Saturday, January 29, 2011

Iron and Candy: My 6th Blogoversary

These were the opening words in my first blog post six years ago yesterday:

Coda: A Modest Proposal.

Now that the eight hour-long lines at the Cleveland voting polls have dispersed, the dried mud and dead cats have been swept up and George Bush has already torn through his second $40,000,000 pat on the back for stealing the Presidency (yeah, yeah, he may have won the popular vote this time, Mr. Country Clubber, but you can't re-elect a man who was never elected, to begin with), some thoughts on the latest debacle charitably known as the 2004 Presidential Election, and especially the debates, are in order...

I was still struggling at the edge of the foothills of a learning curve that was actually so high that if I'd thought about it, I would've thought twice about trying to run with big dogs who were already much, much better at political punditry than I. Back in those days, as I've heard myself saying so many times before, if I'd shared an elevator with Karl Rove, I wouldn't have recognized him. But I sallied forth in my relative ignorance armed with little more than native literary ability and a genetically-based allergy to anything Republican or conservative. It took a while for me to actually quantify my hatred for the GOP.

I certainly never thought I'd still be doing this absolutely thankless job six years and roughly 3000 blog posts, including 86 Assclowns of the Week, later.

I've done several series such as the abovementioned AOTW, The Nation at a Furtive Glance, Twenty Bucks, Same as in Town, Boolean Bozoism, Pottersville in Pictures, Cloven Hoof in Mouth Disease, Top Ten lists and so forth. I've had a helluva time these past 72 months, even when I simply didn't feel like blogging after a hard day at work and family life getting more stressful. But as my audience grew, I felt for some reason that I owed it to you people. Many readers have come and gone (and some of them have gone to that Great Server Farm in the Sky) and new readers somehow find me in the tall weeds and elephant grass of cyberspace.

Back in January 2005, if I'd told you we'd have a black president four years later (Barack Obama hadn't even moved all his boxes into his new Senate office), that we'd still be at war with Iraq, that we'd still not only be in Afghanistan but that we'd ramp it up, that we'd witness the destruction of a major American city, that unemployment would reach double digits and hover near 10% for a year and a half at least, that millions would get foreclosed on by predatory banks, that we'd bail out those same banks on Wall Street after their reckless excesses, that our government would be capriciously spying on us...

...if I'd predicted all those things and more, you all would've thought I was some conspiracy theorist wacko, some querulous doom-sayer who's not happy unless he's bitching about something. And you all would've had a point.

As James Patterson once sagely pointed out, if someone had written a book about an ex NFL star who'd murdered his wife and a man then led the LAPD on a slow-motion chase through LA on live national television and had done so prior to OJ Simpson doing just that, that author would've been laughed out of the business. Real life doesn't have to catch up with fiction but fiction has to catch up with real life in order to achieve any suspension of disbelief.

Same thing, I guess, goes for political blogging.

Of course, if one is cynical enough and knows exactly how the GOP thinks, one could always point to a post written years ago and say, "See? I was right and you all called me crazy." I know- We do it all the time with the late Steve Gilliard who back in 2003 predicted what's still happening in Iraq.

So it's only appropriate that we revisit one of the first scandals I'd read about when I began blogging 6 years ago, the No Child Left Behind fiasco that involved Juan Williams shilling for the Bush administration's underfunded program for a cool $240,000.

Current Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently told The Hill that NCLB is an utter failure, something else I said way back then. To know that, I needed to look no further than to our MCAS here in Massachusetts, a travesty of education that, as with NCLB, teaches to the test, where school districts with the highest scores get the lion's share of funding, thereby dooming many minority-heavy, inner city and rural districts that haven't access to up-to-date schoolbooks, computers and quality teachers, to suffer. NCLB, as with the MCAS, teaches to the test and a well-rounded education gets short shrift.

Congress and the Bush administration, after much ballyhoo, defunded No Child Left Behind, thereby leaving all children behind, as was the REAL ID Act.

Just barely in the second year of a new job, I was successfully shielded from the horrid mutation in our once-great nation and I had no idea what was really happening. I was making jokes about Bush's bubble but the fact was that I was in a safe cocoon of my own that even the latest and most accurate numbers from the Labor Department couldn't penetrate. I had no idea just how evil, nasty and selfish my country had gotten until I got thrown out of a job nearly two years ago.

We elected that black man on a cult-like mantra of change yet the only change we've seen is a rightward wrench that in many ways almost makes progressives and independents actually miss George W. Bush. As with NCLB, Massachusetts offered a warning template as to what would happen if the government mandated health care without doing very much to keep costs down.

Afghanistan has been bloated and accelerated and we're using more contractors than ever. We still have tens of thousands of troops in Iraq and hardly even note the newest deaths much less the names of the killed. We are groped more than ever in our nation's airports and while Abdulmatallab got escorted on that flight sans passport to Detroit by someone from our government so he could set his underpants on fire, we're treated like common terrorists.

I've been saying it for about a year now that this is not only not the same country I grew up in, this is not the same country I remember from even two years ago. As I've already said, if I'd predicted all this 6 years ago, you all would've thought I belonged in four point restraints. But considering the violent jerk to the right this government has taken, and under the risible guise of "centrism", who knows how much worse we can imagine for 2017? It would tax the minds of the best dystopian sci fi novelists.

And I'm afraid that I may still be here, howling in the wilderness here, on Facebook, Twitter or whatever new networking phenom will be developed in the future. I'm like Michael Corleone and, while my motives for staying in the game are purer than the Godfather's, I keep finding myself pulled back in, as if blogging about the most important issues of our time is a referendum of my very patriotism and love for my nation.

Or maybe I just have a big mouth.

