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Dec 16, 2012
We live in a world of our own making. And we have no right to question that world when it goes wrong and 20 babies are massacred by a troubled young man with unlimited access to semi-automatic weapons. We have no right to mourn. Because we knew, before it happened, that it was going to happen. And we know that it is going to happen again. And again. And again. Such atrocities (where at least four people were slain by a lone gunman) have occurred 62 times, according to Mother Jones, since 1982 (did everything start to go wrong with Reagan?).

So don’t show me any pictures of grieving parents or choked-up presidents. Don’t bother telling me, aghast, that the only Republican recommendations following Newtown are to arm every adult in every school and don’t print the names of the shooters. We made this world, and we know how it works. And it will only get worse until we write ourselves a new social contract, one in which the people come first, and we begin to treat ourselves with proper respect and consideration, as well as begin to demand of ourselves that we live up to certain responsibilities and expectations.

Until then, we will continue to be mere grist for a grisly media.

tags: Human Nature | Domestic Unrest | History

Noted with Interest, November 2012

Nov 08, 2012

* NEW * Obama and progressives: what will liberals do with their big election victory?
By Glenn Greenwald. Step One, according to Glenn: Gut Social Security. From The Guardian, Nov 7, 2012. Accessed Nov 8, 2012.

tags: Politics | Obama | Governance

Noted with Interest, October 2012

Oct 27, 2012

Chart of the Day: The Price of Inequality
By Adam Frost, et al. Why are we in last place? From New Statesman, Oct 26, 2012. Accessed Oct 27, 2012.

The Self-Destruction of the 1 Percent
by Christia Freeland. Forgetting the past, and condemned to repeat it. From New York Times, Oct 13, 2012. Accessed October 15, 2012.

tags: Economics | Poverty | Human Nature

If You Are Thinking of Voting for Obama

Oct 14, 2012
Never mind all that nonsense about “the lesser of two evils.”

What you see, and have seen for four years, is what you got—a stooge of the corporatocracy, bailing out banks for criminal activity that brought the world to its knees and using their victims’ money to do so; a militarist willing to murder hundreds of thousands of innocents, squander our wealth, and traumatize a generation of our young people in pursuit of a handful of the guilty; a prosecutor of an endless war on drugs that fills our prisons with children, supports industries that feed on death and violence, and makes failed states out of our struggling southern neighbors; a rabid pursuer of whistleblowers, like Bradley Manning, who have revealed secrets that ought never to have been secret; finally, in the words of Ralph Nader on election night 2008, an Uncle Tom.

Yes, I embraced “hope and change” in 2008 and will always regret I didn’t vote for Nader. And I do not know how anyone as intelligent as Obama could have been so ineffectual in wielding the power inherent in the most powerful position in the world. His ineffectuality was either intentional or it is yet another lesson in the limits of power, a lesson we have failed to learn again and again since WWII.

Vote for him if you like, but it makes you one of them.

In the alternative, break loose from our failed two-party system. In fact, there aren’t two parties anymore. There is a Taliban-like fundamentalist right posing as Republicans and snatching up the support of a population whose education has been so neglected for fifty years that they are a broiling mélange of anger, ill health, and ignorance. And there is a so-called Democratic party assiduously protecting the right of a few to steal the wealth of the many.

Of course, most of you won’t break loose, and we will almost certainly have another four years of Obama, a polarized Congress, and the status quo. We will enrich the rich, wage wars that profit only the warmongers, punish the weak, ravage the environment, and abuse and neglect our own.

And bin Laden wins.
tags: Governance | Obama | New Political Party

Noted with Interest, September 2012

Sep 28, 2012

Libraries' ebook lending to be probed by government
by Chris Smith. I have stopped writing on this issue (click the tag “Books and Libraries” for the series), but am still interested in it. I think this initial “probe” by the UK may very well be a first step in requiring publishers to sell eBooks to libraries. I hope so, at any rate. From techradar. Accessed Sep 28, 2012.

The Five Reasons Why Romney/Ryan Must Be Defeated in 2012—And Why Conservatives Should Hope They Are
by Kurt Eichenwald, Sep 2, 2012. Accessed Sep 4, 2012.

tags: Politics

Angle of Decline

Sep 24, 2012
The countdown begins. The beauty pageant shifts into high gear. The pundits, the pollsters, and the pols strut their stuff in a dumbshow to convince us there is some kind of contest going on.

But the contest is over, the prizes have been handed out, and the winners are safe in their gated communities, laughing up their silken shirtsleeves at the suckers who put them there. You. And me. And Joe the Plumber.

We have stood by as our democracy was co-opted by an oligarchy more greedy, more shameless, more effective—and more empowered by the establishment—than any nineteenth century robber baron could have dreamed. And we have watched our economic system ruined by a small cabal of the filthy rich. Even more than our lost democracy, posterity may well mourn the criminalization of capitalism, and the havoc it wrought on a civilization so in need of its strengths.

Because as democracy plays out a pitiful last act, pandering to the groundlings while its makeup fades under the unforgiving lights, capitalism has departed the stage, stepped into a waiting limo, and left democracy and its audience far behind.

So enjoy the next 40 days or so, the debates, the tweets, the contortions of the mainstream media to make a cliffhanger out of a no-brainer. The only issue to be resolved on November 6 is our angle of decline over the next four years: steep or steeper.
tags: Politics | Governance | Domestic Unrest

Noted with Interest, August 2012

Aug 31, 2012

Whoops!: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay, by John Lanchester, Allen Lane/Penguin, 2010
I had to send along this excerpt from the great John Lanchester’s book on the financial meltdown:
“For several decades after the second world war the western liberal democracies devoted themselves to the question of how to harness capitalism’s potential for economic growth to the political imperative to provide better lives for ordinary people. The jet engine of capitalism was harnessed to the ox cart of social justice. This was the cause of much bleating from the advocates of pure capitalism, but the effect was that the western liberal democracies became the most admirable societies that the world has ever seen. Not the most admirable we can imagine, and not perfect; but the best humanity had as yet been able to achieve. Then the Wall came down, and to various extents the governments of the west began to abandon the social-justice aspect of the general post-war project. The jet engine was unhooked from the ox cart and allowed to roar off at its own speed. The result was an unprecedented boom, which had two big things wrong with it: it wasn’t fair and it wasn’t sustainable.”

