Shop Talk: God is My Hacker
If the Review has seemed a little erratic over the past few days, you can blame a gale with 60 mph winds that swept through our part of Maine, leaving 30,000 without electricity in my county alone. Even by Maine standards, this was a good one, with lights, TV and internet down and a few trees across the five miles to town. We got our lights back in about a day, our TV in a day and half and this morning - after two lengthy phone play by plays with Comcast staffers - the router and modem finally came aboard again.
So how did the Review continue at all? One thing is that we've replaced our mobile generator with an automatic one. This was its first test and it was wicked good. Second, I have a MiFi device that I use on trips to provide Internet service when needed. In urban America it works pretty well, but Verizon, for some reason, decided that the last two hundred seaward feet of our point of land didn't really need service, so the MiFi was painfully slow and intermittent. Cellphones here are the same and it's somewhat disorienting to feel you have to go into the woods to talk on your cell.
Folks around here don't take such things for granted. First, they like to talk about them and, second, they prepare for them. When we have an outage, the first thing I do is call Central Maine Power which has an automated system that tells me the general situation and then, after pushing enough buttons, whether they've gotten other calls from our road. After service resumed, I got three calls from CMP asking whether everything was all right. In a near lifetime in DC, I never got a call from Potomac Electric except when I forgot to pay my bill.
Recent blasts - especially the Patriot Day storm of 2007 - have been particularly damaging to aging softwoods in the state. That blow - causing the 7th highest high tide ever in Portland and 30 foot waves - even outdid the famed "Perfect Storm" of 1991.
One friend tells me that he probably lost 50-60 trees on his six acres in this week's gale. This is not an unfamiliar tale. My theory is that, after World War II, two thirds of Maine's farmland went back to woods, and heavily soft woods. These trees are now aging and particularly vulnerable to blow downs.
In any case,
the storm is over, the power, TV and Internet is back and
so, like everyone else around here, I'm left with only one
thing to do: talk about it.
THE REAL GOP PLATFORM
John Shimkus, R-IL.is running for chair of the House Energy & Commerce Committee. A year and half ago he quoted God telling Noah, "As long as the earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, will never cease" himkus elaborated: "I believe that is the infallible word of god, and that's the way it is going to be for his creation.. . .The earth will end only when God declares its time to be over. Man will not destroy this earth. This earth will not be destroyed by a flood."
During a town hall meeting at Toms River, New Jersey Governor Chris reportedly said that he was skeptical that humans were causing the earth to warm. Christie says "more science" is needed to convince him.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry advocates letting states opt-out of Social Security and numerous Texas lawmakers are consideirng pulling the state out of the Medicaid program.
Arizona state senator Russell Pearce (R), who has just been elected the president of the state senate, has launched a push to reject federal funding for the state's Medicaid program. Pearce told a reporter that "church, community, families got to provide."
Conservatives in Arizona vehemently opposed a town's decision to have a trash truck and curbside recycling program. Some called it "Obamacare for garbage" or "trashcare."
GOP hypocrite of the day: cost cutting NJ governor spent $475 for hotel room
54% of Republicans want to
repeal all of Obamacare despite lack of health insurance
causing some 45,000 deaths a year
WEIRD MOMENTS WITH GEORGE BUSH
Casey Schwartz, Daily Beast - Undoubtedly the most startling moment in Matt Lauer's conversation with George W. Bush came in the first five minutes of the interview, when Bush recounted his mother's miscarriage¬and how she had showed him the fetus in a jar.
"She says to her teenage kid, 'Here's a fetus,'" Bush recounted to Lauer, referring to himself in the third person. "There's no question that it affected me," Bush added.
The episode helped him bond with his mother, Bush insisted on NBC's Today show Monday. In his memoir, Decision Points, which Lauer read from, Bush wrote: "I never expected to see the remains of the fetus, which she had saved in a jar to bring to the hospital."
While the event may seem unusual, parents faced with the loss of an unborn child find different ways of grieving, psychologists say. Conservative Republican Senator Rick Santorum, for one, was vocal about the way in which he and his wife, Karen, dealt with the miscarriage of their son, Gabriel, 20 weeks into Karen's pregnancy.
"Upon their son's death, Rick and Karen Santorum opted not to bring his body to a funeral home. Instead, they bundled him in a blanket and drove him to Karen's parents' home in Pittsburgh. There, they spent several hours kissing and cuddling Gabriel with his three siblings, ages 6, 4 and 1 1/2. They took photos, sang lullabies in his ear and held a private Mass," The Washington Post reported in 2005.
Stacey J. McLaughlin, a Florida psychologist and the author of Surviving Miscarriage: You Are Not Alone, says that she has seen a variety of responses to the death of an unborn child. "The biggest thing now is for parents of, for example, a stillborn baby to call in a videographer or take some of the baby's hair, if the baby had hair. "
From the Review's overstocked archives:
`We were terrible to animals,'
recalled [Bush childhood pal Terry] Throckmorton, laughing.
