation  (Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission)
by By Yale Magrass and Charles Derber, Truthout | Op-Ed

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has appropriately been called a bully. This has implications well beyond Christie. His calling out has the potential to shift the growing public conversation about bullying from a psychological narrative about abusive individuals to a new discourse on institutionalized bullying, carried out by ruling institutions and elites.

The current focus on bullying – like much of the discussion about guns and gun violence – has tended to focus on individuals and mental health. It is a therapeutic narrative. Bullying is seen primarily as a psychological problem of individuals. The victim needs therapy, better communication or adaptation skills. Bullies are characterologically flawed and need therapy or perhaps legal punishment.

But there is little or no discussion of larger social or cultural forces in the United States and the American institutions or leaders who bully other countries or workers and citizens at home. Institutionalized bullying is endemic to a capitalist hegemonic nation like the United States and creates death and suffering on a far greater scale than personal, everyday bullying, as important and toxic as the latter might be.

Moreover, much of the everyday bullying that is the current media focus must be understood as the inevitable consequence of a militarized corporate system that requires a popular mind-set of bullying to produce profit and power. The individual bully is the creation of the bully nation.

The United States openly views itself as the world police force, a benign hegemon morally ordained to impose its interests and values on the rest of the world and justified in the name of freedom, human rights and antiterrorism to do to weaker countries what it wants. It spends more on weapons than its next 20 largest competitors combined. President Obama proclaimed “[S]o long as I’m Commander-in-Chief, we will sustain the strongest military the world has ever known.” To peasants living in small countries in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia – where the United States has sent armed forces, used drones to bomb, and often overthrown the government – polls show that a majority of people see the United States as the greatest threat to their security, and fear it. Hegemony here seamlessly unfolds as morally sanctioned, institutionalized bullying.

America makes heroes of bomber pilots like John McCain and offers them as role models for children and adolescents to emulate. They see the media applaud the bullying behavior of their own government that dispatches police, soldiers, FBI and CIA agents into foreign nations to kill and wreak havoc – from Afghanistan to Somalia to Columbia. If you kill enough, whether in a just war or not, you may win the Congressional Medal of Honor.

If bullying brings esteem to a nation, then surely that is a behavior to strive for. Potential recruits for an aggressive military need to be immunized against scruples over violence and bullying. This becomes an implicit part of their education, whether or not it is ever publicly admitted. Accordingly, schools and adult authorities often turn a blind eye toward bullying. After two world wars, the Army lamented that a majority of combat soldiers never fired a weapon. They called for a change in the training of soldiers and the education and upbringing of children to correct that. By that measure, they have been successful. In Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, the majority of combat soldiers killed.

Sports has played a vital part in preparing children for institutionalized aggression, bullying and combat. In football, the goal is to attack the opponent and knock them down, a hard hit that keeps the opponent dazed on the ground is sometimes encouraged by coaches and cheered by the crowd. In schools and campuses, the athletes are often the popular heroes and also the bullies, involved too often in sexual violence or drinking binges in bars that lead to fights or crimes.

Only recently would they expect sanctions against bullying. Indeed, the more they bullied, the more popular they would be. Even before World War I, President Theodore Roosevelt insisted that elite universities like Harvard would have to enhance their football teams if America were to dominate the world. He declared: “We cannot afford to turn out college men who shrink from physical effort or a little physical pain.” For the nation needed men with “the courage that will fight valiantly against the foes of the soul and the foes of the body.”

The aggression and competitiveness of bullying pervades civilian life as well as military. As the beacon for the rest of the world to emulate, the culture the United States wishes to export is capitalism. Capitalism’s staunchest defenders proclaim competition to be its fundamental operating principle. The monopolistic corporations and the wealthiest 1% have been the most aggressive, bullying anyone who stood in their way by outsourcing their jobs, lowering wages, stripping away benefits and firing those seeking to organize unions.

The bully demonizes their victim. In American capitalism, elites have long defined the losers in the competitive struggle with the words used by Mitt Romney to defame the 47%: undeserving “moochers.” They are weak and lazy and don’t have the stuff to prevail. As victims, they deserve their fate and must submit to the triumphant. Those, like the wolves on Wall Street who bully their way to the top, should be there; those who couldn’t or don’t, belong where they are.

Bullying is the means through which the corporate empires were built. Carnegie and Rockefeller intimidated and threatened their rival capitalists to cede them an ever-larger share of the market. They brought in Pinkerton goons to beat striking workers into submission. Workers were forced to either sign “yellow dog” contracts and pledge not to join unions, or be thrown into the street. Similar bullying practices continue today. Corporations warn entire communities they will shut down factories and undermine the local economy if they do not accept low wages and minimal regulations. Banks entice consumers to borrow through predatory loans and then raise interest rates and threaten foreclosure. The corporations are clear they have the power and will not tolerate challenges from weaklings who fail to know their place.

Bullying enhances the ideology that the strong are strong and the weak are weak, and each deserves to be where they are. This attitude pervades America’s culture, government, military, corporations, media, schools, entertainment, athletics and everyday life. The first step to a solution is shifting the conversation to institutional bullying, moving beyond simply a therapeutic narrative to a political one aiming toward transformative social change. As long as the United States embraces militarism and aggressive capitalism, systemic bullying and all its impacts – abroad and at home – will persist as a major crisis.

Tenuous Connection

This article was published on Huffington Post and can be seen here. Regular readers of my blog will recognize it as part of what I wrote yesterday.

Tenuous Connection

How will you and I connect if there is no electricity? How will you and I connect if there are no phones? How will a world made of 9 billion people exist when the only means of communication is the same as that which was available in 1850 (or 1750, when there was no postal service)? What if we no longer have motorized transport in most of the world? We would be stuck with our legs, or bicycles. Where would all of this leave us, back in some-distant-past BC because so few people know how to ride horses or use animals to pull wagons? In this, the third world has already outpaced us. How quickly the strands of our amorphously tangled web of connection would fall away if there was nothing to give us the power to connect with one other as we do in the modern world.

Human “leaders” seem hell bent on war and destruction, and it is not implausible their actions could lead to nuclear war. Fukishima is leaking and we can’t stop it. Weather patterns have changed so drastically it is not just possible, but highly probable that many major catastrophic weather events will occur in the near future.

Finish this article by clicking here.

My Own Little Conspiracy Theory

I honest to God believe Obama was planned. The nasty plutocrats got together at some Skull and Bones meeting and decided to find some desperate, power hungry guy who would look good to liberals and get him to run for President on a platform of change, tell them everything they wanted to hear, knowing full well they would embrace him and ignore the signs that were there all along. In public, the neocons fought him, created the tea party to hate him, riled up everyone to think they were against him, then laughed all the way to the bank. He’s been worse than Bush on just about everything except maybe gay marriage, but because of issues like gay marriage and the fact he told us all what we wanted to hear, we let him get away with it. This is what choosing the lesser of two evils looks like, folks. Get used to it. We were played and from this vantage point, they won.

It’s About Winning

This article has been published at the Huffington Post and can be seen here.

What I realized yesterday after I saw the cover of a newspaper filled with cheering American faces at the capture of the Boston suspect is that the reason these crimes are ignored and expanded is that Americans as a whole (for the most part, minus some small dissent) agree with the policies. Ours is a bloodthirsty, punitive, and judgmental nation. Full of hypocrisy, we pound our chests in glory at the murder of those we feel have sinned against us, while concurrently seeking to murder ourselves, using revenge as justification, regardless whether there is accuracy in those beliefs, and in spite of our own atrocities against other nations. Our leaders are simply symbols for all of us.

To keep reading, click here.

America’s Grave Double Standard

If 3 Americans are killed in a sporting event, it is an act of terrorism. The US kills children with drones, and it is collateral damage. Our country MURDERS CHILDREN! I am not a wingnut conspiracy theorist. This is a fact. We, the unholy abusers, scream so foul when anyone dares harm an American, but we have no problem killing the children of brown people in nations where we have the holier than thou audacity to decide it is okay to MURDER CHILDREN, claiming somehow it is justified in our “war on terror.” WE are the terrorists!

How would you feel if some country came and killed your child? Some country that doesn’t even have the guts to allow an actual human to place that child in its sights? Instead we let some “soldier” sit in an air-conditioned room and murder children from afar, kind of like a video game. How would you feel? No wonder people in these countries want to terrorize us. I understand their sentiments. It isn’t Islam, it’s humanity. If someone killed my child for some fucked up, power grab, political reason, I would want to destroy them. Let’s just maintain the war machine. Killing their children ensures their rage, ensures new terrorists, keeps the war machine growing.

I admit it. I don’t want to be a part of this country, the greatest abusers on earth. We should be ashamed. We should all be ashamed of the terror we inflict on innocent people so that a few plutocrats can buy some more yachts. In our complicity, we are responsible. Letting this happen and refusing to speak out makes us accomplices.

If you can stand to look at the sad picture of a toddler lying dead in the sand, read THIS ARTICLE. I have taken from it the names, ages, and genders of children killed by the United States. It should turn your stomach. Is it okay to kill a child of 2 if her last name is Mohammed, is that it? Is it okay because she is brown? What is your justification? I don’t have a justification, you might say. It isn’t me! But if you support our military, if you support our government, if you support OBAMA, you must somehow justify this murder. Read these names. Read their ages. Then ask yourself if any of it is okay. If your answer is yes, at least be honest and admit it that you support murder.

PAKISTAN

Noor Aziz, age 8, male
Abdul Wasit, age 17, male
Noor Syed, age 8, male
Wajid Noor, age 9, male
Syed Wali Shah, age 7, male
Ayeesha, age 3, female
Qari Alamzeb, age 14, male
Shoaib, age 8, male
Hayatullah KhaMohammad, age 16, male
Tariq Aziz, age 16, male
Sanaullah Jan, age 17, male
Maezol Khan, age 8, female
Nasir Khan, male
Naeem Khan, male
Naeemullah, male
Mohammad Tahir, age 16, male
Azizul Wahab, age 15, male
Fazal Wahab, age 16, male
Ziauddin, age 16, male
Mohammad Yunus, age 16, male
Fazal Hakim, age 19, male
Ilyas, age 13, male
Sohail, age 7, male
Asadullah, age 9, male
khalilullah, age 9, male
Noor Mohammad, age 8, male
Khalid, age 12, male
Saifullah, age 9, male
Mashooq Jan, age 15, male
Nawab, age 17, male
Sultanat Khan, age 16, male
Ziaur Rahman, age 13, male
Noor Mohammad, age 15, male
Mohammad Yaas Khan, age 16, male
Qari Alamzeb, age 14, male
Ziaur Rahman, age 17, male
Abdullah, age 18, male
Ikramullah Zada, age 17, male
Inayatur Rehman, age 16, male
Shahbuddin, age 15, male
Yahya Khan, age 16 |male
Rahatullah, age 17, male
Mohammad Salim, age 11, male
Shahjehan, age 15, male
Gul Sher Khan, age 15, male
Bakht Muneer, age 14, male
Numair, age 14, male
Mashooq Khan, age 16, male
Ihsanullah, age 16, male
Luqman, age 12, male
Jannatullah, age 13, male
Ismail, age 12, male
Taseel Khan, age 18, male
Zaheeruddin, age 16, male
Qari Ishaq, age 19, male
Jamshed Khan, age 14, male
Alam Nabi, age 11, male
Qari Abdul Karim, age 19, male
Rahmatullah, age 14, male
Abdus Samad, age 17, male
Siraj, age 16, male
Saeedullah, age 17, male
Abdul Waris, age 16, male
Darvesh, age 13, male
Ameer Said, age 15, male
Shaukat, age 14, male
Inayatur Rahman, age 17, male
Salman, age 12, male
Fazal Wahab, age 18, male
Baacha Rahman, age 13, male
Wali-ur-Rahman, age 17, male
Iftikhar, age 17, male
Inayatullah, age 15, male
Mashooq Khan, age 16, male
Ihsanullah, age 16, male
Luqman, age 12, male
Jannatullah, age 13, male
Ismail, age 12, male
Abdul Waris, age 16, male
Darvesh, age 13, male
Ameer Said, age 15, male
Shaukat, age 14, male
Inayatur Rahman, age 17, male
Adnan, age 16, male
Najibullah, age 13, male
Naeemullah, age 17, male
Hizbullah, age 10, male
Kitab Gul, age 12, male
Wilayat Khan, age 11, male
Zabihullah, age 16, male
Shehzad Gul, age 11, male
Shabir, age 15, male
Qari Sharifullah, age 17, male
Shafiullah, age 16, male
Nimatullah, age 14, male
Shakirullah, age 16, male
Talha, age 8, male

YEMEN

Afrah Ali Mohammed Nasser, age 9, female
Zayda Ali Mohammed Nasser, age 7, female
Hoda Ali Mohammed Nasser, age 5, female
Sheikha Ali Mohammed Nasser, age 4, female
Ibrahim Abdullah Mokbel Salem Louqye, age 13, male
Asmaa Abdullah Mokbel Salem Louqye, age 9, male
Salma Abdullah Mokbel Salem Louqye, age 4, female
Fatima Abdullah Mokbel Salem Louqye, age 3, female
Khadije Ali Mokbel Louqye, age 1, female
Hanaa Ali Mokbel Louqye, age 6, female
Mohammed Ali Mokbel Salem Louqye, age 4, male
Jawass Mokbel Salem Louqye, age 15, female
Maryam Hussein Abdullah Awad, age 2, female
Shafiq Hussein Abdullah Awad, age 1, female
Sheikha Nasser Mahdi Ahmad Bouh, age 3, female
Maha Mohammed Saleh Mohammed, age 12, male
Soumaya Mohammed Saleh Mohammed, age 9, female
Shafika Mohammed Saleh Mohammed, age 4, female
Shafiq Mohammed Saleh Mohammed, age 2, male
Mabrook Mouqbal Al Qadari, age 13, male
Daolah Nasser 10 years, age 10, female
AbedalGhani Mohammed Mabkhout, age 12, male
Abdel- Rahman Anwar al Awlaki, age 16, male
Abdel-Rahman al-Awlaki, age 17, male
Nasser Salim, age 19

Law School is a Sham — Salon.com

This article was shared from Salon.com and can be found here.

Law school is a sham

Excerpted from “The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession In Crisis”

“In the spring of 1974 — purely speculatively, I told myself — I took the Law School Admissions Test.
— Scott Turow, “One L: The Turbulent True Story of a First Year at Harvard Law School”

Unlike Scott Turow, I always wanted to be a lawyer. Once I entered law school in 1976, it never occurred to me that using my JD to earn a living would be a significant challenge, or that my student loans from college and law school—roughly $50,000 in 2012 dollars—would be anything other than a minor inconvenience. I’d heard stories about unemployed lawyers driving taxicabs, but they were irrelevant to the life I’d planned. In that respect, I was similar to most of today’s prelaw students, who are convinced that bad things happen only to someone else. The difference is that the current prospects for law graduates are far worse than my contemporaries’ and mine ever were. Over the past two decades, the situation has deteriorated as student enrollments have grown to outpace the number of available new legal jobs by almost two to one. Deans who are determined to fill their classrooms have exploited prospective students who depend on federal student loan money to pay tuition. The result has been an unsustainable bubble.

Law school applicants continue to overwhelm the number of places available for them, ignoring data that on their face should propel most aspiring attorneys away from a legal career. Only about half of today’s graduates can expect to find a full-time position requiring a legal degree. Meanwhile, law schools have grown in number and size to accommodate demand without regard to whether there will be jobs for their graduates. The first part of the equation— student demand—is the product of media images projecting the glamour of attorneys’ lives, the perception that a legal degree ensures financial security, and law school’s status as the traditional default option for students with no idea what to do with their lives. The second part of the equation—the increase in law school supply—was made possible by a revolutionary change in the method of legal education more than a century ago. It gave educators an easy way to transform law schools into profit centers for their universities. Decades later, student loans would provide the funding.

Today there’s a lawyer for every 265 Americans—more than twice the per capita number in 1970—but for future attorneys, there won’t be enough legal jobs for more than half of them. In 2008, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated that for the ten-year period ending in 2018, the economy would produce an additional 98,500 legal jobs. In 2012, after the Great Recession decimated the market for attorneys, the BLS revised that estimate downward, to 73,600 openings from 2010 through 2020. Another prediction considered attrition in combination with the number of anticipated new attorneys on a state-by-state basis and concluded that through 2015 the number of new attorneys passing the bar exam would be more than twice the expected number of openings. Whichever of these statistics turns out to be closest, there’s little doubt that law graduates are already feeling the crunch. Fewer than half of 2011 graduates found jobs in private practice. Nine months after graduation, only 55 percent held full-time, long-term positions requiring a legal degree.

Along with their degrees and dubious job prospects, 85 percent of 2010 graduates from ABA-accredited law schools carried debt, and the average debt load was almost $100,000. Average law school debt for the graduating class of 2011 broke six figures, and that number has been growing in tandem with unemployment rates for new graduates. Even if a career in law turns out to be the right path, the financial burden can be staggering. If the law ends up being the wrong path, then debt becomes the rock that Sisyphus had to push uphill for the rest of his life.