Greed and Debt: The True Story of Mitt Romney and Bain Capital
By Matt Taibbi. Matt takes on Mitt, raining on Romney's parade, in a piece released a week early to coincide with the Republican convention. From Rollingstone, August 29, 2012. Accessed August 29, 2012.

tags: Noted with Interest

Gore Vidal, Prophet

Aug 29, 2012
Gore Vidal has joined the company of Martin Luther King and Howard Zinn. Another of my heroes is gone; I can’t think of any I have left now.

No one spoke truth to power with the humor, the eloquence, the urgency, the contempt, the rage—or the prescience—of Gore Vidal, and we suffer grievously without his voice.

I just finished his Collected Essays, 1952-1972. These few outtakes should impress you as much as they did me with his gifts of wit and prophecy. Long before we were what we are and had found the voice in which many of us are speaking today—before Vietnam, before Watergate, before Reagan—he was one of us, showing the way:

Here he is discussing the causes for the decline in the reading of novels, a plaint heard over and over in this collection:

“Nevertheless, appalling education combined with clever new toys has distracted that large public which found pleasure in prose fictions.”
“A Note on the Novel,” New York Times Book Review, August 5, 1956.
One of his most famous assertions, spoken not altogether with tongue in cheek, is one to which I have often related while composing the nostrums that litter this blog:
“I am at heart a propagandist, a tremendous hater, a tiresome nag, complacently positive that there is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.”
“Writing Plays for Television,” New World Writing #10, 1956.
Vidal was master of the Parthian shot, a final little twist of the knife at the conclusion of an already damning progression of put-downs. Having misspent several years, off and on, in the theatre, I can attest to the truth of this one.
“After the script was ready [for his Broadway play Visit to a Small Planet] there were the usual trials, delays, problems of temperament; each participant convinced that the others had gone into secret league to contrive his professional ruin (and on occasion cabals did flourish, for the theater is a child’s world).”
“Visit to a Small Planet,” The Reporter, July 11, 1957.
We finally “got it” in the Great Recession; Vidal got it almost 50 years ago:
“In public services [as a portion of our foreign aid], we lag behind all the industrialized nations of the West, preferring that the public money go not to the people but to big business. The result is a unique society in which we have free enterprise for the poor and socialism for the rich.”
“Edmund Wilson, Tax Dodger,” Book Week, November 3, 1963.
The futility of reversing a status quo that is destroying our country, the world, and the hopes of future generations was expressed succinctly by Vidal a few short years after Eisenhower’s famous warning regarding the military-industrial complex:
“Between the pork barrel and the terrible swift sword, Pentagon, Congress, and industry are locked together, and nothing short of a major popular revolt can shatter their embrace.”
“Edmund Wilson, Tax Dodger,” Book Week, November 3, 1963.
Vidal captures the essential lunacy—and tragedy—of the impulse toward religion and religious fundamentalism:
“And those who take solemnly the words of other men as absolutes are, in the deepest sense, maiming their own sensibilities and controverting the evidence of their own senses in a fashion which may be comforting to a terrified man but disastrous for an artist.”
“Norman Mailer’s Self-Advertisements,” The Nation, January 2, 1970.
Attending Eleanor Roosevelt’s funeral, he makes this final observation:
“As the box containing her went past me, I thought, well, that’s that. We’re really on our own now.”
“Eleanor Roosevelt,” The New York Review of Books, Nov 18, 1971 (p. 424)
And so we are.

The last word, in another election year we find ourselves anticipating with dread:
“Persuading the people to vote against their best interest has been the awesome genius of the American political elite from the beginning.”
“Homage to Daniel Shays,” The New York Review of Books, August 10, 1972.

tags: Politics | People | Governance

Money, Paul Ryan, and You

Aug 20, 2012
There has been much ink spilled on news, editorial, and op-ed pages, not to mention the virtual oceans spilled on the Internet, since Paul Ryan was chosen to be Mitt Romney’s running mate (I don’t say Mitt Romney chose him, because I don’t think he did).

Ryan’s fiscal plan, 14 years in the making, unmaking, remaking,1 has captured the imagination of the lunatic right (those who, like Ryan, have Ayn Rand on their required reading lists). Speaker Boehner, knowing a bear trap when he sees one, has almost crippled himself in contortions aimed at distancing himself from the plan without alienating too many of his constituents.

The left meanwhile, to which no one any longer pays even nominal attention, is nevertheless having a field day with it. Krugman calls Ryan “an unserious man,”2 and Steve Nelson, head of the progressive Calhoun School in Manhattan and writer of the biweekly “Sensibilities” column in my local rag, the Valley News, characterizes the society Ryan’s plan aims to forge as one “committed to rugged individualism.” I agree with Krugman, but respectfully disagree with Nelson.

What has been developing over the past thirty years and more (since the Reagan Revolution—a real revolution and one which is ongoing) is not some nostalgic return to a Jeffersonian vision of hardy agrarian individuals going about their business in an egalitarian society with minimal governmental interference. Far from it. What we are witnessing rather is the largest transfer of wealth, enabled and abetted by a co-opted and corrupted central government, in the history of mankind.

No Republican is looking for smaller government. The national debt ballooned between 1981 and 2008 from less than a trillion dollars to over 10 trillion entirely during the administrations of Republicans.3 The five to six trillion added during the Obama administration4 has accrued primarily because of a combination of circumstances Obama was essentially powerless to affect: the downward momentum caused by the Great Recession, the bailouts committed during the last Bush administration, the continuation of the Bush tax cuts, the prosecution of multiple unwinnable but very expensive wars, and Congressional obstreperousness which has scotched every attempt by Democrat or Republican alike to contain our exploding debt.