A dip behind the Bush borne turned into a small lake after a
good rain, and thousands of frogs would come out. `Everybody
would get BB guns and shoot them,' Throckmorton said. `Or
we'd put firecrackers in the frogs and throw them and blow
them up.'- Nicholas D. Kristof, Midland Life,
GOLDMAN SACHS SEES GOLD IN CHARTER SCHOOLS
News release - The Local Initiatives Support Corporation and The Goldman Sachs Group Inc. has announced the formation of a $25 million charter school facility that will finance the development of approximately 16 charter schools over the next two years.
The Goldman Sachs Charter School Loan Facility will be capitalized by Goldman Sachs and credit-enhanced by funds awarded by the US Department of Education to LISC, which will also manage the facility and its lending program. LISC currently supports 130 charter schools nationwide. This facility will be focused on the greater New York City and New Jersey areas. In total, the fund is expected to leverage approximately $100 million in additional capital to support high-quality charter school facilities.
"Access to a quality education is fundamental to families and is at the core of healthy communities," noted Michael Rubinger, LISC President and CEO. "By funding this facility, Goldman Sachs ensures that thousands of low-income children will have access to innovative local schools that also help revitalize blighted neighborhoods."
Progressive Review - And just how will these schools "revitalize blighted neighborhoods?" Primarily by having their students leave the 'hood. As we have pointed out, DC white voters - including heavily gay precincts - overwhelmingly supported education deformer Adrian Fenty yet only five percent of the schools are white. Why the huge interest? What appears to have happened is that public schools are now playing much the same role that crime rates used to: make them look good and real estate values rise. The gentrifiers don't have to have any direct experience with what is going on; they just have to feel good about it. In short, in many ways what is happening is not about test scores at all, but about real estate prices.
Juan Gonzalez, NY Daily News, May 2010 - Wealthy investors and major banks have been making windfall profits by using a little-known federal tax break to finance new charter-school construction.
The program, the New Markets Tax Credit, is so lucrative that a lender who uses it can almost double his money in seven years.
In Albany, which boasts the state's highest percentage of charter school enrollments, a nonprofit called the Brighter Choice Foundation has employed the New Markets Tax Credit to arrange private financing for five of the city's nine charter schools.
But many of those same schools are now straining to pay escalating rents, which are going toward the debt service that Brighter Choice incurred during construction.
Meanwhile, all the Albany charter schools haven't achieved the enrollment levels their founders expected, even after recruiting hundreds of students from suburban school districts to fill their seats.
The result has been less money in per-pupil state aid to pay operating costs, including those big rent bills.
You'd think these financial problems would raise eyebrows among state regulators - or at least worry those charter school boards.
But the powerful charter lobby has so far successfully battled to prevent independent government audits of how its schools spend their state aid.
And key officers of Albany's charter school boards are themselves board members, employees or former employees of the Brighter Choice Foundation or its affiliates.
Christian Bender, for example, executive director of the foundation, is chairman or vice chairman of four of the Albany charters.
Tom Carroll, the foundation's vice chairman and one of the authors of the state's charter law when he was in the Pataki administration, was a founding board member of Albany Community Charter School and is currently chairman of two other charters, Brighter Choice School for Boys and Brighter Choice School for Girls.
Carroll also sits on the board of directors of NCB Capital Impact, a Virginia organization that used New Market Credits to pull together investors for all the Albany building loans.
A Brighter Choice official confirmed Thursday that the Virginia organization gets "a 3% originating and management fee" for all school construction deals that Brighter Choice arranges.
Under the New Markets program, a bank or private equity firm that lends money to a nonprofit to build a charter school can receive a 39% federal tax credit over seven years.
The credit can even be piggybacked on other tax breaks for historic preservation or job creation.
By combining the various credits with the interest from the loan itself, a lender can almost double his investment over the seven-year period.
No wonder JPMorgan Chase announced this week it was creating a new $325 million pool to invest in charter schools and take advantage of the New Markets Tax Credit. . .
exhibit A in the web of potential conflicts that keep
popping up in the charter school movement. It's one reason
the state Legislature should refuse to lift the current cap
on charter schools unless it also adopts stringent new
government auditing rules.
WHAT'S THE BEST WAY TO SPEND A MILLION BUCKS ON CLIMATE CHANGE?
OBAMA'S DEBT COMMISSION HEADS WANT TO SCREW
Economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez. They found that from 1950 through 1980, the share of all income in America going to everyone but the rich increased from 64 percent to 65 percent. Because the nation’s economy was growing handsomely, the average income for 9 out of l0 Americans was growing, too – from $17,719 to $30,941. That’s a 75 percent increase in income in constant 2008 dollars. . .But then it stopped. Since 1980 the economy has also continued to grow handsomely, but only a fraction at the top have benefitted. The line flattens for the bottom 90% of Americans. Average income went from that $30,941 in 1980 to $31,244 in 2008. Think about that: the average income of Americans increased just $303 dollars in 28 years.- Bill Moyers
TENS OF THOUSANDS OF BRITISH STUDENTS PROTEST HIGHER UNIVERSITY FEES
Independent, UK - A huge demonstration against tuition fees by tens of thousands of students and lecturers descended into violence today when a group of protesters smashed their way into the headquarters of the Conservative party.
A number of police officers were injured after they came under attack from youths, some wearing scarves to hide their faces, amid scenes of chaos. Eight people were taken to hospital with injuries after the violence flared at Millbank Tower, next to the River Thames in central London.