* * *

For most lawyers, the idea of pursuing a legal career comes early in life. One-third of respondents to a survey of recent applicants said that they had wanted to attend law school since childhood and, while still in high school, made the decision to apply after college. Another third made the decision as undergraduates, in either their freshman or sophomore year. One reason for this phenomenon is the media: popular images make a legal career look attractive to young people long before they get to college. Any middle school student who reads “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1960) or “Inherit the Wind” (1955) takes in an image of the admirable lawyer-statesman. Recent portrayals include the CBS hit series “The Good Wife,” which continues a legacy of noble lawyers in television dating back to Perry Mason and proceeding through “The Defenders,” “L.A. Law,” “Law & Order,” and others. Every week, an episode of “The Good Wife” focuses on junior associate Alicia Florrick, a single mom who was raising two teenagers by herself until her philandering husband, a former state’s attorney, got out of jail near the end of the first season. Regularly she finds herself in tense courtroom scenes cross-examining key witnesses in high-stakes trials. While making a lot of money, she finds clever ways to unearth critical facts, reveal truth, and vindicate clients. Then she goes home every evening in time for dinner with her kids.

There are negative images out there, too, most notably in the work of John Grisham. For example, no pre-law student should want to emulate the crooked attorneys in “The Firm,” his 1991 best seller about lawyers who operate their enterprise as a front for the mob. But they also should be wary of identifying with the novel’s protagonist, Mitch McDeere. He follows the very track to which most of them aspire: he graduates from a top law school and joins a high-paying law firm to earn big money. However, he gets swept away by the billable-hour culture, which deprives him of sleep and a home life, and his marriage deteriorates. These pressures, which nearly destroy him, are wholly apart from the underlying criminality that his firm’s partners pursue.

Yet most pre-law students ignore the persistent warnings. Somehow those negative images can’t compete with the positive ones. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman, who won a Nobel Prize in economics, may have a partial explanation. Kahneman researches and writes about a universal human characteristic: clinging to preconceived notions, even as contrary information and unambiguous data undermine them. The phenomenon is a variant of confirmation bias, the tendency to credit information that comports with established beliefs and jettison anything that doesn’t. In the context of the legal profession, most prelaw students think they’ll be the exceptions—the traps that ensnare people like Mitch McDeere won’t get them.

* * *

Another reason that people become lawyers is to make money. But if prospective lawyers allow themselves to be dazzled by headlines about the wealthiest attorneys, such as the partner who recently left one big firm to join another where he’d earn a reported $5 million a year, they’re making a mistake. Nine months after graduation, members of the law school class of 2009 fortunate enough to have any full-time job had a median salary of $72,000, comparable in buying power to the $50,000 median salary for new lawyers in 1990. That may not sound bad, but even that number is misleadingly high, as it masks a skewed income distribution. Each year 10 to 15 percent of graduates get jobs in big law firms, where the starting salary can be as high as $160,000. But those firms constitute only a tiny slice of the profession, and it’s shrinking. Furthermore, the median salary has been falling. For all law firms, the median starting salary for the class of 2011 was $85,000; for all lawyers who graduated that year, it was $60,000 (a 17 percent drop compared to the $72,000 median starting salary for the class of 2009). Even those numbers overstate new graduates’ financial reality for another reason: they’re based solely on salary information for the 65 percent of graduates reported to be working full-time in a position lasting at least a year.

For most employed lawyers, the money gets better. The median annual income of all practicing lawyers in 2010 was $112,000—double that of all US households. The nagging problem is that the seemingly decent (but shrinking) payoff usually isn’t sufficient to justify the enormous investment in time and money. Professor Herwig Schlunk of Vanderbilt University Law School calculates that for the vast majority of graduates, getting a legal degree will never yield a return equal to the financial cost of becoming a lawyer.

* * *

Some people go to law school because it’s the last resort of the liberal arts major who doesn’t know what to do next. In that respect, the decision to enroll has long resulted from a process of elimination that proceeds something like this: being a member of a profession is the ultimate achievement, but medical school requires science-oriented interests and talents that don’t fit most students in the humanities; postgraduate degrees in history, philosophy, English, and the social sciences are for future professors; business school is for those whose principal ambition is to make lots of money. That leaves law school, which offers students a three-year reprieve from the world while they pursue a noble course that presumably creates even more options. Sometimes that plan works out okay; for too many others, it leads to a place where dreams go to die.

Proof that law school is a default solution for the undecided lies everywhere, even in newspapers’ sports pages. In the fall of 2011, twenty-six-year-old infielder Josh Satin made his major league debut for the New York Mets. An article about him included this line: “After graduating as a political science major from Cal, Satin was selected by the Mets in the sixth round of the 2008 draft. And like any number of 20-somethings with a liberal arts degree and nebulous career prospects, he kept law school applications at the ready.”

* * *

On the supply side of the lawyer bubble, some of the necessary conditions for its creation date to a nineteenth-century innovation in legal education—the case method. Credit for that development goes to former Harvard Law School dean Christopher Columbus Langdell. Prior to 1890, no other law school used the case method of instruction that he pioneered; today it’s pervasive.

Langdell didn’t set out to create what became an essential basis for the current mass production model of legal education. Rather, he was simply pursuing his penchant for thoroughness. He viewed the law as a science and believed that its ultimate truths could be discovered through the study of primary specimens, namely, the decisions of appellate court judges. Law students could divine general principles that, once mastered, would enable a graduate to practice anywhere. As Langdell saw it, differences in state law were inconsequential to the overall jurisprudential picture.

The large body of common law itself created a challenge for Langdell’s approach. No student could read every reported decision going back to Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, an eighteenth-century treatise that first summarized the English common law as part of a unified system. For his Harvard contracts course, Langdell instead collected a selection of reported cases (there were more than two thousand at the time) from which an entire classroom of students could induce general legal principles.

The Langdell case method was a radical departure. Previously, prospective attorneys had learned the law from secondary sources as rules to memorize and skills to hone before engaging in one-on-one apprenticeships. For example, after a year of study consisting of the traditional lecture and drilling at the University of Michigan in the 1870s, Clarence Darrow received on-the-job legal training while working for an attorney in rural Ohio. He then proved his competence to a few lawyers before whom he literally sat to be examined for the bar. Darrow passed. A system that required students to learn specific legal rules and then receive training with practicing attorneys constrained the number of new lawyers admitted to the bar each year.

Langdell changed that model with what he regarded as a noble aim. Practical aspects—simply learning the rules—weren’t the key. Instead, a true lawyer’s most important work was to understand the governing principles so as to “be able to apply them with consistent facility and certainty to the ever-tangled skein of human affairs.” One by-product of the approach was that large groups of students could receive simultaneous legal training from a handful of instructors. The system became an early building block in the current business model of legal education.

Langdell’s new teaching protocol didn’t create the current lawyer bubble, but it provided an essential foundation that facilitated the mass production of attorneys. From 1890 to 1916, the number of law schools doubled from 61 to 139, but the schools themselves became larger, so the number of law students increased fivefold—from 4,500 to almost 23,000. As recently as 1963, there were still only 135 law schools, but total JD enrollment had doubled to 47,000 students.

During the next decade, baby boomers made their way into higher education as the Vietnam War popularized three-year law school deferments from the draft. Enrollment doubled again to 100,000 by 1972, but there were still fewer than 150 law schools. As the last of the boomers made their way through law school, enrollment leveled off, hovering around 127,000 through the 1990s. On a per capita basis, the United States had 1.58 lawyers per 1,000 citizens in 1960; by 1980, the number had grown to 2.38 lawyers per 1,000. But that was only the beginning.

In the 1990s, U.S. News & World Report’s law school rankings began to gain in popularity and became a key element in the competition for new students. Meanwhile, as applications to first-year classes rose generally, universities increasingly saw law schools as profit centers worth expanding. Recently the Maryland Department of Legislative Services concluded that the University of Baltimore School of Law sent 31 percent of its 2010 revenue back into the general university budget. For private schools the data are difficult to uncover, but the University of Baltimore report corroborates a widely held view that universities in general impose a “tax” amounting to between 20 and 25 percent of their law schools’ gross revenues.

Law school enrollments climbed even as tuition rose faster than at undergraduate colleges. In 2003, there were more than ninety-eight thousand applicants to the first-year class that enrolled about forty-eight thousand students nationwide. Average annual tuition for private law schools was $26,000. By 2010, it had increased to more than $37,000. Even as law school applications declined sharply after 2010, private law school tuition went up annually by 4 percent—more than twice the rate of inflation—to an average of $40,585 per year in 2012. Public law schools have followed an even steeper curve: for in-state residents, average tuition doubled from $11,860 in 2003 to $23,590. In 2012 alone, it went up by more than 6 percent.

When U.S. News published its first rankings in 1987, total law school enrollment in the 175 ABA-accredited institutions had remained around 120,000 for a decade. Since then, twenty-five more law schools have come on line and enrollments have steadily risen to more than 145,000. By 2010, there were more than 1.2 million lawyers in the United States—almost 4 for every 1,000 citizens. In the United Kingdom, the comparable number is about 2.5 per 1,000; in Germany, it’s slightly more than 1.5.

* * *

Law school deans defended the growth and proliferation of law schools after 2000 as a market reaction to student demand. After all, an excess of applicants over available spots sent an unambiguous signal: consumers wanted more openings in law schools. Anyone running a business would respond as most deans did: raise tuition, increase profits, and add capacity. Wrapping themselves in the rhetoric of free markets and individual choice, even deans at some of the best law schools avoided important disclosures, including meaningful employment and salary data for their recent graduates. After all, better information about the limited opportunities actually available to new attorneys might reduce student demand.

Of course, some of the widespread career dissatisfaction among attorneys is the fault of college students making shortsighted and unsound judgments about their future. But bad information shares the blame for what turned out to be a poor career choice for many of them. Law schools operating on the outer perimeter of candor to fill their classrooms worsened the problem. But without free-flowing student loan money for which law school deans never have to account, the entire system would look much different.

The law school business model permitted (and still permits) a perverse market response—increasing tuition in the face of declining demand for lawyers—for two reasons: student demand for law school still exceeds supply, and students have little difficulty borrowing whatever they need to cover the cost of a degree. For decades, lenders faced no risk of default because the federal government guaranteed the loans.

Then in 2008, out of concern that the credit market freeze would leave insufficient financing for student loans, the government essentially took over most such lending directly. Two years later, it completed the transition from insuring all loans to issuing the vast majority of them. Meanwhile, revisions to the bankruptcy laws essentially bar students from ever discharging public or private educational debt. In its totality, the current regime insulates law schools from the problem of graduates who can’t find jobs needed to repay their student loans, while giving schools no incentive to control tuition costs. Of the various parties involved—students, government, private lenders, and law schools—only the students and, to a growing extent under new income-based repayment programs, the federal treasury bear any significant risk that such borrowing might turn out to have been imprudent.

The combination of irresponsible lending and inadequate law school accountability has been deadly for many attorneys and the profession. It’s a story of good intentions gone awry.

The origins of the government student loan program generally date to 1958, when Congress followed the recommendation of economist Milton Friedman in creating a system of direct federal loans for higher education. When it expanded the program in 1965, existing federal budget accounting rules required booking direct student loans as total losses in the year made, regardless of whether they would be repaid in full with interest. But the rules also provided that a loan guarantee didn’t count as a federal budget cost item—not a penny. At the urging of economists, Congress finally revised the budget rules in 1990, but the most important feature remained: federal guarantees of all private and public student loans.

For lenders, such guarantees mean no risk of nonrepayment because the government picks up the tab for any shortfall. For students, they mean the growth of another industry that will chase them forever: debt collectors. When someone defaults on a student loan, the government turns it over to private collection agencies. In 2011, the US Department of Education paid more than $1.4 billion to such companies. Summarizing that industry’s attitude, a business consultant described his thoughts in 2011 as he watched Occupy protesters at New York University wearing T-shirts with the amounts of their student debt scribbled across the front: “I couldn’t believe the accumulated wealth they represent—for our industry. It was lip-smacking.” His article included a picture of some students in their T-shirts, including one with “the fine sum of $90,000” and another with “a really attractive $120,000.” Another consultant suggested that student loans might be the accounts receivable industry’s “new oil well.” Something is terribly amiss in a society where policies and incentive structures make debt collection a growth business.

In addition to government guarantees, private lenders gained another layer of protection against losses from their student loan portfolios. As noted previously, today such debt almost always survives a young lawyer’s bankruptcy filing. The cumulative impact of these policies is becoming clearer. As one recent graduate observed, a federally guaranteed student loan may be “the closest thing to debtor prison that there is on this earth.”

It wasn’t always so. In the early 1970s, the federal student loan program was still relatively new and the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare sought to avoid any negative public image that might tarnish the young system. The agency proposed making government student loans nondischargeable in bankruptcy unless a borrower had been in default for at least five years or could prove “undue hardship.” Enacted in 1976, the undue-hardship requirement placed student loans in the same category as child support, alimony, court restitution orders, criminal fines, and certain taxes. No data supported the suggestion of a student loan default problem, but anecdotal media reports of isolated abuse carried the day.

The concern was moral hazard—the fear that graduates on the verge of lucrative careers would avoid responsibility for the federal educational loans that had made those careers possible. But as the legislative history makes clear, the basis for such concerns was “more myth and media hype than reality.” A lead editorial in the July 25, 2012, edition of the Wall Street Journal reveals the enduring power of that myth thirty-five years later: “After a surge in former students declaring bankruptcy to avoid repaying their loans, Congress acted to protect lenders beginning in 1977.” That’s simply not true. Although a House of Representatives report and analysis from the General Accounting Office had confirmed that abuse was “virtually non-existent,” the provision found its way into the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978.

In 1990, Congress extended the requisite five-year default period, requiring a seven-year wait as a precondition to relief from educational debt. In 1997, the Bankruptcy Reform Commission found no evidence to support claims of earlier systematic abuse. Even so, in 1998 Congress amended the statute to provide that no amount of time would render federal educational debt dischargeable in bankruptcy. In 2005, Congress extended nondischargeabilty to private lenders as well, although, as Senator Dick Durbin asked in 2012, “How in the world did that provision get into the law? It was a mystery amendment. We can’t find out who offered it.” A fruitful place to begin the search might be with lobbyists for the banking industry.

Apart from the unwillingness of any legislator to claim responsibility for the now orphaned provision, there was little factual justification for it or the earlier revisions that eliminated bankruptcy relief from federal loans in the first place. Nonfederal loans accounted for only 7 percent of all student borrowing in the 2010–2011 academic year. Repeated legislative inquiry yielded no empirical evidence to validate stated fears about systemic abuse for either private or government loans. But now that the limitations are in place, some have theorized that returning even to pre-2005 rules could lead to a parade of horribles, including higher interest rates for all students, reduced affordability, and tighter credit requirements throughout the system.

Two recent examples of the undue-hardship requirement illustrate the daunting task facing a debtor who seeks relief from educational debt today. In May 2012, a sixty-three-year-old Maryland woman had more than $330,000 in school loans dating back to her enrollment at the University of Baltimore School of Law in 1992. She didn’t graduate. Later, she received a master’s degree from Towson University and a PhD from an unaccredited online school. The judge decided that the debtor’s Asperger’s syndrome qualified her for relief from student loan debt. Expecting that she could “ever break the grip of autism and meaningfully channel her energies toward tasks that are not in some way either dictated, or circumscribed, by the demands of her disorder would be to dream the impossible dream.” Even the debtor’s attorney expressed surprise that his client had succeeded in discharging her debt under the demanding undue-hardship standard.

In July 2012, a sixty-four-year-old woman who had worked on an assembly line earning $11 an hour until she received a layoff notice obtained discharge of loans she had first taken on in 1981, when she was thirty-three and enrolled in Canisius College. After pursuing a five-year partial repayment plan under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code, she’d whittled only $2,400 from her loan balance and still owed more than $56,000, most of which was accrued interest on her original $17,000 loan. The court concluded that the debtor was “at the end of her ‘rope’ at age sixty-four, facing job loss and no prospects other than Social Security,” and ordered her loans discharged.

Such cases in which students get relief from burdensome student loan debt are unusual. In fact, the applicable legal standard for discharge isn’t even consistent across the federal circuits. Some appellate courts require judges to predict the future and conclude, as a prerequisite to discharge, that a debtor will never be able to repay the loans—that is, the “certainty of hopelessness.” One attorney described how he jokes about the absurdity of the standard: “What I say to the judge is that as long as we’ve got a lottery, there is no certainty of hopelessness. They smile, and then they rule against you.”

More attorneys are finding themselves in plights similar to that of the thirty-four-year-old lawyer with more than $200,000 in school loans and a job that would never pay enough to retire them: “It’s a noose around my neck that I see no way out of.” It takes little imagination to foresee the domino effects as she and similarly situated others become unable to fund their children’s higher education. The accumulating social costs over generations could haunt America for a long time.

* * *

As a consequence of these dynamics, some not-so-funny things happen to many of those who choose law school for the wrong reasons—or for no particularly good reason. The promise of a secure future at a well-paying job is often illusory. The persistent problem of lawyer oversupply rose to crisis level, and the market for new talent has remained weak. Compounding the difficulties with which they began law school, newly minted, less-than-passionate, and deeply indebted lawyers are now having trouble finding the secure, well-paying, and exciting work they thought would be waiting for them when they graduated. For most of the nation’s forty-four thousand annual graduates today, those positions were never there at all.

Because students rely on rankings to choose a school, such listings are now a critical element in the prevailing law school business model. U.S. News & World Report publishes what everyone regards as the gold standard. As a consequence, deans use its methodological criteria to run their institutions. Single-minded self-interest in selling a law school education—and the failure of colleges and law schools to offer a competing perspective that challenges students’ assumptions about most lawyers’ actual lives—has disserved many graduates and damaged the profession. But try telling that to deans who pander to the annual U.S. News rankings.

Excerpted with permission from “The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession In Crisis” by Steven J. Harper. Available from Basic Books, a member of The Perseus Books Group.  Copyright © 2013.

