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The Puppet Show of the Apocalypse

June 19, 2013 1 comment

puppetI am sitting at my kitchen table.. It is early June, an election year. I can hear the television droning softly from the living room, bringing me the evening news. They are reporting on one of the men vying to be the presidential candidate for the out of power party. He has apparently just implied something insulting about women and rape. Cut to an ad for viagra. Outside my back door I can hear the soft hum of bees and the little screeches of birds looking for a nesting spot. Outside, in the real world, everything looks just fine–on the surface. Just don’t look to deeply or you would see a flower that is the main food of an important butterfly, which now blooms a week too early for the caterpillars to eat it.There will be none of that type of butterfly this year, or likely ever again in these parts.

Now it is late October. The evening news is on. If I were to look around the corner at my television I would see two men speaking about who said what in the latest scandal, and how they are not to blame for it, and how they would bring prosperity back to the middle class, one by lowering taxes a bit more and the other by cutting a few programs.There are a least 12 political parties in the United States that have candidates for president. But only two of them are allowed to speak publicly where it counts, on television. In fact, one of the “lesser” candidates is outside in chains. Her crime? Trying to enter the hall where the debate is taking place. In other news a hurricane just wiped out two small towns in the delta, foreclosures are up again, and there is unrest in one or another impoverished country.

The puppet show continues. The puppets may be politicians, or celebrities, or, quite often, news “providers” We see their lips move, and words come out. Meanwhile, in the real world, outside our doors, a million more pollinators died. A large American company released another organism into wild nature that will eventually cause a food shortage for a key species, causing an entire ecosystem to crash. On the streets of America, huddling under a freeway over-pass, two children are hungry. Their parents lost their jobs, first him then her. The house went a couple of years later.

In other news, the stock market is up by 30 points, and a Republican congressman just floated a bill to close down what is left of the food stamp program after the last time it was gutted. No one connects the dots. If the tax code were merely put back to what it was in 1950 there would be no hungry children, no homeless families. It is OUR children that are going hungry. Or they used to be before a culture of pure self interest took root and we all became individuals, divorced from any notion of a “community”. Instead, the puppet show drones on–” These welfare families are ruining the country–stealing your prosperity” they say. Who can remember the concept developed in Nazi Germany of the “big lie”? Make the lie big enough and repeat it often enough and it becomes the “truth”. It is the social safety net that is ruining the country, not the top one tenth of a percent that are hoarding sixty percent of our wealth. Repeat after me…

Outside in the real world 14,000 more hectares of rain forest fall. It seems that clear cut rain forest makes great pastureland for the cattle that another large American company prefers for its burgers. That and a bunch of filler, sawdust maybe.  Cut for a commercial. Happy kids eating happy meals. The kids under that overpass eat them, but no one would call them happy. It is all they can afford, and they are lucky to get that.

The puppet show continues. In Oakland another shooting, in Mississippi a flood. A Kafkaesque international manhunt for a whistle-blower. His crime? Telling the truth about criminal activity in his government agency.  Outside in the real world, there are forests silent as graves. Empty forest syndrome. The puppets drone on as we preside over the biggest mass extinction since the dinosaurs. And we are likely the new dinosaurs. Honey bees account for about thirty percent of the human food supply. Even the “food-like substances” that we in the developed world are receiving from the processing plants rely on some form of organic base. Cut to commercial for pesticides. Kills everything, don’t worry. We don’t need insects. Or anything else in the food web that might be collateral damage. Just spray and enjoy the antiseptic landscape, and then pop open a beer and watch more of the puppet show.

A large ship full of plastic goods arrives from Asia. The news anchor jokes about hitting those sales. A large American company, a discount store, boasts that 60% of Americans shop at their stores. Meanwhile, across the world, large piles of old plastic burn, and the air stings. Meanwhile, in the real world, there is a 270,000 square mile garbage patch, filled with the detritus of the free market. Nothing lives there. Anymore.

The puppet show continues. I sit at the kitchen table. It is early summer.I can hear the drone of the evening news. There was an oil spill from the Tar Sands along the Canadian border. It hit an Indian reservation. Nothing can live there now either. The black earth is poisoned and will remain so long after we are just bones. In other news, a stringent anti-abortion bill passed the house, but is expected to die in the senate.

Outside, in the real world, I can hear the soft hum of honey bees in the Bottle Brush. I can hear the chirps of the hummingbirds and the tiny song of dozens of bird babies as the mama birds bring dinner home to the nest. I live in a very fortunate place. It is hard to see that anything is wrong on this gentle summer evening. It is impossible for us to detect the loss of diversity, the collapse of ecosystems, with the information gathering tools that we have. Even when we see it it is almost impossible to see that our way of life is at fault. Further-even if we see both the destruction and our part in it–there seems to be little we can do. And until we collectively decide to commit our full energy to tearing down the machine we have built and replacing it with something that supports the entire biotic community, it is true.  Nothing can be done.