No one in power today wants less government. The ones in control, and this includes Obama, want something else altogether. They want your money. They want government to be devoted entirely to enriching the already superrich at the expense of anyone who isn’t. Show me a single significant pending legislative initiative, or a single piece of significant legislation passed in the last thirty years which doesn’t advance this agenda and I’ll eat it.

This isn’t, in Nelson’s words, “a society committed to rugged individualism.” It is a society committed to brigandage.

I predict a Romney win in November, because I believe our country is ripe for a bloodless coup. The radical right is poised to take over our hapless land, by hook or by crook, and if they can’t buy the election, they are ready, willing, and able to steal it. And the sad fact is, they probably won’t have to put themselves out to too great an extent to do it. As Gore Vidal noted over fifty years ago, “Persuading the people to vote against their best interest has been the awesome genius of the American political elite from the beginning.”5

1 See, e.g., “Fussbudget: How Paul Ryan Captured the G.O.P.,” by Ryan Lizza, from The New Yorker, August 6, 2012.
2 An Unserious Man, by Paul Krugman, from the New York Times, August 19, 2012.
3 National Debt Chart
4 The US Debt Clock
5 “Homage to Daniel Shays,” The New York Review of Books, August 10, 1972.
tags: Politics

Grampa at the Ramparts

Jul 29, 2012
Lest the first month since I began this blog in May 2008 go by without an entry, I hasten to write this one to my limited but select readership. I have spent the last 28 days in Grand Manan, New Brunswick, fixing up a fixer-upper, and ignoring the world’s woes in deference to more personal ones involving faulty plumbing, sagging decks, and paint.

I come home on Saturday to a story in our local newspaper, in the Perspectives section—sort of like the op-ed page in the Times. It features a photo of a dozen people holding up pictures of solar panels. As the story will tell us, they are protesting the continued operation of our local nuclear power plant, Vermont Yankee. The average age of the protestors is 60 or 70. They are protesting a situation the worst aspects of which will probably impact not them but their children and grandchildren, conspicuously absent from the photo.

The headline reads "Renewables Won't Replace Yankee," and the article is written by a standard corporate stooge, this one having worked for 25 years for an electric utility before settling in to a comfy sinecure with a local right-wing don’t-think tank. She qualifies her headline in the second paragraph, when she says that it is "simply not true [that Vermont Yankee will be replaced with renewables], at least in the foreseeable future." [Emphasis added] No one in their right mind expects renewables to fill the gap left by the closing of this ancient, leaking nuclear disaster waiting to happen. In the meanwhile it is managed long-distance by a cabal of perjured executives backed by a federal regulatory commission owned lock, stock, and barrel by the corporatocracy. Vermont wanted to close Vermont Yankee, thought it had the power to do so, and voted overwhelmingly to do so, only to be slapped down by that federal body in servile obsequiousness to its monied masters.

Now old people who should be on the back porch enjoying an iced-tea and a good book are out braving midsummer sunstroke and the scornful but oh-so-well-funded nonsense like this article while their offspring doodle away on Facebook, oblivious to peak oil, climate change, the ozone layer, the third of Americans who are diabetic or prediabetic, the $15.8 trillion we are in debt, our state of endless war, and an economy that has seen a decline in the number of people adequately employed every month for the last four years.

Such obliviousness is not sustainable.
tags: Governance | Nuclear | Aux Barricades!

The End of Libraries, Part XII: Final Thoughts

Jun 10, 2012
With this entry, and barring new and dramatic developments which I do not foresee occurring in the near future, I bid farewell to my series on The End of Libraries.

Since my last entry on Feb 21 things have not changed materially. Amazon’s Kindle Owner’s Lending Library now has over 160,000 titles and continues to grow at a rapid rate. Publishers continue to be obdurate, shortsighted, and, well, just plain stupid.

Straining after a bit of good news: Public libraries are inching towards greater activism in defense of their patrons’ interests, and, for the first time, I have come across someone else’s recommendation for pay-per-use lending which I first suggested last October, in Part II of this series. For examples of both, see Top Libraries in U.S. and Canada Issue Statement Demanding Better Ebook Services and note the Comment to which I replied.

Meanwhile, Hilary Mantel’s sequel to Wolf Hall was published six weeks or so ago. My wife and I have been eagerly awaiting Bring Up the Bodies since the day we closed the cover on the unwieldy dead-tree Wolf Hall hardcover we both loved. We had had to wait for Wolf Hall for over a year, since it hadn’t come to my attention until after it had won the Booker Prize, and by then there was a long waiting list for it at my library. However, this was a new day. Today, I had my iPad and my Kindle. We weren’t going to wait until 2013 to read the sequel!

My public library, six weeks after publication, does not show the title in our eBook catalog. If they did get around to purchasing it, when would that be, and how long a wait would we have, since they can only loan it to one patron at a time? And when we do get it, I wondered whether we both could read it in the two weeks we will have before it magically disappears from our eReader? Probably not.

So I broke down and bought it, for $12.99, for my iPad. It felt like a defeat, after all that I have written about in this series. What ought to have been the scenario?

The eBook should have been available for checking out on my public library site on the day the book was published. As many patrons as wanted it should have been able to check it out that day, and the library’s eBook lending budget would have been decremented a certain reasonable amount (I have suggested 50 cents) for each checkout. There should have been no due date, though I would have to “return” the book by having it removed from my iPad before I could check out another in its place. The result: Hilary Mantel would have been an overnight millionaire (again), the publisher would reap a huge reward from the millions of people who would have borrowed it on Day One, public libraries would be filled with pride at the ease with which they have served their patrons, and we happy readers would be happily reading.

Instead, I caved in and bought something which, thanks to digitization, I should have been able to borrow as quickly and as easily.