De Facto Abusers

 

A couple of weeks ago, The New Yorker ran an article (see it here) detailing alleged sex abuse at Horace Mann, an elite boys school in the Bronx. It should come as no surprise that nearly institutional abuse at Horace Mann was uncovered. Like so many cases before it, from the Catholic church, to Jerry Sandusky, to Robert Berman, and on and on, the problem lies less with the abuser than those who would do nothing to stop him. These abuses proliferate because the people who have the ability to stop the harm are more concerned about their own reputations than protecting innocents. They are willing to sacrifice the truth and integrity in order to maintain the status quo for themselves. They lie and tell these children who come to them to keep things quiet and not “make waves” because it won’t stop the abuser. They refuse to speak out because to do so might bring shame upon themselves. In their cowardice they maintain the status quo in order to remain anodyne, leaving their images intact and their lives unruffled. No matter if other’s lives are destroyed in the process. We need a means to hold these souls accountable for doing nothing, saying nothing, turning the other way as the accounts multiplied. They are equally wicked accomplices because in doing nothing, they consent.

 

Boiling Frogs

The problem with these tissue-thin t-shirts and other items of clothing being manufactured these days is that they’re pure crap. The retailers claim they make them this way to layer, but that is a lie. They make them that way because first, you do need to layer so no one can see through them, thereby requiring one to purchase two shirts instead of one, and second, because these items of clothing disintegrate at a much faster rate than their thicker cousins, thereby requiring us to purchase new items much sooner and also keeping us from reselling them because they’re too junky to last long. I won’t even get into how ridiculous layering multiple shirts looks past the age of 20.

We’ve all been boiling frogs on this. Fabrics have gradually gotten thinner and thinner, while the price has crept ever northward. I keep clothes I like forever. I dug out an old t-shirt I bought 20 odd years ago. It isn’t anything special, it had just gotten stuffed into a box of keepsake things during a move years ago, and I hadn’t seen it in forever. The thing is THICK. You can’t see a hint of light through it. It’s solid and well-made. And it probably cost me 20 bucks in the early 90s. You can’t even find t-shirts like this now. Even the high-end retailers sell these tissue-thin shirts that last maybe two years with regular wearing.

Nuts. Why don’t we all rebel?

This Punitive Society

I want to be on the stand and say to them: What did she do? What did she do wrong? She chose the wrong men, and for this you want to punish her, as our society punishes women who let men abuse them, as if it was a choice. We forgive the wrongdoer and attack the victim, because we hate victims, even as we are victims. You should have known better! You should have made a better choice! Your choice was wrong, and we as judges, juries, and executioners know this! You should not have made these mistakes and for this, we judge you. For this, we sentence you and punish you for your sins, for your flaws. You were a good mother, but that is not good enough because you never would have been a mother if you had not chosen men who would abuse you. Of course, this line of reasoning falls apart because she could very well have been a mother if she had not chosen these men. But of course she would not have these children. These children will be harmed because of her choices. These children will be harmed too because of their abusive fathers, but we don’t hold the fathers accountable, only the mothers. These abusive men didn’t know any better, but she did. She knew and she chose wrong and for this, she shall pay with their loss. Their pains are her pains. She will suffer for her sins and so will they.

This society is so fucking fucked and fucked up. I can hardly bear it. We are so punitive, so judgmental, so holier-than-thou, such critics.  Critics. We all sit and judge. Our whole culture. We love to annihilate victims for having been victims. In doing so we can ignore the victims in ourselves. We get to be the rescuer in our judiciousness. I will save you from your victimhood, you fool.

It all just makes me want to scream.

The United States of Aftermath

The United States of Aftermath.

Shared from Truth-Out, by William Rivers Pitt.

It’s hard to say grace and to sit in the place
Of someone missing at the table
Mom’s hair sprayed tight
And her face in her hands
Watching TV for answers to me
After all she’s only human
And she’s trying to find her own way home, boys
She’s trying to find her own way home

My legs ache
My heart is sore
The well is full of pennies

– Tom Waits

Ten years ago on this day, my life was a blur of frantic activity. The week before, tens of millions of people had taken to the streets in more than 600 cities around the world to protest the looming invasion of Iraq, an attack that had been pursued with single-minded ferocity by the administration of George W. Bush. As the author of the book “War on Iraq”, which had been published in October and argued Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction or al Qaeda connections to the September 11 attacks, I was one of the voices crying out in the wilderness of the “mainstream” news media trying to make it clear that the whole thing was a sham, and a disaster in the making. I did as many television, radio and print interviews as I could – at one point, CNN interviewed me in the gymnasium of the high school where I was still teaching, because that was the only time I had available – in an attempt to halt the calamity in its tracks.

One month later, I and every other person who tried to stop it encompassed the totality of our collective failure as we watched huge swaths of Baghdad be incinerated by the “Shock and Awe” bombing campaign that heralded the opening festivities of America’s nine-year debacle in Iraq.

As the ten-year anniversary of the invasion approaches, all the news networks will carve out some time to report on the decade of war endured by the people of Iraq and the people of America. Rachel Maddow recently broadcast an hour-long documentary on the selling of the war by the Bush administration. Maddow’s program began with the attacks of September 11 as the reason for the Iraq invasion, a starting point that in all probability will be repeated by the other networks, but that starting point is not factually correct. The roots of the Iraq war trace back to the founding in 1997 of a Washington DC think-tank called The Project for a New American Century (PNAC).

The core mission of PNAC was to establish what they called “Pax Americana” across the globe. Essentially, their goal was to transform America, the sole remaining superpower, into a planetary empire by force of arms. A report released by PNAC in September of 2000 entitled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” codified this plan. Author Norman Podhoretz, a PNAC signatory, quantified the other aspect of the PNAC plan in the September 2002 issue of his journal, “Commentary.” In it, Podhoretz noted that the Mideast regimes “that richly deserve to be overthrown and replaced, are not confined to the three singled-out members of the axis of evil. At a minimum, the axis should extend to Syria and Lebanon and Libya, as well as ‘friends’ of America like the Saudi royal family and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, along with the Palestinian Authority, whether headed by Arafat or one of his henchmen.” At bottom, according to Podhoretz, war against Iraq was about “the long-overdue internal reform and modernization of Islam.”

PNAC was the driving force behind the drafting and passage of the Iraqi Liberation Act in 1998, a bill that essentially turned their desire for war into American law. PNAC funneled millions of taxpayer dollars to a group called the Iraqi National Congress, and to the man they intended to be Iraq’s heir-apparent, Ahmed Chalabi, despite the fact that Chalabi was sentenced in absentia by a Jordanian court to 22 years in prison on 31 counts of bank fraud. Chalabi and the INC gathered support for their cause by promising oil contracts to anyone who would help overthrow Saddam Hussein and put them into power in Iraq.

After the Supreme Court gifted the presidency to George W. Bush in December of 2000, the members of PNAC – once on the outside looking in – soon found themselves walking the halls of power and holding positions of enormous influence. Among these members were Vice President Dick Cheney; Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Cheney’s chief of staff; Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz; National Security Council member Eliot Abrams; Undersecretary of State John Bolton, who also served as America’s ambassador to the UN; and Richard Perle, chairman of the powerful Defense Policy Board.

On September 11, 2001, as America and the world watched in horror, these men went to work implementing their plans for war against Iraq. That day presented, for them, the opportunity of a lifetime, and they wasted not a moment. Within a year after the 9/11 attacks, Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith had established the Office of Special Plans (OSP) in the Pentagon, ostensibly to deal with raw intelligence on the state of Iraq’s armaments. In truth, OSP’s main task was to manipulate that evidence to exacerbate the threat posed by Iraq, and to quash any information that augured against the necessity for war. Those who spoke out against this manipulation of evidence were dealt with harshly; former ambassador Joseph Wilson penned an editorial in the New York Times trashing the Bush administration’s claim that Iraq had sought “yellow cake” uranium from Niger. Soon after, the Bush administration retaliated by blowing the cover of Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, a CIA operative tasked with tracking weapons of mass destruction, ending her career.

George W. Bush, during his State of the Union address in January of 2003, looked solemnly into the television cameras and told the American people that Iraq was most assuredly in possession of 26,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 30,000 munitions to deliver the stuff, mobile biological weapons labs, and uranium from Niger for use in their “robust” nuclear weapons programs. One month later, Colin Powell stood before the United Nations and fleshed out these claims in an address that will go down in history as one of the biggest bag-jobs ever perpetrated by anyone, ever.

A year after the attacks of September 11, Osama bin Laden had gone from being enemy #1 to being Mr. Who Cares About Him, and six months after that, “Shock and Awe” was unleashed. Maddow and her friends in the “news” media will, in the coming weeks, give us their various interpretations on how it came to happen, but none of them will bother to delve into the question of why it happened. The answer to that is too simple, and cuts too close to the bone: the war in Iraq cost more than three trillion dollars ($3,000,000,000,000.00) to execute. Every bullet fired, every bomb dropped, every MRE eaten, every helicopter shot down, every missile fired, every truck destroyed by an IED, every oil well guarded, every uniform worn, and every body bag filled translated into a slice of that money going to a company connected to the PNAC members of the Bush administration, who lied us into that war as an expression of their personal principles and in fulfillment of their dreams. Halliburton, KBR, United Defense, the Carlyle Group, independent military contractors like Blackwater and a crowd of American oil companies are still counting the riches they earned from their participation in the carnage.

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The profit motive behind why the war happened is not limited to the corporations that directly cashed in on the conflict. The “mainstream” media went along for the Bush administration ride with a bull-throated roar, pitching everything the administration was selling with graphics and music, gleefully aware of the money they were making thanks to increased viewership, and be damned to contrarian voices. Phil Donahue’s show on MSNBC came and went like a summer storm entirely because his pre-war contrarian views cut against the network’s martial grain. I summarized the reality of America’s pre-war media landscape in an October 2002 article titled, “I See Four Lights”:

One of the main reasons the dismal truths of business and economy in present-day America go unreported is the fact that we have us a war coming on. CNN, MSNBC and Fox have crafted various permutations of a ‘SHOWDOWN WITH IRAQ’ graphic, coupled with suitably dramatic music. This is a boon to the media – stories of financial ruin and stock schemes that bilked investors of billions are complicated. Compared to grainy images of explosions, fluttering American flags, and stalwart American troops preparing to step into harm’s way, the economic news is plain boring. People were changing the channel back in July and August because it was too painful, and because it was not sexy. Now, with the war graphics in full cry, they are back. CNN’s viewership increased by 500% after September 11th, and you can bet the executives down in Atlanta noted that well. War is good for the media business.

Over the last few years, MSNBC refashioned itself as the progressive news alternative to networks like Fox and CNN by giving Keith Olbermann an opportunity to do actual journalism on television for a few years, and by putting people like Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz front and center. Even Chris Matthews, the human weathervane, appears to have gotten the memo. But I remember a phone call I got from an MSNBC producer in February of 2003. Hans Blix and his weapons inspectors had not been in Iraq for 100 hours when this woman called me on my cell, told me she’d read my book, and asked me to appear on the network. There was, however, one caveat: she told me I was expected to argue that Blix and the inspectors were doing a terrible job and should be ignored, which just happened to be the exact line being peddled at the time by the Bush administration. I told the producer that I did not agree, that the inspectors needed to be given time to do their jobs, and that undermining them might lead to a devastating war. The MSNBC producer chuffed a cigarette-roughened laugh into my phone and hung up on me.

That happened – I remember the details not only because of how gruesome the conversation was, but because when she hung up on me, I almost lost control of my car and nearly wound up in the Charles River – and the fact of it tells you everything you need to know about MSNBC and the rest of the alphabet-soup cohort that is America’s “mainstream” news media. I did not do what that MSNBC producer asked me to, but you can bet all the money you have that she found someone who would a few phone calls later. You might have even seen it on TV.

MSNBC and the rest of the “news” networks can level a finger of blame at the Bush administration until the sun burns out, but the rock-bottom fact of the matter is that every one of those networks are equally to blame for the catastrophe that was, and remains, the war. No questions were asked, no push-back was offered; when the war cry went up, they made that cry their own, and they have as much blood on their hands as Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the rest of that PNAC crew.

The war against Iraq, in the end, was nothing more or less than a massive money-laundering operation that took American taxpayer dollars, soaked them in blood, and redirected them to Certain Friends In High Places. It was, as I said years ago, a smash-and-grab robbery writ large, aided and abetted by an American “news” media which had its own profit motive, and which made a nifty sum off the whole deal. Even better for them, today they get to enjoy the ratings and advertising dollars to come when they broadcast their somber “documentaries” about how terrible it all was, how many lies were told, how many mistakes were made, and all without ever looking inward at their own enormous complicity.

They say the war is over now, but Halliburton is still getting paid to “rebuild” Iraq, the military contractors are still there, bombs are still going off all over the country, the hundreds of thousands of civilians who were killed are still dead, the hundreds of thousands of civilians who were wounded and maimed are still scarred, and many of the millions who were displaced are still not home. Almost 5,000 American soldiers are still dead, nearly 40,000 more are still scarred, and the VA is utterly incapable of dealing with the aftermath.

Three trillion dollars of taxpayer money was laundered away, and today we have squadrons of politicians who voted for the war and made sure it happened now talking about cutting Medicare, about cutting Social Security, about how we can’t afford decent health care or the United States Post Office, without even a blink of acknowledgement toward their own overwhelming share of blame for what has happened to the nation.

Ten years ago, they used 9/11 against us, with the happy help of the “news” media, to unleash butchery for a payday, and broke the country in the process.

So you remember, so you never, ever forget, this is how they did it.

“Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.”
– Dick Cheney, Vice President
Speech to VFW National Convention
8/26/2002

“There is already a mountain of evidence that Saddam Hussein is gathering weapons for the purpose of using them. And adding additional information is like adding a foot to Mount Everest.”
– Ari Fleischer, Press Secretary
Response to Question From the Press
9/6/2002

“We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”
– Condoleezza Rice, US National Security Adviser
CNN Late Edition
9/8/2002

“Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons.”
– George W. Bush, President
Speech to the UN General Assembly
9/12/2002

“Iraq has stockpiled biological and chemical weapons, and is rebuilding the facilities used to make more of those weapons. We have sources that tell us that Saddam Hussein recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons – the very weapons the dictator tells us he does not have.”
– George W. Bush, President
Radio Address
10/5/2002

“The Iraqi regime … possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons. We know that the regime has produced thousands of tons of chemical agents, including mustard gas, sarin nerve gas, VX nerve gas.”
– George W. Bush, President
Cincinnati, Ohio, Speech
10/7/2002

“And surveillance photos reveal that the regime is rebuilding facilities that it had used to produce chemical and biological weapons.”
– George W. Bush, President
Cincinnati, Ohio, Speech
10/7/2002

“After 11 years during which we have tried containment, sanctions, inspections, even selected military action, the end result is that Saddam Hussein still has chemical and biological weapons and is increasing his capabilities to make more. And he is moving ever closer to developing a nuclear weapon.”
– George W. Bush, President
Cincinnati, Ohio, Speech
10/7/2002

“We’ve also discovered through intelligence that Iraq has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas.”
– George W. Bush, President
Cincinnati, Ohio, Speech
10/7/2002

“Iraq, despite UN sanctions, maintains an aggressive program to rebuild the infrastructure for its nuclear, chemical, biological, and missile programs. In each instance, Iraq’s procurement agents are actively working to obtain both weapons-specific and dual-use materials and technologies critical to their rebuilding and expansion efforts, using front companies and whatever illicit means are at hand.”
– John Bolton, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control
Speech to the Hudson Institute
11/1/2002

“Iraq could decide on any given day to provide biological or chemical weapons to a terrorist group or to individual terrorists … The war on terror will not be won until Iraq is completely and verifiably deprived of weapons of mass destruction.”
– Dick Cheney, Vice President
Denver, Address to the Air National Guard
12/1/2002

“If he declares he has none, then we will know that Saddam Hussein is once again misleading the world.”
– Ari Fleischer, Press Secretary
Press Briefing
12/2/2002

“The president of the United States and the secretary of defense would not assert as plainly and bluntly as they have that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction if it was not true, and if they did not have a solid basis for saying it.”
– Ari Fleischer, Press Secretary
Response to Question From the Press
12/4/2002

“We know for a fact that there are weapons there.”
– Ari Fleischer, Press Secretary
Press Briefing
1/9/2003

“The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production.”
– George W. Bush, President
State of the Union Address
1/28/2003

“Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent.”
– George W. Bush, President
State of the Union Address
1/28/2003

“We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more.”
– Colin Powell, Secretary of State
Remarks to the UN Security Council
2/5/2003

“There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more. And he has the ability to dispense these lethal poisons and diseases in ways that can cause massive death and destruction. If biological weapons seem too terrible to contemplate, chemical weapons are equally chilling.”
– Colin Powell, Secretary of State
Address to the UN Security Council
2/5/2003

“In Iraq, a dictator is building and hiding weapons that could enable him to dominate the Middle East and intimidate the civilized world – and we will not allow it.”
– George W. Bush, President
Speech to the American Enterprise Institute
2/26/2003

“So has the strategic decision been made to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction by the leadership in Baghdad? I think our judgment has to be clearly not.”
– Colin Powell, Secretary of State
Remarks to the UN Security Council
3/7/2003

“Let’s talk about the nuclear proposition for a minute. We know that, based on intelligence, that has been very, very good at hiding these kinds of efforts. He’s had years to get good at it and we know he has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons. And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.”
– Dick Cheney, Vice President
“Meet the Press”
3/16/2003

“Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.”
– George W. Bush, President
Address to the Nation
3/17/2003

“Well, there is no question that we have evidence and information that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical particularly … all this will be made clear in the course of the operation, for whatever duration it takes.”
– Ari Fleischer, Press Secretary
Press Briefing
3/21/2003

“One of our top objectives is to find and destroy the WMD. There are a number of sites.”
– Victoria Clark, Pentagon Spokeswoman
Press Briefing
3/22/2003

“I have no doubt we’re going to find big stores of weapons of mass destruction.”
– Kenneth Adelman, Defense Policy Board Member
Washington Post, p. A27
3/23/2003

“We know where they are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.”
– Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense
ABC Interview
3/30/2003

“We still need to find and secure Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction facilities and secure Iraq’s borders so we can prevent the flow of weapons of mass destruction materials and senior regime officials out of the country.”
– Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense
Press Conference
4/9/2003

“You bet we’re concerned about it. And one of the reasons it’s important is because the nexus between terrorist states with weapons of mass destruction … and terrorist groups – networks – is a critical link. And the thought that … some of those materials could leave the country and in the hands of terrorist networks would be a very unhappy prospect. So it is important to us to see that that doesn’t happen.”
– Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense
Press Conference
4/9/2003

“But make no mistake – as I said earlier – we have high confidence that they have weapons of mass destruction. That is what this war was about and it is about. And we have high confidence it will be found.”
– Ari Fleischer, Press Secretary
Press Briefing
4/10/2003

“Were not going to find anything until we find people who tell us where the things are. And we have that very high on our priority list, to find the people who know. And when we do, then well learn precisely where things were and what was done.”
– Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense
“Meet the Press”
4/13/2003

“We are learning more as we interrogate or have discussions with Iraqi scientists and people within the Iraqi structure, that perhaps he destroyed some, perhaps he dispersed some. And so we will find them.”
– George W. Bush, President
NBC Interview
4/24/2003

“We’ll find them. It’ll be a matter of time to do so.”
– George W. Bush, President
Remarks to Reporters
5/3/2003

“I’m absolutely sure that there are weapons of mass destruction there and the evidence will be forthcoming. We’re just getting it just now.”
– Colin Powell, Secretary of State
Remarks to Reporters
5/4/2003

“We never believed that we’d just tumble over weapons of mass destruction in that country.”
– Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense
Fox News Interview
5/4/2003

“I’m not surprised if we begin to uncover the weapons program of Saddam Hussein – because he had a weapons program.”
– George W. Bush, President
Remarks to Reporters
5/6/2003

“U.S. officials never expected that ‘we were going to open garages and find’ weapons of mass destruction.”
– Condoleezza Rice, US National Security Adviser
Reuters Interview
5/12/2003

“We said all along that we will never get to the bottom of the Iraqi WMD program simply by going and searching specific sites, that you’d have to be able to get people who know about the programs to talk to you.”
– Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense
Interview with Australian Broadcasting
5/13/2003

“It’s going to take time to find them, but we know he had them. And whether he destroyed them, moved them or hid them, we’re going to find out the truth. One thing is for certain: Saddam Hussein no longer threatens America with weapons of mass destruction.”
– George W. Bush, President
Speech at a Weapons Factory in Ohio
5/25/2003

“They may have had time to destroy them, and I don’t know the answer.”
– Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense
Remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations
5/27/2003

“For bureaucratic reasons, we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction (as justification for invading Iraq) because it was the one reason everyone could agree on.”
– Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense
Vanity Fair Interview
5/28/2003

“The President is indeed satisfied with the intelligence that he received. And I think that’s borne out by the fact that, just as Secretary Powell described at the United Nations, we have found the bio trucks that can be used only for the purpose of producing biological weapons. That’s proof-perfect that the intelligence in that regard was right on target.”
– Ari Fleischer, Press Secretary
Press Briefing
5/29/2003

“We have teams of people that are out looking. They’ve investigated a number of sites. And within the last week or two, they have in fact captured and have in custody two of the mobile trailers that Secretary Powell talked about at the United Nations as being biological weapons laboratories.”
– Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense
Infinity Radio Interview
5/30/2003

“But for those who say we haven’t found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they’re wrong, we found them.”
– George W. Bush, President
Interview With TVP Poland
5/30/2003

“You remember when Colin Powell stood up in front of the world, and he said Iraq has got laboratories, mobile labs to build biological weapons … They’re illegal. They’re against the United Nations resolutions, and we’ve so far discovered two … And we’ll find more weapons as time goes on.”
– George W. Bush, President
Press Briefing
5/30/2003

“This wasn’t material I was making up, it came from the intelligence community.”
– Colin Powell, Secretary of State
Press Briefing
6/2/2003

“We recently found two mobile biological weapons facilities which were capable of producing biological agents. This is the man who spent decades hiding tools of mass murder. He knew the inspectors were looking for them. You know better than me he’s got a big country in which to hide them. We’re on the look. We’ll reveal the truth.”
– George W. Bush, President
Camp Sayliya, Qatar
6/5/2003

“I would put before you Exhibit A, the mobile biological labs that we have found. People are saying, ‘Well, are they truly mobile biological labs?’ Yes, they are. And the DCI, George Tenet, Director of Central Intelligence, stands behind that assessment.”
– Colin Powell, Secretary of State
Fox News Interview
6/8/2003

“No one ever said that we knew precisely where all of these agents were, where they were stored.”
– Condoleezza Rice, US National Security Adviser
“Meet the Press”
6/8/2003

“What the president has said is because it’s been the long-standing view of numerous people, not only in this country, not only in this administration, but around the world, including at the United Nations, who came to those conclusions … And the president is not going to engage in the rewriting of history that others may be trying to engage in.”
– Ari Fleischer, Press Secretary
Response to Question From the Press

“Iraq had a weapons program … Intelligence throughout the decade showed they had a weapons program. I am absolutely convinced with time we’ll find out they did have a weapons program.”
– George W. Bush, President
Comment to Reporters
6/9/2003

“The biological weapons labs that we believe strongly are biological weapons labs, we didn’t find any biological weapons with those labs. But should that give us any comfort? Not at all. Those were labs that could produce biological weapons whenever Saddam Hussein might have wanted to have a biological weapons inventory.”
– Colin Powell, Secretary of State
Associated Press Interview
6/12/2003

“My personal view is that their intelligence has been, I’m sure, imperfect, but good. In other words, I think the intelligence was correct in general, and that you always will find out precisely what it was once you get on the ground and have a chance to talk to people and explore it, and I think that will happen.”
– Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense
Press Briefing
6/18/2003

“I have reason, every reason, to believe that the intelligence that we were operating off was correct and that we will, in fact, find weapons or evidence of weapons, programs, that are conclusive. But that’s just a matter of time … It’s now less than eight weeks since the end of major combat in Iraq and I believe that patience will prove to be a virtue.”
– Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense
Pentagon Media Briefing
6/24/2003

“I think the burden is on those people who think he didn’t have weapons of mass destruction to tell the world where they are.”
– Ari Fleischer, Press Secretary
Press Briefing
7/9/2003

Why Hire a Bankruptcy Attorney

Filing bankruptcy can be one of the most difficult choices a person makes. Often you have been struggling to meet your financial obligations. Something happens and the house of cards comes tumbling down, leaving you faced with a proposition that seems like failure. It is difficult and frustrating. You go to see an attorney and realize that even though you have no money to pay your bills, the attorney wants over a thousand dollars or more to represent you.

You discover there may be an alternative. You could pay someone much less to prepare your petition for you. You think Why not? Your case isn’t complicated, at least you don’t think it is. You pay a few hundred dollars and file your case. You may be okay. More likely, after things go very wrong you will realize that you should have hired an attorney.

Bankruptcy is more complicated than it appears on the surface. People who have seen or attended a bankruptcy hearing testify that the meetings are often over quickly. What is not apparent from the meeting is that most of the complicated work is done before the meeting takes place. The hearing should go smoothly if everything was done right ahead of time.

Having sat through countless hearings while representing debtors in the bankruptcy cases, I can assure you that bankruptcy is often more complicated than it looks, especially since the changes that took place in the bankruptcy laws in 2005.

Bankruptcy is more than what bills you owe. People often do not realize that all of their belongings are assets that may or may not be exempt. Other intangible things such as claims, insurance policies, and retirement accounts could also be assets. You may fail to disclose an item that could have been protected, only to lose it because of the lack of disclosure. The actions taken in the years and months leading up to bankruptcy can have consequences, and can cause unintended ramifications for friends and family members.

Every consumer bankruptcy case is assigned to a trustee. That person is responsible for ensuring the interests of your creditors are protected. When you hire a bankruptcy attorney, this person is there to represent you. Your attorney can help you to determine which debts you can discharge or pay off. Your attorney will help you protect assets that are not exempt, and will help you to do so legally.  Your attorney will make sure you list every asset and that every asset that can be is protected. Your attorney will help you ensure that bankruptcy is what it is intended to be:  a fresh start.

When you pay an attorney, you are paying that person to ensure you file everything you are supposed to file, turn over all the paperwork you are required to turn over, help you maximize your assets and minimize your losses, and to represent you against your creditors. In short, you are paying for the best fresh start you can muster.

What can a petition preparer do? Legally, all a petition preparer can do is fill in the blanks on your bankruptcy documents. If you choose to pay someone hundreds of dollars for this service you are, in effect, paying hundreds of dollars for data entry service.

If a petition preparer does more than enter information into your petition, that person is breaking the law. Both federal bankruptcy laws and state rules governing the practice of law forbid anyone except a licensed attorney from giving you advice.

Why? To protect you, the consumer. If an attorney messes up your case, there are protections in place to help you. Attorneys in Oregon,Washington, and many other states are required to carry malpractice insurance. They can also be sanctioned by their bars for failure to adhere to a basic code of conduct. There are no systems in place to help you if a document preparer messes up your petition or gives you erroneous advice. You may be able to file a complaint claiming they practiced law without a license, and while the person may face fines or sanctions, you will not get anything to cover your losses.

Hiring an attorney to represent you during your bankruptcy can be expensive. After suffering through financial difficulties and falling behind on your financial obligations, handing over a large sum of money to an attorney can seem like a real hardship. But bankruptcy is not an area to shortchange yourself.  Filing bankruptcy is your opportunity to make a fresh start. Make it the best start it can be by hiring a good attorney to represent, protect, and advise you. Think of it as your first investment in a new financial future.

I am a bankruptcy attorney. I help consumers file for chapter 7 and chapter 13 bankruptcy in Oregon and SW Washington.

The Score to Strive For: F to D+

I went into my bank to order checks for a new account. While waiting, I saw a sign that said the name of the bank that owns mine. I knew it was a French bank, but I had not known its name: BNP Paribas. Since I had nothing else to do with the time, I took out my phone and looked up the name of the bank on the internet. On its page it proclaimed for itself “the commitment of a responsible bank.” There was also a link in recent news stating that PNB Paribas had been ranked the highest in the world of any bank for corporate social responsibility by Vigeo. Vigeo is considered the leading European expert in assessing companies and organizations with regard to their practices and performance on environmental, social, and governance issues. It has launched under its proprietary brand a range of indices identifying companies which demonstrate best performance in corporate social responsibility in the context of their field of investment. Companies featured in the Vigeo indices are those achieving the highest score on all criteria, judged on 38 sustainability drivers under which Vigeo reviews company performance measured against up to 330 indicators. PNB Paribas ranked as the banking sector leader, with a set of scores of between 52% and 64% in all the areas examined.

Huh. So the top bank ranking, one worthy of self congratulation and laudatory commendation, scored what would be the equivalent of an F to a D+ in the American grading system. That’s the BEST score of any bank. If the BEST score of any bank in corporate social responsibility is failing to D+ I wonder how dismally the others performed. I have some idea and it’s not good. Hell, world giant HSBC openly laundered money for Mexican drug cartels; regular banking must seem saintly in comparison. If a corporate responsibility ranking of failing to D+ is enough for a bank to consider itself credible, no wonder the world is in such a dismal state.

In Another Galaxy

I am not a giant of the legal community. I’m probably not even an ant. My first reaction upon seeing a headline about some giants of the legal community is that I am not one. I thought of many quips to describe how un-giantlike I am. Then later, I reread the headline, and actually felt a bit of vexation. Why is it that we as people create these categories and rank people? And further, why is it that in order to become a giant of the legal community, one must work for a big firm that serves everything but the interests of most people? Our culture is so backward, rewarding wealth and considering those who acquire it great. I’m sure these giants worked hard; it’s not possible for them to have worked little for the firms who employ them, but to what end? Actually since they are both partners, in a manner of speaking, they employ themselves, but it’s a pyramid scheme with the associates at the bottom feeding the partners. Considering this, it is they who are more ants than I am. This isn’t sour grapes; it’s reality. They slave to feed the queens. During my first year of law school when I figured out how the whole lawyer scheme worked, I felt a desire to work at a big firm for about ten seconds, then my natural desire to help humankind kicked in and obliterated any such desire. All of them wear their clients like badges of honor, and perhaps for some, these badges really are something to be proud of, but I just saw them as bloodsucking corporate parasites using these lawyers to further their own powerful aims. Gag. Be a big firm lawyer and learn how to fuck over the common people. No, thank you. Okay, this just ended up being a judgmental rant. That wasn’t where I was going. One of my best friends works for a big firm, one of the biggest. She’s a decent person. She, however, is also not a giant. In fact she’s planning to go to “part-time,” which in big firm parlance is synonymous with a 40 hour work week. No, thank you. Come to think of it, I am not diminutive in relation to the giants of the legal profession. They would say that’s because I’m not even a speck on their radar. I’m less than speck; I’m a quark. I’m the space between molecules, an intermolecular space. Ha! Yet thinking about it, I realized that to fit this description, I would have to care and I don’t, not one whit. I’m in another galaxy where giants are not the people who make the most money. So I’m just me — not a giant and not a quark and not even anything in between.

Good People Turn Away

I have been studying, trying to come to an answer that may not exist, thinking about psychopaths/sociopaths, and further, about those surrounding psychopaths/sociopaths, and why it is these people support those who carry out evil, both on the micro and macro level. Ultimately, it seems to me that the danger of these people is greatly increased by these people who support them, the people who take action on their behalf, the people who stand blindly by and allow them to destroy.

This led to my wanting to know more about the citizens of Germany who allowed the Holocaust to happen. I keep thinking about average citizens walking down the street, passing internment camps where children were being gassed, their bodies burned in smoking ovens as the smoke rose into the sky, where people were being used as slaves or medical experiments and then murdered. This led to more reading. I spent a term at the University of Munich after a semester of intense study on the rise of Hitler and the NSDAP (Nazi) party, so I have some frame of reference.  We spent hours watching the videos of camp liberation. We studied the party’s propaganda videos, and learned of the history in the decades leading up to the second world war.

In researching the participation of ordinary people, or the ignoring of atrocities by ordinary people, I found a book by a man named Daniel Goldhagen that posits the theory that the German population simply harbored a massive hatred of the Jews, and therefore they were more than happy to participate, either directly or indirectly, in their extermination. There is much debate about Mr. Goldhagen’s perspective. He became an instant celebrity in a certain community and was hailed by those who want this simple answer, for whatever reason. I also read the primary criticisms of his perspective, and while they made some very good arguments against Mr. Goldhagen’s thesis, I did not find any satisfactory alternate response. I concluded that I do not agree with Mr. Goldhagen’s theory; while German antisemitism certainly played a part in the population’s participation and consent, implied or otherwise, it is not a complete answer. Ironically, Mr. Goldhagen came off as anti-German; is this somehow acceptable because of what happened to the Jews? But this is beside the point.

The world has experienced many genocides since that perpetrated against the Jews by the Germans, and the explanation that they are all singularly driven by the hatred of one population against another does not satisfy. There is more to it than this, and there can be no one answer as to why. However, it is important to consider why it is that seemingly ordinary people go along with murder, mass or otherwise. Why go along with any destructive behavior? Fear is an obvious culprit, and cowardice, but there is definitely more.

Recently I posted a story on Facebook originally published on Truthout about the crimes (both moral and actual) of the Obama administration. A Facebook “friend” (a person I have never actually met, but we were friends in the land of social networking because of some political similarity or other) attacked my post, stating his support of Obama, and pointing out my delusions. I countered, stating that I could not support someone who murders children with drones. He stated that Obama had not “murdered children” and that I was silly for even considering such a thing. I then posted for him two photos, one of a specific named, dead child, and a collection of several dead and injured children, all murdered or injured by American drones. The “friend” then unfriended me. I can only speculate at his reasons for doing this, but it seemed to me that in showing him what he did not want to see, he simply cut off the conversation. This led to my further rumination on those who would stand by as evil occurs. This man was not in any manner obviously fearful or even cowardly, but he supports Obama and he therefore did not want to hear any contradictions of this position, even if it meant ignoring the murder of children. To some extent, I was not surprised by his response. He was dismissive of what I was saying, and in some of his comments, sarcastic towards me, both critical and superior in his responses, as if I was just being a dolt who didn’t know any better.

More recently, while conversing intimately with a person who is quite thoughtful about the causes and effects of human behavior, I was surprised at her unilateral defense of Obama. She has been critical of him in the past, but it was always cautiously critical. Now that he has won the election, she is sure that he has changed, that things will be different, that he will go against his own words and make different choices. Without being sarcastic or nasty, she was unwilling to accept that this might not be the case. She was not supportive of him out of fear or cowardice, but she was supportive in spite of any abhorrent actions of this administration. She wanted to believe in him and was therefore supportive, in spite of what has been.