The demonstration, organized by the
National Union of Students and the University and College
Union, started peacefully, with up to 50,000 students,
lecturers and supporters, marching from Whitehall past
Downing Street and Parliament.
THE SLEEPER IN OBAMACARE
Sam SmithI've been wondering why there is so much public opposition to Obamacare. Admittedly, it's one of the most mangled pieces of legislation I've ever run across, not because of its intentions, but because of the political and bureaucratic chaos involved in its composition.
When you have a bill that even the Congressional Research Service doesn't understand, you know there's a problem. Reported Politico last summer:
"Don’t bother trying to count up the number of agencies, boards and commissions created under the new health care law. Estimating the number is 'impossible,' a recent Congressional Research Service report says, and a true count 'unknowable.'”
Even so, that's not quite the sort of thing that creates a major campaign issue.
Far more significant is the provision that will required nearly all Americans to carry health insurance or pay a fine. Even Democrats polled by the Kaiser Foundation favor repeal of this section by a score of 49% to 44%. 68% of the general public wants it repealed.
This is clearly a cause of the resistance, though even opponents don't talk about it much and it would affect only about 3% of the workforce.
Other aspects of the bill actually get support from Republicans - like tax credits to small businesses that offer coverage, closing the Medicare prescription drug doughnut hole, and banning denial of coverage for previous conditions. The public in general supports five key ;provisions tested by Kaiser, four of them by more than 70%.
But It wasn't until I asked a Republican caller, during one of my appearances on Mark Thompson's Sirius/XM show, just what bugged him about the bill, that I stumbled upon a sleeper: the fact that many businesses may give up health insurance because the penalty is so much cheaper than paying for coverage. I suspect the word is out widely on this - even though we in the media have given it hardly any attention - and may help to explain the anger.
Here's how Human Resources News tells it:
|||||||||| How much cash would your company have to save by dumping its health plan – in exchange for paying penalties – to make up for the ill will it would create among workers?
Bad news for lawmakers that just assumed companies would keep providing health coverage even after the reform law’s mandates kicked in: New evidence shows that four major employers ¬ Verizon, AT&T, John Deere and Caterpillar ¬ have crunched the numbers so see whether they should “play or pay.”
Their conclusion? It’ll be cheaper ¬ way cheaper ¬ to pay the penalties to the government and drop their employee health insurance plan.
Of course nobody thought a company would pull the rug out from its employees by actually dropping coverage. But then again ¬ nobody thought dropping coverage to pay a penalty would save a company 75%, and nearly $1.8 billion, off its healthcare bill. That’s what AT&T calculated it would save.
Caterpillar came to the same conclusion. It said it could shave 70% off its bill by doing the same thing. These findings come from internal documents recently reviewed by Congress. ||||||||||Of course, the whole problem could have been solved by single payer health insurance - the most business-friendly approach one could imagine, but neither side was interested in anything that sensible.
So when you hear people calling for repeal of the health measure bear this in mind: in two important ways it could cost millions of Americans a lot of money - either through required policy purchase or through loss of employer-covered policies.
The Democrats still have a
little less than two months to correct these two serious
errors or they can just leave it to the GOP to make sure the
thing becomes a complete mess.
DOCUMENTS REVEAL DETAILS OF CIA'S WATERBOARDING & OTHER CRIMES
Mark Benjamin, Salon - Recently released internal documents reveal the controversial "enhanced interrogation" practice was . . . was administered with meticulous cruelty.
Interrogators pumped detainees full of so much water that the CIA turned to a special saline solution to minimize the risk of death, the documents show. The agency used a gurney "specially designed" to tilt backwards at a perfect angle to maximize the water entering the prisoner's nose and mouth, intensifying the sense of choking – and to be lifted upright quickly in the event that a prisoner stopped breathing.
The documents also lay out, in chilling detail, exactly what should occur in each two-hour waterboarding "session." Interrogators were instructed to start pouring water right after a detainee exhaled, to ensure he inhaled water, not air, in his next breath. They could use their hands to "dam the runoff" and prevent water from spilling out of a detainee's mouth. They were allowed six separate 40-second "applications" of liquid in each two-hour session – and could dump water over a detainee's nose and mouth for a total of 12 minutes a day. Finally, to keep detainees alive even if they inhaled their own vomit during a session – a not-uncommon side effect of waterboarding – the prisoners were kept on a liquid diet. The agency recommended Ensure Plus.
"This is revolting and it is deeply disturbing," said Dr. Scott Allen, co-director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights at Brown University who has reviewed all of the documents for Physicians for Human Rights. "The so-called science here is a total departure from any ethics or any legitimate purpose.". . .
As brutal as the waterboarding process was, the memos also reveal that the Bush-era Justice Department authorized the CIA to use it in combination with other forms of torture. Specifically, a detainee could be kept awake for more than seven days straight by shackling his hands in a standing position to a bolt in the ceiling so he could never sit down. The agency diapered and hand-fed its detainees during this period before putting them on the waterboard. Another memo from Bradbury, also from 2005, says that in between waterboarding sessions, a detainee could be physically slammed into a wall, crammed into a small box, placed in "stress positions" to increase discomfort and doused with cold water, among other things.