What will be the likely result of all this? Unless the situation changes drastically, and

  • libraries are accorded the right to purchase any available eBook (some publishers will not sell them to libraries at all), and at their standard discount (some publishers charge libraries several times the retail price); and
  • libraries are guaranteed the same First-Sale Doctrine rights they enjoy for printed materials, and;
  • the lending model is altered to enjoy the advantages of digitization,
libraries will be unable to serve their patrons as those patrons are going to expect to be served. Those who can afford to purchase their books, as my wife and I can, will do so, and will no longer be willing to support the public libraries upon which they used to depend. The libraries will cease operation, and the millions of readers who cannot afford to purchase their books will go without, and authors will go without their readers.

Instead of the global reading renaissance which digitization promises, we will enter a global Dark Ages in which the printed word is reserved for the few who can afford it, further widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots which we have been haplessly and helplessly witnessing for the past 35 years.
tags: Books and Libraries

Noted with Interest, June 2012

Jun 03, 2012

* NEW * How corporate socialism destroys
By David Cay Johnston. Taxpayers are providing the capital for corporate projects, taking on the risk inherent in such ventures, and not participating in the profits, which all go to the corporations. This is corporate socialism at its worst. From Reuters, Jun 1, 2012. Accessed Jun 3, 2012.

tags: Noted with Interest

The Coming of the Candidates: Norman Solomon

Jun 02, 2012
Norman Solomon is running in the second congressional district of California, and has been endorsed by Dennis Kucinich, Glenn Greenwald, Mike Farrell, Raul Grijalva, and many other well-known progressives.

His primary is coming up on June 5, so I am rushing this notice to ATN to encourage you to give a last-minute contribution to his campaign, and watch for the results on Tuesday. Solomon is one of the strongest candidates in the progressive field, and certainly one of the most popular. How he does on Tuesday will provide a good indication of our chances in November.

And while we are election watching, don't miss Tuesday's results on the move to recall Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. Walker, you will remember, attempted to single-handedly end collective bargaining at the state level, essentially killing union representation for public employees. Wisconsin is polarized over the issue, millions of dollars in state and out-of-state money have poured in to Walker's coffers, and Tuesday's election is going to be a close one.
tags: Politics

Rocky Anderson's Platform

May 15, 2012
Here is what Rocky Anderson’s campaign stands for. If you take issue with any item here, I would like to hear what you think is wrong with it:

  • An immediate end to the ongoing wars;
  • Essential health care coverage for all citizens;
  • Urgent international leadership by the U.S. to prevent the most catastrophic consequences of climate disruption;
  • Adequate revenues to balance the budget through fair taxation;
  • Treatment of substance abuse as a public health, rather than a criminal justice, issue;
  • Control of the Federal Reserve by the Treasury Department and Congress;
  • A balanced budget (or a surplus) except in times of war or major recession;
  • An end to the legal concept of corporate “personhood”; a constitutional amendment to overrule Citizens United;
  • An end to the corrupting impact of money in our electoral system;
  • Protection of U.S. jobs, through re-negotiation of trade agreements and the establishment of jobs programs like WPA and CCC to improve our nation's infrastructure and employ millions of Americans;
  • An end to the stranglehold on our government by the military-industrial complex.
I would add a re-commitment to the rule of law. Somewhere since 9/11 we have misplaced our decency; instituted torture as a national policy; ended the notion of personal privacy; suspended habeas corpus and due process; and delivered misery and death to countless innocent men, women, and children.
tags: New Political Party | Politics

The Coming of the Candidates: Rocky Anderson

Apr 28, 2012
Ralph Nader has endorsed Ross "Rocky" Anderson for president and that is more than good enough for me.

Anderson, a two-term mayor of Salt Lake City, Utah, has a biography that reveals a lifetime devoted to fighting for social justice and a political system in keeping with the progressive, egalitarian principles which I believe were intended by our Founding Fathers, and from which we have strayed dangerously over the past thirty years. (But I needn't rehash what I have been writing about on this site for four years.)

Now I have someone to vote for for president in 2012. I confess to having voted for Obama in 2008 and I have regretted ever since not giving my vote to Nader, who represented my views far more closely than Obama. The latter talked a good game, and talked me into it, but his subsequent actions have appalled me. I fully expect him to win re-election, running as he is against an idiot who will probably scuttle his own campaign long before November.

So why vote for someone who is going to lose? Well, number one, Anderson doesn’t necessarily have to lose. The majority of Americans support the majority of his positions, believe it or not. And if you don’t believe it, then go to PollingReport.com and find out.

And number two, the lesser of two evils is still evil. Obama has clearly shown he is in the camp of the corporatocracy. Furthermore, he has extended presidential powers well beyond the framework of the Constitution; scrapped due process as it is generally understood (by everyone but his toadying AG); killed, imprisoned, and stifled more American citizens than we know of solely by personal fiat; and betrayed (by omission and commission) his race, his party, and his country. You don’t vote for someone who has done to us what he has done.

Americans are ready to demand a change. The U.S. has never been quite the beacon of decency and hope we have attempted to appear to be before the world. And today our escutcheon is particularly banged up. But we are still in a position to lead the world to a new level of democracy and freedom, if we can only retrieve from the forces of greed and oligarchy our tarnished American soul.
tags: Politics | New Political Party

Noted with Interest, April 2012

Apr 22, 2012

A Dangerous Mind?
By Andrew F. March. RIP First Amendment. Torture, endless war, presidential privilege to murder citizens without judicial review, the end of free speech. Truly, 9/11 destroyed far more than the Twin Towers. It destroyed the American soul. From The New York Times, Apr 21, 2012. Accessed Apr 22, 2012.

