The Talking Dog

December 31, 2011, Resistance just might NOT be futile

As regular readers of this blog know, I tend not to be pollyannish about much of anything-- indeed, I might actually have, what's that word... a "following..." if I weren't such a damned downer most of the time... and yet... I'm pretty much in agreement with this somewhat upbeat assessment by the great Charles Hugh Smith.

As 2011 showed us, really for the first time I've been cognizant of (I was a small child back in the '60's), actual on the street protests (particularly, when that street is "Wall Street," albeit technically Broadway about two blocks from Wall Street, though across the street from my office), not to mention the Arab Spring, European social unrest from the UK to Greece to Iberia to Russia, etc.... have been making a difference, at least here in the US of A [yes, I acknowledge the effects of street protests in Eastern Europe in the late '80's early '90's... though, surprise, surprise, American perceptions of what happened in Russia in the '80's/'90's, and what is happening now, tend to be exactly backwards.] Anyway, here, that "difference" made by the Occupy! protests has been about changing the national narrative, and baiting the system into calling out the militarized constabulary as the first response... which the system, having surprisingly little besides violence to draw upon... promptly did.

Which takes us to our next event: in just over a week, the World Can't Wait will be hosting an event here in NYC featuring our friend Andy Worthington, as an NYC kick-off to the coming GTMO +10 mirth and merriment, which will culminate in a (hopefully) huge event in D.C. on the 11th.

O.K., here's the thing. Activists have been engaging in various forms of street theater pretty much since GTMO opened; it was nearly nine years ago that the mother of all street protests-- hundreds of thousands [including myself and TD mother-in-law] took to the streets of midtown Manhattan on the coldest day in years to protest the Iraq War-- ultimate got exactly no resonance with the public at large (let alone the power structure), even if the so-called liberal media had given it non-dismissive coverage.

Things have changed. The chickens have come home to roost here in a way that all but those still clinging to the floating debris of their upper-middle-class lives can no longer deny. The shit-storm our nation's elite has traditionally unleashed on the people of weaker nations has now blown black homeward, and we in the USA have now discovered [in an extremely unpleasant way] that we are now the recipient of their not-so-tender mercies, as the predatory forces that run our world and merrily dissipate and pollute our resources (which, perilously include the air, the water, the topsoil, and the future itself) for continued extreme profits for the few, while the rest of us... get to live amidst the tailings.

Anyway, I've been telling you for years that the whole GTMO thing really turns on the Jose Padilla case-- if the government can pick up an American citizen on American soil, and, rather than affording due process (charges, counsel, trial)... instead sent that citizen straight to due-process-free military detention... for years... and the courts have basically said "yes, fine"... then, what real freedom do any of us have? GTMO, and its much larger companion facility at Bagram, and their off-the-books counterparts around the world (the American gulag archipelago, which domestically has largely been used for "illegal aliens"... but stick around...), are all, ostensibly, beta-tests for broader use here. I'm less "appalled" by the recent Defense Authorization Act that "codified" the due-process-free practices applied to Padilla (Constitution? We don't need no stinking Constitution...), because, as I've been telling you... it's already the law.

It's all connected people: if Goldman Sachs or J.P. Morgan Chase wanted GTMO to be closed... it would be closed. Indeed, finance is such a driver of our system, that it could end our wars (all of them, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq-- which now goes on in its "all-mercenary phase," Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Uganda, and God knows where else)... except for the fact that finance BENEFITS, and quite directly, from the wars. Thing is, "risk-free industry"-- and the military industrial complex's political inviolability makes them "risk-free"... is a very useful companion to finance that has been engaging in more and more "risk-free" practices (for itself; the rest of us have more risk than ever.) Anyway... that's my point: it's all an organic whole, and we really need to focus ourselves as just that.

There are no "parties": Democrats and Republicans compete to see who will erode human rights faster (note that the recent Defense Authorization/Permanent Detention law was introduced by the '08 Republican candidate and signed by the '08 Democratic candidate... and late on the Friday before Christmas, btw, for those keeping score). Both parties favor bail-outs of giant banks, but not you. Both parties don't want to tax the elites. Both parties support environmental degradation. The window-dressing of "differences" on "issues"... masks the fundamental agreement (and control of both "parties" by finance).