The traditional gift for a 6th anniversary is either candy or iron. In the interests of shipping costs, candy would be preferable and a Paypal donation may be even cheaper and easier, since Mrs. JP and I are still struggling to meet all our bills come this Tuesday.

Friday, January 28, 2011

New World Order

"It's time for this government to change. I want a better future for me and my family when I get married." - Amal Ahmed, a 22-year-old Egyptian protester.

(By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari)

If one takes even a cursory, hurried look at events in the Middle East this month, especially Tunisia and Egypt, it makes Time's Choice of "Person of the Year" seem unforgivably shallow and superficial. In an unexpected turn perfectly delineated by his apparently clueless and astonished face on the cover, the always-dubious honor went to 26 year-old billionaire Mark Zuckerberg, founder of an online community that made its, and his, fortune not the old fashioned way with advertising revenue through ads but by selling personal information to marketing companies, information we gladly give away to an overachieving Harvard grad nerd so we can more easily supplant actually meeting people.

To bring his amorality into conspicuous relief, Zuckerberg has recently climbed into bed with Goldman Sachs, a bailed-out Wall Street bank that no doubt can give the billionaire boy wonder another Ivy League education in corporate sleaziness. So far, all this has done is to grossly inflate Facebook's net worth and share price and, if one is smart, one will reserve a front row online seat to wait for the bubble to burst like a massive prank cigar.

In the meantime, as Time is quick to point out, the "Person of the Year" award doesn't necessarily go to the best, most do-gooding or even the most popular but to the person or organization that was the most catalytic. Zuckerberg's elevation puts him in rarified company, including presidents, other corporate titans and tyrants like Adolph Hitler. And it only serves to bring into merciless focus our own bottomless superficiality in that Facebook's founder would prove to be more catalytic to American society than President Barack Obama, former Senator Russ Feingold, former Rep. Alan Grayson or, (here's a crazy-ass idea), Wikileaks.

Not to give short shrift to Zuckerberg's Facebook, which easily toppled in a couple of short years MySpace's hegemony in the online networking community (It can be easily argued that as recently as the 2008 general elections, MySpace was much more instrumental in getting then Senator Barack Obama elected president than the still-fledgling Facebook). But a volatile online community that's just one major hack or Conficker virus away from complete and utter oblivion should not be considered more catalytic to American society than Wikileaks' Four Horsemen of Disclosures. Yet it is and last year's winner is as pitilessly reflective of our current values as the year in which the mirror-covered Time named us as the "Person of the Year."

There is a New World Order taking shape that's far more profound and important than a domain that plasters spam ads all over the place, harvests our too-free personal information and features groups such as "I'll Bet This Steak Can Get More Friends Than Sarah Palin."

Julian Assange's Wikileaks, to descend into a platitude for a moment, simply changed the world forever. It put and continues to put the largest and most powerful governments and corporations on notice that secrets are no longer safe and that they will not be allowed to practice their Machiavellian schemes in the shadows any more.

Of course, Wikileaks, as laudable as their intentions and catalytic effects is, is a mere conduit and Julian Assange is a mere conduit of a conduit. The power of Wikileaks comes from people like Bradley Manning, people who seem to have a sincere vested interest in proclaiming, "Enough is enough!" and effecting that change through disclosures of information much, much more devastating than anything your 13 year-old daughter or co-worker will post on Facebook.

"But, but... What does this have to do with me or my Facebook avatar?"

There's a New World Order that's superimposing itself over the world we used to know, a more transparent and (if you'll pardon the alliteration) pitilessly punitive palimpsest in which the people of the Middle East are also rising up against decades-long tyrannies such as the ones in Tunisia, Egypt and now Yemen. Understandably, the hypocritical and dictatorial Saudi Royal Family is nervously eying shaping developments with their neighbors.

It's notable that a few rock-throwing young men with bandannas over their mouths achieved in mere days in Tunisia what George W. Bush tried and failed to do in eight years and with the world's most powerful military at his disposal: Kickstarting the democratization of the Middle East. And the protests against autocratic rule puts our own president in the ridiculous position of actually supporting these despotic regimes simply because they're "our allies in the war on terror" (so was Yemen's dictatorship).

The riots in Tunis, Cairo and elsewhere in the Muslim world have brought about some startling changes and things we would've thought impossible a mere year or two ago: That the once popular Hosni Mubarek, Egypt's answer to Lyndon Johnson, would have his image disrespected by shoe soles (a grave insult in the Muslim/Arab world). For once, the mainstream media had actually gotten it right: This appears to be a region-wide revolution on a Che Guevaran scale.

But it's easy to scan the headlines and to assume that developments in the Middle East have nothing to do with us but they do.

One of the reasons the people of Tunisia rioted against the quarter century-long autocratic rule of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was there simply weren't enough jobs to go around. And they were organized and energized enough so that they'd actually routed the police and even regrouped when they themselves were routed. Now we're seeing the same thing in Egypt. As something of a sidebar, it also ought to be noted and remembered that this wave of democratization we're seeing in the Middle East is being effected from within with no need of invasions, carpet bombings, smashing of economic infrastructures nor the bank-busting involvement of American war profiteering corporations. Regime change is almost always untidy but ultimately streamlined and less costly in terms of life when effected from within.

Joblessness is and was during the 2010 midterms the single biggest concern for the average American voter. It would be easy to claim that online entities such as Facebook have taken the place of Juvenal's circus and that we're too distracted or anesthetized to similarly gather on Wall Street and Washington, DC to demand our jobs back. But we must remember that Facebook is also available in Tunisia and Egypt as well as virtually everywhere else in the Middle East. Yet these people were able to tear themselves away from their computer chairs and Facebook mood updates to risk (and give) their lives in the endless and timeless call for freedom.