The CIA's waterboarding regimen was so excruciating, the memos show, that agency officials found themselves grappling with an unexpected development: detainees simply gave up and tried to let themselves drown.
HOW COUNTRIES LOSE CONTROL OF THEIR FOOD
The Age, Australia - Australia is rapidly losing control of its food resources. The purchase of AWB - the former Australian Wheat Board - by the Canadian company Agrium, now approved by the Foreign Investment Review Board, is the tip of an iceberg where large segments of food processing and marketing have been sold offshore.
Production is now the last bastion of predominantly local ownership in the food chain. But with increasing interest by foreign companies - and governments, including China's - quality farmland is also a target. In short, Australians are in danger of becoming servants, not masters, of their own food resources.
This is not an
alarmist view. In a US report last year titled The Great
Land Grab, the Oakland Institute said oil-rich, arable-poor
Middle East and wealthy Asian countries "are seeking to
acquire land as part of a long-term strategy for food
security". Purchases in South America, the subcontinent and
Asia have begun.
NEXT FOR PRIVATE SPYING: DRONES
Wall Street Journal - Personal drones aren't yet plying U.S. flyways. But an arms race is building among people looking to track celebrities, unfaithful lovers or even wildlife. Some organizations would like them for emergency operations in areas hit by natural disasters. Several efforts to develop personal drones are scheduled for completion in the next year.
"If the Israelis can use them to find terrorists, certainly a husband is going to be able to track a wife who goes out at 11 o'clock at night and follow her," said New York divorce lawyer Raoul Felder.
For now, the Federal Aviation
Administration limits domestic use of drones to the
government, and even those are under tight restrictions. .
However, there already is a regulatory gray area:
recreational use of drones. The FAA doesn't have explicit
rules governing such uses, but an advisory that applies to
pilotless drones recommends¬but doesn't require¬ that such
CIA TO GET AWAY WITH DESTROYING TORTURE VIDEOS
NPR - No one will face criminal charges for destroying CIA videotapes that depicted interrogation of terrorism detainees during President George W. Bush's administration, NPR has learned. Two sources close to the investigation say a federal prosecutor has concluded there isn't enough evidence to bring an indictment. And the statute of limitations on criminal law covering the tapes' November 2005 destruction expired this week, making future prosecution impossible.
Many of the 92 videotapes contained innocuous
images of detainees, but a few showed interrogators
deploying harsh tactics against al-Qaida money man Abu
Zubaydah, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who is accused of
orchestrating the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole while it
docked in Yemen.
Jose Rodriguez, a former top clandestine officer at the CIA, gave the green light to destroy the tapes five years ago amid an uproar over recently released photos of detainee abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Rodriguez did not testify before the grand jury.
DOWNING STREET SAYS WATERBOARDING IS
Guardian, UK - Downing Street dismissed George Bush's claim that waterboarding is not torture after the former president used his memoirs to play down the brutality of the interrogation technique and claimed that it saved British lives. Waterboarding, which was banned by President Barack Obama, helped foil attacks on Heathrow airport, Canary Wharf and a number of US targets around the world, according to Bush.
In Decision Points, published today, Bush insists the practice – which simulates drowning – is not torture, describing it instead as one of a number of "enhanced interrogation techniques". But Downing Street confirmed the British government still shared Obama's opinion that waterboarding constitutes torture. "It comes under that definition in our view," a No 10 spokeswoman said.
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT CLAIMS ASSASSINATING
AMERICANS CITIZENS OVERSEAS IS A "CORE POWER' OF
Jason Ditz, Anti War - The Obama Administration’s Justice Department today argued that the court system has absolutely no legal authority to be “looking over the shoulder” of President Obama when he decides to assassinate American citizens, insisting those are “the very core powers of the president as commander in chief.”
The comments were made to US District Judge John Bates during a case brought by Nasser al-Awlaki seeking to prevent the president from assassinating his son, New Mexico cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, despite not having charged him with any actual crimes.
“If the Constitution means anything, it surely
means that the president does not have unreviewable
authority to summarily execute any American whom he
concludes is an enemy of the state,” insisted Jameel
Jaffer, the ACLU legal director who presented the case
against the killings
LOCAL JUDGES LOCAL HEROES IN FORECLOSURE CASES
Washington Post - A year ago, Long Island Judge Jeffrey Spinner concluded that a mortgage company's paperwork in a foreclosure case was so flawed and its behavior in negotiations with the borrower so "repugnant" that he erased the family's $292,500 debt and gave the house back for free. The judgment in favor of the homeowner, Diane Yano-Horoski, which is being appealed, has alarmed the nation's biggest lenders, who say it could establish a dramatic new legal precedent and roil the nation's foreclosure system.
It is not the only case that has big banks worried. Spinner and some of colleagues in the New York City area estimate they are dismissing 20 to 50 percent of foreclosure cases on the basis of sloppy or fraudulent paperwork filed by lenders.
In millions of cases across the United States, local judges have wide latitude to impose sanctions on banks, free homeowners from their mortgage debts or allow the companies to proceed with flawed foreclosures. Ultimately, the industry is likely to face a messy scenario - different resolutions by courts in all 50 states.
