Friday, December 30, 2005


As I keep saying, Becky and I are spending three nights in the French Quarter, so I'm leaving Real Art alone until I get back. Consequently, I won't be able to wish you a happy New Year on the 31st. So I'll do it now: happy New Year!!!! This is also an opportunity to push my latest musicial favorite oddity, New York hipster band Gogol Bordello.

Discovering them was very weird. I was flipping channels around late one night a few weeks ago when I happened on a very odd band performing on Conan O'Brien. I'm so jaded these days: ordinarily, I would have flipped right on by, but I lingered for a few seconds because I wasn't able to immediately categorize what these guys were doing. The longer I watched the more they sucked me in. For the first couple of moments, due to gratuitous use of accordion, a two-beat feel, and the lead singer's big huge mustache, I figured they were some sort of Tejano/hip-hop fusion. But that didn't pan out. They just didn't look like Latinos--the old hippy dude playing the fiddle completely blew the curve. And the wild Iggy Pop-like gyrations of the front man clearly had no African-American or Hispanic precedent. "What the hell is this?" I thought. Then they got weirder. The singing became more frenetic, the singer more frenzied. "Fun," I thought, but still wasn't sold. That's when two women, who appeared to be dressed in something of a cross between
Lotte Lenya and Victoria's Secret, no really, came out playing a big bass marching drum and hand-held cymbals to flank the singer. I was totally blown away. It was over the top nuts.

Anyway, I looked them up on the Internet machine, my computer, and found that their performance was no fluke. Here, check out some of this interview with their Ukranian-born lead singer, Eugene Hutz:

Irony poisoned almost the whole world, and it's only going to keep spreading. That's why a wave of authenticity is going to definitely arise against it. Because you can't really experience life; you can't really live in an ironic way. I mean, what the fuck is this guy Beck doing? I can't even watch him on stage. It's ridiculous. I don't understand. What is this kind of, "Yeah, I'm into it but not really. I'm just kind of checking it out. I'm kind of break dancing, but not really because I am too cool to really break dance." What the fuck are these people breeding? The whole aesthetic premise of irony is just rotten to the core. When I got to New York and I went to concerts, I realized nobody really fucking dances because they are too cool. But really they just don't know how to feel because the people on stage don't fucking know how to feel. Our music is against being desensitized.

here for the rest.

Not only do these guys give a fantastic show, but they're also working in an extremely subversive way at the artistic level. When I first read that excerpt above, I was blown away: he's absolutely right; irony, as an aesthetic concept, is a sort of spiritual death. Fuck it, and all that post-modern bullshit used to justify it. I think that maybe an ironic stage was necessary in the 90s once everybody had fully figured out that bigtime music, bigtime anything, is full of shit, but, okay, we've done that. What's next? Gogol Bordello is drunkenly leading the way toward the next zeitgeist

And I'm going to follow.

Check out their website

Check out a weird and frenzied video for their song "Start Wearing Purple" from their latest album Gypsy Punk

Gogol Bordello lead singer Eugene Hutz

Happy New Year!








Thursday, December 29, 2005

Two Tales of Woe from the Daily Kos

Like I said yesterday, I'm headed to the Big Easy tomorrow for the first time since the Hurricane, which makes it weird that there were two posts on Katrina and New Orleans over at Kos today. At any rate, I'm in the mood, so I'm pointing Real Art in that general direction.

2005: Never Forget ...

The comments below were collected from the Katrina Diaries. They've been edited slightly for brevity, most of the proginators have given their consent to have them reprinted. They're brutal, they're real, they're amazingly ahead of traditonal media. Offered here on behalf of those who can now never be heard, so that we never forget them.