What's happening in the Middle East isn't a Middle Eastern or a Muslim thingie. We are all human and have the same anxieties and concerns as Amal Ahmed and others 7000 miles away. We all want jobs, security for our families present and future, we all yearn to live freely and to have a voice in our governments, hence our destinies.

And, the last time I checked, these things were far from being guaranteed in our own country. The world is indeed changing and not necessarily for the worst. I see the Tunisian, Egyptian and Yemenese protesters, I remember the protesters in Iran, Mexico and Kenya and I see hope that the eternal flame of the human demand of freedom is far from extinguished. In the meantime, I wait and wonder when the day will come when the United States finally gets meaningfully involved in a worldwide cause that's even larger than national corporate interests.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

American History 101 with Congresswoman Bachmann

Lesson One:

Regardless of color, religion, class or creed, everyone was treated fairly once they got to America.

There were no slaves, no bigotry against Catholics or Jews, no bigotry against Japanese during WWII, against Germans in WWI, against the Chinese in the 19th century, no bigotry aimed against Mormons and forcing their exodus to Utah, against Muslims after 9/11 and certainly NO animus aimed at Native Americans even though they were audaciously encroaching on our land and our dream of White Man Infest Destiny.

Al-righty, then!

One is at a loss to wonder why Minnesota's 6th congressional district elected and keeps electing this intellectual hairball, someone who by conspicuous relief makes Sarah Palin look like a foreign relations wonk and Christine O'Donnell a Constitutional law professor.

In a world that makes total sense, Michele Bachmann should have been the Alvin Greene of Minnesota and laughed into obscurity with a hearty, national "Nyuk nyuk nyuk." Yet the media, Anderson Cooper aside, keep giving this Bible-banging lunatic enough house room that she can steal Congressman Paul Ryan's thunder to deliver her own Republican rebuttal to Obama's State of the Union Address.

And it would be easy to laugh Bachmann off the national stage on every occasion she's opened her pie hole except Bachmann doesn't stand out because she's fast becoming the standard bearer for the Idiocracy that is the latter day Republican Party.

Rand Paul said on Election night last November, "There is no rich, there is no middle class, there is no poor." One could've almost heard a watery Oriental nocturne by DeBussy and we could've called it "Delusions of the Socialist Aqua Buddha."

And Republicans make the late Howard Zinn and other historians aerate their graves at the rate of 30,000 RPMs every time they try to rewrite history in their desperate, pathetic Winston Smith attempts to quell any notion of class warfare.

Let's take stock: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 wasn't enacted until 101 years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

We have had exactly one Catholic President.

We have had exactly one full-blooded Native American in the Senate.

We have no African Americans in the Senate and still have not seated one from the South since Reconstruction.

Wingnuts foamed at the mouth and given serious consideration when Bachmann's fellow Minnesota congressman Keith Ellison, Congress's only Muslim, took the oath of office on a Koran.

Wingnuts are still foaming at the mouth over "the Ground Zero Mosque" that's actually a community center two blocks from Ground Zero, something already screamed about by none other than Bachmann.

Unemployed Americans are now being classified as hobos by other wingnuts who keep insisting that the unemployment insurance we need to barely stay alive is a form of welfare and not something into which we've been kicking 6.2% of our paychecks for decades.

There is something seriously, dangerous wrong with a country that not only tolerates and gives house room to such whiteboardings of history but actually elects and re-elects in many states other idiots like Bachmann. Our apathy, complacency, whatever you wish to call it, is what's dumbing down this country.

And, at the rate we're going, Bachmann's, Paul's and every Republicans' idiocy will become communicable (it's already airborne) and this may be the State of the Union Address we'll see a year from now.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

No Alternative But an Alternator

At first, I thought it was just the battery. A week ago, when this cold snap on the northeast began, all six cells were low, with ice crystals in half of them. It shouldn't have happened since I'd just gotten the battery at Wal-Mart (I know, I know, but I've been on a low budget for two years now) last summer.

So I filled up the cells with warm water, got a jump start from a neighbor and I was golden... for about three or four days.

Until today, I needed a jump start from one person or another and very quickly my neighbors started getting tired of my asking them for jumps or to move their cars so the guy jumping me could park alongside me. At 11:30 last night, a 5 degree night, I had a friend come by after work to jump me. That worked last night and by this morning the battery was again deader than Ronald Reagan's political career.

I brought him back today, he got it started again and he told me about a local mechanic who is actually open on Sundays. I took the car to him, he hooked it up to a diagnostic machine and it proved that the alternator, not the battery, was at fault. I told him to change it out, knowing it would be over well over $200. Right now, the car's running better than ever and the battery's holding a charge.

It was over $275. Now I won't come close to making the rent on the 1st or most of my bills. So why did I have this done?

Well, just on general principle, everyone ought to have a car. We scrimped, saved and battled to buy ours, to get it on the road and keep it on the road. But there was another, more specific and urgent motivation for authorizing this work to be done.

Since the week before last, I've had three phone screenings with a company that for now shall remain nameless but they're in northwestern MA. They're looking for a quality assurance guy and they responded to my resume. Then they called back the next day and, after that screening, they said they might or might not be in touch within 20 days to set up an interview.

About four or five days later, the HR Director called me up and scheduled an interview to talk to their most senior Quality Assurance people on Tuesday afternoon. You see where I'm going with this, right?

My interview's in a day and a half and this company seems to treat its employees as well as they treat their customers. Optional pension and non-matching 401(k) plan, 11 paid holidays, two weeks paid vacation, 5% bonus based on your annual income, free health and dental insurance (making me responsible for just the co-pays) and a starting wage that's far more than anything I've ever made.

