James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Thursday, June 16, 2011

What God said to Bachmann (or not)

As expected, Michele Bachmann is running for president of the United States, holding that God told her to run.

In fact, when God called me for a chat shortly after Bachmann made that claim, S/he mentioned in passing that S/he “told the silly woman to shut up and stop making both of us look like fools.”

S/he sighed – sounds like a strong wind rushing through a canyon – and sadly conceded, however, that “Michele has delusions of competence and hears only what she wants to hear.”

That's all; we then moved on to other examples of religious irrationality, such as the phenomenon of athletes on opposing teams giving credit to God when their teams make good plays.

(Sorry about that S/he thing. God has a husky voice, sort of like those of Marlene Dietrich and Tallulah Bankhead in their later years; it's impossible to be specific about gender without visual clues.)

What's that? You doubt me because you don't believe God would take time to chat with a worn out old journalist while on a break?

The answer to that is a question: Why would God talk directly to an intellectually dishonest, demonstrably ignorant and nastily prejudiced politician whose stances on major issues are contrary to the teachings of the Christ she claims with every other breath to adore and obey? If her, why not me?

(Ignorant? Consider the story she told in Iowa about how the founders of this country “worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States.” That might have amused Sally Hemmings while she nursed the kids she bore Thomas Jefferson. Bachmann also maintained that everyone of every color and ethnicity enjoyed equal opportunity back then, just as soon as they hit our shores. Perhaps someone should point out to her that several of the founders were slave owners, and that slavery was legal in this country until 1865. But it wouldn't help; if the facts are uncomfortable, Bachmann and followers will choose to believe a fiction every time.)

Should any of Bachmann's followers see this, they no doubt will accuse me first of blasphemy. God, after all, belongs to them. But if the deluded, cruel and overwhelmingly narcissistic Michele Bachmann is allowed to claim an intimate speaking relationship with God, if she can claim Him as a personal adviser, any small blasphemy I commit here in an attempt to defend the innocent deity surely will be forgiven.

Here's what really has put the gravel in my gut:

The corporate media decided a long time ago to play the hell out of Bachmann (reference intended) and by treating her as legitimate, they have given her status she does not deserve and has in no way earned. So millions of Americans are taking her candidacy seriously, and other Republicans -- including those whose intellectual reach means they cannot help but recognize the shamefulness of the whole scene –- are pretending that she's respectable and that her nasty and often utterly silly positions are rational and sober.

Media have created false legitimacy for Bachmann and the right-wing, billionaire-financed propaganda machine known as the Tea Party. In so doing, they have declared that the stupidities of a radical mob, marginalized throughout our history, now are worthy of consideration.

And those irrational extremists, feeling power for the first time, are going nuts with it. They're overrunning all sanctuaries of sanity in both big political parties. Politicians who know better, but who are pants-wetting cowards, are crawling for the support of people who are only a step or two from needing full-time mental health care.

We are now treated to the embarrassing spectacle of a Tim Pawlenty, uptight, designed and built on the model of a robot corporate executive, trying to out-Christian Bachmann, although, since she has absolutely no other claim to office, she is the unmatchable ultimate Christian in this race to distort both religion and American politics.

Michele Bachmann, in the Monday, June 13, Republican candidate “debate,” was required to answer a question about what is needed to revive the production of jobs in this country. Her answer: Do away with the Environmental Protection Agency because it's responsible for killing the economy and creating all the unemployment.

This is a serious candidate for president?

Anyone who could make such a claim is a danger to herself and, especially, others.

Ed Rollins, a veteran, no-conscience Republican campaigner said in January that Bachmann would be a terrible candidate for the Republicans and can't be taken seriously. But that was before she came up with the money to hire him to run her campaign. Now he talks about how her appeal to the religious right can make her a real candidate.

Morals, real morals, have no place in Republican politics. A whole lot of other Republicans who made similar statements about her incompetence also have recanted out of fear of her take-no-prisoners supporters.

Anyone seriously trying to understand the Bachmann phenomenon –- we'll leave the almost as illegitimate Sarah Palin out of this for now –- has to ask why the national “news” media have created it.

The short answer is this: Today's journalists are an ignorant, pop-culture-addled bunch who lack an understanding, let alone acceptance, of professional ethics. The owners of big newspapers and broadcast outlets stand to profit handsomely from the election of easily controlled ideologues such as Bachmann. A Bachmann, like a major flood or a tornado, is sure-fire attention grabber and very easy to cover, since the coverage follows a simple formula; any new journalism school grad can do it and get great play without straining a single mental muscle. Looka me! I are a journalist!

So now the stuff will start to fly in my direction. One aspect of the Bachmann style of Christianity is that it's adherents (not sure we can say practioners) brook no criticism. They demand not just respect but bowing-and-scraping humility from everyone else.

Even mild criticism is an excuse for them to claim victimhood, although they control 99 percent of the stories told about them in the corporate media, and the great majority of American politicians live in fear of crossing them.

At the same time, they go out of their way -– often far out -– to be disrespectful to and, indeed, to abuse people who do not swallow every nugget of their nonsense.