The foreclosure dismissals in this area of
New York have not delivered free homes for borrowers. With
so much at stake, lenders in this part of New York are
aggressively appealing foreclosure dismissals, which is
likely to keep the legal system bogged down, foreclosed
homes off the market, and homeowners like the Yano-Horoski
family in legal limbo for years.
GETTING THROUGH THE BAD TIMES
Sam Smith From a talk at the Shelter Rock Unitarian Universalist Congegration, Manhasset, NY, delivered one week before the election of 2004
We live in a nation hated abroad and frightened at home. A place in which we can reasonably refer to the American Republic in the past tense. A country that has moved into a post-constitutional era, no longer a nation of laws but an adhocracy run by law breakers, law evaders and law ignorers. A nation governed by a culture of impunity, a term from Latin America where they know it well - a culture in which corruption is no longer a form of deviance but the norm. We all live in a Mafia neighborhood now.
It's crazy, it happened so fast, it's like in Rosencrantz & Guildenstern when Rosencrantz asks shortly before his death: "What was it all about? When did it begin? . . . Couldn't we just stay put? . . We've done nothing wrong! We didn't harm anyone. Did we? . . . There must have been a moment, at the beginning, when we could have said -- no. But somehow we missed it.. . . Well, we'll know better next time."
Yet we have seen it all before. And it came with stories. A German professor after the World War II described it this way to journalist Martin Mayer:
"What happened was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to be governed by surprise, to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if people could understand it, it could not be released because of national security. . .
"To live in the process is absolutely not to notice it -- please try to believe me -- unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, 'regretted.'
The German professor went on:
~ Believe me this is true. Each act, each occasion is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join you in resisting somehow.
"Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven't done (for that was all that was required of most of us: that we did nothing). . . . You remember everything now, and your heart breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair. "
Every president after Reagan - including Bill Clinton - moved this country to right . . . Placated by Prozac, persuaded by prevarication and pacified by prohibition, we have ignored our drift towards the mean and the brutish and continued to accept the lie that we are the better for it.
Empires and cultures are not permanent and while thinking about the possibility that ours is collapsing may seem a dismal exercise it is far less so than enduring the frustrations, failures, damage and human casualties involved in constantly butting up against reality like a boozer who insists he is not drunk attempting to drive home.
Peter Ustinov in 'Romanoff and Juliet' says at one point: "I'm an optimist: I know how bad the world is. You're a pessimist: you're always finding out." Or as GK Chesterton put it, "We must learn to love life without ever trusting it."
Happiness, courage and passion in a bad time can only be based on myth as long as reality does not intrude. Once it does, our indifference to it will serve us no better than it does the joyriding teenager whose assumption of immortality comes into contact with a tree.
But this does not mean that one must live in despair. An ability to confront and transcend -- rather than deny, adjust to, replace, recover from, or succumb to -- the universe in which you find yourself is among the things that permits freedom and courage. . .
To view our times as decadent and dangerous, to mistrust the government, to imagine that those in power are not concerned with our best interests is not paranoid but perceptive; to be depressed, angry or confused about such things is not delusional but a sign of consciousness. Yet our culture suggests otherwise.
But if all this is true, then why not despair? The simple answer is this: despair is the suicide of imagination. Whatever reality presses upon us, there still remains the possibility of imagining something better, and in this dream remains the frontier of our humanity and its possibilities To despair is to voluntarily close a door that has not yet shut. The task is to bear knowledge without it destroying ourselves, to challenge the wrong without ending up on its casualty list. "You don't have to change the world," the writer Colman McCarthy has argued. "Just keep the world from changing you."
Oddly, those who instinctively understand this best are often those who seem to have the least reason to do so - survivors of abuse, oppression, and isolation who somehow discover not so much how to beat the odds, but how to wriggle around them. They have, without formal instruction, learned two of the most fundamental lessons of psychiatry and philosophy:
- You are not responsible for that into which you were born..
- You are responsible for doing something about it.
These individuals move through life like a skilled mariner in a storm rather than as a victim at a sacrifice. Relatively unburdened by pointless and debilitating guilt about the past, uninterested in the endless regurgitation of the unalterable, they free themselves to concentrate upon the present and the future. They face the gale as a sturdy combatant rather than as cowering supplicant.
In Washington we have a neighborhood known as Shaw where for decades just such a form of survival thrived. Until the modern civil rights movement and desegregation, this African-American community was shut out without a vote, without economic power, without access, and without any real hope that any of this would change.
Its response was remarkable. For example, in 1886 there were only about 15 black businesses in the area. By 1920, with segregation in full fury, there were more than 300.
Every aspect of the community followed suit. Among the institutions created within these few square miles was a building and loan association, a savings bank, the only good hotel in the Washington where blacks could stay, the first full-service black YMCA in the country, the Howard Theatre (opened with black capital twenty years before Harlem's Apollo became a black stage) and two first rate movie palaces.
There were the Odd Fellows, the True Reformers, and the Prince Hall Lodge. There were churches and religious organizations, a summer camp, a photography club, settlement houses, and the Washington Urban League.