It's a ways out and it would be 3rd shift (they call it "7th shift") but it's an opportunity I simply cannot afford to turn down and I need to get to this place the day after tomorrow (in fact, until the battery started fucking up, I've been meaning to make a dry run to this place so I'd know the way better on the actual day of my interview).

But paying this garage nearly $300 when my bills are due in a week put us so far behind I'm too scared shitless to even look at my bank balance online.

It was a crappy decision I was forced to make and the alternative would've been unthinkable. I simply would not have been able to turn the car over again once I'd turned it off.

I don't want to jinx myself but I think I have a better than decent chance of getting this job. They seem high enough on me thus far to call me 15-16 days earlier than expected to line up an interview with their top QC people and at least one of their executives. If I get the job, we'll be golden and I'll never have to make another public appeal for money ever again.

Yeah, I know, I've told the same story before. "I got a great job lined up and I need help just this one more time." But none of those companies (some of them were temp agencies) have showed the level of enthusiasm this one has. These guys, a 100+ year-old company, are Old School and seem to take care of their people the way companies used to before the shit hit the fan.

I didn't ask for this to happen to us and I was forced to make an unpalatable decision, the lesser of two evils. It wasn't as if I blew what little money we had on coke and hookers. I need to get to this interview. Even Job finally got a break and I think this is mine.

I need about $300 to barely stay solvent and now that I've provided myself with the means to drive to northwestern MA to get to this job interview, we need a bit of a cushion until I get hired to pay for the alternator work. Anything you can kick in will be deeply, greatly and incredibly appreciated and, whether I get this job or not, this will be the absolutely last public appeal I'll ever make. I know a lot of you are also hurting and those aren't the people to whom I'm appealing. But I am appealing to those of you who are a little luckier than most.

It's a miracle, perhaps a miracle of friendship and spirit of giving and an unshakable belief in the efficacy of random acts of kindness that's the reason we still do not owe anyone. But we have an $84 gas heating bill that's due in days, $650 in rent that's due in a week plus other bills and little food in the house. That's a lot of expenses for a household that's bringing in just $272 a week. Plus, there are no shelters in the area to which we can go even if we do get evicted and no place to store our belongings.

What donations you can voluntarily continue to make will of course be, as always, personally appreciated. Yet, come what may, this will be the last public appeal I'll ever make for help. So whatever you can do will make a difference, trust us. I really am working my ass off toward self-sufficiency even to the point of interviewing for a job 40 minutes away and for third shift. Thank you in advance.

In fact, I'll do this: As a token of my appreciation, if you can help us out to any degree, I'll offer to send you a file attachment containing either the full manuscript versions of either my comedy/drama American Zen or my new hostage negotiation thriller, The Toy Cop.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Being a Baby Boomer Sucks

Today's my 52nd birthday and while I guess at this age I should be happy for any day I wake up, I'm also not very happy about it. Being a baby boomer suddenly isn't very fun, anymore, and here are some reasons why:

  • 10) I'm now getting, I shit you not, offers from the AARP and news alerts about hip replacement recalls. I suppose after today, I'll be getting brochures from Forest Lawn.

  • 9) My still-living friends are now vastly outnumbered by the celebrities I don't recognize.

  • 8) I find myself talking more and more about "the good old days" that I complained about while I was living through them.

  • 7) I still remember back when cars had points, credit cards were made of cardboard and you could actually grab a pack of cigarettes before buying them.

  • 6) Teenagers started calling me "sir" years ago and the only people who call me "young man" are nursing home residents.

  • 5) My health insurance, if I had it, would be almost eight times what my car insurance costs.

  • 4) Even kids and dogs think twice before jumping on me.

  • 3) Movies I've seen and books I've read are brand new again after more than a year.

  • 2) I still remember Ronald Reagan in Death Valley Days, sponsored by Borax.

  • 1) For the first time in my life, the President of the United States is younger than me.

  • So yeah, it sucks being a baby boomer. If you want to make my birthday a little happier, you know where the Paypal button is or you can buy a copy of my novel American Zen, which is still on sale for $2.99 on Kindle.

    But later today, Mrs. JP and I will go a local pub and hoist a couple while watching the Patriots annihilate the Jets in the first round of the playoffs. Go Pats!!!

    Saturday, January 15, 2011

    Sometimes Right Wingers Will Surprise You

    ...and not always in a bad way.

    What follows below is a proposed 28th Amendment to the Constitution and it came from a very surprising source: Mrs. JP's right wing mother. She didn't write it, obviously, but she got it in her email inbox, it made sense to her and she passed it along to her daughter and several others.

    It makes sense to me, too. In fact, if I was writing the language of this amendment, I'd also propose that no member of Congress register as a lobbyist ever instead of making them wait a year or so. No member of Congress ought to be able to capitalize on their political connections on K Street. I would also propose that Congressmen and Senators get docked a commensurate amount of their salaries for every vote they miss, including during election years. In the real world, we get docked if we don't show up for work. Why shouldn't they?

    Pass this along to 20 people on your email list ( I will) and let's start snowballing some consensus.

    Worth considering.

    Subject: Fw: Congressional Reform Act of 2011

    The 26th amendment (granting the right to vote for 18 year-olds) took only 3 months & 8 days to be ratified! Why? Simple! The people demanded it. That was in 1971... before computers, before e-mail, before cell phones, etc.

    Of the 27 amendments to the Constitution, seven (7) took 1 year or less to become the law of the land...all because of public pressure.

    I'm asking each addressee to forward this email to a minimum of twenty people on their address list; in turn ask each of those to do likewise.