But here's a generally unacknowledged truth: If you don't give a rat's behind what they think, they can't get to you.

Pity more politicians haven't the guts to recognize that and act on it.


A note to Star Tribune reporter Kevin Diaz and his bosses: Your recent story about Bachmann at the top of page one, headlined “An outsider from the start” and with the subhead reading “Michele Bachmann's hard-hitting conservatism has put her on the cusp of a Republican presidential bid” is a shameful piece of promotional crap, starting with that sub-head and going downhill from there.

You and others like you put her “on the cusp” of presidential candidacy by repeatedly presenting the appearance of legitimacy where none existed.


There is far too much going on in my life now and for the next few months; I can't maintain any semblance of regular appearance here, although I have a great many pieces in the works for this space. Until September, I'll post something new when I can, but it probably won't be often or much. (No serious illnesses or other life disasters. Just a whole lot of other, legitimate claims on me and my time and attention. And I grow old; attention must be paid.)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Desperately needed: A new political party

Count me among the growing number of people who believe support of the Democratic Party, as such, is not merely a waste of time but, worse, a deeply negative activity.

Support for the Democratic Party leads to continued degradation of the United States and great harm to all citizens who are not wealthy.

The same has to be said about support for the Republican Party, but that does not mean rational people must therefore throw in with the Democrats. In plain language, they're about equally bad for America and its people.

We desperately need a new party, and there is a logical place to begin forming one: With the long list of genuine liberal organizations that were given birth by the Internet. More of that shortly.

Barack Obama should not be re-elected. At any time before the mid 1990s, his actions in office would have identified him clearly as a Republican who leans dangerously to the right. What he claims to believe in while campaigning and what he has done while in office have almost no positive connection. He has capitulated on major issues before any “negotiations” have begun; he has, whenever possible, given the money elite what it wants on everything of importance.

He is as much a war monger as the younger Bush; he has expanded the Bush wars, put us into the Libyan conflict, inflated the already insanely oversized Pentagon budget, reneged on all of his promises to curb military adventurism and war profiteering. He has enthusiastically supported extension of the grotesquely misnamed Patriot Act and otherwise continued the Bush program of diminishing individual freedoms.

Equally bad for all of us who are not very rich, Obama has actively supported or meekly acquiesced in most of the measures that are pushing us at breakneck speed toward the destruction of the middle class and the creation of a class of tens of millions of proles who will be locked hopelessly into a state of perpetual poverty.

There are five people looking for work in this country for every job that becomes available. Since the financial collapse of 2008, more than two million Americans have sunk into what is officially recognized as poverty -– which is to say, desperate poverty.

More than 43 million Americans now live below the official poverty line. More than one fifth of American children now live in poverty, which is more than twice the percentage of poor children in Great Britain or France. Five percent of Americans live with what is officially called “extreme food insecurity” -- which simply means that they don't know from day to day whether they will have anything to eat, and sometimes they don't. That population is expanding daily.

A huge number of Americans have lost much or most of the wealth they accumulated through their working lives, because that wealth was invested in their homes.

In Minneapolis, my home town, home values continue to fall, are down 8 percent from a year ago, and almost half of all homeowners are now “underwater” on their mortgages. Nationally, residential real estate has fallen in value by more than $6 trillion (trillion, with a tr) since 2008.

Our “liberal” president has yet to offer any serious programs or begin any crusades to turn any of those problems around.

He does continue to talk about “compromises” with the Republicans, who are desperately trying to placate and tame a constituency of utter nutcases and clowns, some of whom are multi-billionaires. He's willing to talk about cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and other programs essential for relative security for millions of Americans. His “compromises” thus far have meant capitulation.

The great majority of Democrats in Congress are as bad or worse. And a substantial number of them care far more about preventing gay Americans from achieving full citizenship than they do about the millions who are facing homelessness and starvation.

(As just one of hundreds of examples, take the Minnesota Democrats' “liberal” favorite, Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Please. She joined with 16 other Democrats and all Republicans in trying to gut the Clean Air Act. She votes for anything pushed by the National Rifle Association, no matter how far outside the realm of sense or decency, and she does the same for AIPAC, the American lobby for the right wing government of Israel. She has never seen a “defense” bill she would not support and has few, if any, quarrels with the big banks. And that's just for starters.)

Once again, we're seeing the beginning of the flood of missives telling us that we MUST give money to and vote for the Democratic Party.

We are being told again, as we have been told during every election cycle for the past 30 years or more, that the Republicans are just ever so much worse and the country will go entirely to hell if we don't do our part for the Democrats. Never mind that the majority of Democrats in office are in thrall to the corporate elite to the same degree as their Republican colleagues and the country already is headed rapidly to hell – hell for everyone but the rich.

Corporations and the very wealthy get everything they want from Democrats, though it may take just a little bit longer than when Republicans control everything. They pretend it's otherwise (wink wink, nudge nudge) so that traditional Democratic voters can go on pretending there is a big difference

There still are a few “liberal” Democrats. My own congressman, Keith Ellison – yes, the Muslim -- is a marvel of honesty and courage in supporting positions that benefit the American people rather than war profiteers and other giant corporations. I haven't made a count, but there may be 20 other Democratic members of Congress equally steadfast in doing what is right for the country and the people. Maybe. On a good day, possibly 30 or even 40.