Finally, it seems, the haze is coming off much of the populace, at the precise moment that the system is so rapacious [and the elites so greedy] that Money has forgotten the fundamental rule that it needs to co-opt enough of the populace with a share in the spoils of the system so that they don't bolt from the system...

I think we have arrived. In many ways, 2012 is probably going to suck. But on the broader arc-- human dignity, human freedom, the possibility of an ongoing, sustainable system... '12 just might the year that "good stuff" finally begins to happen. Resistance just might NOT be futile.

Just saying. Healthy, Happy new year, everybody!

December 28, 2011, Semper paratus

One of the defining taglines of my home state's lottery advertising is "Hey, you never know!" Recently, they've gone to "Are you ready?" While I have met two lottery winners in my life (and the odds say that's all I'll meet!), preparedness is... good. And so, we give you this "Survival Guide for Citizens in a Revolution"."

Because... the revolution will not be televised... it will be live.

While some of you may think "this can't happen (here, anyway)"... it's already happening. I note that one evening you might find a vibrant unincorporated municipality across the street from your office... young people utterly non-violent, seemingly diorganized, merely trying to shame money and financial oligarchs... and just a few hours later, you find an otherwise empty seemingly pristine private park crawling with security guards with the not-so-subtle whiff of tear gas and pepper spray in the air...

Just saying.

December 27, 2011, Greetings from Air Strip One

I was once reminded by another blogger that the famous book 1984 "was not a manual." Really?

The council of the U.K. City of Oxford has determined to record all conversations in taxi cabs. The U.K. already has eavesdropping cameras just about everywhere as it is... but that wasn't, you know, enough. [Maybe the UK is just upset about Brazil passing it as the 6th largest economy... or something...]

December 27, 2011, Beware the military industrial entertainment complex

The Pentagon has investigated itself, and concluded that the controversial Bush/Rumsfeld era program whereby former military officials were shilled provided with information that they could present on cable and other news programming was... wait for it... perfectly appropriate. Some of the "controversy" concerned the fact that some analysts were dropped like hot potatoes if they said things critical of the Pentagon... they weren't, you know, "team players." And of course, in some cases, the Bush Administration just went all out and created fake news broadcasts. Good times.

Interestingly, with respect to the Pentagon program, anyway, it seemed there was virtually no paper trail at all as to the purpose of the program, which, ultimately, cost taxpayers millions, if not billions of dollars (plus the cost of expanded warmongering and graft, of course). Which just goes to show that Oliver North finally taught the Pentagon about that most valuable piece of military hardware that cannot be permitted to malfunction: the paper shredder.

December 23, 2011, Happy Festivus  .

Because December 23rd only comes once a year.

December 22, 2011, Profiles in political courage

Usually, I devote the "profiles in political coverage" tag to "my party" doing things that I oppose (such as implementing totalitarianism in the name of "national security"). In the present case, I'll note, for a change, the somewhat unusual occasion of "their party" caving under immense political pressure, in this case, the House Republicans agreeing to a compromise two-month extension of the "payroll tax holiday." The Republicans, of course, are supposed to be the party of reduced taxation; this little wing-ding, however, demonstrated that the Republicans have no problem adding to the tax burden on labor-- they only want income not earned by human effort, (such as from "investment," or more specifically, from rentier activity, inheritances, financial-sector-theft, fraud and so forth..). that kind of privileged income shouldn't be taxed at all, sayeth the Republicans.

Alas, the House Republicans learned that, even in the United States, as popular as this sentiment might be in Palm Beach, the national sense of... what's that word... oh yes... FAIRNESS... dictates that a policy of effective tax increases on all working people (even rich ones), while simultaneously refusing any increased tax burden on those in the best position to pay such taxes (and who have, in a wildly disproportionate way, been the only people to benefit from what's left of our ersatz economy)... is politically "bad."
So bad, that the President, who was finally the worse for wear in terms of approval polling numbers, suddenly got a dramatic bounce (there is no corresponding "reduction" in Congressional Republican approval ratings, which are pretty much in the single-digits by this point).