I turn back to the puppet show of the apocalypse. In other news, the largest fire in Colorado history took another twenty homes. As for the weather-it’s gonna be a scorcher out there…

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Is America in a Recession or a Depression?

March 26, 2011 3 comments

Signs are Everywhere

In the hostel in Madison late one night a few of us were talking about the affairs of the day. I brought my reason for travelling-that is, documenting the depression in America. I was then asked “why do you think this is a depression?” I realized somewhat sheepishly that I have never publicly defended this point of view. So I will now. The available literature is somewhat unclear on the definitions of either term. But all the literature seems to center on the health of the Gross Domestic Product (GNP). But, I would argue that in an economy that has seen tremendous gains in productivity without the need to hire more workers, and that is capable having a “jobless recovery” as we are now, has to come up with a better definition, one that more accurately reflects the human costs of an economic crisis such as this.

I would suggest that we look instead at the true unemployment rate, at the foreclosure rate, at the bankruptcy rate, and at the rate at which small businesses are being forced to close their doors, among other indicators. We could also look at increases in the use of the social safety net such as food stamps, and the increase in homelessness.

A February Gallup poll finds that the official unemployment rate is at 9.8%, which is already quite high, but as we know, the official rate consistently understates the problem. It does not count the 99ers who have exhausted their benefits without finding work, or other “discouraged workers” who have simply given up. It doesn’t count the under-employed worker who lost a job that paid a healthy living wage but now works part time for far less. And it does not count the small business person who has had to close up shop and can’t find any paid work. I don’t know what the exact figure would be if these people were included in the unemployment rate, but I think it would be fair to say it would triple, giving us a rate of 29.4%.

A recent Real Estate Investors Daily states that the foreclosure rates have actually climbed in 2011 from a already alarmingly high rates in the last several years, and warns that “while we are seeing some markets in the US showing signs of “hitting bottom” and some are evening saying some markets have begun a “recovery“, I think we should be very slow and cautious to say the worst is behind us. Perhaps for those markets that had extremely high concentrations of the foreclosure activity (Nevada, Arizona, California and Florida) most of the damage may be done, but for other markets foreclosures are going to continue to put downward pressure on home prices.”

As for personal bankruptcy rates, numerous sources state that they are at a five year high and expected to rise in the coming year. Multiple sources also state that the poverty rate has gone up substantially, and this is poverty defined by an antiquated metric that does not reflect the actual cost of living in the 21st century.

That is why I am calling the economic climate in March 2011 a depression, and not the “great recession” as it has been termed. I may not be an economist, but there are some that agree with me. Columnist Jeff Cox quotes economist David Rosenberg in a 2010 article “Positive gross domestic product readings and other mildly hopeful signs are masking an ugly truth: The US economy is in a 1930s-style Depression, Gluskin Sheff economist David Rosenberg said Tuesday.” And he is not the only one to say so. The fact that any economist is using the term depression, given the emotional charge of the word and the deeply conservative nature of that profession, should give credence to the feeling that is already shared by millions of Americans.

http://realestateinvestordaily.com/foreclosures/us-foreclosure-rate-and-mortgage-delinquency-rate-continues-to-rise/

http://www.gallup.com/poll/145922/gallup-finds-unemployment-slightly-january.aspx

http://www.mybanktracker.com/bank-news/2011/01/05/personal-bankruptcy-filings-reached-5year-high-2010/

http://www.cnbc.com/id/38831550/Economy_Caught_in_Depression_Not_Recession_Rosenberg

 

Madison Wisconsin- The Protest Continues

March 22, 2011 3 comments

Capitol Square

I arrived in Madison WI on Saturday March 19th. When I got to Capital Square there were several hundred protesters walking around the Capitol Building. This is a small number compared to the week before, when at least 200,000 people had descended upon the capitol to welcome the 14 senators who had fled the state several weeks earlier to prevent Governor Walker’s union busting bill from being passed. They left because the GOP dominated senate still need them to create the necessary quorum for a vote on any bill that is primarily fiscal in nature. In the end, Walker had tried to do an end run by saying that the “Budget Repair Bill” had nothing to do with money. So the senate passed the bill without the 14 and without the required 24 hour notice. There was an immediate legal challenge which the governor lost and has now appealed. Now focus is on recalling him and his cronies.