The percentage seems to be higher in state legislatures, although those institutions also harbor an excessive number of Democrats who are owned by the economic elite. Again, I am blessed in having an outstanding liberal state representative, Frank Hornstein, and a pretty good state senator in Scott Dibble.

That is not enough, and they are too few.

We do desperately need a new political party at the state and national levels. And, no, it will not come from the various tiny socialist organizations.

“Socialist” is a negative word in this country, made so largely by the hunters for communist witches who held such a grip on this country in the 1940s and '50s and well into the '70s. In fact, the commie hunters are making something of a comeback recently –- see Newt Gingrich -- even though you probably couldn't find 100 avowed communists in the entire country.

The right wing long ago successfully equated “socialist” with “communist,” which meant Soviet-style communist, and that remains stuck in the national psyche. And that's true even though a large and obviously growing number of people in this country favor (shhhhhhh) a goodly number of socialist policies and programs.

Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, Pell grants, among the surprisingly many. Just don't tell the people who love them that they are practical socialist ideas.

Sadly, many Democrats of today are hell bent on joining Republicans in getting rid of as many of those programs as possible, except where it works (for the moment) to their electoral advantage to support them.

Anyway, socialist parties in this country generally have been pretty light on political sense, although I've been seeing more of the socialist press of late, and have to say they seem to have considerably more gravitas than they once had.

Clear-thinking individual socialists always have offered rational ideas, of course, but the parties frequently have wandered off into obscure byways, arguing odd doctrinal points when they should have been actively supporting workable programs for improved health care and citizen rights.

The politically and socially liberal organizations that were born of the Internet have a more obvious claim now to be the parents of a new party.

They have the advantage of already having enormous experience and talent at communicating with the public and with organizing hundreds of thousands and, in some cases, millions of people for political action.

Unfortunately, they also have the drawback that has been cited in dismissing socialists: Too many egos, with too many people who want to be top dog and are unwilling to take a lesser role.

In fact, we almost certainly wouldn't have so many such organizations if it weren't for the egos of their founders, a majority of whom could just as well have joined an existing organization.

Still, there are some first-rate organizers among them, and many are people of considerable courage, willing to stand up to the big-money power structure, far more honest than the corporate media moguls and their increasingly dimwitted troops, and eager to fight for what they believe is right for this country and its people.

If anyone wanted a list, I probably could name two dozen organizations that would serve the purpose as a starting point, or as a piece of what could be the start, of a new party. And that leaves out the likes of MoveOn and other organizations that are barely camouflaged unofficial arms of the Democratic Party.

What I don't know is how to get them together, get them into a conference specifically aimed at the formation of a new party. We need to think about that, but quickly, and to get them moving.

Friday, May 06, 2011

After bin Laden, a reflection

By Lydia Howell

After hearing that Al-Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden is dead, I felt relief and hope -- hope like light coming through the crack in a locked door, hope that we can finally end the longest war in United States’ history.

The post-Sept. 11 attack on Afghanistan -- a country that never attacked us -- was sold with two supposed goals: get bin Laden and defeat Al-Qaeda. The CIA says that now there are only 50 to 100 Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan.

Isn’t having 1,000 U.S. soldiers for each one of these terrorists ridiculous? Continuing George W. Bush’s drone attacks -- which have tripled under the current administration -- has mostly killed civilians.

However, President Obama must be commended for not just bombing bin Laden’s hideout. The seriousness of his announcement of the Special Operations, SWAT-team-like action contrasted sharply with the cheering crowds outside the White House and in New York.

Obama’s silent laying of a wreath at Ground Zero on May 5 is the sober response that’s right for this moment. If not for the on-screen captions “Osama bin Laden is dead,” Sunday’s revelers could easily have been mistaken for sports fans celebrating a championship.

This event raises critical questions. Almost immediately some media pundits and politicians began crediting torture for gaining the intelligence that located bin Laden. That is factually wrong. In fact, torture of Guantanamo detainees and “high-value targets” only led prisoners to make things up in order to stop the abuses. A near-death experience like waterboarding will do that.

For those who still agree with Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, that the United States has engaged only in “enhanced interrogation” that amounts to “fraternity hazing,” consider these facts: the U.S. Army’s Field Manual (as well as the Geneva Convention) forbids the stress positions, exposure to cold and other tactics that have been used. There should be no debate about what waterboarding is: invented by the Spanish Inquisition 500 years ago, it is undeniably torture.

International law and U.S. law -- including the 8th Amendment to our Constitution -- forbid torture of prisoners for any reason. There are no exceptions, in spite of what you may have learned from the TV show "24" or executive branch legal apologists.

Now is the time for Americans to re-set our moral compass and demand an end to and accountability for torture of prisoners in the “war on terrorism” -- at Guantanamo or at the remaining “black sites” in allied countries. Imprisoning people for long periods without charges, trial or conviction of any crime is a standard action used by colonial powers and military dictatorships to terrorize civilian populations. So is torture.