We're in New Orleans. We're staying at the Hilton because they have a generator and special hurricane rates. by nolalily on Sat Aug 27, 2005 at 06:27:12 PM PDT

We've decided to go to Austin. Maybe we'll get up to Crawford and visit Cindy. My love to you all and thanks again for your care and concern. by nolalily on Sat Aug 27, 2005 at 10:29:42 PM PDT

Dear God Please save the only blue city in this red state. by RandyMI on Sun Aug 28, 2005 at 09:25:55 AM PDT

Good God ... Speechless. by Plutonium Page on Sun Aug 28, 2005 at 09:08:58 AM PDT

Should have had a federal hurricane preparedness program. Oh the republicans are in power? That explains it. Now FEMA is but a political payback program for red states. by easong on Sun Aug 28, 2005 at 08:01:55 PM PDT

Horrible and Tragic. That the resources and preparation weren't in place to fully evacuate everyone from the path of the storm. by robolywa on Mon Aug 29, 2005 at 07:35:34 AM PDT

Levies are breaking....the WWL coverage is breaking up, they have flood warnings...Breach at industrial area, 3-8 feet water so far...breakin' up, can't hear much...(industrial canal bridge?) by Barbara on Mon Aug 29, 2005 at 07:39:00 AM PDT

My beloved city destroyed. Thousands of lives...destroyed. by jillian on Tue Aug 30, 2005 at 02:26:45 PM PDT

Where is the leadership? There are not enough troops there. They need troops to secure the City. They need every available helicopter in the SE to move. by reggg3 on Tue Aug 30, 2005 at 04:43:42 PM PDT

[I saw] were two screen captures from yahoo news. One-a white couple walking through water with bags of food captioned: "people found food". Two-a black guy walking through water with bag of food:"looter. No lie. I felt physically ill. by JLongs on Wed Aug 31, 2005 at 05:53:37 AM PDT

here for the rest because there's a whole lot more.

Of course, I didn't read any of this the first time around because
Becky and I evacuated ourselves. In retrospect, we didn't really need to, but I still totally support the idea of running the hell away from category five hurricanes if at all possible. Better alive and inconvenienced than dead or hurt. Yeah, getting out and heading for the hills was a big freak out and all, but, judging from the comments above, we were probably going to be freaking out wherever we were. God, the whole thing was so terrible.

New Orleans, NIMBY, and another crisis on the horizon

For those of you unfamiliar with NIMBY, it works roughly like this: people of a city decide that some unit is needed for the further development of the city, but then they put up mighty resistance to said element being placed in their own vicinity. This is most commonly associated with things like prisons ("We need more prisons, but not in my backyard!") You get the idea.

NIMBY's a bad enough way to approach city development, but coupled with the still-massive problems facing New Orleans' return to normalcy, it's outright poisonous. Today's The Times-Picayune has a searing editorial on the way that NIMBY is keeping us deep in the red:

"As one Kenner resident put it opposing a trailer village for Loyola University employees, 'Compassion is all right, but compassion can't be at the expense of my property.'


Price gouging in disaster areas is hardly a surprise, however. In fact, the T-P has a full front-page story on the way FEMA is dumping loads of money on multilayered, tiered operations that keep prices high:

"Depending on the extent of damage and the size of the roof, the federal government is paying anywhere from a few hundred dollars to $5,000 to install a typical tarp. The cost to taxpayers to tack up a covering of blue vinyl is roughly the same, on a per-square-foot basis, as what a homeowner would pay to install a basic asphalt-shingle roof.

Yet the laborer putting nail to tarp typically earns only a fraction of that. The cost is driven up by layers of subcontractors, an expensive flowchart that sometimes produces the sub-sub-sub-sub-subcontractor, known in post-Katrina parlance as a 'fifth-tier sub.'"

here for the rest.

Very much a bummer to hear some of the specifics as to why the reconstruction seems to be at a standstill. And it all strikes me as just being more of the same: NIMBY, which in this case refers to where to put trailers for temporary living quarters, is the same phenomenon that ghettoized thousands of poor and miserable New Orleans African-Americans out of sight and out of mind until Katrina came along; the waste millions of dollars by Bush's FEMA is related to the same phenomenon that filled the failed agency's ranks with inexperienced political cronies--that is, it's all about helping out the White House's political buddies, like with Halliburton in Iraq. This is all just nuts. Anybody in the Big Easy who has a problem with displaced citizens and workers temporarily living nearby is totally fucked in the head. That they are taken seriously at all by any governmental body is a testament for the sick times in which we live. And the Federal waste...aren't the conservatives supposed to be in charge? If you'd told me ten years ago things would be like this today, I'd have laughed in your face.