    In three days, most people in The United States of America will have the message. This is one idea that really should be passed around.

    Congressional Reform Act of 2011

    1. Term Limits.

    12 years only, one of the possible options below.

    A. Two Six-year Senate terms

    B. Six Two-year House terms

    C. One Six-year Senate term and three Two-Year House terms

    2. No Tenure / No Pension.

    A Congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.

    3. Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security.

    All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with the American people.

    4. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.

    5. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.

    6. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.

    7. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.

    8. All contracts with past and present Congressmen are void effective 1/1/11. (will have to pro-rate current plans since those currently serving may have no independent retirement plan-Norm) The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen.

    Congressmen made all these contracts for themselves.

    Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should serve their term(s), then go home and back to work.

    If each person contacts a minimum of twenty people then it will only take three days for most people (in the U.S. ) to receive the message. Maybe it is time.

    THIS IS HOW YOU FIX CONGRESS!!!!! If you agree with the above, pass it on. If not, just delete.

    Friday, January 14, 2011

    Assclowns of the Week #86 the Maniacs edition

    (Artist unknown but poached from D r i f t g l a s s's blog.)

    For going on six years, Assclowns of the Week has been a satirical feature in which I've rarely played it straight, one that's played mainly for laughs through political and social satire. In the wake of Saturday's heinous and horrific shooting in Tuscon that stole six innocent lives and wounded about a dozen others, this is one of those times.

    There's enough blame to go around (and if you were to listen to right wingers and "sensible" mainstream media pundits on CNN and elsewhere, liberals are equally to blame for the heated rhetoric), thereby making a new edition of ACOTW inevitable and all too easy to write.

    As expected, Saturday's shooting that put a US Congresswoman in a critical care unit and six others in the morgue didn't account for all top ten spots. There was also Tom DeLay and Judge Pat Priest (2) for the Hammer being able to dance out of the courthouse before he saw the inside of a jail cell and in advance of an appeal.

    So I hope you can understand the almost complete paucity of humor. This just isn't the week for it. Consider this a PSA that warns about the fascistic and intolerant rightward tug that's ironically turning us into the very nations that we're invading and occupying in the name of democracy.

    (Read the rest here.)

    Wednesday, January 12, 2011

    “Don’t Blame Us, Blame, uh, the Menu!”

    Sometimes all it takes is an exposed thread.

    Pull it enough and pretty soon you won’t be able to stop and the whole fucking skein unravels. After a whole afternoon of skullduggery, I’ve been able to chart the career of a corporate clown from right here in Massachusetts and this serves as a synechdoche for everything that is wrong with this country, starting with the trade imbalance and inability for experienced, trained and educated American workers to find a job that doesn’t involve picking up cow shit with their bare hands.

    Let’s play Momento and start from the end and work our way backwards to the beginning, during which time I’ll tell you what led me down the rabbit hole that goes to (where else?) China. Regarding the trade imbalance, here’s a big reason for ours with Communist China:
    According to Reed Electronics Group, by the end of 2005, China accounted for 16% of global electronics output, up from 6% in 2000 and under 3% in 1995. In the period from 1995 to 2005, electronics output in China rose from $28 billion to $210 billion. By contrast, electronics output in the United States reached $342 billion in 2005, up from $285 billion 10 years earlier.

    “OK, not to rain on your parade, JP, but how is this newsworthy? Lots of corporations ship their jobs to China and overseas." And you’d be right but this is just the beginning and there’s one thing in common that runs through this whole skein. Now, for some particulars.

    Way back in 2003, a Mountain View-based company named Spectra-Physics began shipping American jobs “expanding their international market” to Beijing, China. Here’s the problem: It’s one thing to expand your international market. It’s another thing to lay people off by the dozens while creating jobs overseas so you can have the same work done much more cheaply. That’s not “expanding your international market” but plain, cold-hearted greed.

    (A grimly amusing sidebar: The journalist writing one of these articles states, “While layoffs are never good news, it is important to clarify that the layoffs had been planned for some time as a result of pre-announced outsourcing of particular product lines and technologies.” Oh, I’m sure that learning their jobs were already secretly axed by Spectra-Physics executives well in advance of their plans to outsource those peoples’ jobs to China came as a big relief to them while they had to suddenly restructure their finances and fear actual financial ruin.)

    These past 30 years or so, Rochester, NY’s Kodak hasn’t been doing too well, either, laying off almost 60,000 workers since the early 80’s. Their CEO, George Fisher, got paid $11,000,000 back in 1995 after slashing tens of thousands of jobs so he and his fellow executive scumbags wouldn’t have to take a pay cut.

    And, lest we forget, back in 1998, during these 60,000 layoffs, Kodak began outsourcing jobs to China, specifically to three failing companies it had taken over.

    In 2003, AT Cross of Lincoln, Rhode Island laid off about 160 workers and began shipping jobs to China. In fact, the very pen commissioned and used by Barack Obama his first day in office was a Cross pen that was made in China and only decorated in the US. By 2006, they’d outsourced many manufacturing jobs to, you guessed it, China, so that its CFO, Kevin Mahoney, was crowing about their resurgent profits due to “restructuring in our manufacturing operations” (not to mention shipping US jobs to a Communist dictatorship, having wage slaves do the work for a tiny fraction of what a Rhode Island worker would have to get paid while still charging top dollar for their overpriced product line).

    Lastly, we come to Evergreen Solar, based in Marlborough, Massachusetts a few miles from us. Since 2009, there have been grumblings that Evergreen Solar would take the $58,000,000 given to them by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, not including low-interest loans and a 30 year lease, and start laying people off. Well, yesterday, Evergreen announced they were shipping 800 American jobs to, you guessed it again, China (Wuhan, this time.). A little over a year ago, they forced a 10% pay cut on their employees in order to prevent layoffs then decided back in 2009 to lay off hundreds. They broke their promise to their employees and to the state of Massachusetts that had been so solicitous and generous toward them.