As wage earners, of course, even we at Stately Dog Manor were already facing the possible additional hit of expiration of the social security "tax holiday" (though, we are, at least, more fortunate than perhaps 22% of the workforce, we at least remain employed). But let's not kid ourselves: our economy is doomed, and it's doomed simply because capitalism in the United States is now dead (along with the health of, and hence any hope in, our political system.)

The great Charles Hugh Smith gives us an excellent example of the mechanisms of just why and how capitalism is dead, specifically, the decoupling of risk from those who should properly bear it, in this case, the context of student loans as debt peonage. The proper risk on lending is best borne by... wait for it... the lender. The lender is duly rewarded for assuming this risk (which the lender is in the best position to assess by examining credit-worthiness, collateral, etc.) with its interest rate. Alas, in two of the largest categories of lending in this country, home mortgage borrowing and student loans (the latter having recently exceeded even credit cards in dollar volume), the federal government has interfered in both, in insidious ways. Of course, the first way-- decoupling mortgage loan risk from reward-- was an integral part of the 2008 financial meltdown that, we were told, required a multi-trillion dollar bail out of the financial sector. And, as Charles observes, similar decoupling of proper risk, from the lender to students (and ultimately, taxpayers), with the inability to discharge the loans in bankruptcy to boot, and, thanks to the federal interference in the operations of the market, absurdly overpriced higher education (overpriced because of the plethora of federally backed debt to pay for it)... we are looking at a "lost generation" of student debt serfs. Of course, I could go on and say that this "risk/reward decoupling" is the fundamental problem with virtually all government-funded services that are not provided directly by employees of the government, be it military contractors like Halliburton, Bechtel or Blackwater, or private Medicare/Medicaid providers, or the myriad of consultants that now do everything that government employees used to do, are obscene and inappropriate government interferences in the market, because (1) government services by government employees
ARE ACTUALLY CHEAP AND EFFICIENT because they need not have executive bonuses, shareholder dividends and so forth built in to their cost, and (2) no business should be entitled to a guaranteed income... "business" is supposed to be about seeking market rewards for taking market risks and not about politically connected insiders getting sweetheart can't-lose contracts. [Solyndra, I ESPECIALLY mean situations like you...] And of course... no comment on the bank bailouts.

But I digress. We must not forget that this country was founded largely on the basis of a tax revolt. We can fast forward a couple of hundred years, and let's just say that 160 million Americans who would be effected by a higher payroll tax are, surprise, surprise, pissed that the party that only exists, it would seem, to lobby for tax reduction... actually seems to want to increase increase their taxes. Needless to say... the politics of that were "bad."

And so... this has been... "profiles in political courage."

December 18, 2011, De mortus nil nisi bonum... as if!

Given the circumstances (how insanely secretive North Korea is... and, indeed, just insane ) I'll just say "it is being widely reported" that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is dead at age 69. It seems we're packing our notable end of the year deaths in quickly ... what with Vaclav Havel, and Christopher Hitchens, and now... Kim Jong Il. And we've got just about two weeks left!

Well then. "Dear Leader" Kim, inheriting absolute dictatorial power from his father, "Great Leader" Kim Il Sung, now passes autocratic power on to his 20-something third, and youngest son, Kim Jong Un, who will get to administer one of Earth's most unpleasant places. While most of his people starved and/or languished in gulags, Kim Jong Il loved expensive cigars and cognac and, I understand, kidnapped Northern European women for his sexual amusement... "Club Med for Dictators" was made for him. Little is yet known of North Korea's "New Leader."

The younger Kim gets to continue his nation's legacy of miserable poverty, upped by nuclear weapons developed on his father's watch. A proud charter member of the Axis of Evil (ironically, legacy hire Kim Jong Il was so designated by American legacy hire George W. Bush!), Kim's North Korea often launched little attacks at South Korea, and launched missiles in all provocative directions. It's hard to believe that North Korea could cause more trouble with Kim Jong Il gone... but, hey, be careful what you wish for I suppose.