Unlike the Vietnam War years, the U.S. doesn’t do body counts, so the only casualties we see are the American soldiers’ faces at the end of evening newscasts. However, an estimated one million Iraqis and more 100,000 Afghans have been killed since the U.S. invasions. Countless more have been wounded and disabled and millions have been made into refugees.

Now is the time to end the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, bringing all the troops home and sending the private contractors/mercenaries back to wherever they came from.

Twenty-first century war must be recognized as terrorism. Instead of individual suicide bombers, the mightiest military on Earth uses the most sophisticated weaponry -- including unmanned drones, depleted uranium shells and cluster bombs -- on people’s schools, hospitals and homes. As the tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attack approaches, we must see that there are many more victims than the 3,000 who died that day.

With Osama Bin Laden dead, will Americans have the courage to finally look into the mirror of U.S. state-sponsored terrorism and become active, engaged citizens who demand “no more killings in our name?”
Lydia Howell is an independent Minneapolis journalist, winner of the Premack Award for Public Interest Journalism. She is producer/host of “Catalyst: politics and culture” on KFAI Radio http://www.kfai.org

Sunday, April 17, 2011

You can bank on them to do you dirt

The big banks that, with the help of other financial institutions and federal and state “regulators,” caused the near collapse of the American economy in 2008 are bigger, richer, more powerful and more arrogant than they were before the near meltdown.

What was a lousy experience for the rest of us, and disaster for millions, actually strengthened the big banks that brought all that pain upon us, and made them more free from restraint than they were before.

They couldn't have done better for themselves if they'd planned the whole thing.

Thanks to easily bought politicians of both major parties and the extreme right-wing activist court of John Roberts et al, they all but own the U.S. government. They fear no one, are beholden to no one and, frankly m'dears, don't give a damn what anybody thinks of them. They continue to cheat Americans by the millions, and to behave as though they are beyond the reach of law, which, in fact, is the case. They are untouchable.

I've been thinking about this, watching the progress of their march to imperviousness in anger and frustration since the first days of the big collapse, but in the past week it came home to me in a much more personal way. I'll explain in a bit, and please excuse the use of a personal story.

Corporate media refuse to tell many of the stories of bank fraud, as they decline to tell many of the stories that would show the public the corporate takeover of government, but the facts are available to those who recognize that they won't learn much of importance from CNN.

The country's biggest newspapers do cover the very biggest, the unduckable stories about the banks, though they're not always prominently displayed.

The Root, an on-line magazine published with a black perspective, recently ran a story by Thomas Moore about a late-2010 investigation by the Florida Attorney General's office that found that Bank of America, GMAC Bank, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo and several others are guilty of foreclosure fraud.

Moore noted that “nothing has been done by the Justice Department or any other federal officials” to bring criminal charges against the banks. Since I wrote this, the New York Times has printed an interesting commentary: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/19/opinion/19nocera.html?_r=1&hp

The Los Angeles Times – much damaged but still a better newspaper than most – ran an article on April 14 of this year noting that a two-year investigation led the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations to conclude that Goldman Sachs Group profited hugely from the financial crisis by “betting billions against the subprime mortgage market, then deceived investors and Congress about the firm's conduct.”

Some of that committee's findings will be submitted to the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission for possible criminal or civil action, the L.A. Times said.

Don't hold your breath waiting for charges to be filed.

On April 12, the New York Times noted in an editorial that JPMorgan Chase profited greatly from an investment that it knew was bad, but sold to clients anyway.

On March 31, 2010, the New York Times printed an editorial that rehashed the oft-discussed fact that big banks still owe taxpayers billions of dollars for bailouts, but continue to refuse to make small business loans. The banks pay individual customers almost nothing on savings, and follow other policies that harm the country and individual citizens, but nevertheless got approval from the Federal Reserve to increase dividends and take other steps that increase the wealth of major shareholders (including bank officers, of course).

That March 31 editorial also pointed out that Fed approval for bigger dividends came despite the fact that the banks are still on shaky ground on such things as properly valuing their mortgage holdings, and maintaining adequate reserves.

They are, in fact, too vulnerable to future economic upheaval to be giving away more money in dividends.

Several news outlets noted early this month that the country's biggest banks and federal “regulators” cut a deal which will put “closed” to the outrageous story of mortgage foreclosure fraud. The deal lets the banks off the hook for their blatant crookedness with a finger tap on the wrist, leaves millions of mortgage borrowers utterly screwed, and fails to install tougher rules to prevent the continuation of the abuses. The banks simply refused to stop foreclosure abuse, so the feds gave up without a fight.

No officer of a large bank has been charged with a crime, despite now countless reports of obvious fraud and corruption. Dozens of high-level and medium-level bankers should be in prison by now; few, if any, will be tried, let alone convicted.

Various government agencies continue to abet the criminals in their deceit.