But, even with fewer numbers the signs of protest were everywhere, and the protesters themselves were filling up every café and bar as they ended their day with some hard earned refreshment.

At that point I had checked into the local hostel, and though I no longer had three days of road grime on me I still had not slept in some time. The moon was full that night, and I decided to go find some food. The first people I met were a couple of local progressives that had been here for the whole thing. I will never forget sitting there at the Old Fashioned across from the capitol as the sun went down. They bought me a couple of beers and shared their dinner with me as they explained some of the fine points of Wisconsin politics. I can’t remember everything we discussed, but I do remember feeling so much better after a hard three day ride. Also, I learned that the place I needed to go was Williams Street (Willy to the locals) and there I would find a great thrift store, a food co-op, and plenty of good coffee.

Everywhere I go in this town people are talking about this. I asked a woman in a bar what her favorite thing was about the protests. She replied that it was the amazing sense of community. For several weeks there had been a little city

Everywhere There Are Signs

within a city in Capitol Square. People from all over the world, including Egypt, were sending food for the protesters. An amazing gift economy sprang up. For her, it was the community. But her friend had a different idea. He said he loved it that no matter where you went in town, everyone was taking part, even as they went about the mundane business of living. If you saw someone taking out the trash, they would be wearing a recall Walker t-Shirt. A baby stroller passing you miles from the square would be sporting a Kill the Bill sign. There were and are signs everywhere.

A bartender at a brew-pub across the street from the hostel told me about the day Walker pulled the skullduggery. Everyone was getting ready to go collect signatures for the recall effort when he got a tweet to get to the square right away. By the time he arrived there were 10,000 people. The capitol building is supposed to be the people’s house. It is supposed to be open to the public. In the first several weeks of the protest people had been sleeping inside the building. Then the governor had ordered the building cleared for “cleaning” and pushed everyone out. Now, people were pushing back in again. The police, whose sympathies were clearly with the protesters, would leave one entrance unguarded as they rushed to another. Many officers would change in to protest t-shirts as soon as they got off shift. Now, all but one entrance to the building is nailed shut.

Don't Mess with the Badger

Yesterday I walked up to Willy Street and finally got completely full at the salad bar at the food co-op. I got into a conversation with a substitute teacher who filled me in on the process for doing a recall. As the conversation developed we began to get into the psychological and philosophical problems presented by the dirty politics of the 21st century. She said she believed that Scott Walker is a sociopath, and I concur. When it comes to voting, people on the left are so often left with voting for an ineffectual or corrupt representative to keep a patently insane candidate from winning. But I have come to understand that though the candidate may be insane, and the citizens who vote for the candidate may be duped, the ones financing the whole thing are neither crazy nor stupid. They are just plain evil, and they have a well thought out plan that they have been in the process of implementing it for a long time. The great instability we are experiencing now is the end game. As we discussed this we began to wonder aloud-What makes a multi-billionaires so discontent with their lives that they have to go after even more of the available resources in the world? Why can’t they be happy and gracious and pay their fair share gladly? Why do they need ever more power and money, grabbed at the expense of those less fortunate? Why do they want to consign the entire world but themselves to slavery or starvation? And that, my friend, is the very definition of an imponderable.

 

More Frodo than Joan de Arc

February 22, 2011 Leave a comment

The View from my Window

Here I am, a month off course, and ready to finally take the big leap. It has been a hard winter for many, myself included. I have been ready to roll for weeks, but not with bronchitis and not without any cash at all. Today I am breathing deeply and my little paycheck will be in my hands within days. Enough to make it all work.

Another consideration has been the weather. This winter has been a very hard one all across the country, even the Deep South. My plan was to go there first and avoid the deep freeze in the north, but then the snow and freezing weather went south before I did. But, freezing or not I will be heading out.

There is a certain excitement in the traveling, even for the purpose in which I am engaged. I have my maps, a guide book or two. I will be going by bus, so I must travel light. I have to carry my equipment-camera, computer, recorder, phone, and whatnot, plus food and water, in one carry-on bag. The other bag will have everything else. On the bus, you never know when you will have to schlep.

I am more like Frodo than Joan de Arc. I would gladly spend my days busying myself around the little piece of the world I call home, studying all the things that are fascinating and enjoying the passing days. But, I see the world (both my little corner and everyplace else) sinking into ever greater darkness. I often think that if I had been lived in France during the World War II, I would have been compelled to be part of the resistance no matter what my temperament.