Denied access to white schools, the community created a self-sufficient educational system good enough to attract suburban African-Americans students as well as teachers with advanced degrees from all over the country. And just to the north, Howard University became the intellectual center of black America. You might have run into Langston Hughes, Alain Locke, or Duke Ellington, all of whom made the U Street area their home before moving to New York.
All this occurred while black Washingtonians were being subjected to extraordinary economic obstacles and being socially and politically ostracized. If there ever was a culture entitled to despair and apathy it was black America under segregation.
Yet not only did these African-Americans develop self-sufficiency, they did so without taking their eyes off the prize. Among the other people you might have found on U Street were Thurgood Marshall and Charles Houston, laying the groundwork for the modern civil rights movement.
Older residents would remember the former neighborhood with a mixture of pain and pride -- not unlike the ambivalence found in veterans recalling a war. None would voluntarily return to either segregation or the battlefield but many would know that some of their own best moments of courage, skill, and heart had come when the times were at their worst.
Another example. Last summer, I went to Umbria, a section of Italy north of Rome remarkably indifferent to 500 years of its history, where even the homes and whole villages seem to grow like native plants out of the rural earth rather than being placed there by human effort. It was as if I had been transported back several centuries while still being allowed to take along a car and my Diet Coke. I hadn't felt such stability for a long time, certainly not since September 11.
Yet the Umbrians have been invaded, burned, or bullied by the Etruscans, Roman Empire, Goths, Longobards, Charlemagne, Pippin the Short, the Vatican, Mussolini, the German Nazis, and, most recently, the World Trade organization. Umbria is a reminder of the durability of the human spirit during history's tumults, an extremely comforting thought to an American these days.
We don't have to go that far back, though. Consider the increasingly cited novel, 1984. Orwell saw it coming, only his timing was off. The dystopia described in 1984 is so overwhelming that one almost forgets that most residents of Oceana didn't live in it. Orwell gives the breakdown. Only about two percent were in the Inner Party and another 13% in the Outer Party. The rest numbering some 100 million were the proles.
It is amongst the latter that Winston Smith and Julia find refuge for their trysts, away from the cameras (although not the microphones). The proles are, for the most part, not worth the Party's trouble. Says Orwell:
"From the proletarians nothing is to be feared. Left to themselves, they will continue from generation to generation and from century to century, working, breeding, and dying, not only without any impulse to rebel, but without the power of grasping that the world could be other than it is . . ."
Orwell's division of labor and power was almost precisely replicated in East Germany decades later, where about one percent belonged to the General Secretariat of the Communist Party, and another 13% being far less powerful party members.
As we move towards - and even surpass - the fictional bad dreams of Orwell and the in many ways more prescient Aldous Huxley's 'Brave New World,', it is helpful to remember that these nightmares were actually the curse of the elites and not of those who lived in the quaint primitive manner of humans rather than joining the living dead at the zenith of illusionary power.
This bifurcation of society into a weak, struggling, but sane, mass and a manic depressive elite that is alternately vicious and afraid, unlimited and imprisoned, foreshadows what we find today - an elite willing, on the one hand, to occupy any corner of the world and, on the other, terrified of young men with minimal weapons.
Strange as it may seem, it is in this dismal dichotomy between countryside and the political and economic capitals that the hope for saving America's soul resides. The geographical and conceptual parochialism of those who have made this mess leaves vast acres of our land still free in which to nurture hopes, dreams, and perhaps even to foster the eventual eviction of those who have done us such wrong.
Eric Paul Gros-Dubois of Southern Methodist University has described Orwell's underclass this way:
"The Proles were the poorest of the groups, but in most regards were the most cheerful and optimistic. The Proles were also the freest of all the groups. Proles could do as they pleased. They could come and go, and talk openly about whatever they felt like without having to worry about the Thought Police. . .[Orwell] also concluded that the hope for the future was contained within this group.". . .
There is nothing new in this. Almost all great changes in American politics and culture have had their roots either in the countryside or among minorities within the major cities. From religious 'great awakenings' to the abolitionist movement, to the labor movement, to populism, to the 1960s and civil rights, America has been repeatedly moved by viral politics rather than by the pyramidal processes outlined in great man theories of change promulgated by the elite and its media and academies.
Successfully confronting the present disaster will require far more than attempting to serially blockade its serial evils, necessary as this is. There must also be a guerilla democracy that defends, fosters, and celebrates our better selves - not only to provide an alternative but to create physical space for decent Americans to enjoy their lives while waiting for things to get better. It may, after all, take the rest of their lifetimes. We must not only condemn the worst, but offer witness for the better. And create places in which to live it.
We have, as in all authoritarian regimes, become increasingly dependent upon those who hold us down and back. But the potential is always there, even under the worst circumstances. I was reminded of this not long after September 11, as I found myself reflecting on the Solidarity movement of Poland. We will get out of this mess, I thought, when we can do in our own way what the Poles did in theirs.
At the heart of the Solidarity achievement was something with which the Internet has made us familiar - a form of politics that spread not by the precise decisions of a small number of leaders but by the aggregated tiny and vaguer decisions of a mass of citizens. In a sense, Solidarity was an early and unwired flash mob or internet meetup.