Florida. How Soon We Forget.
By Erika Wood. The Republicans, at least in Florida, will stop at nothing to deny the vote to likely supporters of the Democratic ticket. We should be encouraging everyone to vote, not doing this. From the New York Times, Apr 5, 2012. Accessed Apr 6, 2012.

tags: Noted with Interest

Noted with Interest, March 2012

Mar 24, 2012

* NEW * Education woes linked to national security
By Kimberly Hefling. Seventy-five percent of our young adults are disqualified from military service because they are physically unfit, have criminal records, or have been inadequately educated. That's three out of four. And we're "Number One"? From Associated Press, Mar 20, 2012. Accessed Mar 23, 2012.

The White Savior Industrial Complex
By Teju Cole. He's not dissing Kristof so much as reminding the rest of us why Kristof is necessary: Because the worst excesses of colonialism are still with us, today delivered by such as the IMF and World Bank. And Kristof and other White Saviors (read Jolie, Clooney, Farrow, et al.) are missing, or ignoring, that point. From The Atlantic, Mar 21, 2012. Accessed Mar 21, 2012.

Age of Ignorance
By Charles Simic. Read the Comments. They are almost as good as the article. From New York Review of Books, Mar 20, 2012. Accessed Mar 20, 2012.

The Difference Between Private and Public Morality
By Robert Reich. Get distracted enough about irrelevant social issues (It's none of your business, Buddy!) and you won't notice them picking your pocket. From The Huffington Post, Mar 14, 2012. Accessed Mar 14, 2012.

Dennis Kucinich and “wackiness”
By Glenn Greenwald. Our Congress has lost its last sane voice, and as he fades from view, so-called liberals nip at his heels. From Salon.com, Mar 10, 2012. Accessed Mar 10, 2012.

Realities of a Syrian Intervention
By Col. Gian P. Gentile. A sober assessment of the consequences of intervention in Syria. From The National Interest, Mar 2, 2012. Accessed Mar 3, 2012.

tags: Noted with Interest

The Coming of the Candidates: Jeanne van den Hurk

Mar 24, 2012
You don’t have to guess where Jeanne van den Hurk stands on the issues. This grassroots candidate for the 3rd Congressional district of South Carolina lays it all out for you at BeYourGovernment.org. This web site aggregates information on a variety of Independents and what I might call new-age Democrats, that is, Democrats not under the sway of the corporatocracy.

Van den Hurk supports universal health care, an end to the misbegotten war on drugs as well as our other militaristic misadventures, a green energy policy, restoration of Constitutional rights, and other issues of increasing importance to an increasingly alarmed electorate. As with the other candidate I have written about in this series, David Levitt, van den Hurk pays less attention than I think she should to employment issues. In time, I hope she will develop and deliver progressive positions toward alleviating the inequality which has exploded over the past thirty years and to the crisis in employment which is not going away soon. In that regard, I recommend she read over the entries I have posted here under the tag New Political Party.

[All the information about van den Hurk in this piece is taken from the above-referenced web page. If you are able to refute anything there or here, citing reliable sources, please email us with that information and we will post corrections to this piece.]

Van den Hurk accepts no corporate money and is therefore dependent on small and medium-sized contributions from—you. Yes, you, if you are reading this and are of the same mind as so many today who know we must find a means of wresting our country back from runaway capitalism and a bought-and-paid-for Congress. If continuous war isn’t to be the legacy we hand down to the next generation; if we are not to consign them to a standard of living significantly below that of our parents; if we are not to condemn them to a crippled planet and one in which the coming water wars will make the current oil wars seem like peace rallies: if this is not the world we are handing on to our children, then something needs to be done now, because this is the world where we are headed, as all the empirical evidence indicates.

Van den Hurk, like many of the doughty candidates who are stepping out of peaceful, private, middle-class lives to expose themselves to the cauldron of partisan politics, is married with children and is an entrepreneur with a jewelry design and antique business. I am a long way from South Carolina and only follow van den Hurk in her Twitter and Facebook capacities. I hope more is going on in her campaign than is evident in this social media. You can bet the Mainstream Media will avoid providing her with much coverage until and unless she makes dramatic inroads into the territory of the first-term Republican incumbent. And BeYourGovernment provides the minimum of campaign exposure.

So how are van den Hurk and these other candidates going to be elected? They will be elected by you. Your dollars, your word-of-mouth, your volunteer efforts, your votes. And if, come November, we find ourselves once again with a neo-liberal Democrat in the White House, a far-right Republican majority in the House, and a lame, old-age Democratic majority in the Senate—or worse, we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

I contributed to van den Hurk’s campaign, and I will do so again if it maintains its viability. This is the very least you can do, and it is something you can do it right now.
tags: New Political Party | Congress

The Coming of the Candidates: David Levitt

Mar 06, 2012
David Levitt is opposing California Senator Dianne Feinstein, and will run in the non-partisan primary there on June 5. According to his web page, http://www.levitt2012.org, he has a doctorate degree from MIT and was a researcher at the MIT Media Lab before becoming a Silicon Valley scientist, engineer, and entrepreneur. This is his first foray into politics.

[All the information in this piece is taken from Levitt’s web page. If you are able to refute anything there or here, citing reliable sources, please email us with that information and we will post corrections to this piece.]

In California’s “non-partisan” primary, the top two vote getters will appear on the ballot in November, even if both are from the same party. Since Feinstein’s leading Republican contender is one Orly Taitz, known as “Queen of the Birthers,” it is not at all unreasonable to hope Levitt may face Feinstein in the fall.

Levitt’s major gamble—and innovation—is the Free Campaign. He intends to establish a credible candidacy with a tiny fraction of the money typically poured into Senate races. He will do so by exploiting the Intranet and its social networking tools. Of course, no campaign can be entirely free, and Levitt, like other progressive candidates coming forth, solicits small contributions from individuals and does not accept corporate money.

Levitt’s Issues and Solutions section of his web site is heavily weighted—perhaps too heavily—toward social issues (pro-choice, marijuana legalization, marriage equality), and is less attentive to economic issues. In time, I hope he will develop and deliver progressive positions toward alleviating the inequality which has exploded over the past thirty years. In that regard, I recommend he read over the entries I have posted here under the tag New Political Party.