We the people put billions of dollars into the banking system after the collapse. Far more than was at first reported, in fact. Some of the loans by the Fed to banks were kept very quiet, and only recently have started to come to light. The stories, when reported by corporate media, generally are printed on the inner pages of business sections, couched in terms the average citizen wouldn't understand if they could be pushed into reading them.

Billions of dollars of our money was used by the biggest banks to buy somewhat smaller banks, thus further centralizing banking in this country and all but doing away with genuine competition -- not that there was a whole lot of competition before 2008.

Too big to fail has become too big to restrain in any way.

Members of Congress of both parties and the Obama administration crawl before the bankers. They form barricades of lies and half truths to protect the bankers from angry citizens. And, of course, they pull in billions of dollars in campaign funds, soft and hard, visible and hidden, from the banks.

And, oh yes, there's a lot of job mobility between Congress and the White House on one side and the banks on the other. The pieces of the Obama administration that deal with the economy look like a branch office of Goldman Sachs.

Given the circumstances, you'd have to be truly silly to expect anything but abuse from any large bank with which you do business.

If you have any relationship with a big bank, it is screwing you and, given any opportunity it will do worse. No regulator will protect you, existing consumer protection laws are weak and largely unenforced, and the right-wing extremists in Congress are gearing up to do away with what little regulation is left.

One of the biggest scams is entirely legal:

Banks pay almost nothing on deposits these days. A one-year certificate of deposit, which paid a paltry 3.8 percent at many banks in 2006, now will get you an interest rate of half of one percent – 0.5 percent – to perhaps 1.5 percent at the most generous of banks. Money in a savings account, if you leave anything there, now draws 0.5 percent, on average – less in some places.

On the other hand, most people who have bank credit cards pay upward of 14 percent interest on balances. Some pay 20 percent and even more. It gets worse instantly if you are even a day late with a payment.

And banks charge absurd fees on services that cost them next to nothing. Withdraw, say, $100 from an ATM and in most places you'll pay $1.50 to $2.50 – in some high traffic areas $3 – for the privilege of getting your own money. The costs of those machines and their simple operating systems were covered within months, if not a few weeks, of their installation. Servicing costs are next to nothing in comparison with what they take in.

Now my personal story:

I missed making the March payment on a Wells Fargo credit card. I accept responsibility for that.

My simple system for handling most bills involves writing the due dates on the outside of the envelopes in which they arrive, and placing them in a basket on my desk in the order they must be paid. With perhaps three exceptions in my entire adult life – the others because of disputes over the charges – my bills always have been paid on time.

But somehow I missed the March bill on that credit card. My first thought was that the bill never arrived, but given that Wells Fargo, like all other major institutions, is infallible in all things, I gave up on that idea. More likely, I mistakenly shredded the bill along with some of the numerous credit card offers my wife and I receive every month. (How I'd like to bill those banks for all the time I spend doing that, not to mention to cost of the quality shredder I bought when two cheaper ones gave out, one after the other.)

OK. My bad.

But I didn't realize I hadn't paid the bill. Ideally, one should post a list of regular bills and their normal due dates, and check the list regularly, so that one is aware of the fact if a bill should not show up at an appropriate time.

Know anyone who does that?

I became aware of the error when I received a nasty and threatening letter from Wells Fargo. The bill, at that point, was about 24 days over due. The letter was sent when the bill was just 20 or 21 days over due.

Our home mortgage is held by Wells Fargo, purchased by that bank from another company some years ago. Mortgage payments are up to date and always have been.

We have had that credit card for a couple of years now, and payments before the one in March, were made on time.

The bill was less than a month overdue. And here is a letter from the bank, over the signature of Larry Tewell, senior vice president for card services, ordering me to “send the past due amount immediately to avoid further collection action on your account.”

I mailed a check for notably more than the required amount the day that I received the letter. (It has since been cashed by Wells Fargo.)

Ah, but that was just the first shot from the bank.

Two days after the arrival of the letter, I got a telephone call from an exceedingly rude, harsh-voiced woman who demanded I make payment right then, over the phone. I told her I'd sent a check two days earlier, but that was not satisfactory, she said. “You must make a payment right now, during this telephone call.”

Again, I started to tell her that a check had been mailed two days earlier, but she continued to talk over me, demanding immediate payment again and again. In fact, she raised her voice and talked over me, constantly. At one point I said: “Ma'am, please stop talking for a minute and listen to me,” (Note, I did not say, “Shut up,” as I wanted to do.) But she continued to say the same things repeatedly, at a level barely below a shout, refusing to allow me to say anything. Obviously it was what she had been trained to do.

After several minutes of abuse, I hung up.

The woman on the telephone said several times that the bank would inform credit reporting agencies of our delinquency, and would damage our credit rating. I have no doubt it will do that.

I have not yet decided how I will deal with that, but my anger is such I'm willing to expend both time and money to protect our credit rating and, if I can, put some hurt on the bank. Various regulators, members of Congress and state legislators will see or hear my story. I am fortunate in where I live; at least two of the politicians are of that rare type who actually care about the welfare of their constituents.

Yes, failure to make payment was ultimately my responsibility. I would not fight a reasonable financial penalty for that mistake. But the penalty won't be reasonable, and damage to my credit standing could do me serious harm.