    Their reason for laying off so many people is identical to AT Cross, Kodak and so many other American companies: The Chinese are selling their products at or below cost and we have to not only shrink by laying off thousands in order to survive, but instead of importing our products there, we have to make them there using local (and very, very cheap) labor. Don’t blame us, in other words, blame the infallible free market.

    Now, you might ask, what do all these companies have in common? Well, they all employed a scumbag named Richard M. Feldt (here’s his executive profile) in one executive capacity or another. Well, Dick M.’s motto was “Dick ‘em” because every company he ever headed up or worked for wound up outsourcing jobs to China after laying off God knows how many hundreds if not thousands of workers. And, in the grand scheme of things, Feldt is still a piker compared to even bigger scumbags like GM’s Roger Smith and every other CEO or Chairman who threw tens of thousands of loyal American workers into the streets.

    It’s notable that the very same month he scuttled out of his Evergreen office (just 6 days later, in fact), he smoothly moved into another executive suite with a company named Advanced Electron Beams that obviously hadn’t taken a very close look at his executive profile before welcoming him into their boardroom with wide open arms and the highest hopes he was going to turn them around. In the wake of wherever this man goes, layoffs, broken lives and the Chinese follow. If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear this corporate cocksucker was a professional embedded mole for the US Chamber of Commerce.

    So what got me started on this little investigation of Dick Feldt’s companies and his corporate track record?

    It was a little rant that almost got by me on Craigslist. It was something about Evergreen Solar being gone from the state by the end of the quarter and that anyone going for a job there was a sucker.

    I’m one of those suckers in a way.

    I had answered a job ad on Craigslist from a company posing as Evergreen Solar and they emailed me last week to ask when they could call me. The email address even contained the words “evergreen solar” so I was convinced it was on the up and up. When I saw they had a facility in Marlborough, the next town south of me, I offered to drive down there and talk to her directly and she coldly replied that I should wait until I got her call.

    She was interviewing by telephone for some positions in the very same Devens, Massachusetts plant that plans on 86ing 800 jobs by the end of the month after next. The woman called me yesterday, made some ridiculous offer that wasn’t really an offer and displayed no interest in my quality control background. The manufacturing job paid just $13 per hour, was in Devens and when I asked about health care, she told me I had to get it through the Mass Health Connector at my own expense (a quick look last year revealed that the smallest premium I could get was almost $80 a week, not including co-pays and deductibles). She desultorily said she’d forward my resume to a couple of managers who were hiring and that was that.

    So when I read that little rant on Craigslist I started doing some investigating, starting with tracing the number I was called from yesterday. Turns out it’s a California-based temp agency called Advanced Technical Solutions and when I called the number back that’s what the voice mail greeting said. They’re dropping Evergreen Solar’s name about to fool people into thinking the company is hiring outright.

    By today, I was probably the last person in the Bay State to realize these cocksuckers had been planning to skedaddle with almost $60,000,000 of state taxpayer money to make and keep jobs in Massachusetts and now, blaming the Free Market and economic conditions (namely, the Chinese making solar panels either at or even below cost), they’re giving Gov. Deval Patrick and at least 800 Massachusetts workers the finger as they start learning Chinese.

    So my question is this: Why is a temp agency (and I haven’t even mentioned the equally shady involvement of Kelly Temps, who also are trying to hire people to work for this dying company) casting about for temp workers when 800 are scheduled to lose their jobs by the end of March?

    And why is the mainstream media so complicit in whitewashing these stories and portraying these thousands of tragedies as mere market fluctuations and why aren't they taking a stand for the American worker?

    Sunday, January 9, 2011

    The OK Corral on Your Corner

    (By American Zen’s Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari.)

    Ask yourself, why does the left always want to politicize a tragedy. Watch the video of the AZ sheriff at his news conf. He can't wait to push the left's line that the tea party and Sarah were responsible. People were shot and killed and he's pushing left wing propaganda. - Linda Jean Burkett, Sarah Palin Facebook friend

    Sarah, I see many from the left trying to spin this tragic event in an effort to forward their agenda. - Herb Riechmann, another Sarah Palin Facebook friend

    (T)hey are feeding lies from other liberals. Obama supporters Shocker surprise. I dont see them pointing fingers at obama saying that he did this to the family. - Abi Mensah, yet another Sarah Palin Facebook friend

    Thank you for being who you are, a true American. The fact that the tragedy in Arizona immediately drew the left's focus to you is further proof that you scare them silly. - Bob Gomola, yet another Sarah Palin Facebook friend

    This is all so sad...but you know...somehow I have a feeling this also will get blamed on George Bush. - Warren Smith, yet another Sarah Palin Facebook friend

    Just watch the Bama koolaid flow like water because the Liberal lunatics are already out in full force!

    1. Already speaking again against guns in society. They try to take every opportunity to take your right to self defense.
    - Andy VanMiddlesworth, yet another Sarah Palin Facebook friend

    More than anything else, This killer was a product of LIBERALISM. When a society for DECADES has been taught there are NO RIGHTS or WRONGS......If it feels good...DO IT !!! When parents no longer can discipline their children, when MURDER, MAYHEM, DRUGS, SEX, and VIOLENCE are promoted in video games and nearly every television program children see and the filthy music they listen to.... IS IT ANY WONDER, this is the outcome ??? - Phil Johnson, yet another Sarah Palin Facebook friend here it is, the guy was a left wing loon - David Otero, and yet another Sarah Palin Facebook friend (World Nut Daily claims Mein Kampf was Loughner’s favorite book, thereby proof of him being a liberal.).