The variety of techniques used by Poles in the their search for freedom were impressive. For example, John Rensenbrink in his contemporaneous book, described how kissing women's hands became popular primarily because it annoyed the Soviets.
And his description of Poland's dilemma in the 1980s seems strikingly applicable to our own situation:
"It is the struggle of a state in ludicrous pursuit of a nation that it cannot seem to find. And, it is the struggle of a nation trying to find a way to meet the state, not in the posture of supplicant or avenger, but in the posture of free citizen."
Rensenbrink tells me that some of Solidarity's early organizing took place on the trains that many of the workers rode to the shipyards, where they had time to drink coffee and talk. In our own history, there are innumerable examples of change owing a debt to the simple serendipity of people of like values and sensibilities coming together. For example, the rise of Irish political power in this country was aided considerably by the Irish bar's role as an ethnic DMZ and a center for the exchange of information.
CS Lewis says somewhere that we read to discover that we are not alone. That discovery is a necessary for change as well. Part of the dreadful force of southern segregation, for example, was that it prevented poor whites and poor blacks from discovering how much they had in common.
We tend to discount the importance of unplanned moments because of our fealty to the business school paradigm in which change properly occurs because of a careful strategic plan, an organized vision, procedures, and process. During the past quarter century when such ideas have been in ascendancy, however, America has demonstratively deteriorated as a political, economic, and moral force. In reality, many of the best things happen by accident and indirection. While it may be true, as the Roman said, that "fortune smiles on the well prepared" part of that preparation is to be in the right place at the right time. In other words, it is necessary to create an ecology of change rather than a precise and often illusory process.
The beat generation understood this. Unlike today's activists they lacked a plan; unlike those of the 60s they lacked anything to plan for; what substituted for utopia and organization was the freedom to think, to speak, to move at will in a culture that thought it had adequately taken care of all such matters. To a far greater degree than rebellions that followed, the beat culture created its message by being rather than doing, rejection rather than confrontation, sensibility rather than strategy, journeys instead of movements, words and music instead of acts, and informal communities rather than formal institutions.
The full-fledged uprisings that followed could not have occurred without years of anger and hope being expressed in more individualistic and less disciplined ways, ways that may seem ineffective in retrospect yet served as absolutely necessary scaffolding with which to build a powerful movement.
One of these ways, for example, is music. Billie Holiday was singing about lynchings long before the modern civil rights movement. And Rage Against the Machine was engaging in anti-sweatshop protests some years before most college student had ever heard of them.
Another way is found in the magic of churches. During the 1960s I edited a newspaper in a neighborhood 75% black and mostly poor in which I came to assume that churches were the sina qua non of positive change. We had over a 100 of them in a two square mile area and you just came to rely upon them as part of the political action, including the Revolutionary Church of What's Happenin' Now and the Rev. Frank Milner, part-minister and part-taxicab driver who would come to community meetings in an outfit complete with clerical collar and a metal change-maker on his belt.
How important one church can be is illustrated with a little known story from Birmingham Alabama. Responding to Rosa Parks' mistreatment, sleeping car porter E.D. Nixon called up a young preacher and asked if he could use his church for a meeting. The minister said he would think about it. A few days later, Nixon called back and the minister agreed. E.D. Nixon's reply was something like this, "Thank you Reverend King, because we've scheduled a meeting at your church next Monday at 6:30 pm."
It is for such reasons we must learn to stand outside of history. Quakerism, for example, prescribes personal witness as guided by conscience - regardless of the era in which we live or the circumstances in which we find ourselves. And the witness need not be verbal. The Quakers say "let your life speak," echoing St. Francis of Assisi's' advice that one should preach the gospel at all times and "if necessary, use words."
There are about as many Quakers today in America as there were in the 18th century, around 100,000. Yet near the center of every great moment of American social and political change one finds members of the Society of Friends. Why? In part because they have been willing to fail year after year between those great moments. Because they have been willing in good times and bad -- in the instructions of their early leader George Fox -- "to walk cheerfully over the face of the earth answering that of God in every one "
The existentialists knew how to stand outside of history as well. Existentialism, which has been described as the idea that no one can take your shower for you, is based on the hat trick of passion, integrity and rebellion. An understanding that we create ourselves by what we do and say and, in the words of one of their philosophers, even a condemned man has a choice of how to approach the gallows.
Those who think history has left us helpless should recall the abolitionist of 1830, the feminist of 1870, the labor organizer of 1890, or the gay or lesbian writer of 1910. They, like us, did not get to choose their time in history but they, like us, did get to choose what they did with it.
Would we have been abolitionists in 1830?
In 1848, 300 people gathered at Seneca Falls, NY, for a seminal moment in the American women's movement. On November 2, 1920, 91 year-old Charlotte Woodward Pierce became the only signer of the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions who had lived long enough to cast a ballot for president.
Would we have attended that conference in 1848? Would we have bothered?