In a sense, I am shocked that a bank, even one of the giants such as Wells Fargo, will so abuse a long-time customer with a solid history of credit worthiness.

But I am not really surprised. Wells Fargo is one of the big outfits, impersonal and utterly contemptuous of everyone who is not them, with a history in recent years of doing terrible things to people for the sake of profit. Just like all the other big banks. Officers who were in charge when the worst things happened make more millions now than they did in 2007.

Words such as “service” are simply advertising words, without real meaning. The standards that people of my generation accepted as the norm – providing service and and returning value for money, courteous treatment of customers, especially long-time customers, and, in fact, common decency – no longer apply. Given that there is virtually no competition, and that governments at all levels now exist primarily to serve money and power, the individual has no effective way to resist, and exists only to be milked.

This is Corporate America, Tea Party America.

Friday, April 01, 2011

God is Bachmann's personal adviser?

So Michele Bachmann, congresswoman from Minnesota's weird 6th District, major embarrassment to rational Minnesotans, has set up an exploratory committee and is trying to decide whether to run for president.

Actually, as Bachmann has made clear on numerous occasions, she is waiting for God to tell her whether to run for president, as He has instructed her, she says, in all other things political.

It is not clear why she needs a committee.

There are, of course, several other right wing politicians looking to God with equal confidence for the answer to the same question: Shall I run for president of the United States and share my beauty and genius with the world, or is it not yet time?

I can't help it. This plethora of mostly not very bright – and some downright drooling stupid – right wing politicians waiting for God's instruction on whether to run for president gives rise to some questions.

(Were the questions planted in my brain by God? Stay tuned.)

First, has there ever, in the entire history of the planet, been a politician who has acknowledged that God told him or her to sit down and shut up?

Did God ever say to one of them, “You're a bloody jackass, so shut your yap and stop trying to make a fool of me?”

Second, has there ever been a politician who found he or she was able to raise the money for a run for office and then decided not to run on the instruction, or at least advice, of God?

Third, has there ever been a politician who recognized that the money for a campaign wasn't going to roll in who heard from God that he or she should run anyway?

Fourth: In what form does the message arrive? Is it clear and concise, as in “Run” or “Don't run” spoken in a bass voice that makes the windows rattle? Or does it come in the puzzling form used so successfully long ago by the Oracle at Delphi: “Water runs downhill unless it is dammed?”

Five: If there is no thundering voice, what does God sound like? Does he whisper in one's ear?

Six: How does God ever get anything useful done if he spends so much time fussing about the futures of dimwit American politicians?

Seven: Is it possible to be more arrogant than to claim that whatever you do, you are following instructions contained in express personal messages from God?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Drowning in hypocrisy

American democracy is drowning in toxic hypocrisy.

It is so pervasive in what passes for public discourse that the average, ignorant American can't tell the phony from real, and even relatively informed individuals often confuse facade with structure.

President Barack Obama, pushed by Hillary Clinton and her “tough” wing of the administration, decides to start killing people in Libya. (To phrase it any other way – the ways politicians and the corporate press are describing what's happening, for example -- would be hypocritical.)

We don't know the real motivation for our entering the Libyan civil war; we're being fed the usual lines that almost certainly have little to do with reality. Nevertheless, we're in another shooting war to “save civilians from a brutal dictator.”

But we, the United States and its allies, stood mute earlier this month as the ruling Khalifa family of Bahrain used everything from clubs to U.S.-supplied tanks, machine guns and tear gas – and, as in Libya, foreign mercenaries paid, probably, with American dollars – to kill and maim protesters whose claims are as valid as those of the people fighting the government of Moammar Gadhafi (one of at least a half dozen possible spellings).

Indeed, our dearest “friend” in the Arab world, Saudi Arabia, sent troops to Bahrain to help crush the uprising there. Not one peep of protest did anyone hear from Obama, Clinton or any other western leader.

The difference?

Not concern for incipient democracy, for sure. As always in that region, it's oil.

International and U.S.-based oil companies are eager to wrest control of the oil fields – especially the big oil fields in the area where the Libyan rebellion is strongest – from Gadhafi.

No politician or military figure will say that straight out, of course, not even those who pass for liberals in the corporate media. Everybody plays the hypocrisy game.

Did you notice, by the way, how little news coverage there was of the uprising in Bahrain – none, or almost none in many newspapers – and how quickly it disappeared from the news in this country? Two days, three at most, and it was almost gone. Very few Americans even noticed that it happened.

Oh...And aside from one front page story in the New York Times, March 24, how much have you heard about the fact that at least a dozen companies in the oil racket kicked in to pay the $1.5 billion Gadhafi was assessed a few years back for his role in blowing up Pan Am Flight 103 and other terrorist attacks? http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/24/world/africa/24qaddafi.html?hpw

And isn't it interesting that the Times writers specifically wrote about the corruption of the Gadhafi mob, but made no straight reference to the corruption of oil companies that paid out that kind of money to the chief gangster in order to keep their grip on his oil.