    If a thinking person takes a look at Sarah Palin’s friends’ comments on her latest Facebook balcony communiqué, one will come to the regrettable conclusion that we have learned nothing and never will. As this very tiny sample from Palin’s friends proves, ignorance still reigns supreme, the misguided finger-pointing has long since commenced, the sanctity of the 2nd Amendment is once again invoked, and, most ironically, the left wing is accused by the right wing of politicizing yesterday’s shooting in Tuscon.

    World Nut Daily has already weighed in, plucking Karl Marx’s Manifesto out of thin air, assigning it to alleged shooter Jared Lee Loughner’s preferred reading list, as well as Hitler’s Mein Kampf, itself a manifesto for modern day right wing extremist politics. If we’ve learned any one single thing through this tragic shooting that has thus far claimed six lives, including that of a federal judge (John Roll, a George HW Bush appointee), a congressional staffer and a little girl of nine, it’s a mere affirmation of the right wing mindset that makes accepting culpability, even in a vague collective sense, utterly impossible.

    This was most perfectly and immediately delineated by Sarah Palin or her people removing within hours of the shooting a now-infamous picture of 20 Democratic districts personally and literally targeted by Palin before posting her ignorant and unedited Facebook message expressing condolences to the Giffords family. Part and parcel to right wing thinking, the first thought that came to Palin’s mind was not nonpartisan sympathy and support for all families involved but political damage control.

    There may be some who will take me to task for making similar inflammatory remarks about right wingers, in particular those about Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Hal Turner and other violence-fomenting hate merchants for whom business these days is very brisk. Fine. You’re entitled to your opinion as are we all. Yet if we don’t continue to identify, isolate and rectify the hate speech that has already been stained with human blood almost more times than we can count, if we don’t point a righteous finger at those directly responsible, nothing will be learned and we will merely continue to devolve and descend further and further into more of a violent, paranoid police state than we already have.

    And while some politicians will put on a brave front and say that Saturday’s shooting in Tucson will have no effect on their level of contact with their constituents, it’s impossible to see how this heinous act will have anything but a chilling effect on lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who may have shared Congresswoman’s Gifford’s passion for open air town halls such as her Congress on Your Corner. If the lockdown on our nation’s airports and the circumvention of our civil liberties resulting from a failed terrorist attack two Christmases ago is any indication, Congress has effectively been put out of the reach of those who would seek to peacefully assemble and interact with their elected officials.

    In her latest televised appearance, Congresswoman Gifford was given last Wednesday the honor of reading part of the first amendment aloud, especially the part about free speech and the right to peaceful assembly. Ironically, the congresswoman’s desire to peacefully assemble with her constituents in Arizona’s 8th congressional district, and the free speech clause that’s regularly perverted by the likes of Palin, Sharron Angle, Glenn Beck and so many others is what nearly put her on a slab at the morgue.

    When people like Jared Lee Loughner, a typical, incoherent right winger spouting conspiracy theories about the government controlling grammar (something George Lakeoff and Frank Luntz can talk all day about) and wanting to go back to the gold standard, attack public officials and ordinary citizens with automatic weapons, they’re not just attacking people: They’re attacking and weakening the Constitution and the liberties that it strives to give us.

    Every time some conspiracy theorist takes whatever Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly and Hal Turner says to heart and construe them literally and turn friendly Town Halls on beautiful sunny days into the gunfight at the OK Corral, they subtract from the rights they ignorantly claim left wingers are trying to take away from them (principally the oft-misconstrued and irrelevant 2nd amendment).

    Sheriff Clarence Dupnik of Pima County Arizona put it best when he said that Arizona is “becoming the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry” and when he said that mentally unbalanced people like Jared Lee Loughner are “susceptible to vitriol.” But Palin’s supporters had already rallied around her even as she was taking down that target map that included Rep. Gifford’s district because they know she is responsible. And they have nothing with which to respond but more ignorance and hatred that helped spawn this act that has already claimed half a dozen lives.

    Even after Bill O’Reilly’s countless jeremiads against “Baby Killer Tiller” resulting in the death of Dr. George Tiller, even after Glenn Beck’s obsessive jeremiads against the Tides Foundation resulted in a fan of Beck’s getting pulled by the California Highway Patrol just in time to stop a bloodbath, even after Palin and Jesse Kelly resorting to calls for armed insurrection and imagery resulted in the deaths of six people, the wounding of 13 others, including a sitting congresswoman, we, or rather, the right wing, have learned nothing.

    Yes, Sarah Palin is directly responsible for this (if her immediate Orwellian damage control is any indication) as is Gifford’s Republican opponent Jesse Kelly and every right wing lunatic who gives their tacit consent for “2nd Amendment remedies.” None of these people will be held accountable by the proper authorities or repudiated by those above them and far less by those below them. And until we realize that yelling “Fire” in a crowded theater has sometimes mortal consequences, we will still have our toes in the primordial ooze from which our ancestors began to emerge millions of years ago.

    Saturday, January 8, 2011

    US Congresswoman Assassinated

    Congresswoman Giffords at her swearing in ceremony last Wednesday with new Speaker of the House John Boehner.

    It's with extreme sadness that I have to report the shooting death of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona. Congresswoman Giffords was at a public event in Tuscon when a young gunman in his late teens/early 20's rushed up to her and began to "indiscriminately" fire into the crowd. Congresswoman Giffords, who was shot point blank in the head, was taken to the hospital where she was shortly pronounced dead. Six other people were killed and several mothers wounded, including several members of Congresswoman Gifford's staff.