Our country is on the cusp of becoming a police state inside of a banana republic. Mlitarism is rampant. The rule of law has been set aside. We are distracted by divisiveness over social issues that have nothing whatever to do with our well-being or our common interests. If we are to regain our greatness as the moral leader of the world, we must defeat a corporatocracy which has kidnapped our body politic. The only way I can see our doing that, short of armed rebellion, is by supporting a new “citizen congress.” Occupy Wall Street has shown us that we still have the ability to muster a widespread, grassroots social movement in this country, similar to the ones that brought about a measure of racial justice in the 50s and 60s and the end of a futile, illegal, and immoral conflict in the 70s. Such a social movement is needed more than ever today.

David Levitt, and others I will be writing about in this series, have stepped forth into the light—and the cross-hairs of an establishment that will stop at nothing to stop them—to offer themselves as a first generation of candidates for that citizen congress. We owe them our attention and, if their candidacy proves to our satisfaction to be a worthy effort, our financial support, our voices, and our votes.
tags: New Political Party | Congress

The War on Women, by Sarah Wolfe

Mar 04, 2012
Is anyone not familiar with Rush Limbaugh’s comments following Rep. Darryl Issa’s refusal to allow a third-year, Georgetown law student to testify before his committee about insurance coverage for contraceptives? Limbaugh decided to conflate her testimony (which she presented, but not to the whole Congress) with “loose” sexual mores. Interesting that someone married four times feels he can play the “morality card.”

In any event, Limbaugh wasted no time in calling the law student, Sandra Fluke, a slut and a prostitute. Predictably, people on the left or in the center denounced his breath-taking misogyny, while those who hope to trounce Obama in November either seconded Limbaugh’s remarks (Pat O’Reilly, for instance) or made tiny bleating sounds they hoped would be interpreted as criticism by the angry women whose votes they want. The only Republican who used strong language was Scott Brown and he’s running against Elizabeth Warren. His handlers told him what to say.

Let’s shove aside the extraneous: the manufactured kerfuffle over contraception, the manufactured kerfuffle over religious rights (hard to be Catholic? Try establishing a voice as an atheist in this theocracy), and the warp speed employed by Republicans to attack the president for telephoning Fluke.

The situation (Rep. Issa’s turning Fluke away, saying her testimony wasn’t significant; who cares what women think about contraception?) elegantly reflects the way in which the powerful (men) cut the powerless (we know who we are) off at the knees, leaving us voiceless and ashamed. By refusing to allow Fluke to speak they did what men have done for centuries: marginalized us, shut us up, ignored our concerns, slammed the door in our faces and said, “Get outta here.”

And then, as though that weren’t enough, they trivialized Fluke (and, by extension, women in general) by equating her thoughtful analysis of why contraception should be covered by employers with the desire to have endless amounts of sex. That contraception is necessary even if you have sex one time, that the need for it is a public health issue, that the vast majority of women of child-bearing age use contraceptives, that abstaining women also take birth control pills was all thrown by the wayside. In essence, both men and their supporters were saying that women have no right to talk about sex in public, that the expression of a need for contraception by an unmarried woman is shameful and shouldn’t be allowed. Yea, even unto the 21st century doth this continue!

Every few years, civilized people who had begun to believe that things had gotten better are shocked when troglodytes trot out the same, tired sexist and racist beliefs. It’s depressing. Still, this time there was an uproar. And though we figure that Rush will never be thrown off the radio so long as he provokes and has listeners, we can’t but feel that he will be a trifle less careless, a bit more self-conscious about what he says. And for someone as reckless as he is, I imagine that’s a burden. In addition, it must have been inconvenient and time-consuming for his employer to have to deal with angry advertisers pulling their spots. In this mixed-up world, we have to draw consolation from small things.

tags: Human Rights | Domestic Unrest | Health

Noted with Interest, February 2012

Feb 29, 2012

Don’t tell us it’s not a class war
By Gerald Caplan. He evokes Naomi Klein’s classic Shock Doctrine, and shows how it pertains to the present. From The Globe and Mail (Canada), Feb 24, 2012. Accessed Feb 29, 2012.

Capitalism And Its Discontents: Richard Wolff On What Went Wrong
by David Barsamian. “When a system has everybody playing more or less by the rules and achieves the level of dysfunction we have now, it’s time to stop looking for scapegoats and understand that the problem is the system itself.” Hear, hear! Pardon me if I feel vindicated by this cogent, crystal-clear dissection of our current mess. From The Sun, Feb 2012. Accessed Feb 28, 2012.

The “Undue Weight” of Truth on Wikipedia
By Timothy Messer-Kruse. I like Wikipedia, and many of us rely on it. However, it is important to remember from time to time just where the articles come from and how they are maintained. Here is a credible, true-life story of a man who discovered that reliability was more important than truth on Wikipedia. It was an eye-opener for me. From The Chronicle of Higher Education, Feb 12, 2012. Accessed Feb 15, 2012.

All together now: Montaigne and the art of co-operation
by Richard Sennett. The Comments on this article are as interesting as the article itself, perhaps more so. It is an essay, and a sentiment, in support of what I have been writing about here since 2008. From The Guardian, Feb 10, 2012. Accessed Feb 15, 2012.

Contraception’s Con Men
by Garry Wills. In the wake of the recent flap over contraception coverage in health plans, Wills disassembles the opposition arguments one by one. From The New York Review of Books, Feb 15, 2012. Accessed Feb 15, 2012.

tags: Noted with Interest

The Coming of the Candidates: Introduction

Feb 27, 2012
I have often on this site urged us to find, fund, and elect1,2 a new brand of politician that will wrest our country from the grasp of the corporatocracy. I have proposed a third party, naming it the New Century Party, and provided it with a platform with ten planks that should appeal to rational individuals across the political spectrum, from conservative to progressive, from Tea Party to Occupy Wall Street.