Or consider the Jewish cigar makers in early 20th century New York City each contributing a small sum to hire a man to sit with them as they worked - reading aloud the classic works of Yiddish literature. The leader of the cigar-makers, Samuel Gompers, would later become the first president of the American Federation of Labor. And those like him would become part of a Jewish tradition that profoundly shaped the politics, social conscience, and cultural course of 20th century America. While Protestants and Irish Catholics controlled the institutions of politics, the ideas of modern social democracy disproportionately came from native populists and immigrant socialists. It is certainly impossible to imagine liberalism, the civil rights movement, or the Vietnam protests without the Jewish left.
These are the sort of the stories we must find and tell each other during the bad days ahead. But there is a problem. The system that envelopes us becomes normal by its mere mass, its ubiquitous messages, its sheer noise. Our society faces what William Burroughs called a biologic crisis -- "like being dead and not knowing it." Or as Matthew Arnold put it, trapped between two worlds, one dead, the other unable to be born.
We are overpowered and afraid. We find ourselves condoning things simply because not to do so means we would then have to -- at unknown risk -- truly challenge them.
Yet, in a perverse way, our predicament makes life simpler. We have clearly lost what we have lost. We can give up our futile efforts to preserve the illusion and turn our energies instead to the construction of a new time.
It is this willingness to walk away from the seductive power of the present that first divides the mere reformer from the rebel -- the courage to emigrate from one's own ways in order to meet the future not as an entitlement but as a frontier.
How one does this can vary markedly, but one of the bad habits we have acquired from the bullies who now run the place is undue reliance on traditional political, legal and rhetorical tools. Politically active Americans have been taught that even at the risk of losing our planet and our democracy, we must go about it all in a rational manner, never raising our voice, never doing the unlikely or trying the improbable, let alone screaming for help.
We will not overcome the current crisis solely with political logic. We need living rooms like those in which women once discovered they were not alone. The freedom schools of SNCC. The politics of the folk guitar. The plays of Vaclav Havel. Unitarian church basements. The pain of James Baldwin. The laughter of Abbie Hoffman. The strategy of Gandhi and King. Unexpected gatherings and unpredicted coalitions. People coming together because they disagree on every subject save one: the need to preserve the human. Savage satire and gentle poetry. Boisterous revival and silent meditation. Grand assemblies and simple suppers.
Above all, we must understand that in leaving the toxic ways of the present we are healing ourselves, our places, and our planet. We must rebel not as a last act of desperation but as a first act of creation.
Portions of this talk come from Sam Smith's
book "Why Bother?," which deals with getting
through the bad times including chapters on despair,
rebellion, personal witness, and guerrilla democracy.
THE REAL GOP PLATFORM
WHAT THE GOP CUTS WOULD MEAN
A 21 percent cut at the National Institutes of Health would take about $6 billion from health research.
A 21 percent cut would take $400 million from police.
Center for Budget Policy & Priorities -
A 21 percent cut in K-12 education funding would take more
than $8 billion out of this area in fiscal year 2011, on top
of the deep education cuts that many state and local
governments across the country are being forced to make.
Arnold Schwarzenegger: "No one cares if you smoke a joint or not."
California pot advocates ready to try again in 2012
What a scientist didn't tell the New York Times about his study on bee deaths
Europe's Obsolete Computers Burn in South African Toxic Dump
JFK's Election: On 50th Anniversary, Never-Seen Photos Emerge
Chicago reformer Jane Addams
Despite Obama's claims to be getting out of Iraq, Defense Secretary Gates said the US is open to keeping troops there if Iraq wants it. "That initiative clearly needs to come from the Iraqis; we are open to discussing it," said Gates.
UN Human Rights Coucil calls on U.S. to end death penalty; Obamites say no way
More than one in seven latinos would leave U.S. if they could
Jon Stewart beats Leno and Letterman ratings
Politcal Wire - Congress.org wonders who still listens to President Obama's weekly addresses, the video messages delivered every Saturday morning and modeled off the fireside chats of President Franklin Roosevelt. "Since May of last year, no video has had more than 100,000 views and most have been closer to 20,000, numbers far below the millions of his campaign videos. Some presidential watchers wonder if the time for the weekly radio address has passed. . .Roosevelt's chats, which created a sense of national unity when the country was struggling with the Great Depression, received much more attention. After every address, millions of letters from listeners would pour into the White House."
Conservatives in Arizona vehemently opposed a town's decision to have a trash truck and curbside recycling program. Some called it "Obamacare for garbage" or "trashcare."
54% of Republicans want to repeal all of Obamacare despite lack of health insurance causing some 45,000 deaths a year
Rove got millions from hedge funds to feed
Russ Feingold for president in 2012?
GOP hypocrite of the day: cost cutting NJ governor spent $475 for hotel room
Manchin quashes party switch rumors
Issa plans hundreds of investigative hearings
Global investigative reporters back Wikileaks
Herald Tribune, FL - In recent weeks, representatives from the International Air Transport Association, the U.S. Travel Association, the Allied Pilots Association and British Airways have criticized the T.S.A., saying it adds intrusive and time-consuming layers of scrutiny at airport checkpoints, without effectively addressing legitimate security concerns. The U.S. Travel Association, in fact, is worried that the more onerous screening process will discourage air travel. "The system is broken, it's extremely flawed and it's absurd that we all sit back and say we can't do anything about it," said Geoff Freeman, executive vice president of the association.