    At first, this would look to be more of a random shooting than a targeted assassination. Yet it was obvious that Congresswoman Gifford, a 40 year-old Democrat, was the most important person at the event that was taking place outside an ironically-named Safeway supermarket. Bystanders body tackled the alleged shooter as he tried to flee and is now in police custody. For the moment, no motive has been revealed. Congresswoman Giffords, it ought to be added, was one of 20 congressmen and congresswomen "targeted" by Sarah Palin last year in opposition to the health care bill.

    I'll stay on top of this as details emerge.

    Update: Apparently, Sarah Palin wasn't the only one to literally target Rep. Giffords. Her Republican opponent, Jesse Kelly, held a rally last June 12th in which he urged his supporters to "Get on Target for Victory in November Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M15 with Jesse Kelly."

    Update 2: MSNBC is relaying that Congresswoman Giffords is out of surgery and is expected to make it and her prognosis is "very optimistic." But Federal Judge John Rolls was killed in the attack in which 18 were injured. Dr. Peter Rhee just said "Congreswoman Giffords is not deceased." The one fatality that Rhee's Hospital had admitted is a small child of nine.

    Update 3: Name of Gunman: Jared Loughner, 22, according to the Political Carnival. This is from Loughner's Youtube channel:

    I think we can conclude this wacko's a right winger.

    Thursday, January 6, 2011

    Paean to the 112th Congress

    "Where are the clowns?"

    "They're already here."

    Monday, January 3, 2011

    Two Hundred and Forty One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

    (By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari Goldstein.)

    I miss Hunter S. Thompson. Probably more than most of you.

    I wish the American mainstream media had taken his cue and had all become gonzo journalists, unafraid to take sides and to deliver the news that mattered instead of dutifully bleaching out any editorializing and jealously coveting access at the very expense of the news.

    Because if we had, we wouldn't be seeing pap like the kind posted under the AP's Larry Margasak's byline. The title of the piece, currently the lead story on Yahoo's index page, is "GOP Agenda May Mean More In 2012 Than Now." As it's supposed to according to the rules of journalism, the opening paragraph tells you exactly where the author is headed, although it doesn't promise to be anywhere nearly as good as The Promised Land:
    WASHINGTON -- Even if the next two years end in congressional gridlock, Republicans hope to build a record that demonstrates to voters in 2012 that they can get it right.

    Yeah, you read that right. Republicans #1 actually care what their voters think, #2 they actually have a vested interest in "getting it right" (or, in the first language of the Republicans, "mach es tuchtig.") and, most risibly, #3, the obstructionist GOP is our best hope of ending Congressional gridlock.

    Say what you want about the bland mainstream media but every once in a while, they do get off a good one.

    The New York Times hardly gets it much more right in their lead story of what will happen in the next two days when the inmates will finally get to throttle House Speaker Mildred Ratched as they take over the beautiful, marble asylum known as the House of Representatives.

    Barack Obama is Turkel, naturally, the kindly, befuddled orderly who just can't seem to keep those damned lunatics in line and got drunk on the Koolaid of bipartisanship and surely got his poor, old black ass fired because of their shenanigans.

    This is basically Margasak's view of the GOP, courtesy of Red State, mealy-mouthed Republican Congressmen and women like Eric Cantor and Michele Bachmann reciting the long-irrelevant Declaration of Independence that they seem to revere more than the Constitution.

    In Margasak's world view, the GOP really, honestly, sincerely wants, like Darrel Issa, for the Obama administration, and America, to succeed by tying it up with nearly 300 letters of investigation and inquiry per year, almost all of it aimed at the Obama administration like a cartoon blunderbuss.

    Not a word from Margasak, or the NY Times, about how the GOP had already put the kibosh on a climate change committee and actually intend to investigate the President's very legitimacy and eligibility to hold office.

    They also promise to hold hearings into the now-defunct ACORN that was slain by a Republican jailbird and stooge named James O'Keefe and into the so-called New Black Panther Party because proper-thinking Caucasian-Americans shouldn't be expected to tolerate the threat of an empowered African American electorate. And one supposedly intimidated white voter in Philadelphia, in the Republican mind, far outweighs actual voter intimidation and disenfranchisement of countless tens of thousands of black people in different states and in successive elections.

    Yes, the Republicans will show us the way, just as they did during the four years they had complete power over all three branches of government. That was 2003-2007, the years we saw the invasion of Iraq, the implosion of the housing market and the US economy in general, revelations of Olympic-class Republican corruption and sexual perversion, the death-by-negligence of New Orleans, foot dragging in Afghanistan, the outing of Valerie Plame... The whole rotten list of indictments goes on and on.

    And the party that thinks corporate and personal tax cuts and saying no to whatever the Democrats want are the solutions to all of life's problems are going to somehow lead us from a brutal African oppressor and into the Promised Land? (A note to non-Biblical scholars: The Israelites stumbled in the desert for 40 years and their descendants had to wait another couple of thousand years before their Promised Land was finally founded.)

    The Party of "Drill, Baby, Drill!" is going to investigate the Obama administration regarding the BP oil spill? That's kind of like hiring Ocean's 11 to investigate the robbery at the Bellagio.

    Until the MSM get it right and start holding these lying, thieving, racist psychopaths to the same scrutiny and standards to which they hold the Obama (and any Democratic) administration, then they're in no position to be taking sides and naively hoping, and fooling the American people into thinking, that the world-eating Republican Party is the magic elixir to all of our problems.

    They're the ones who pushed us over the cliff. Don't go looking for a rope anytime soon.

    KindleindaWind, my writing blog.

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