Famously foul-mouthed, perhaps only Newt Gingrich could match the combination of both public and private disagreeableness embodied by Kim Jong Il. I might say "rest in peace" or something... but in Kim Jong Il's case, I'll just hope that someone really competent has checked his vital signs to make sure he's actually dead.

December 18, 2011, Meta[mor]pho[r/s][is] (?)

Our jumping point will be a loss for all humanity (observed by me here): former Czech President, playwright, poet, author and "dissident" leader Vaclav Havel has passed away at age 75. Havel, of course, wrote extensively of the lies associated with communist propaganda, and ultimately proceeded to lead the so-called "Velvet Revolution," which is credited with non-violently ending communist rule in Czechoslovakia and ushering in (as it were) democratic rule in both Czechoslovakia and its successor countries (Slovakia and the Czech Republic, the latter of which he served as its first president).

In some sense, as a professional story-teller, particularly in the sphere of "the dramatic," Havel had the perfect metaphor to be the perfect politician. Of course, he also had the help of a couple of broader trends... by the late 1980's, the Soviet Union and its influence were imploding under the weight of an ill-fated military adventure in Afghanistan and an economic malaise/collapse, culminating in an inability to feed its own people. And Czechoslovakia had a history (of which Havel was a part, of course) of challenging its harsh Soviet overlords and their legacy of totalitarian rule. Still... while "the story" wasn't so hard to pitch in one sense-- Soviet propaganda was, although everywhere in its sphere, not accepted by its target audience as anything but a load of crap-- the message that resistance was not futile... that was powerful, and when it finally took hold, [seemingly] changed to world.

I juxtapose (or intermix) the post-title to reflect Czechoslovakia/Czech Republic's other most famous citizen, also from the literary realm, Franz Kafka, to make my seemingly interesting point. Kafka, as you know, wrote such works as "Metamorphosis" (about a man who wakes up as a giant cockroach), "The Castle" (the ultimate bureaucracy), and also relevant to our current state, "The Trial" (endless opaque proceedings ultimately ending in the ultimate punishment). Let me quickly remind the handful of you still reading this that the left/right kabuki game should be dumped into the same "dustbin of history" as the Soviet Union itself...

At least in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and its legacy of central planning and brutality is largely gone now.

But alas, bad ideas never seem to die. Some of the worst aspects (but not the best ones!) of the Soviet system have migrated westward.

Where was I going? Oh yes... Russia itself is now a semi-autocracy, with some components of a free country like "elections" (albeit highly flawed and generally believed to be corrupt), a kleptocratic "free market" system... but a somewhat independent press, and, because of its vast energy resources, if nothing else, a future. The United States, it seems, is hellbent on following the Soviet Union straight to hell, complete with the same playbook of late-Soviet/early post-Soviet military overextension (with good old Imperial Graveyard Afghanistan as primary focal point), economic kleptocratic oligarchy, and a moribund political system garnering less and less confidence among the citizenry... except... we seem to be holding on.

It's not about willingness to use violence against our own people-- God knows, the Soviet Union was far less squeamish than even our over-militarized domestic police services... No, the difference is mostly about the propaganda. Starting with the fact, that Americans don't even believe the propaganda IS propaganda. Now, that's good. After decades of lower living standards resulting from lowering the top marginal tax rates, people still believe in the propaganda that tax cuts will benefit them, instead of just the oligarchs, evidence be damned; not even proof that one in two Americans now live in poverty will get most people off of this one. Or this one: that something called "the American dream" still exists in any meaningful sense. Or that smoking cigarettes is "rebellious" or drinking cola is "cool" or eating factory grown and processed food is "safe and healthy" and small scale farm-raised food is dangerous (keep propping up those corporate bottom lines, peasants!) Or even that we have a functional constitutional democracy, and that the state can't just lock you up without due process of law (unless of course, you're a damned terrorist and deserve it).

Let me give you an example of the power of American propaganda: a meme making its way around left blogistan suggests that the DOD authorization bill, intended, of course, to authorize indefinite detention of citizen and furriner alike... somehow doesn't do this. But the bill explicitly states that it doesn't disturb "existing law." As I've reminded you for years, existing law includes Padilla v. Hanft, a federal appellate decision which explicitly permits indefinite detention of American citizens arrested in the United States. Alrightie then.