With the 2012 election coming up, a grassroots groundswell of sorts is developing, with several candidates coming forth to challenge the incumbent Republican and Democratic minions of the corporatocracy. They share an agenda which puts the people first, and promises to reverse the disastrous trends of the last 30 years. They share an awareness of the dangers of gross inequality in income and opportunity among Americans; of the disasters we are facing from global climate change; of the evils of militarism and unregulated capitalism. They support a publicly funded health care program; a revitalized, green economy; and a return to the principles of open government, the rule of law, and adherence to due process.

These candidates are not going to be slick; they are not going to be air-brushed; they are not going to have $400 haircuts. They may sound more like your next door neighbor (if you are lucky in your neighbors) and less like the snake oil salesmen currently spending tens of millions of dollars attempting to manipulate the less worthy instincts of an undereducated and frightened electorate.

They deserve and demand our attention. If we find them credible and their campaigns viable, we should support them with our dollars, our word-of-mouth, our letters to the editor, our volunteer labor gathering signatures, our Tweets, and any other assistance we can bring to bear.

I will introduce them here, as they come to my attention. Please EMAIL ME with additional ones you would like to see featured here, providing me with at least the URL to their web page.
1 Birthers and Death Panels, from All Together Now, Aug 14, 2009.
2 Up From Slavery, from All Together Now, Sep 6, 2009.
tags: New Political Party | Congress

The End of Libraries, Part XI: KOLL vs. Bilbary

Feb 21, 2012
Although Amazon has not produced a press release on the usage of their Kindle Owner’s Lending Library (KOLL) for January, as they did for December, I have been in touch with a writer who has taken part in the program. He has been able to extrapolate numbers from his own January activity. As a result, we believe KOLL loaned about 435,000 titles in January, paying authors or publishers around $1.60 per loan. Compare these to the figures for December which Amazon announced in their press release of Jan 12, 2012: 295,000 checkouts paying out $1.70 for each.

Amazon increased the royalty pot for January by 40%, from $500,000 to $700,000, and a good thing. There were almost 50% more checkouts in January, and without that extra money, they would have resulted in considerably less payout per loan. There is no word yet on whether the pot will be increased again for February. If it isn’t, and if February lending again increases by anything like the same amount, the per-loan payout will drop considerably.

I predict Amazon will sweeten the pot in order to retain their list of titles. Authors who entered the program in December will have the option of dropping out in early March (after their 90-day commitment). At present, there are just over 110,000 titles in KOLL. We will see how those numbers hold up as we move into March.

Meanwhile, we have discovered a new threat to libraries over the past two weeks. Bilbary is a commercial startup that has reportedly signed agreements with five of the Big Six publishers and is negotiating with 2,300 others. (See Bilbary Seeks to Heal the Digital Rift Between Publishers and Libraries, by Mercy Pilkington, on GoodEReader (undated).

Although paying lip service to the importance of libraries, Bilbary founder Tim Coates plans not only to sell titles on Bilbary, but to offer a lending component as well, probably on some pay-per-loan fee structure. Unlike Library Ideas’ Freading, which we reported on in Part IX, Bilbary is also wisely reaching out to self-published authors who, probably not coincidentally, provide the majority of the titles offered on KOLL.

This second commercial resource for eBook lending, if it actually materializes, is potentially an even bigger threat to public libraries than KOLL, as it will undoubtedly relax the restrictions—one checkout per month from a smaller pool of largely self-published titles—which are enforced for KOLL customers, who must also be affiliated with Amazon’s Prime service ($79/year).

I expect publishers are attracted to Bilbary as a potential antidote to the monopoly Amazon is pursuing in the book-selling, book-publishing, and book-reading businesses. Those 110,000 titles participating in KOLL, remember, can only be purchased at Amazon (in print or eBook format), and the eBook version will only run on the Kindle line of products.

Where does this leave public libraries? Where we have been throughout, I fear: Out in the cold. Unless we become better organized and more militant, entities such as KOLL and Bilbary threaten to both balkanize and commercialize the business of accessing eBooks, to the detriment, and possible dissolution, of our public library network.
tags: Books and Libraries

The End of Libraries, Part X: A Call to Action

Feb 11, 2012
Macmillan and Simon and Schuster have never sold eBooks to public libraries. Penguin yesterday ceased selling eBooks to public libraries. Brilliance Audio (owned by Amazon) and Hachette Book Group (which includes Little Brown) do not sell eBooks to libraries.

Many publishers who do sell eBooks to libraries charge much more for them than they charge you or me when we purchase the same product, or, in the case of big six publisher HarperCollins, restrict the number of times an eBook can be loaned out before it has to be repurchased. And even charging libraries two or three times the price an individual pays, libraries are still forced to treat eBooks like they treat their print books, loaning them to only one reader at a time.

Overdrive, which acts as the middle man in most eBook lending by public libraries, charges our state public library consortium $12,000 a year just for the platform, never mind the cost of the books. Now, Overdrive is no longer accepting consortia, and every tiny public library in the nation that wants to loan eBooks is going to have to go it alone.

Meanwhile, Amazon’s Kindle Owner’s Lending Library now lists over 103,000 titles in its collection, each able to be loaned to as many Amazon Prime customers at one time as want them (though each customer is still limited to one loan per month).

For those of you who are following this issue, and have read the first nine parts of this series, you know that things are getting worse, not better. The public needs to take a stand, and they need their libraries to lead the way.

I propose a boycott on any and all book purchases from all publishers, regardless of format (print, eBook, audiobook), until such time as the publishers respond to the outcry from readers and writers which is sure to result. And when publishers do come around, I propose holding out for a sane lending policy for digital materials, similar to the AmPLE procedure proposed in Part II of this series or the Freading model described in Part IX. Both are pay-per-loan models, advantageous and fair to all parties. In addition, I would require publishers to make all their books available in all eBook formats, from the date of print publication. In other words, nothing more nor less than the privilege libraries (and their readers) enjoy today for print materials.