There will, of course, be no mention of punishment for the oil executives who played that disgusting game, any more than for the bankers who nearly destroyed the U.S. economy, and who are financing the destruction of the U.S. middle class.

Ah, but some people of both corporation-backed political parties are standing up and talking straight about the fact that Obama failed to ask Congress for permission to start killing in Libya.

Only it's really not straight. Some Republicans who tried to fire up the political right's tea-party suckers by complaining that Obama wasn't doing anything in Libya – Newt Gingrich among others – now are complaining that he took action.

Once again, the bad thing from their viewpoint is whatever Obama does, even if it's something they demanded. Hypocrisy on a grand scale.

Listen to Newt talk out of both sides of his mouth on Libya before and after Obama acted:


The critics are right, of course, that a president is supposed to get Congressional agreement before committing the U.S. military to a foreign venture – or adventure. But the fact is that many of the same people who are expressing outrage at Obama found no problem with Bush/Cheney, or the other Bush, when they did the essentially same thing. A whole lot of those weasels are so hypocritically crooked you could screw them into the ground.

Hell, presidents of both parties have been getting our young people killed without asking anyone's permission ever since we got into the Korean War in the 1950s.

Oh, yes: Let's not forget that most American citizens come down on one side or the other of the debate over Congressional approval for war depending on whether they personally approve of a specific action, or a president. A whole lot of Democrats-for-life who are silent now would have screamed and marched in the streets if what Obama has done had been done by his predecessor. A whole lot of right wingers would like to be screaming now, but they feel that they have to approve all military involvements by this country; they've never heard of an American war they wouldn't support.

And about that news coverage:

Bahrain came and went on little cat feet.

The New York Times continues to run heavily slanted news stories on all sorts of subjects – most favoring the status quo, the existing power structure, the business elite – even as the same newspaper's editorials and op-ed articles take opposing viewpoints on some of those issues. The “news” stories get far higher readership, of course, as they always have in all newspapers.

And the hypocrisy is far more egregious in most local and regional newspapers. (Let's not even mention television, which has very little to do with actual news.)

Take my local birdcage liner.


The Star Tribune recently ran two op-ed pieces on the drive by Republican politicians to dismantle public employee unions and otherwise seriously damage state employees economically. One was a self-serving piece of tripe by one of the leaders of that effort, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

The other was by a guy named Scott Chalberg, identified as a teacher at a Twin Cities area community college. http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentary/118542194.html

An opposing point of view? Go fish.

In the past couple of days, the Strib, as it is known around here, has run two stories on a newly-named University of Minnesota regent who failed to disclose on his application for the position that he already had an $80,000 a year part time job at the university. The first story laid that out, the second was based on the assertion of the regent, Steve Sviggum, that the application did not call for that revelation.

(The people checking him out as a possible regent didn't know or didn't want the public to know about his conflict of interest.)

What's interesting from the hypocrisy-watcher's point of view is that neither article mentioned that Sviggum, a rather far-right Republican, spent more than 20 years in the Minnesota House of Representatives, including substantial time as minority leader and as speaker of the House.

Regents are named by the State Legislature, of which both houses now are controlled by far right Republicans. Sviggum's appointment was controversial to begin with. It was part of a move by Republican legislators to put members of the political right in charge of the Board of Regents. They even broke a custom of many decades by refusing to appoint a labor representative (or, indeed, anyone of even mild liberal leaning) to the board.

When I sent a note to the writer of the two stories complaining about the missing facts of his political and legislative history, she replied, very politely, that she “forgot.”

As a veteran of 40-plus years in print journalism, I find that all but incomprehensible.

It does fit a pattern that, whether rooted in incompetence or deliberate political leaning, grows ever more obvious. Virtually everything in or on corporate news outlets now is written from the viewpoint of a government or corporate official. Most news stories involving large issues could easily be press releases from whatever establishment organization is involved. And the excuses for that seem ever more lame, more hypocritical.

We have to be the watchdogs, to call the “media” and the politicians on every omission or bending of fact, every substitution of myth for reality. It won't change the story every time, but if enough people make noise, it does have some positive effect.

The general takes us for a ride

General Electric uses (mostly) legal bribery about as effectively as anybody on this planet.

The general, a person by declaration of the Extreme Court in January 2010, makes more money than any of the people in my neighborhood or yours, and pays no taxes.

In fact, we, the American taxpayers, pay the general an almost unbelievable sum because his “tax credits” are so huge. (Not to mention that the general has huge income from military contracts, some no-bid and many that go almost automatically to cost-overrun.)

Yup, we're paying taxes to the general. Hope he at least gets his wife a nice new yacht for her birthday.

I'd invite the general over for a conversation about how he does it – the various methods he uses to buy Congress, not to mention the military of this and numerous other countries – but I'm afraid that with his tens of thousands of bodies, he won't fit in my house.

Of all the countless examples of why the Roberts court's conferring of personhood on corporations is false and, in fact, deliberate fraud, this one takes the prize for this week.

The New York Times told the story in a front page article on March 25, 2011. Check it out:


Friday, March 18, 2011

Unemployment feeds the war machine

By Lydia Howell

High unemployment is good for war.