To its immense credit, the Occupy movement has started sandpapering the veneer of our American and Western gestalt, and found that it is a thin one indeed-- virtually no provocation at all has resulted in a disproportionately violent backlash that cannot be ignored. And so, while the economic meltdown affects more and more Americans, and those few still huddling near the top (but not quite in the 1% of the 1%) still try to justify the existing system and look down upon "the dirty hippies," the big picture is fraying, and rather quickly. The European financial meltdown may or may not be resolved, but the underlying lunacy of it all (terrible private financial decisions by oligarchs racking up crazy debt levels to finance crazy speculation have now been shifted to public and sovereign accounts to be paid by taxpayers who did not benefit from the upside lest the oligarchs lose a penny, taking public debt to unprecedented and unsustainable levels everywhere)... all remains in full force. Unsustainable... but it still goes on...

Hey, I've been telling you the Imperium has no clothes for a long time. I take great solace in knowing that some of you have caught on, and recognize it to be so. For the rest of you, "Boy, wouldn't it suck if that awful Newt Gingrich/Michelle Bachmann/Rick Perry/Mitt Romney, etc. became President...?"

This has been... "Meta[mor]pho[r/s][is] (?)"

December 18, 2011, Life as metaphor

Former Czech President and playwright and leader of the so-called "Velvet Revolution"Vaclav Havel has passed away at 75. His country, Czechoslovakia, was bigger than its two current-day off-spring (the Czech Republic and Slovakia), but, of course, was a Soviet satellite, and the subject of a Soviet invasion in 1968, in response to the "Prague Spring," which, rhetorically at least, was the inspiration for the ongoing "Arab Spring" and its world-wide counterparts.

December 15, 2011, Nothing to see here folks

That would be the passage by the Senate, and seeming inevitable signing into law, of a Defense Dept. authorization bill that pretty much codifies the body of "law" (including executive practice as rubber-stamped by a collaborating judiciary) pertaining to detention of terrorism suspects that has all but eviscerated the Bill of Rights. [Shorter U.S. government: GTMO for you if we feel like it, bitchez.]

Obviously, the President, back when he was Candidate Obama, promised to do the mirror opposite of everything in this bill. Of course, now he's pretty much pledged to sign this codification of everything he ran against-- and, American propaganda being what it is, he will then tell us a story as to why the supporters whom he has royally screwed should support him again, and why "it matters" sooooo much whether we "elect" him, or a comparable fascist with the letter "R" after their name.

Well then. We're 10 years and 3 months past 9-11; in less than a month's time (11 January 2012), Guantanamo Bay will have been open for detention of kidnapped foreigners for ten years (there will be a big to do in Washington; Andy, Candace and Debra will be there, with, hopefully, myself and thousands of others, and we can all, you know, vent.)

Except, of course, a close read of existing law is that just by showing up-- merely exercising any rights that JP Morgan or Goldman Sachs think might be threatening to themselves could, you know, be construed as "terrrrorism"... and, it's now codified (as I've been trying to tell you for years, it was already the law... if they could do this to Padilla, they can do it to you or I... the only limits were will and imagination... certainly not "the Constitution"... whatever that is). The Bill of Rights is a 220 year old piece of sanitary paper now, and any or all of us are now subject to arbitrary arrest followed by torture and life-long detention (assuming the President doesn't decide it's appropriate to launch a Predator Drone and just have us killed... no, no, they wouldn't do that here in America... it might damage private property).

The "law" is no longer much of a "check" or "balance" on anything... Jon Corzine [and the rest of the financial uber-class] can merrily steal billions, and because someone like Corzine is a made man a big-time fund-raiser for Obama rich and powerful, he is, quite literally, above the law. If, of course, there really was any law. Publicly expressing outrage about it... including my writing this sentence, or possibly you reading it... could be construed as "terrorism"... and you know, if the President so decides... you have no rights. But then... you pretty much knew that.

Nothing to see here folks. Now move along. Please... don't make me use this pepper spray.