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

New Orleans Photoblogging (part six)

Completing the series of pictures I took in New Orleans last May. (
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5).

This Friday, Becky and I are going to the French Quarter to celebrate the New Year. This will be my first visit to the city since Katrina destroyed it and I'm not sure what to expect. Sure, my beloved Vieux Carré, largely undamaged, appears to be up and running again, and the curfew has been lifted--I know I'll be nicely toasted come midnight on the 31st. But the Crescent City is not alive. Indeed, the New York Times editorial board ran this ominous essay on December 11th, via

Death of an American City

We are about to lose New Orleans. Whether it is a conscious plan to let the city rot until no one is willing to move back or honest paralysis over difficult questions, the moment is upon us when a major American city will die, leaving nothing but a few shells for tourists to visit like a museum.

We said this wouldn't happen. President Bush said it wouldn't happen. He stood in Jackson Square and said, "There is no way to imagine America without New Orleans." But it has been over three months since Hurricane Katrina struck and the city is in complete shambles.

There are many unanswered questions that will take years to work out, but one is make-or-break and needs to be dealt with immediately. It all boils down to the levee system. People will clear garbage, live in tents, work their fingers to the bone to reclaim homes and lives, but not if they don't believe they will be protected by more than patches to the same old system that failed during the deadly storm. Homeowners, businesses and insurance companies all need a commitment before they will stake their futures on the city.

At this moment the reconstruction is a rudderless ship. There is no effective leadership that we can identify. How many people could even name the president's liaison for the reconstruction effort, Donald Powell? Lawmakers need to understand that for New Orleans the words "pending in Congress" are a death warrant requiring no signature.

The rumbling from Washington that the proposed cost of better levees is too much has grown louder. Pretending we are going to do the necessary work eventually, while stalling until the next hurricane season is upon us, is dishonest and cowardly. Unless some clear, quick commitments are made, the displaced will have no choice but to sink roots in the alien communities where they landed.

here for the rest.

It looks like everything I feared is coming to pass. Disinterested officials in Washington do nothing while local officials argue among themselves: something called "New Orleans" will survive but
New Orleans Square at Disneyland will probably be more interesting given the way things are going now. And I think the people of New Orleans, both there and across the nation, are starting to realize the awful truth.

Again from the New York Times:

Hurricane Takes a Further Toll: Suicides Up in New Orleans

Mental health professionals say this city appears to be experiencing a sharp increase in suicides in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and interviews and statistics suggest that the rate is now double or more the national and local averages.

At least seven people have killed themselves in the four months since the storm, officials say, here in a city whose population is now no more than 75,000 to 100,000. That compares with a national rate of 11 suicides per 100,000 for all of 2002, and a rate in New Orleans of about nine per 100,000 for all of 2004. There is broad agreement that the problem is likely to get worse.


Officials have also reported suicides among evacuees in cities like Houston, where large numbers of them have settled.

here for the rest.

This sense of despair and depression makes complete sense to me. New Orleans, before the flood, wasn't just a location where people lived; it was a place of authenticity where its collective humanity amounted to far more than a sum total of individuals and property. Its cultural worth defied valuation in terms of dollars. These people haven't simply lost their dwellings and neighborhoods: they've lost something that most Americans cannot possibly understand. I'd be totally morbid myself if I dwelled on it all.

That's why I'm a bit nervous about going there this weekend. That's also why it's taken me five months to finish this photoblogging series. I didn't want to think about it--thank god I've been so busy this past semester. So, somehow, it seems like now is the right time to finish this up.

Here goes.