Whether it’s debt-ridden college graduates working as baristas or small town youth with only fast-food and Wal-Mart as post-high school career options, high unemployment keeps "volunteer" military ranks full.

Underemployment, whether the problem is low wages or part-time hours, makes the National Guard and military reserves attractive for essential cash for (the promised) one weekend a month. Unfortunately, more and more weekend warriors are finding themselves in combat when they thought they'd be helping with disaster relief in their local communities.

In spite of the current parroting that “only the private sector can create jobs,” government plays a critical role directly and indirectly. Building roads, bridges and other major infrastructure, running public transportation, creating community-based services from daycare to clinics and schools, investing in new technology such as clean, renewable energy or research, such as the National Institute of Health -- all such government spending includes contracts to the private sector that create jobs. Cut the spending and, inevitably, you cut jobs.

So, debates about the federal budget (as well as state and local ones) are labor issues. That includes debating what gets a priority and what does not.
When seemingly endless wars and weapons-makers are given sacrosanct status in budget discussions, workers lose.

Corporations like Lockheed Martin have made sure that bombers and the parts needed for them are made in as many states as possible, in order to make sure no cuts are made in their bloated, no-bid contracts. When the newest high-tech plane doesn’t work or there’s no real need for a particular Cold War-era weapons system, the cry of “You’re cutting jobs” can always be raised to defend funneling billions into what President Dwight Eisenhower called “the military-industrial complex."

Saying “Just put it on the charge card!” for the longest war in U.S. history (Afghanistan) and the latest war-based-on-a-lie (Iraq) has escalated the federal deficit. The Tea Party mantra “cut spending” means, to the politicial right, cutting other (non-military-related) jobs. The “trickle-down” economics produces federal aid cuts to states, then local government aid gets slashed, too, leading to…more job cuts.

This is a downward spiral that hurts workers, families and communities -- while not only not contributing to our security but, instead, creating more enemies. How many Americans wake in the middle of the night, worrying about terrorists as opposed to the millions who’ve lost jobs or had their home foreclosed?

War is good for Big Business.

Corporations like Haliburton/KBR and Parsons have made out very well with their “cost-plus” contracts to “rebuild” in Afghanistan and Iraq. They are guaranteed profits -- whether they finish the job or not. Often, they do shoddy work or simply fail to do what they were hired for, but there’s been little accountability. The Associated Press reported $5 billion wasted in just this way in Iraq.

Wouldn’t the money have been better spent at home with contracts going to small businesses that actually create 75 per cent of all new jobs? Fraud-prevention and oversight of small, local businesses would be a lot more possible -- as opposed to huge multinationals working in a country thousands of miles away while deploying their armies of lobbyists and “consultants” in Washington.

With Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and other rightist governors and Republican legislators assaulting workers’ rights to union representation and bargaining rights, another kind of war is heating up at home.

Actually, the war on workers has been going on (sometimes covertly) for more than thirty years: Since the late 1970s, corporations have been reversing the gains of the post-World War II American middle-class, largely created by the unionization of one-third of workers in the 1950s.

For the first time in the nation’s history, more everyday people than ever could have a fair share of the profits their labor produced. For African-Americans, unionized private sector and government jobs have been the primary way they’ve made economic gains in the last 50 years. Exporting factories and government budget cuts have a disproportionate impact on them.

But, when 75 percent of American workers who make $46,000 or less, have lost health insurance, had pensions turned into 401k accounts that are vulnerable to Wall Street speculators, an old saying has new truth: we came over here in different ships but, we’re all in the same boat now.

When workers’ leaky row boats are struggling to stay afloat in choppy economic waters, does it make sense to build more warships to attack other countries -- or for that matter to give more tax breaks to the richest 400 people so they can have bigger yachts?

The war being waged on American workers could (finally) open a debate about the wars being waged in our names. Instead of shoveling the annual hundreds of billions to weapons makers, overseas bases, occupations and the who-knows-how-much in corporate welfare and tax-giveaways, national priorities are in desperate need of re-thinking.

In a time where the catch phrase used by both President Obama and the Republicans is “shared sacrifice,” working people have already sacrificed too much: jobs, homes, college educations, healthcare -- and for some, a son or a daughter on battlefields they should never have seen.

A national call for local protests is happening on the eighth anniversary of the second U.S. invasion of Iraq, this Saturday, March 19, In St. Paul, Minnesota gather for a march at 1 p.m. at the Martin Luther King Center, 270 North Kent, rally at 2:15 p.m. at the State Capitol.

Hear Kim Doss-Smith, executive director of Women Against Military Madness and Barb Kucera, editor of Workday Minnesota, talk about the economics a of war and the war on workers, Thursday March 17, 9am on KFAI Radio 90.3fm Minneapolis 106.7fm St. Paul ONLINE: live-streaming and archived for 2 weeks after broadcast on the Catalyst page at http://www.kfai.org
Lydia Howell is an independent Minneapolis journalist. She is producer/host of “Catalyst: politics & culture” on KFAI Radio at http://www.kfai.org.