Packing Up

Today, the uber-rich have been waging a vicious class war on the rest of us for a good many years, and we have not, for the most part, offered any resistance. This is finally changing.  The events in Wisconsin over the last few days should act as a clarion call to the rest of us. The uber-rich have caused a depression for the rest of us while they rake in record profits on our backs. They have used the corrupt doctrine of corporate personhood to purchase the federal government, and therefore delegitimize it. And now they want to all but dismantle that government, except for the military of course.

This is evil. Plain and simple. Wage slavery and economic colonization is just as evil as the old kind of slavery and the old kind of colonization. Ownership of one person by another is always wrong, no matter how it is framed. I am concentrating on America because I am an American, but this war, waged by the rich on people and planet is and has been a global affair. In fact, American citizens are the last victims, not the first.

I am not saying that every uber-rich person, as an individual, is evil. But, as a class, the uber-rich are destructive, anti-democratic, and wicked. They hide behind the un-workable ideology of laissez-faire capitalism, making the Orwellian claim that free markets = free people, when the opposite is clearly true. Having purchased Washington, they have caused the anti-trust laws to be all but forgotten, thereby allowing them to buy the mass media and ruin the free press in the United States. All of these things make the uber-rich a wicked class. It also make them traitors to their country, sanctimonious flag waving notwithstanding.

When faced with evil it is necessary to act, however powerless one feels. So, off I go on my odyssey into the wide world. My gift is that of the wordsmith. I can’t feed the victims of this depression, nor give them shelter, but I can at least give them a voice.

What is the American Middle Class Anyhow, and Why Should We Care?

January 14, 2011 2 comments

The American Dream

First, a little history: In Feudal times, there were three classes, or estates. They were the aristocracy, the clergy, and the peasants.  These classes were conferred at birth and the amount of social mobility was nil. As the market economy began to emerge in Europe and the New World this began to change. For the first time a moneyed merchant class rose up from the peasant class. These merchants came, for the first time, not from the landed aristocracy but from the common people. As their buying power increased so did their influence on the affairs of the day.

But, even at that, there were still large income inequalities. These inequalities lasted through the gilded age and continued into the 1920s.The American middle class as we know it today rose up as a result of the economic policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal. This is the origin of the American Dream, which consists of home ownership, a decent education, and a job with a future and a large enough salary to enjoy the good life. The social safety net created by the New Deal made this dream possible for millions of people.

Though poverty was still endemic in certain areas the overall condition of the people was lifted up. The middle class also provided something to aspire to if you weren’t there yet. Every year there were newly minted graduates of universities that could say “I am the first in my family to finish college.” And the implied promise of the social contract was fulfilled-as graduation rates went up, so did incomes. The professions, formerly the bastion of rich white males, were forced to open there doors to everyone else.

They bounty was not confined to white collar workers. Through strong unions and a powerful manufacturing base the working class too joined into the American Dream. As did small business owners of all kinds. This new middle class were able, due to increases in standard of living, to pay more taxes, which built up cities, counties, and states. It also funded the safety net to protect those who were still behind in the game from real destitution. Neither hunger nor homelessness were big problems in those days. In fact, they were almost non-existent.

It would seem that having a large powerful middle class forming the glue of society would be considered a good thing all the way around. But there were those that thought differently. I am not going to discuss reasonable criticisms of the American Middle Class in this post, for instance the criticism of American over-consumption and waste, though I will discuss these in future posts. In this instance I am speaking of the elite class, defeated (in their own minds at least) by the New Deal policies that allowed the middle class to rise up to begin with.

The class war actually began around 1980, with the election of Ronald Reagan. It was slow and quiet at first, and always surreptitious. Slowly the market was deregulated, the jobs outsourced, the safety net eaten away. The apotheosis of the “free market” created a new body of “common knowledge”. The mental institutions shut down and the inmates were ‘set free’ to freeze and starve on America’s streets. And the price of education shot through the roof, as did the cost of medical care. As a new, now global, class of corporate elites formed, the luster of the American middle class began to fade.

The coup de grâce came in 2007 with the completely avoidable sub-prime crisis and the collapse of the economy, at least for us ordinary folk. The stock market itself came back very quickly, as did the million dollar bonuses. But not the jobs or the tax base. Now the rest of the safety net is in great peril, both from attacks by the elite and from being overwhelmed by millions of new ‘customers’. The middle class, once the greatest source of funds for services to the poor are now in need of such services themselves. And the elite class is not willing to foot the bill. They believe, along with Marie Antoinette, that we should “eat cake”

Here are some informative links:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5kwA-CwFK5A Paul Krugman discusses the origins of the American Middle Class

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akVL7QY0S8A Elizabeth Warren on the coming collapse of the middle class

http://www.alternet.org/economy/41192/ Thom Hartmann on the war against the middle class