December 11, 2011, Company store

It says something-- I'll leave precisely what it says as an exercise for the reader-- but it says something, that six members of the Walton family [heirs to the Walmart fortune]alone have more cumulative wealth than thirty percent of the American people (that is to say, around 90 million Americans). People who, of course, will have few shopping options besides Walmart stores.

Meanwhile... we have JP Morgan Chase Bank head Jamie Dimon giving us an "in your face" contention that there is somehow a broad "bias against the rich." The article, however, debunks this... I would guess that many, if not most, Americans believe that they are just one lucky break-- such as a powerball ticket away-- from their own rightful place among "the rich"... and, as the Beast piece just cited observes,:

As he said it on Wednesday, Dimon apparently believes we generally resent the rich for their success. But Steve Jobs was venerated after his death, despite his billions, and Bill Gates has long ranked high in polls asking people to name the people they most admire—even as the government was accusing him of being a market-crushing monopolist and long before he started earning that kind of respect by devoting most of his time to giving away his money.

The difference is that Jobs and Gates created the companies that earned them their billions. Dimon, by contrast, is a hired gun—an employee paid to run a publicly traded company. Theoretically, shareholders have a say in his compensation, but how good a job he has done seems to bear little resemblance to his pay. Early in 2008, JPMorgan Chase was trading at $45 a share—compared with $33 a share today.

People resent as well the $25 billion in TARP bailout monies JPMorgan Chase received at the end of 2008—while those facing foreclosure have received virtually no help. There’s also the $391 billion in loans JPMorgan received from the Fed in the months after the subprime meltdown, according to a GAO study. JPMorgan and other banks paid virtually no interest on these loans (0.01 percent). But Dimon, never satisfied, has cast Bernanke and the federal government as foes of the big banks.

It's not the dispensation: it's the fairness... or lack thereof, perceived or otherwise, of, say, fabulously rich people paying lobbyists millions to save themselves billions in taxes, or gaming a system so that taxpayer dollars bail out their bad decisions (and give them mega-bonuses... and of course, they are beyond accounatability even for gains obtained by outright criminality)... while millions (or tens of millions) of others lose their jobs, homes, pensions and futures. Something just seems... off.

December 5, 2011, More change we can believe [if not believe in]

Well, in these troubled times, we can take some solace in a successful government program-- indeed, one so successful, that it is achieving a new record of success. Unfortunately, that program is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or "SNAP," better known as "food stamps," which now serves a record 46 million Americans.

At this point, I think it's fair to say that neither political party has a particular clue as to how to restore much of anything in this economy, other than a continuation, if not an acceleration, of the status quo. Alas, the status quo has led to environmental catastrophe, infrastructure collapse, health care expenses that threaten to bankrupt both almost every individual in the nation as well as the nation itself, structural unemployment which, if measured the same way it was during the first Great Depression would be at levels comparable to the first Great Depression... and lots of other "unfortunate outcomes," including [say some] fifth-worst-in-the-world-wealth-distribution... but will be desperately clung to by the powers that be because, of course, a few people have profited obscenely from the status quo at the expense of over 99% of the population, and those "winners" are quite generous come campaign contribution time... lather, rinse, repeat.

And so here we are. Naturally, since there is not even a remote connection between Wall Street and Main Street... or indeed, between Wall Street and any reality, anywhere... the stock markets were up, even as it seems ever more inevitable that the European financial system is facing an imminent disaster which will likely have dire implications for [what's left of] our own economy.

Well then.

I'll say it again: Michelle Obama's organic garden, as far as I can tell, remains the only part of the Obama program that I can get down with at this point. I urge the rest of you... to do the same. There's more to life than raw economic output. There's... food, for one thing. Which, when you think about it, is pretty important. But once you've eaten, and you're in some kind of a shelter where you're not likely to freeze to death... and you have regular and meaningful human interaction [real friends... not "Facebook friends"]... the truth is... we really don't need too much more to live happy and fulfilled lives. We really do have to think about the mindset on a going forward basis. Because I predict we'll hit 50 million on food stamps long before we go back down to 40; as between 1 in 6 and 1 in 7 Americans need government assistance just not to starve to death, I would say this is as good a time as any to reassess everything.

Just saying.