Somewhere in this is part of the answer to why we support those who harm others, from small abuses to genocide, why we as humans allow atrocities to occur. It’s not a simple answer. We participate, and through our participation, evil occurs. It isn’t only that we must examine the extremes, the angry man watching FOX News and ranting ignorantly against false birth certificates and making incongruous spelling errors about the socialist government while cashing his unemployment checks. Good people turn away too because they do not want to see or because they want to believe we are better than the worst of us. It is towards those living in this grey area that we need to turn our attention, because it is they who must see the damage that is done by standing idly by if we are ever going to stop abuse and human destruction.

The Pretend Society, by S. Brian Willson

This is from the website of S. Brian Willson, and the post is found here.

The Pretend Society

March 5, 2012

I was once a young man, very much like the young men and women who have gone to Iraq and Afghanistan as US military soldiers. I grew up believing in the red, white and blue. I believed that the United States had a sacred mission to spread democracy around the world. Viet Nam was my generation’s war. I did not volunteer, but when I was drafted, I answered the call. It was in Viet Nam that my journey toward a different kind of knowledge began.

One hot sunny morning in April 1969 I found myself in a small Mekong Vietnamese fishing village that had just been bombed, burned bodies lying everywhere. My job in that moment was to assess the success of bombing missions of so-called military targets. In my naivete, it never occurred to me that the countless targets, systematically being bombed, were undefended, inhabited rice farming and fishing villages. In effect, all that mattered was the creation of “enemy” body counts – lots of them – Washington’s demonic criteria for defining “success.” I was overwhelmed in grief as I looked into the eyes of young, napalmed, blackened mothers with children – hundreds of them – lying in their own village 9,000 miles distant from my sleepy farm community in upstate New York. I gagged when I witnessed these horrible scenes of carnage, and later became enraged at the incomprehensible lie that I had so easily believed in.

What on earth was going on? Americans were taught that among nations we were unique: a nation of laws, not of men. In one shamefully startling moment in a Vietnamese village, I realized I had been brainwashed, mesmerized by US American mythology. I was overcome by an irreversible knowledge that a huge lie had been perpetrated by men in open defiance of the laws of the land at the expense of countless innocent people.

I futilely demanded that my superiors in Saigon headquarters stop the bombing that violated both US and international laws of warfare prohibiting targeting of civilians or their infrastructure. My pleas were summarily ignored, confirming that in fact there are no laws of war. The pilots of these planes were rewarded for their routinely successful turkey shoots at 300 feet, while other young men back in the states were jailed for burning the national symbol that represented this very policy of burning human beings – the US flag.

The vast majority of US citizenry were paying taxes to finance this grotesquely criminal war, absurdly touted by political, religious, economic and many academic leaders as necessary to protect our national security by destroying other, far-away people’s aspirations for independence. I staggered at how preposterous and racist this policy was. Later I learned that Ralph McGehee, a CIA officer in Viet Nam, had revealed intelligence that could find no significant support for our intervention there. McGehee became depressed when his bosses in Washington reported exactly the opposite to the US American public. He reluctantly concluded that the CIA is the covert action arm of the President’s foreign policy advisers which reports and shapes “intelligence” to justify desired political policy.

This basic lie has been with us since our country’s origins. We ignore the fundamental fact that the US was built on dispossession and genocide of hundreds of ancient nations of Indigenous peoples, describing ourselves as being “as a city upon a hill,” and later as an “exceptional” people. We celebrate Thanksgiving, a holiday that was first officially proclaimed by the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1637 to commemorate the massacre of 700 Pequot men, women and children at what is now Groton, Connecticut. Today, Groton is the home of the Electric Boat Corporation which makes US nuclear submarines. Thus, our official life as a nation is constructed on a shared denial of painful realities and the suffering they created, and continue to create. Denial as a way of life is politics in US America.

Even our founding document, the Constitution, is suspect. The Convention was conducted by 55 well-to-do White men meeting in strict secrecy, and the document was never submitted to a popular vote. Domination by a very few men and the subordination of the many was made the law of the land, in effect, assuring that inherited property replaced inherited government, commercial enterprises reigning over human liberty. However, that is not how it is taught. As we persist in believing the lie that it is “we the people” and not “we the largest property owners” who govern this country, we assure our continued disempowerment.

For more than two centuries, the process of preserving and expanding private property and profits under the lofty rhetoric of living in a democracy has been assured by over 560 US military interventions in more than 100 countries, murdering millions of people. I did not know this history when I was in Viet Nam. One discovers deceit and secrecy surrounding every one of these foreign interventions (necessary to assure public support), starting with the very first intervention in the Dominican Republic in 1798 and through all of our wars and interventions to the present ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. World War II was no exception. Journalist Robert B. Stinnett discovered similar deceit behind US entrance into World War II, the so-called “good war.” His research confirms that not only was the attack on Pearl Harbor known in advance at the highest levels from decoded Japanese intelligence, but it was deliberately provoked.

Psychologist Carl Jung has described how the psychology of nations with imperial ambitions successfully hides its dark internal “shadows” (harsh truths) by projecting outward its own evils onto other nations described as enemies (“demons”): Everything our nation does is touted as good, everything the “enemy” does is evil. But many of us obedient soldiers who participated first hand in these imperial wars of good versus evil had these projections quickly stripped from our eyes. We discovered in fact that we were the savages, not those lying dead at our feet in their home villages whom we had been taught to demonize.

It is easy to identify our nation’s shadows by carefully examining the images we project onto others. But if we continue to maintain a dangerous, distorted vision of the world, we assure protection of our moral high-mindedness at the expense of severely weakening our grasp of reality. We ensure our own destruction unless we muster the courage to look at our own dark shadows, whether as individuals or nations. Instead, we pretend, endlessly.

How many of our citizens know of the systematic crimes committed by the US throughout the world that have been constant, remorseless, and fully documented? As British playwright and Nobel Prize recipient Harold Pinter angrily comments: “Nobody talks about them…It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest.”  The US just wouldn’t be involved in such criminal interventions any more than our origins are built upon dispossession and genocide.

Over 100 years ago, noted US socialist and reformer Upton Sinclair bemoaned our corrupt political and media system, and his words still ring true: “…we are just like Rome. Our legislatures are corrupt; our politicians are unprincipled; our rich men are ambitious and unscrupulous. Our newspapers have been purchased and gagged; our colleges have been bribed; our churches have been cowed. Our masses are sinking into degradation and misery; our ruling classes are becoming wanton and cynical.”

Pretending to be democratic takes a lot of effort

This harsh political reality has required the constant managing of the “public” mind to assure mass “democratic” compliance with the undemocratic oligarchic economic and political structures. Pretending to be democratic takes a lot of effort. Edward L. Bernays, the premier pioneer of US public relations, argued that the ability to shape and direct public opinion had become indispensable to the maintenance of order. President Woodrow Wilson was re-elected in 1916 on the promise that he would keep the US neutral, and would not send “American” boys to war in Europe. Once elected, however, ongoing pressures from US banking and other economic interests to enter the war on the side of England required Wilson to develop a strategy to convince a public overwhelmingly against the war to change their minds. With Bernays’ coaching, Wilson created the first modern de facto Minister for Propaganda, selecting liberal newspaperman George Creel to head up The Committee for Public Information (CPI). Creel launched an intense advertising campaign using catch phrases and fear-inducing language with 75,000 traveling speakers (the famous Four Minute Men), ads, and essays reaching every nook and cranny of the United States.

Fifty years later, as noted above, CIA officers realized during Viet Nam that another war was being stage managed from Washington, as the Vietnamese were telling us they understandably wanted no part of our imperial ambitions. This is systematically documented in the Pentagon Papers, released in 1971 by Pentagon insider Daniel Ellsberg.

Now, in the 21st Century we increasingly discover that the so-called War on Terror – actually a war of wholesale terror on retail terror, is itself stage managed, as Stephan Salisbury describes in his excellent expose, Mohamed’s Ghosts: An American Story of Love and Fear in the Homeland. “The plain fact is that if there is no ‘enemy within,’ if ‘homegrown’ cells are not simply elusive but an illusion – as appears increasingly to be the case – then the entire apparatus of the war on terror crumbles in the homeland…What can be imagined has replaced the actual.”

Brazilian educator Paulo Freire observed that manipulation of public thinking “is an instrument of conquest” and an indispensable means by which the “dominant elites try to conform the masses to their objectives.” Everything is make believe; honesty is dangerous. Wars abroad and wars at home must be constantly stage managed to keep the pretentions alive. Our national news constantly stage manages events to conform to our convenient view of ourselves as “exceptional.” Infotainment replaces information.

Eminent quantum physicist David Bohm summed up our dilemma perfectly. Since exploitation continues to be the essential feature of a modern society bent on accumulation of “wealth,” and its popular consumption, man is doomed to ever-increasing confusion, for he has to justify this theft to himself. “This is in fact impossible, except by continual recourse to confusion. For how else can you justify the arbitrary authority of some people over others? You can pretend that God or nature ordered it, that the others are inferior, that we are superior, etc. But once you start on this line, you can never allow yourself to think straight again, for fear that the truth will come out. You tell the child that she or he must be honest, treat people fairly, etc. Just this one point is enough to destroy the minds of most children. How can you square up the emotion of love and truth with that of plundering an enemy, stealing his wealth, murdering helpless people, and enslaving others?”

Viet Nam was not a mistake any more than the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars were a mistake. There neither was or is anything different about these wars. They are part of a pattern of brutality written into our country’s DNA. The long pattern of US intervention policy does not make atrocities by individual soldiers inevitable, but it does make it inevitable that US soldiers as a whole would murder many civilians. Currently, Army private Bradley Manning is accused of revealing to the public numerous and egregious US war crimes in Iraq (the truth). He has been incarcerated for nearly two years awaiting a trial that military judicial authorities say promises life in prison or possibly death. This dramatically contrasts with the recent exoneration (pretend), with no jail time, by that same military system, of eight US Marines, four of whom were officers, of cold-blooded murder of 24 unarmed civilians in Haditha, Iraq, aged one year to 76 years, shooting them at close range in the head and chest. The evil of the US simply does not occur.

Since the first European settlers raped, pillaged, and massacred the local Indian populations in order to claim the land for themselves, we in the United States have felt it our manifest destiny as exceptional people to gain ever more material goods, even at the expense of anyone and everyone else, and the earth. We continue to treat others as inferiors. We are told that these human beings are demons – vermin – which we could only absurdly believe because we as a people have not yet found the courage to look within and discover our own inner darkness – our own vermin – that festers from believing in the lies of our national myths, that we are the “exceptional” people.

I can never forget the eyes I saw on mother’s faces as they clutched their children when they were caught by the bombs exploding in their villages. In a sudden moment of truth, I realized we are all connected. If we continue to pretend that we are not connected, we invite our own destruction, even extinction. How sad that we would pretend rather than be honest, and become real. Living in a pretend world assures that countless more men, women and children, here and abroad, will continue to be considered as worthless, as the power of the few continue their plunder. Our survival demands that we seek courage to examine our own shadows, rather than cowardly project those shadows onto others, and thus begin peeling back the layers of deception to recover our humanity.

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REFERENCES Cited:

Ralph W. McGehee, Deadly Deceits: My 25 Years in the CIA (New York: Sheridan Square Publications, 1983), 192.

Robert B. Stinnett, Day Of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor (New York: The Free Press, 2000).

Harold Pinter, Various Voices: Prose, Poetry, Politics, 1948–1998” (New York: Grove Press, 1998), 237.

Stuart Ewen, PR! A Social History of Spin (New York: Basic Books, 1996), 49.

Stephan Salisbury, Mohamed’s Ghosts: An American Story of Love and Fear in the Homeland (New York: Nation Books, 2010), 1–28.

Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: Herder and Herder, 1971), 144.

Lee Nichol, ed., The Essential David Bohm (London: Routledge, 2000), 217.

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S. Brian Willson is the author of “Blood on the Tracks-The Life and Times of S. Brian Willson” (PM Press, 2011). Willson is a Viet Nam veteran whose wartime experiences transformed him into a revolutionary nonviolent pacifist. He gained renown as a participant in a prominent 1986 veterans fast on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. One year later, on September 1, 1987, he was again thrust into the public eye when he was run over and nearly killed by a U.S. Navy Munitions train while engaging in a nonviolent blockade in protest of weapons shipments to El Salvador. Since the 1980s he has continued efforts to educate the public about the diabolical nature of U.S. imperialism while striving to “walk his talk” (on two prosthetic legs and a three-wheeled handcycle) and live a simpler life.

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Two Completely Separate Ideas — Or Maybe Not

I love the silly rituals of fall, the creatures and trappings of Halloween. I love tromping out into a muddy patch to bring in a gourd for jack-o-lantern carving. The air is a blend of warm and cool, the sun drifting from behind clouds, then hiding its face again. Perfect weather. Ours is the perfect climate for this holiday, moving as it does between sun and rain, the harvest and mud perfuming the gusty air.

And now, for the other thought flitting through my brain…

What I do not understand is why the cultures who are invaded by missionaries so freely take on the religion of their imperialists. And I honestly do not know, but do other religions besides Christianity and its versions go out and take over other cultures? Do Hindus, or Islamists, or Buddists, worm their way into villages of third world countries and offer assistance in exchange for belief in their systems? There is no more beastly means of destroying a culture from within, I think, than invading the people and converting them to your way of assessing the world. It’s horrific. I do not understand why the peoples of Africa and South America have embraced these religions that allowed the imperialists to come in and proliferate. Be humble. Be a lamb. Do not put up a fight as we push you out and steal your land and resources. Just think about the afterlife and all that it will bring to you, all the riches. Look away as we pillage and destroy you. What an arrogant, abusive way this is. Several generations later, after the people have been displaced, their cultures fully appropriated, they then seek the values of the culture that plundered theirs. It is considered a mark of the true obliteration of all that had been there before. We seek your wealth. We follow your god. We are you. Truly, it sickens me.

Mulling over what I’ve just written, perhaps my paragraphs are not so unrelated. Perhaps some of my rituals of fall were stolen from the culture we obliterated to be here, or that of the culture of some tribe in Europe, or somewhere. I really do not know.

Our Illusion of Connectivity

I go to facebook. I go to email. I check all the addresses. I go back to facebook. I check my blog. I go back to facebook. In all, I find not what I am looking for. It is not satisfying. I see posts I share. I read here and there. On email I get Truthout, read through the articles. Find one that is really interesting. Read to the bottom. Post on facebook. Go back to email. Go to facebook. Read Salon, click on the link to Continue Reading. In spite of my solid belief that this election is meaningless, I still recoil when a friend likes Romney. He’s such a self-absorbed, arrogant ass, an emotional toddler. And his running mate, ewww. That guy is a sociopath. I have a physical reaction to them and wonder what is wrong when someone I know thinks this person is worth supporting. Then again, I feel frustration at the Obama love too. He’s not the Jesus they want him to be. He’s worse than Bush. He gets away with more because the Dems have their man so no one is paying attention. Ughh. Go back to email. Nothing. Something from Powell’s. Something from Bug of the Day. Go back to facebook. Share a picture of some cute animal or funny thing from George Takei, but overall. No connection. Not really.

I go to these websites alone in my house looking for a connection but there is not one. I want to communicate. I want conversation. I want intellectual stimulation. I want to discuss philosophy, that amazing talk by Alain de Botton on atheism. I want someone else to care as much as I do about what we are doing to our planet. But it’s all futility, bytes and pixels and illusion that there is connection. Searching from page to page, hoping one of the people I know will actually speak to me, to ME, and not to the general public that is their online community, is an exercise in futility. We claim to be more connected than ever, but we are further from connection than ever before. Just because I can share a comment with a friend I met in the Hague last summer does not mean there is any connection. It’s so minute as to be laughable. I read a story that brings tears to my eyes. Instead of talking to a friend about the details there, I post a comment that says, “Dang, I cried.” “Me too,” she comments back. That’s the extent of it.

I long for stimulating dinner parties with friends. Or sharp banter about books over warm drinks in a cafe. Or even stupid, silly dancing and laughing with a best girlfriend. Yet I know this is an idealized version of community cultivated by movies and books. It doesn’t exist for most of us. It sure as hell doesn’t exist for me. I’ve tried to pull it together, to be the one who invites everyone over to make some feeble attempt at this, but no one ever shows up. I have a serious knack for being stood up at parties by all my guests. I think the problem isn’t that I’m some loser or something, but that I have an idealized idea of how these things should be, and that most or all of my friends have other things to do and are simply too busy.

So I troll. I make phone calls when I’m in the car and can’t do anything else (don’t worry, I have a car phone and I’m completely hands free). I write here and wonder if anyone I know will read what I write. They don’t, but I don’t begrudge them. If what I said was interesting, they would still be too busy, just as I am too busy too. It’s our 21st century, with its illusion of connectivity. It’s sad really. Sometimes I wish I had a big, ol’ front porch in a close-knit community where everyone came and shot the breeze. I know, I know. Too many movies like The Jane Austen Book Club, or Fried Green Tomatoes. It’s what some team thought of and put together on celluloid. I get it. Just like the teams that make families in catalogs look just a little too perfect. Just like Photoshop. It’s all an illusion. I don’t think we are better off. Not even close. It’s lonelier. It’s isolating. And I have no idea how to change it, at least for me.

More Pointless Rambling

I started writing something, but it was so dumb, I had to erase it and start over.