Remember the bottom line: Writers want readers and readers want eBooks. Facilitate that relationship and you will thrive. Stifle it and you will die. Publishers and Overdrive are stifling it and libraries, as much as they would wish to facilitate it, cannot in the face of publishers’ intransigence. And meanwhile, Amazon marches on, adding on average more than 1,500 titles every day to its lending library since its inception in early December 2011, and poised to grab all the marbles. The Big Six publishers will not be missed after they self-destruct. But threatening the continued existence of our public library system imperils our democracy.
tags: Books and Libraries

The End of Libraries, Part IX: A Glimmer of Hope

Jan 25, 2012
In Part II of this series, I laid out a plan for public libraries that would provide what I thought was an appropriate eBook lending model. I called it AmPLE, for the American Public Library Enterprise. Something like it has recently come to my attention and I want to describe it.

Library Ideas, Inc., is offering public libraries a product called Freading (meaning, I suppose, “Free Reading”). It matches Amazon’s Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL) in its essential feature: multiple patrons of a public library can have the same title checked out at the same time—no waiting lists.

As I suggested for the AmPLE model, Freading works on a pay-per-checkout basis. Libraries are charged $2.00 for checkouts of new books (published any time from today to 6 months ago); $1.00 for older books (7-24 months); and 50 cents for books published more than 24 months ago. Checkout periods are for two weeks, with one renewal allowed. Renewals of the newest books are $1.00 and are free for the older ones.

Freading enables libraries to limit the number of items any patron may have checked out at one time. Libraries allocate virtual weekly “tokens” to their patrons. One token is worth 50 cents, though patrons don’t necessarily know (or need to know) this. A very new book (a $2.00 checkout) requires four tokens. If a library allocates its patrons four tokens a week, then a patron can check out one very new book, two newer books, or four older books each week. This helps libraries control their eBook budgets.

Library Ideas reports current agreements with about 50 publishers (and 20,000 titles), including none of the Big Six, which are still holding out in the fear they may lose a nickel in sales while ignoring the millions they can earn in loans. Their authors know what they are missing, however, and they must be champing at the bit to get in on royalty payments for eBook lending as well as sales.

Library Ideas displays a blind spot in their plans by having no titles from self-published authors in their collection—and no current plans to add them! They are aware of the 90,000 titles, largely from self-published authors, currently being offered by Amazon’s KOLL (an add-on to their Prime service); however, the fact that 295,000 of those titles were checked out by 295,000 separate Prime subscribers in December does not seem to have registered with them. In time, of course, and probably in a short time, the ranks of those self-published authors will be swelled by the addition of “mainstream” authors who will tire of their publishers’ foot dragging on the lending issue. Library Ideas: Take note!

For now, Amazon’s KOLL serves primarily self-published authors and Freading serves small publishers. The day will come, however, and in the not-too-distant future, I predict, when the full-fledged AmPLE vision will be here: Every book, on publication, will be available for lending to all readers on any eReading device, at a reasonable cost and under reasonable terms regarding numbers of simultaneous checkouts. Freading is helping to blaze that trail, and I wish them well.
tags: Books and Libraries

The End of Libraries, Part VIII: Rebirth

Jan 12, 2012
So the latest blockbuster was published a while back and I immediately went onto my public library web site and, with a few clicks, borrowed it for my iPad. AmPLE (American Public Library Enterprise), the nonprofit company that manages eBook lending for every public library in the country, announced the next day that 2,516,241 others had also borrowed the same book on the first day of its publication. This resulted in gross receipts for the public library loans of that title of $1,258,120.50. AmPLE took 3% for administrative costs and, at midnight on that first day, electronically transferred the other 97% to the publisher’s bank account. (Note that if that blockbuster had happened to be self-published, that entire amount would have gone into the author’s bank account.)

I was only about halfway through the book by the end of my two-week checkout period, so I went back online to my public library web site and, with a few clicks, I bought it for $20.00, the price set by the publisher (or self-published author). AmPLE’s periodic statistical reports revealed that over three million others had also purchased this blockbuster through their public library “store” during those two weeks, for an additional $60 million in income, $58.2 million of which had already been distributed to the publishers or author of this one book.

When I finished the book a few days later, since I now owned it, I loaned it to my wife to read on her Kindle. This also took only a half dozen clicks and minimum input on my public library web site. The book continued to appear on my eBookshelf, though it was no longer available to my iPad, and would not be, until my wife either returned it or the loan period I had specified ran out. When that happened, it “disappeared” from her device and was re-enabled on mine, automatically.

When it was re-enabled, I decided to resell it and I let AmPLE do it. Of course, the sale price was still $20.00 (there is no such thing as a “used” eBook). Once sold, AmPLE took 3%, sent 10% each to the publisher and author (or 20% to the self-published author), and deposited the remaining $15.40 in my account. I could have asked for a check but, instead, I decided to donate the $15.40 to my library’s eBook account, and did so with a few clicks at my library web site. The donation is tax-deductible, and provides my library with an additional 30 eBook checkouts via AmPLE.

Okay, this is my fantasy, but it is not a fantastic notion. This could happen. This should happen. And this can happen—now. The alternative? I don’t even want to think about it.
tags: Books and Libraries

Noted with Interest, January 2012

Jan 11, 2012

The Global War Against Baby Girls
By Nicholas Eberstadt. The ultimate expression of misogyny, ultimately suicidal. From The New Atlantis, No. 33, Fall 2011. Accessed Jan 12, 2012.

How Would You Like to Be in a Military Prison...Forever?
By Michael R. Hicks. The National Defense Authorization Act (signed by Obama on Dec 31) essentially sets aside constitutional protections for U.S.citizens. Accessed Jan 8, 2012.

Iowa: The Meaningless Sideshow Begins
by Matt Taibbi: “It’s the same old ritual, but I just don’t think it’s going to fly the same way this time around.” Let us hope not. From RollingStone Politics, Jan 3, 2012. Accessed Jan 3, 2012.

tags: Noted with Interest

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