Driving around, waiting in line at the movie theater, being alone nearly all the time (not counting when I’m with my daughters, which is most of the time), I have thoughts of what to write. It happens all the time. Then I turn on my computer and away it goes. I keep a notebook and if I’m in a position to write something down, I do, but mostly, I just forget. I did write an HM with a slash through it in my notebook to remind me to write something about the stupid signs on Highway 26. They are red HMs with red lines through them. NO HAZARDOUS MATERIALS. Um, I hate to break it to the genius committee that thought that sign up, if someone was going to drive some hazardous materials somewhere, that person is not going to give a damn about that stupid sign telling them no hazardous materials are allowed. It’s real purpose I think (in my cynical mind) is that it is to make all of us driving along look up and think, Wow, those road department people are really looking out for us. No hazardous materials. Next time I’m driving some, I’ll make sure to take another route. Dumb.

Oh, another thing I’ve thought of a lot is that we are all people. The person who puts up that sign. The police. The president. All of us. It is humans letting others decide how things are going to be, all of us agreeing to follow some social order, that allows it to happen. It doesn’t even occur to people while they are doing it. If I don’t do what is allowable in society, some other people by tacit agreement, will take me down, one way or another. We get the ticket for running the stop sign, we pay it or the people who give out tickets will eventually get me, be it through a higher fine or a bench warrant or whatever. That’s the unquestioned part. But what if all the people along the way decided they didn’t care that I got that ticket and didn’t do anything about it? What if we all stopped paying mortgages and all the people working at the banks didn’t pay theirs either or do anything when we didn’t pay? Who is to stop this? It’s all the people along the way agreeing to do what they do as a group that allows all the behavior control to happen. It’s too bad that more people don’t go along with some things.

Anyway, I had more thoughts, but I’m tired. Funny how people now use the new handy, dandy WordPress LIKE feature, a’ la Facebook and whatnot. I kind of miss the comments. I used to get all kinds of comments, but now it’s just likes, which is fine. I get it. But anyway, I think it’s cool that people like what I write. I like it.

Too Much Input!

Our culture seems almost pathologically incapable of existing in the public sphere without inundating our senses with constant and invasive input. Go to the grocery store, noise playing or a television blaring in the background. Go to a coffee shop, loud noise playing, not even in the background. Go to the pool, loud noise playing on speakers. Those of us who would wish for the simple noises of the locale we are in are not even considered. We don’t exist in the mind’s of most of those in charge of public places.

The constant noise and bombardment wears me out. I feel it in my bones and cells whenever I go somewhere with a screen blaring or speakers turned much too high. Too much input! Every time it makes me wonder how many children with learning problems or various forms of autism or any other ailment where the senses cannot quite process all that is going on around them suffer in these places when those of us without any such ailment can barely tolerate it. It bothers me when I go somewhere that is theoretically designed with children in mind and the biggest thing available to them is a screen blaring some noise. I leave. My children, having been raised away from such things, are exhausted and overwhelmed by it all. I suspect other children are too. Both of my girls were always able to play and entertain themselves for hours on end. I gave credit to the fact that a television never babysat them. I find when either of them are around televisions for any length of time, they become hyper. Used as a tool to keep children busy, it is ironic that it seems to result in the opposite of the behavior desired. I’m an adult and televisions overstimulate me. I can’t imagine how it is for small children, with the constant noise and rotating images and advertising and noise, and more noise, and again, noise.

In any case, I began this post two days ago after going to a swim park with noisy music blaring. I later entered a grocery store with music so loud the cashier could not speak to me without yelling, all the while televisions were screaming in the background–well, foreground, really. It was all too much. Now it is days later and I’m at home and hear some birds outside and a breeze moving through the Camellia bush outside my window and the urge to write about all of it has passed. Such is the nature of my life these days. Maybe in having little to no time to express the writing urges, they have just left. I don’t know. I blame some of it on being a working single mother, so I guess I’ll know when my little one is bigger and off at school and time frees up a bit. If the writing urges take over again, I’ll know it was the busy-ness. If not, maybe it was a part of me that is gone. Such is life. Maybe I’ll mourn it when the time comes. For now, I’m just enjoying being able to hear myself think.

These Breasts were Made for Feeding

This article was published on Huffington Post and can be seen here. If you like it, buzz it up and feel free to share, with proper accreditation of course.

These Breasts were Made for Feeding

~ by Lara M. Gardner

Time magazine recently ran a cover story about long-term breastfeeding. It depicted a cover photo of a woman standing and staring into the distance, a three-year-old boy standing on a chair in front of her, attached to her breast. Needless to say, the photo and article caused an uproar. Some people thought it was obscene. Others, myself included, thought it was misleading, to say the least.

It doesn’t surprise me that breastfeeding and breastfeeding to an age that more naturally suits biology has come to the fore in the public consciousness. It fits right in with the resurrection of the right-wing war on women, statements by politicians that women should never have been able to vote, laws that force women to share their sex lives with employers, and basically anything that says women cannot and should not be able to determine anything about themselves, and most especially their sexuality or anything related to their bodies (unless they are getting their breasts cut off because they have cancer, then it is okay).

All this furor over women breastfeeding children beyond an age our culture has deemed appropriate (corporate profits aside) belies a greater underlying issue. Ultimately, any discussion of breastfeeding as obscene is part of this American cultural hostility against women. Our culture would like to maintain that women’s bodies are property and should be available at all times as sexual playthings. Seeing the female body as life-giving and nurturing (i.e., breastfeeding) is a far more powerful message, and certainly not something that can be owned and controlled.

The Time photo is offensive precisely because it is obscene, but it is not obscene because the young child in it is breastfeeding. Rather, it is obscene because it has taken something that is nurturing (and arguably scientifically best for children and women), and turned it into something salacious and indecent.  Nothing about the photo is in any way representative of breastfeeding as it is. It seeks to make breastfeeding seem suggestive and forbidden, something tawdry that should be stopped before it gets out of control, something that should be hidden under a blanket.  No matter that breasts are flaunted as sexual playthings in advertising and on magazine covers. In the latter context, breasts are kept in their place. It is the former that touches a nerve because it suggests that breasts might have another, more fundamental purpose, one that doesn’t involve breasts as property or women as objects.

Perhaps the editors of Time intended for the photo to inflame and kickstart further discussion about women’s bodies and women’s place in our culture. Perhaps they understood that breastfeeding is something so fundamental to being a woman, something as life-giving as the birth process itself, that it should be acceptable in our culture, without question and without blankets. Perhaps they wanted to make it loud and clear just how ridiculous it is to claim this act is obscene. Maybe they weren’t just trying to sell magazines. I doubt it, but it is possible.

(In the interests of full disclosure, this article was written while my 2 1/2 year old daughter nursed in my lap.)

My Eyes Cannot See

I am learning that my eyes cannot see.  I have for so long had one view of how my body should look, that undoing that view requires changing my eyes.  They simply cannot see me physically for how I am, or see that how I am is how I should be.

Nearly 13 years ago, after the birth of my first daughter, I gradually realized how much I had wrapped up who I am into how I look.  When suddenly I did not look as I had, I had to adapt. I didn’t like it, but I had no choice. I weighed more than I ever had in my life.  It was still below average, but I felt huge, and I realized that I had to accept it because no matter what I did, I did not lose those last 15 post-baby pounds.  Considering I had always been below-average thin, it wasn’t such a bad thing.  Just different.

When my daughter was four, she was in a baby ballet pageant with a bunch of other toddlers and small children.  They looked like adorable little sausages in their fluffy costumes and wings. I thought they were precious.

Watching them dance on stage, my mom leaned over and whispered, “I can’t believe they would let all those little fatties dance in those tight outfits.”  The words were a slap. I realized in that moment that I had been hearing similar statements my entire life.  My looks had been commented on and dissected for as long as I could remember.  Still weighing 15 pounds more than I had pre-baby, it was an eye opener, further realization that my eyes had been wearing the wrong glasses for my entire life.

Within another year I was back at pre-baby weight. It took nearly 4 years, and ultimately I shed the final pounds when I stopped breastfeeding my daughter at age four and a half.  I was satisfied with this.  I figured I had learned the lesson those four plus years of being bigger than I was used to.  I also thought my eyes could see, that I had learned with a different prescription.  I was learning so much more about life, and unlearning so much other early conditioning, the body image adjustments were simply part of all of it.

Since gradually understanding this, I have noticed that both my parents are still completely fixated on looks and the body. I have wondered what happened to them in their upbringing that this is how they think.  They are raising my brother’s daughter.  She is nearly 5 and somewhat clumsy.  In terms of western ideals of beauty, she is not excessively beautiful or not.  She is an average looking little girl, based on this definition.  Personally, I think she’s darling. Her impish personality shines through in all she does.  However, when my parents visit us, they compare her looks to those of my daughters.  “Isabel is so dainty.  She has such “feminine” features, just like you had and Milla has.  Sara isn’t like that.  Sara is a clod.  She’s so much like her mother.”  Comparisons, comparisons, all based on looks. It’s constant.  During an entire visit I will hear how beautiful Isabel is over and over.  I notice and it feels strange.  I try to direct the conversation elsewhere.  I know my parents.  If I object, they’ll clam up and not visit for a long time and it will be because I was “too critical.” So to keep the peace, I don’t say anything and remember that their visits are infrequent. They will not have the influence on my children that was had on me. But not poor Sara.

In any case, here I am again, post baby at two and a half years. I have begun working with a personal trainer.  I’m struggling to bring my weight back down to that pre-baby level.  It’s not working.  I’m getting a lot stronger, but I’m not getting thinner.  I am still breastfeeding and this may be part of it, but yesterday when working on one of the many moves I struggle through in personal training (oh, it is so much more work at this age than 20), I finally allowed myself to look into the wall of mirrors and see what it is I saw.  I have avoided these mirrors.  When I’m facing them for whatever reason, I will not look at me.  I do not want to see how I look.

Yesterday, I looked.  I realized that the looking was completely uncomfortable, but I forced myself to keep looking.  I realized that my hips are slightly wider than I want them to be, that my breasts are saggier.  I kept looking away, but then told myself, NO.  I looked again.  I stared. I examined my body completely.  I criticized the self there.  Too big, too big, too big, I thought.

Last night and since, I have been thinking about that.  If I saw a woman with the body that I have, I would not think she was too big. I would think she is fine.  Why the double standard for myself?  I simply can’t see physical body as it is.  I then concluded that my eyes cannot see.  They have never been able to see.  It’s another layer of early conditioning I will need to undo.  Our culture makes it much more difficult. My upbringing makes it more difficult. I’m not sure what the result will be for me, but I want to change my eyes so I no longer believe that someone with my shape who is not overweight, is getting physically stronger all over, and is still actually quite athletic is just fine, and that no matter what I weigh, no matter what I look like, it doesn’t really change who I am.

There But for the Grace of God

Yesterday at the grocery store, the clerk asked if I would like to donate my bag credit to charity. Sure, why not. I said that the store should donate the money to the large numbers of homeless parents and children I have seen around the city in the last few months.  The clerk said, “Well, they could go to a shelter. They just choose not to because they make more money begging.”

Her attitude bothered me a lot, and it is typical of many who see homeless people and presume that their way is the only way and that if the poor person just did what they were “supposed to” then maybe things would be different. It’s such a paternalistic, patronizing view. It presumes so much and absolves personal responsibility, not of the poor person, but of the holder of the opinion.

Just because someone is homeless, it does not mean that person is stupid, made poor choices, deserves it, etcetera. In today’s economy, where the super wealthy have gotten away with robbing us blind and they use our assumptions about the poor against us to achieve their agenda, slipping from the middle class to homelessness is not such a stretch. I see it all the time.  In just the last two months, I have had six chapter 13 clients who had to convert or modify their plans because their employers laid them off or cut their income in half. Does this make my clients stupid, their choices poor, do they deserve it? No. The longer we keep blaming the victims, the longer we will allow what is happening to our world continue to happen.

I responded to the grocery clerk that just because there are shelters doesn’t mean the person can get into them. Having a child is not a sure thing. Shelters are full. Shelters are not easy to come by. But I realized after I left that this had been the wrong answer. What I should have said instead was, “So what? Just because they are poor, they have to take your version of how they receive a handout for their homelessness to be acceptable? Who are you to decide that your way is the only way for them? Why is it that because they are homeless they suddenly accede the self and the right to make those choices? Why isn’t making more money begging an acceptable choice, and how is that different than you choosing a different job because you might earn more? Why shouldn’t they be able to make that choice if it gets their child fed?”

I didn’t say this. As is often the case, I thought of the best answer after I was gone. I should have said it, and next time I will. We have got to change the supercilious theory that because someone is poor they deserve it. And in today’s climate, we should all be thanking the heavens and saying to ourselves, “There but for the grace of God go I.” It’s a slippery slope and it doesn’t take much to end up at the bottom of it, especially in this country where we give billions to banksters while we scold poor people for using food stamps. It’s truly obscene.

Do we Have to Destroy Ourselves?

I sat down to work on my book and took a couple of minutes first to look at Facebook. First I saw a photo of a dead child in Afghanistan whose body was badly burned. Then I saw the story about the person who went on a murderous rampage there, killing women and children, mostly girls under six. Now I can’t write. I’m sickened and horrified. My heart hurts for these people. All we do in the name of our imperialistic superiority makes me completely ill. I can do nothing except object, and this is not enough.  When the fuck are humans going to stop allowing this to happen, all in the name of greed and power? We need to LEAVE this country! We do not belong there, at least in the capacity as a marauding military. We can’t even take care of our own. Every day when I walk through my city, even to the grocery store, I am confronted with the consequences of allowing greed and power to destroy our race and this planet. Women and children. Men and children. Women and men. Homeless. Living on the streets. Begging for food. It’s obscene. There is enough to go around if we stop allowing the greedy and powerful to steal it from us, if we stop killing and maiming and destroying and robbing our world blind. Enough already! Do we have to destroy ourselves to get it to end?

Rick Santelli is an Idiot…Still

I posted this a while back.  See it here.  I was responding to this moron the first time he opened his idiot face and let venom spew.   Of course, since he’s still slithering around out there, the post continues to garner hits, over two years later.  I reread what I wrote, and I can’t really improve on it.  All I said is still true.  So I’m posting it again.

Rick Santelli is an Idiot

I can’t believe this guy.  I heard him spouting off about how Americans shouldn’t pay for their neighbor to have one more bathroom.  I wanted to reach into the screen and slap his ugly head.  What an idiot.

Here’s a clue, Mr. Smarty Pants:  People who are in foreclosure are in foreclosure because the system is a mess, not because they are “deadbeats” and want a free ride from the government or their neighbors.  Want to point fingers, idiot?  Point them at the banks that overvalued properties in the first place to get people into questionable loans so brokers could collect bigger fees.  Point those fingers at the lenders for telling consumers that their ARM loan wouldn’t be a problem because they would be able to refinance in three years when the rates change (and hey, rates have been going down forever, so  why shouldn’t this continue? Your payment will be lower!) while simultaneously neglecting to point out there would be no way in hell any traditional lender would refinance property that is mortgaged for more than it is worth.  And oh, be sure to keep it a secret from the borrower that refinancing will not be an option if you lose your job.  How about pointing the fingers at lenders who convinced people to take out that second mortgage or a HELOC to “consolidate their debt” without pointing out that trading unsecured debt for secured debt would make bankruptcy pointless should the need arise?  How about pointing fingers at the pathetic and useless Bush administration who drove us into an economic crisis and higher unemployment than we have seen in decades?  Let’s just blame the victim for losing their job.  They should have known to move to China or India ten years ago so they would be there when their jobs were shipped overseas.

I heard the jerk in an interview claim that buyers should have hired lawyers.  Guess what?  Lawyers aren’t free.  And assuming someone could afford $225 an hour to hire one, a lawyer wouldn’t hire an appraiser to know that the bank overvalued the property.  Plus hiring an attorney when you buy a house is theoretically unnecessary anyway.  Mortgage brokers and lenders have a fiduciary duty of care to their clients.  This means they are held to a higher standard of care in dealing with the public.  They are expected to act EXTRA honest because it is expected that they have greater knowledge about the mortgage industry than consumers.  How does this work, Mr. Santelli?  Are the consumers supposed to suddenly educate themselves so they can catch dishonest bankers and brokers?  Would you hold a patient to the same duty before going to a doctor?  Am I supposed to go get an MBA before I go to a financial expert to ensure they are upholding their fiduciary duty?  Should I get an MD before going to the doctor?

I can’t stand the mentality that we are not obligated to help one another.  Guess what?  We are all in this together.  We can sit in our foreclosed bunkers with our guns aimed at our neighbors and barbed wire wrapped around our hearts to protect us from the enemy, ensuring we keep that property because, hell, it belongs to us, right?  We don’t need to share.  Or we can grow up and realize that society at its heart means social.  It means taking responsibility for one another.  It means what we do for each other we do for ourselves. It means we care for and protect one another and when someone is down, we offer them a hand up.  Taking care of one another is the stuff life is made of.  The alternate choice is to live like Rick Santelli, cold and alone with his gun pointed at everyone, dragging his loot into the afterlife.  Good luck with that, Buddy.

P.S. Being a stock-broker might be a high risk financially, but it is not hard work.

Have Mercy

I’m probably a lone wolf in saying this, but I don’t think we should cheer the murder of anyone, even someone like Bin Laden.  Be grateful, perhaps, but cheering and flag-waving over the death of another is tasteless and crude.  I felt the same at the death of Saddam Hussein, and also at the execution of Ted Bundy.  There is just something vulgar about exuberance over the death of another, even one who has caused much harm.  We should with mercy and grace acknowledge his passing, and be grateful that he can no longer harm another, but it is simply not the time for a party.

Free Bradley Manning by William Rivers Pitt

This article can be seen on Truthout here.

Free Bradley Manning

Tuesday 26 April 2011
by: William Rivers Pitt, Truthout

(Photo: thaths [3])

It is dangerous to be right in matters on which established authorities are wrong.

Voltaire

I have a confession to make: I have been on the fence about Bradley Manning as the drama of his detention and the Wikileaks documents have unfolded. While I believe deeply that those who leak classified materials are acting out of conscience and for the good of the people, I also believe criminal acts – even ones of conscience – must be met with punishment as required in any society that wishes to live by the rule of law. Arrest and detention are part of any illegal act of civil disobedience, and are to be expected as the natural consequence of such an act.

Chain yourself to a fence, and expect to be arrested for trespassing. Pour blood on the nose cone of a nuclear missile, and expect to be arrested for destruction of property. The threat of arrest, detention and possible conviction is part of the package that is civil disobedience, and those who take part in it must accept the consequences as part of their act of conscience. Indeed, it is the acceptance of punishment that lies at the heart of that conscience: they are breaking a law to highlight a wrong, are willing to be punished to underscore that wrong, and in doing so, demonstrate how far they are personally willing to go in order to end that wrong and inspire others in the process.

That’s where I’ve been with Bradley Manning – his was an act of conscience that broke the law, and the consequences of that act must be accepted – until now.

How wrong I was.

This situation goes far beyond such a simplistic cut-and-dried viewpoint. It cuts to the core of what we are as a nation, what we wish to be, and what must be done to honor the values we pay so much lip service to, even as we fail time and again to practice what we preach. What Manning has been charged with goes far beyond an act of conscience; they were, in fact, an attempt to save the very soul of these United States.

It is widely considered facile and weak to make Nazi comparisons in any argument, but unfortunately for every citizen of this country, the comparison here is all too apt. During the Nuremberg trials in the aftermath of World War II, accused war criminals were often heard to claim, “I was only following orders,” as a means of justifying their savage and barbaric activities. The excuse was rejected out of hand, further enshrining the idea that soldiers and officers are more than mere automatons who are expected only to do as they are told. Criminal acts, even in a military situation, are not to be condoned, coddled or tolerated. Men were hanged by the judges at Nuremberg to emphasize the point.

And here is Bradley Manning, who like every enlisted American soldier, swore an oath to support, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against enemies both foreign and domestic, and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same. That same oath requires the oath-taker to follow the orders of the president and superior officers, but if those hanged men at Nuremberg prove anything, it is that unlawful orders are by definition void, and should not be followed if the oath sworn to the Constitution is to mean anything at all.

Make no mistake: the documents Bradley Manning has been accused of leaking are prima facie evidence of illegal orders being given and executed all along the chain of command. This has been made even more abundantly clear with the recent revelation of some 700 pages of documents detailing the ongoing travesty that is America’s detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. According to various reports [4]:

The files depict a system often focused less on containing dangerous terrorists or enemy fighters, than on extracting intelligence. Among inmates who proved harmless were an 89-year-old Afghan villager, suffering from senile dementia, and a 14-year-old boy who had been an innocent kidnap victim.

A number of British nationals and residents were held for years even though US authorities knew they were not Taliban or al-Qaida members. One Briton, Jamal al-Harith, was rendered to Guantánamo simply because he had been held in a Taliban prison and was thought to have knowledge of their interrogation techniques. The US military tried to hang on to another Briton, Binyam Mohamed, even after charges had been dropped and evidence emerged he had been tortured.

The files also detail how many innocents or marginal figures swept up by the Guantánamo dragnet because US forces thought they might be of some intelligence value.

One man was transferred to the facility “because he was a mullah, who led prayers at Manu mosque in Kandahar province, Afghanistan … which placed him in a position to have special knowledge of the Taliban”. US authorities eventually released him after more than a year’s captivity, deciding he had no intelligence value.

Another prisoner was shipped to the base “because of his general knowledge of activities in the areas of Khowst and Kabul based as a result of his frequent travels through the region as a taxi driver“.

The files also reveal that an al-Jazeera journalist was held at Guantánamo for six years, partly in order to be interrogated about the Arabic news network.

(Emphasis added)

Also illuminated in these leaked documents is the shameful use of torture, described through the cruel euphemism of “enhanced interrogation,” that was rampant at Guantanamo Bay. Thanks to such disgraceful practices, the prisoners currently detained there now find themselves in a ridiculous legal limbo; they may be innocent or guilty, but because they were tortured, they cannot be brought to trial because evidence obtained against them was gathered illegally. The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before, refuses to let the legal process do its work, nor are they willing to release these prisoners, so there they sit.

In a filthy irony, Bradley Manning was exposed to a number of grotesquely similar “stress tactics” used against Guantanamo prisoners while detained at Quantico. He was deprived of sleep, humiliated and berated by his captors, isolated, exposed to cold, and made to stand naked for extended periods of time. Such acts are straight out of the War on Terror handbook, and like the prisoners at Guantanamo, were used against a man who has yet to be convicted of anything. The mistreatment tactics against prisoners that Manning allegedly exposed have been used against him, one more crime in a symphony of crimes.

Bradley Manning sits today in Leavenworth prison awaiting a hearing to determine whether or not he will face a court martial. The case against him seems as disorganized and specious as the cases against many of the prisoners at Guantanamo, but let us accept for the moment that he did, in fact, release those classified documents.  If so, he should be thanked for his actions. As Glenn Greenwald so eloquently argued [5], “WikiLeaks is responsible for more newsworthy scoops over the last year than all media outlets combined: it’s not even a close call. And if Bradley Manning is the leaker, he has done more than any other human being in our lifetime to bring about transparency and shine a light on what military and government power is doing.”

Moreover, if there is actually justice to be found in this morally crippled nation, Bradley Manning should be cleared of all charges and released. His was not some casual act of disobedience, nor was it an attack against his country. Bradley Manning was fulfilling the oath he swore to protect and defend the Constitution. He exposed serial criminal acts perpetrated by his superiors, which is a moral necessity for anyone who has taken such an oath.

We know the truth of the acts made by both the Bush and Obama administrations in Guantanamo, and they are illegal on their face. We are a better nation today because we know this, and we have Bradley Manning to thank for it. By exposing war crimes, he has been labeled a criminal even before any hearings have been held. He has been mistreated in a way you would not treat a dog. He showed us the war crimes committed in our name, and has been crushed for it.

Justice demands his release. Furthermore, justice demands a wide inquiry into the criminal acts of both the Bush and Obama administrations as pertaining to the prisoners of Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. Justice demands prosecution for those acts against the real criminals responsible for them. They have driven our nation into the gutter, and to punish Bradley Manning for attempting to haul us back from that abyss is to admit, in broad daylight and with no shame, that justice has no meaning anymore.

Corporate Tax Dodgers

Go to this link to sign a petition to congress requesting that they stop all corporate tax havens.  I doubt they will care (I’m a cynic in that regard), but hey, it can’t hurt, right?

In Prison for Taking a Liar Loan

This is simply disgusting and unthinkable.  I can’t believe I am a citizen of this crooked, backwards country.

This article can be found in the Business Section of the NY Times.

In Prison for Taking a Liar Loan

By JOE NOCERA

A few weeks ago, when the Justice Department decided not to prosecute Angelo Mozilo, the former chief executive of Countrywide, I wrote a column lamenting the fact that none of the big fish were likely to go to prison for their roles in the financial crisis.

Soon after that column ran, I received an e-mail from a man named Richard Engle, who informed me that I was wrong. There was, in fact, someone behind bars for what he’d supposedly done during the subprime bubble. It was his 48-year-old son, Charlie.

On Valentine’s Day, the elder Mr. Engle said, his son had entered a minimum-security prison in Beaver, W.Va., to begin serving a 21-month sentence for mortgage fraud. He then proceeded to tell me the tale of how federal agents nabbed his son — a tale he backed up with reams of documents and records that suggest, if nothing else, that when the federal government is truly motivated, there is no mountain it won’t move to prosecute someone it wants to nail. And it was definitely motivated to nail Charlie Engle.

Mr. Engle’s is a tale worth telling for a number of reasons, not the least of which is its punch line. Was Mr. Engle convicted of running a crooked subprime company? Was he a mortgage broker who trafficked in predatory loans? A Wall Street huckster who sold toxic assets?

No. Charlie Engle wasn’t a seller of bad mortgages. He was a borrower. And the “mortgage fraud” for which he was prosecuted was something that literally millions of Americans did during the subprime bubble. Supposedly, he lied on two liar loans.

“The Department of Justice has made prosecuting financial crimes, including mortgage fraud, a high priority,” said Neil H. MacBride, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, in a statement. (Mr. MacBride, whose office prosecuted Mr. Engle, declined to be interviewed.)

Apparently, though, it’s only a high priority if the target is a borrower. Mr. Mozilo’s company made billions in profit, some of it on liar loans that he acknowledged at the time were likely to be fraudulent and which did untold damage to the economy. And he personally was paid hundreds of millions of dollars.  Though he agreed last year to a $67.5 million fine to settle fraud charges brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission, it was a small fraction of what he earned.  Otherwise, he walked.  Thus does the Justice Department display its priorities in the aftermath of the crisis.

It’s not just that Mr. Engle is the smallest of small fry that is bothersome about his prosecution. It is also the way the government went about building its case. Although Mr. Engle took out the two stated-income loans, as liar loans are more formally called, in late 2005 and early 2006, it wasn’t until three years later that his troubles began.

As a young man, Mr. Engle had been a serious drug addict, but after he got clean, he became an ultra-marathoner, one of the best in the world. In the fall of 2006, he and two other ultra-marathoners took on an almost unimaginable challenge: they ran across the Sahara Desert, something that had never been done before. The run took 111 days, and was documented in a film financed by Matt Damon, who served as executive producer and narrator. Mr. Engle received $30,000 for his participation.

The film, “Running the Sahara,” was released in the fall of 2008. Eventually, it caught the attention of Robert W. Nordlander, a special agent for the Internal Revenue Service. As Mr. Nordlander later told the grand jury, “Being the special agent that I am, I was wondering, how does a guy train for this because most people have to work from nine to five and it’s very difficult to train for this part-time.” (He also told the grand jurors that sometimes, when he sees somebody driving a Ferrari, he’ll check to see if they make enough money to afford it. When I called Mr. Nordlander and others at the I.R.S. to ask whether this was an appropriate way to choose subjects for criminal tax investigations, my questions were met with a stone wall of silence.)

Mr. Engle’s tax records showed that while his actual income was substantial, his taxable income was quite small, in part because he had a large tax-loss carry forward, due to a business deal he’d been involved in several years earlier. (Mr. Nordlander would later inform the grand jury only of his much lower taxable income, which made it seem more suspicious.) Still convinced that Mr. Engle must be hiding income, Mr. Nordlander did undercover surveillance and took “Dumpster dives” into Mr. Engle’s garbage. He mainly discovered that Mr. Engle lived modestly.

In March 2009, still unsatisfied, Mr. Nordlander persuaded his superiors to send an attractive female undercover agent, Ellen Burrows, to meet Mr. Engle and see if she could get him to say something incriminating. In the course of several flirtatious encounters, she asked him about his investments.

After acknowledging that he had been speculating in real estate during the bubble to help support his running, he said, according to Mr. Nordlander’s grand jury testimony, “I had a couple of good liar loans out there, you know, which my mortgage broker didn’t mind writing down, you know, that I was making four hundred thousand grand a year when he knew I wasn’t.”

Mr. Engle added, “Everybody was doing it because it was simply the way it was done. That doesn’t make me proud of the fact that I am at least a small part of the problem.”

Unbeknownst to Mr. Engle, Ms. Burrows was wearing a wire.

Lying on a stated-income loan is, without question, a crime, and one ought not to excuse it even though, as Mr. Engle says, “everybody was doing it” — usually with the eager encouragement of their brokers. But the Engle case raises questions not just about the government’s priorities, but about something even more basic: did he even commit the crimes he is accused of?

Partly, I concede, Mr. Engle is easy to root for. He is a personable, upbeat man who has conquered some serious demons. Part of his Sahara expedition was aimed at raising money for a charity to help bring clean water to Africa. “Every experience in life has the ability to teach lessons if I am open to them,” he wrote on a blog as he prepared to enter prison. How can you not like someone like that?

But the more I looked into it, the more I came to believe that the case against him was seriously weak. No tax charges were ever brought, even though that was Mr. Nordlander’s original rationale. Money laundering, the suspicion of which was needed to justify the undercover sting, was a nonissue as well. As for that “confession” to Ms. Burrows, take a closer look. It really isn’t a confession at all. Mr. Engle is confessing to his mortgage broker’s sins, not his own.

Perhaps anticipating that problem, when Mr. Nordlander finally arrested Mr. Engle in May 2010, he claims to have elicited a stronger, better confession while Mr. Engle was handcuffed in the back seat of his car. Mr. Engle fervently denies this. This second supposed confession, however, was never captured on tape.

As for the loans themselves, on one of them Mr. Engle claimed an income of $15,000 a month. As it turns out, his total income in 2005, according to his accountant, was $180,000, which amounts to … hmmm …$15,000 a month, though of course Mr. Engle didn’t have the kind of job that generated monthly income. (In addition to real estate speculation, Mr. Engle gave motivational speeches and earned around $50,000 a year as a producer on the hit show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”)

The monthly income listed on the second loan was $32,500, an obviously absurd amount, especially since the loan itself was for only $300,000. It was a refinance of a property Mr. Engle already owned, allowing him to pull out $80,000 of the $215,000 in equity he had in the property.

Mr. Engle claims that he never saw that $32,500 claim and never signed the papers. Indeed, a handwriting analysis conducted by the government raised the distinct possibility that Mr. Engle’s signature and his initials in several places in the mortgage documents had been forged. As it happens, Mr. Engle’s broker for that loan, John J. Hellman, recently pleaded guilty to mortgage fraud for playing fast and loose with a number of mortgage applications. Mr. Hellman testified in court that Mr. Engle had signed the mortgage application. Early this week, Mr. Hellman received a reduced sentence of 10 months, less than half of Mr. Engle’s sentence, in no small part because of his willingness to testify against Mr. Engle.

Even the jurors seemed confused about how to think about Mr. Engle’s supposed crime. When it came time to pronounce a verdict, the jury found him not guilty of providing false information to the bank, which would seem to be the only fraud he could possibly have committed. Yet it still found him guilty of mortgage fraud. “I think the prosecution convinced the jury that I was guilty of something but they weren’t sure what,” Mr. Engle wrote in an e-mail.

Like many people, Mr. Engle’s biggest mistake was believing that housing prices could only go up. When the market collapsed, Mr. Engle defaulted on the two properties, which of course is not a crime. Although his accountant tried to persuade the banks to do a complicated refinancing, they refused and foreclosed on the properties. Like many Americans, Mr. Engle wound up being punished by the market for his mistake, losing all his remaining equity along with the properties themselves. Thanks to the government, though, his punishment was far more severe than most.

At his sentencing, Mr. Engle told the judge: “I can say with confidence that I can turn negatives into positives. I have no doubt I will make the best of it.” With his inspiring prison blog, Running in Place: A Blog About Surviving Adversity, he has already begun to do that.

Even when he emerges from prison, though, his ordeal will not be over. As part of his sentence, Mr. Engle was ordered to pay $262,500 in restitution to the owner of his mortgages. And what institution might that be? You guessed it: Countrywide, now owned by Bank of America.

Angelo Mozilo ought to get a good chuckle out of that one.

The Sad Truth

The sad truth is that rich, power-mongers have been stealing and raiding from the earth and the rest of us for thousands of years.  It only seems more imminent now because of globalization and easier access to information.  The Romans invaded and stole all of Europe (and others raided and stole on a smaller scale before that), then Europe expanded and stole the rest of the world.  At some point, the rest of us are going to have to go much more global than simply Egypt or Tunisia or any other small uprising and say Enough is enough! If we do that however, we can’t rise up and take their place.  That story is old too.

This is what humanity does.  Are we going to ever actually change it or keep letting it happen and lamenting when it does?

As an aside, I keep trying to stop drinking chai teas from Starbucks.  I get there for a while, stopping for months. Then I get cold or whatever and drink one. Then I think one more won’t hurt. The next thing I know I’m back craving the damn things all the time again.  Like right now.  Insidious crap, caffeine.

Mexico: The House the US has Set on Fire

This article has been published on OpEd News.   If you like it, rate it and share it.  You can see it here.

Mexico: The House the US has Set on Fire

By Lara Gardner

opednews.com

Mexico is a house the US has set on fire, then covered its doors and windows with bars, allowing the people inside to burn alive. Fueled by easy access to weapons from their neighbors to the north, drug lords have infiltrated all sectors of society, and now Mexico is arguably the most dangerous country in North America and one of the most dangerous in the world. Deregulation, privatization of government services, liberalized trade, and the “war on drugs” have made life and poverty in Mexico so unbearable that Mexican citizens risk their lives to try and escape the burning conflagration and come to the United States. The US created this mess, and, through “border reform,” seeks to keep Mexican citizens from attempting to escape.

Even more so than in the US, the rich have gotten richer on the backs of the Mexican poor. Thanks to corporate America’s demand for low wages, Mexicans confront American sweatshops, pollution, congestion, horrible living conditions, and no resources to deal with the increasing violence. As in the United States, agribusiness has destroyed the family farm. Wal-mart has put thousands of small, local businesses out of business. Free trade was sold as a means to improve the lives of Mexicans and Americans. It has led only to greater exploitation. American jobs were sent to Mexico to take advantage of cheap labor with little or no safety or environmental oversight. The “war on drugs” has made outlaws wealthy and created a dangerous and corrupt police state where no one is safe. Mexicans want to escape–how can we blame them?

Immigration reform is constantly on the US agenda, yet it isn’t really about reform; it is about racism, ignorance, and fear. Americans, suffering from decades of the same economic policies that are leading to greater poverty in Mexico, blame their woes on Mexico’s victims of those policies. The smoke and mirrors illusion that the rising level of poverty in the US is caused by liberal systems, government socialism, and immigrants is part of the same lie that keeps Americans blaming and fighting one another. As long as everyone is fighting each other, the bulk of the population won’t focus on the true causes of economic disparity taking over the planet.

While it is highly unlikely that this approach will happen, Americans need to reach out and support Mexicans and Mexico. Rather than turning immigration reform into a battle at the border, the US must eliminate trade policies that benefit only the wealthy. The US also needs to help Mexico build its infrastructure, providing access to basic services such as clean water and functional sewer systems, decent transportation, and a healthy environment. We must help it form a strong education system so its citizens can achieve their dreams. We need stronger gun regulations of our own so drug dealers on both sides of the border cannot get cheap and easy access to weapons. Finally, we must end the failed “war on drugs” that has made outlaws unimaginably wealthy and forces millions to live in fear for their lives every day.

Unless the US is willing to embrace difficult solutions to a complex problem, there will be no true immigration reform. Killing, jailing, or sending back those who seek refuge here is not any answer. Real reform is formidable and ambitious, but it is also possible. True immigration reform would make the citizens of Mexico want to stay in their homeland rather than escaping to a place where our worst is still the best they can hope for.

I Hope We Get You, Pure Med Spa, Britesmile, et al

I have completed the article and begun submitting it to magazines. It is my goal to get the issue as much widespread attention as possible.  I would also like to educate women about how to keep from getting taken by companies like Pure Med Spa.  They keep opening (and closing) under different names so consumers can’t keep up with who is legitimate and who is a thief.  There are steps consumers can take to keep from getting harmed by any med spa company, and especially this company run by these crooks.

Imagine if the Tea Party was Black, by Tim Wise

Dear Mr. Tim Wise, You are a genius.  You are so dead-on correct, I had to repost this for anyone who stumbles across what I write here.  Readers if you find me, please read this, then pass it on.

The link to this story can be found here.

“Imagine if the Tea Party Was Black” — Tim Wise

Let’s play a game, shall we? The name of the game is called “Imagine.” The way it’s played is simple: we’ll envision recent happenings in the news, but then change them up a bit. Instead of envisioning white people as the main actors in the scenes we’ll conjure – the ones who are driving the action – we’ll envision black folks or other people of color instead. The object of the game is to imagine the public reaction to the events or incidents, if the main actors were of color, rather than white. Whoever gains the most insight into the workings of race in America, at the end of the game, wins.

So let’s begin.

Imagine that hundreds of black protesters were to descend upon Washington DC and Northern Virginia, just a few miles from the Capitol and White House, armed with AK-47s, assorted handguns, and ammunition. And imagine that some of these protesters —the black protesters — spoke of the need for political revolution, and possibly even armed conflict in the event that laws they didn’t like were enforced by the government? Would these protester — these black protesters with guns — be seen as brave defenders of the Second Amendment, or would they be viewed by most whites as a danger to the republic? What if they were Arab-Americans? Because, after all, that’s what happened recently when white gun enthusiasts descended upon the nation’s capital, arms in hand, and verbally announced their readiness to make war on the country’s political leaders if the need arose.

Imagine that white members of Congress, while walking to work, were surrounded by thousands of angry black people, one of whom proceeded to spit on one of those congressmen for not voting the way the black demonstrators desired. Would the protesters be seen as merely patriotic Americans voicing their opinions, or as an angry, potentially violent, and even insurrectionary mob? After all, this is what white Tea Party protesters did recently in Washington.

Imagine that a rap artist were to say, in reference to a white president: “He’s a piece of shit and I told him to suck on my machine gun.” Because that’s what rocker Ted Nugent said recently about President Obama.

Imagine that a prominent mainstream black political commentator had long employed an overt bigot as Executive Director of his organization, and that this bigot regularly participated in black separatist conferences, and once assaulted a white person while calling them by a racial slur. When that prominent black commentator and his sister — who also works for the organization — defended the bigot as a good guy who was misunderstood and “going through a tough time in his life” would anyone accept their excuse-making? Would that commentator still have a place on a mainstream network? Because that’s what happened in the real world, when Pat Buchanan employed as Executive Director of his group, America’s Cause, a blatant racist who did all these things, or at least their white equivalents: attending white separatist conferences and attacking a black woman while calling her the n-word.

Imagine that a black radio host were to suggest that the only way to get promoted in the administration of a white president is by “hating black people,” or that a prominent white person had only endorsed a white presidential candidate as an act of racial bonding, or blamed a white president for a fight on a school bus in which a black kid was jumped by two white kids, or said that he wouldn’t want to kill all conservatives, but rather, would like to leave just enough—“living fossils” as he called them—“so we will never forget what these people stood for.” After all, these are things that Rush Limbaugh has said, about Barack Obama’s administration, Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama, a fight on a school bus in Belleville, Illinois in which two black kids beat up a white kid, and about liberals, generally.

Imagine that a black pastor, formerly a member of the U.S. military, were to declare, as part of his opposition to a white president’s policies, that he was ready to “suit up, get my gun, go to Washington, and do what they trained me to do.” This is, after all, what Pastor Stan Craig said recently at a Tea Party rally in Greenville, South Carolina.

Imagine a black radio talk show host gleefully predicting a revolution by people of color if the government continues to be dominated by the rich white men who have been “destroying” the country, or if said radio personality were to call Christians or Jews non-humans, or say that when it came to conservatives, the best solution would be to “hang ‘em high.” And what would happen to any congressional representative who praised that commentator for “speaking common sense” and likened his hate talk to “American values?” After all, those are among the things said by radio host and best-selling author Michael Savage, predicting white revolution in the face of multiculturalism, or said by Savage about Muslims and liberals, respectively. And it was Congressman Culbertson, from Texas, who praised Savage in that way, despite his hateful rhetoric.

Imagine a black political commentator suggesting that the only thing the guy who flew his plane into the Austin, Texas IRS building did wrong was not blowing up Fox News instead. This is, after all, what Anne Coulter said about Tim McVeigh, when she noted that his only mistake was not blowing up the New York Times.

Imagine that a popular black liberal website posted comments about the daughter of a white president, calling her “typical redneck trash,” or a “whore” whose mother entertains her by “making monkey sounds.” After all that’s comparable to what conservatives posted about Malia Obama on freerepublic.com last year, when they referred to her as “ghetto trash.”

Imagine that black protesters at a large political rally were walking around with signs calling for the lynching of their congressional enemies. Because that’s what white conservatives did last year, in reference to Democratic party leaders in Congress.

In other words, imagine that even one-third of the anger and vitriol currently being hurled at President Obama, by folks who are almost exclusively white, were being aimed, instead, at a white president, by people of color. How many whites viewing the anger, the hatred, the contempt for that white president would then wax eloquent about free speech, and the glories of democracy? And how many would be calling for further crackdowns on thuggish behavior, and investigations into the radical agendas of those same people of color?

To ask any of these questions is to answer them. Protest is only seen as fundamentally American when those who have long had the luxury of seeing themselves as prototypically American engage in it. When the dangerous and dark “other” does so, however, it isn’t viewed as normal or natural, let alone patriotic. Which is why Rush Limbaugh could say, this past week, that the Tea Parties are the first time since the Civil War that ordinary, common Americans stood up for their rights: a statement that erases the normalcy and “American-ness” of blacks in the civil rights struggle, not to mention women in the fight for suffrage and equality, working people in the fight for better working conditions, and LGBT folks as they struggle to be treated as full and equal human beings.

And this, my friends, is what white privilege is all about. The ability to threaten others, to engage in violent and incendiary rhetoric without consequence, to be viewed as patriotic and normal no matter what you do, and never to be feared and despised as people of color would be, if they tried to get away with half the shit we do, on a daily basis.

Game Over.

Tim Wise is among the most prominent anti-racist writers and activists in the U.S. Wise has spoken in 48 states, on over 400 college campuses, and to community groups around the nation. Wise has provided anti-racism training to teachers nationwide, and has trained physicians and medical industry professionals on how to combat racial inequities in health care. His latest book is called Between Barack and a Hard Place.

Swimming

Let me state from the outset that I have been examined by a physician and I am not clinically depressed.  I have also seen a psychiatrist and she has also said that I am not depressed.  I was. During my pregnancy, I suffered severe perinatal depression.  I came to understand that perinatal depression is often intrinsically linked to one’s relationships and support systems.  Pregnancy creates its own little hormonal time-bomb; bad relationships or lack of support can set the bomb off.  In my case, I had both.  My partner was fundamentally incapable of dealing with the mental demands of my pregnancy, and I was 3000 miles away from my friends and family.  I got well, however.  I went to a psychiatrist.  She helped me to understand the physical changes and demands of my pregnancy on my brain, and provided the support I was not getting at home.  Although I do not see her regularly anymore, I maintain contact with her and have continued taking depression screens.  I am not depressed.

I open with that caveat because I have changed in a way with which I am not quite at ease., but the lack of ease is not manifesting itself as angst.  Rather, I observe that I am how I am.  I’ve become ridiculously unflappable, even when it seems flap might be in order.  I observe people experiencing their emotions, particularly in relationships, and often I wonder what all the excitement is about.  It isn’t that I don’t feel.  Quite the contrary.  I love my daughters so much it can bring me to tears.  Yet I see how people get quite excited about things that seem so silly and I simply cannot feel it.  I feel like I’m observing beings from another planet.

I have become remarkably disengaged.  I used to feel a pressing urge to write and publish.  Lately, I have the desire to write, but it isn’t quite so urgent anymore.  Words aren’t tapping my brain.  They are there.  They swim in and swim out.  But mostly now it’s like I’m a fish swimming along observing, with no desire to share it with anyone.  Life is there.  I see it.  Now I see something else.  It’s odd, this feeling.  My head used to be so energetic.  No more.  So much of what I observe seems so unendingly ridiculous.  Humanity seems destined for demise, at a faster and faster pace, and I’m just swimming along watching.  This is part of why I haven’t found much to write about lately; nothing seems much to demand so much energy.  So much of what goes on seems such a waste of time, and I’m busy taking care of my baby, my daughter, and myself.  I’m not talking about the things that are important.  I’m not talking about working hard on things that are worthwhile.  But a lot of energy is wasted on a lot that isn’t important at all, and I cannot fathom what all the fuss is about.  The whole world seems caught up in a lot of nonsense.  A LOT of nonsense.  Reality television, piss poor bands, sports, “Tea Parties” by uneducated fools who wouldn’t know democracy if it hit them in the face, which star slept with whom, and on and on.  I know.  I’m being judgmental.  But so much of what is important is lost in the barrage of incessant noise, background constancy that distracts and distracts and distracts, numbing and pulling attention away from most of what is important.

The other day I pulled up in front of my house to wait for my daughter to bring something out to me from the house.  As I sat there waiting for her, a person drove up behind me.  They could have gone around, there was room, but did not.  After about 20 seconds, the woman gunned her engine and drove up next to me, screaming and flipping me off, before driving on.  I just looked at her.  What in the world was that about?  Why all the fuss over having to go around?  People can be seriously deranged.

Some say if you aren’t mad, you aren’t paying attention.  To some degree I agree.  But I just can’t get fired up anymore.  Over and over and over, hypocrisy, ignorance, and idiocy seem destined for superiority.  So I observe.  I feel like someone watching humanity as it drives itself over a cliff.

Not Best Picture

This was published on Huffington Post.  See it here.

It is movie awards time. The Golden Globes were just handed out and the Oscar race is nearly on. I could not believe Avatar won the Golden Globes award for best picture. Why is it that if a movie is filled with spectacular special effects it is considered a best picture candidate?

Asking this question is some evidence that I think a best picture is one that actually contains characters who show some complexity, or a story that is unique in some way beyond what the film looks like. I simply do not consider as best picture a movie that is unique only on a visual scale. There were so many deliciously brilliant films this year, I’m frustrated that a film whose only merit is visual is sweeping the awards yet again.

If Avatar had been set on earth, with humans riding horses in their beautifully lush jungle, the imperialists coming to destroy the land for profit, it simply would not have been possible best-picture fodder. I doubt it would barely climb out of B-movie-land. The story has been told, and it has been told better. The Mission comes to mind. Even Australia, which had some predictability and overwrought elements, but visually stunning panoramas, was a better film. At least it attempted character development.

However, Avatar is a visually stunning movie, and for that reason alone, everyone is going to see it and it is winning awards. Give us a few years and its effects will not be quite so grand after we’ve seen the same sort of thing a few hundred times. Remember Jurassic Park? The first time I saw that movie I was awestruck. I saw it again recently and while it is moderately entertaining, the dinosaurs are no longer quite so spectacular because I have seen giant CGI creatures so often, I am used to them. Not such a thrill these days.

Halfway through Avatar I was already frustrated by its bland formula and dialogue. The characters on Pandora lacked anything unusual other than what they looked like. Sure, James Cameron spent years creating this “other world,” but that world certainly looked awfully earth-like to me. The characters were prototypical natives, down to their bare feet, the beads in their hair, and feathers in their arrows. There is the tribal chief queen and the royal children destined for marriage. There is the natives’ intrinsic harmony with that land. And let’s not forget their natural-world deity (native Americans, anyone?). Even their alien steeds, both land and air versions, look like horses — albeit with some extra legs and wings, and reins that could connect to their riders’ minds. Yes, in some of the details, the Na’vi were clearly aliens, but nothing about them was unique to the point they were unrecognizable as fundamentally human, something one might expect would occur on a planet somewhere far from earth.

And the human characters, don’t even get me started. They were such caricatures, I could hardly stand to watch some of them. The bad guys were Very Bad. We knew they would be Very Bad the moment they showed up onscreen. The early dialogue in the film was unrealistic, managing to give us all the background we needed in the span of ten minutes. Hyper bad Marine colonel. Check. Scientist who wants to save Pandora and empathizes with the natives. Check. Evil corporate greedy guy. Check. Main character who will save the day. Check. Sexy native woman who is won over by main character. Check. And on and on. None of them had any depth beyond a mud puddle.

I suppose I should not be surprised that a picture so visually breathtaking while simultaneously lacking any depth is considered by many to be the best picture of the year. Spectacle seems to be the theme in so much of America these days. Rather than intelligent debate regarding complex issues, politics has been reduced to screaming sound bites and accusations. The worse the behavior, the more attention it gets. Reality television has mostly replaced anything resembling more complex programming. Spectacularly bad behavior replays constantly where the most loud and obnoxious wins, at least to the extent that the winner gets their face plastered all over the tabloids, their hideous behavior played out ad nauseam.

I liked Avatar. I did. I was moderately entertained when I wasn’t squirming in my seat at the made-for-t.v. movie dialogue. The visual effects were cool. But I just can’t see it as a best-picture candidate. Best means superlative of good, surpassing all others in excellence. Avatar may be the best today for visual effects, but in all other areas it was barely average. No matter how you cut it this just isn’t what a best picture should be.

I Just Can’t Stand It

I’m so frustrated with this country.  I wish I had never heard the results of the Massachusetts election.  I can’t stand the stupid, short-sightedness in this country.  If anyone thinks Republicans are going to do anything to fix anything, they are fucking crazy.  This country would not be in this mess if it weren’t for decades of conservative thinking.  It never works.  People think the middle of the road Democrats need to fix things immediately or they will just vote in the bastards who created the mess in the first place, and things only get worse.  Problems take years to accumulate and they want changes to happen in minutes.

Conservative thinking has made a concerted effort to make Americans believe government is the problem, then they set out to gut government in order to back up their goals, getting people to believe that laissez-faire, market-driven capitalism is in their interests.  After their jobs have been sent overseas, their homes taken from them, no healthcare, no food, gutted schools, and no social programs to speak of, Americans blame government for the problem, rather than blaming the tiny elite who manipulated them in the first place using issues like abortion and same-sex marriage to get people to vote against their economic interests.  It’s terrifying.  In reality, governments work well in many countries, countries that let governments run effectively and don’t let big money run loose to do as it pleases.

I find it ironic that the same people who lament the giant banks and their big bonuses and corrupt business practices vote in the same people who ensure these policies stay in place and their actions will become even more blatant.  It makes me crazy.  People listen to uneducated fools like Sarah Palin, think she’s “like them,” in spite of the fact her bank account is nothing like theirs and she makes our nation look like a country of fools.  They get caught up in the hateful ire of Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly, without considering the motivations of these very wealthy, very hateful men.  They blame Obama for the bailouts, and he wasn’t even president when it happened!  I’m so sick of the ignorance, I can barely manage to follow politics in this country anymore.

I know the people I admire urge me to continue to try and make the world a better place, that in giving up hope, those hateful bastards win.  But seriously, how is one supposed to cope knowing things are only going to get worse and knowing I have two children for whom I want the world to be a better place, and for whom I want a planet for them to live on and prosper?  It almost makes me ashamed for having brought them into this place.  I love them more than life itself.  I only hope there is a planet for them to live on that isn’t as bleak and horrible as it seems doomed to be.