(A quick note: most, but not all of these shots are from the French Quarter, which was, as I said, largely undamaged, but now, without a thriving city surrounding it, without the cultural gumbo bubbling up out of the Ninth Ward and other black neighborhoods, I fear that the Vieux Carré will be a shell of its former self. Remember that when looking at these pictures.)

Above: an old cast iron hitching post shaped like a horse's head. Lots of these around the quarter. Below: a close-up of a mini fridge in a bar on Bourbon St.

Below: dining alfresco on a balcony on Decatur St. Note the small irony of sitting in the heat next to an AC unit, which increases the heat.

Above: a couple of drunk guys eye a Lucky Dog stand on Bourbon St. Without a doubt, Lucky Dog, all over the Quarter most nights, makes the best hot dogs I've ever had. Are they back in business yet? I'll guess I'll find out this weekend.

Above: looking into an art gallery in the Quarter. The sculpture in the window strikes me as being very post-modern. It seems to be inspired by the weird, avant garde, and very entertaining Blue Man Group. So what we have here is art imitating life, which is very modern, of course, but it doesn't stop there: the life being imitated also happens to be art. So it's art imitating art which is also life. As for what the Blue Man Group is imitating, I have no idea. Anyway, my seeing this statue brings the art back to life, my life at any rate, but my posting this picture on a blog called Real Art kind of makes it art again. Confused yet? Good. That's how post-modernism is supposed to work.

Below: a house on Royal Street near Esplanade. I did't notice the Moon in the shot until I got home and looked at it. Cool, huh? I also really dig the way a shadow from a telephone pole across the street makes the angel look as though it's being crucified. I only get cool pictures like this once every decade or so.

In an earlier part of this series, I observed how the closed quarters of the Quarter make for interesting bits of mystery. In the pic above, you see two alleyways, both of which lead to two private spaces--like courtyards in the villas of ancient Rome, many houses in the Quarter have an exterior green area away from the public. One walks past gates like this all over the place, and sometimes one gets teasing glimpses of cool and wonderful gardens and whatnot.

Below: another mysterious corner of the French Quarter.

A naughty store on Bourbon.

Shooting pool at the R Bar on Royal Street.

A cool old house in the Quarter, complete with foliage growing out of the garage.

Still another mysterious corner of the Quarter, complete with a mystery woman named Becky who just happens to be my wife.

A street car on St. Charles Street near Tulane University. This is outside the Quarter, and, if I understand correctly, was totally flooded when the levees burst.

Decatur Street scene.

A French Quarter side street; I forget which one.

A pricey but cool resale shop on Decatur.

Bikers strut their stuff on Bourbon Street.

Thousands of old poster corners and staples for thousands of live shows by thousands of live bands on a big bulletin board on Decatur near Esplanade Street.

Okay, this officially ends my New Orleans Photoblogging series. I hope I've done a good job getting across what makes, or made rather, the Big Easy so incredibly wonderful to me. Ultimately, that's impossible, I know, but maybe I've provided a sense of it all, a glimpse into my own subjective understanding of the Crescent City. I don't know. I don't know what's waiting for me there this weekend, either.

Man, we can't let this city die.


Spy Agency Mined Vast Data Trove, Officials Report

From the New York Times courtesy of

The National Security Agency has traced and analyzed large volumes of telephone and Internet communications flowing into and out of the United States as part of the eavesdropping program that President Bush approved after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to hunt for evidence of terrorist activity, according to current and former government officials.

The volume of information harvested from telecommunication data and voice networks, without court-approved warrants, is much larger than the White House has acknowledged, the officials said. It was collected by tapping directly into some of the American telecommunication system's main arteries, they said.


Since the disclosure last week of the N.S.A.'s domestic surveillance program, President Bush and his senior aides have stressed that his executive order allowing eavesdropping without warrants was limited to the monitoring of international phone and e-mail communications involving people with known links to Al Qaeda.

What has not been publicly acknowledged is that N.S.A. technicians, besides actually eavesdropping on specific conversations, have combed through large volumes of phone and Internet traffic in search of patterns that might point to terrorism suspects. Some officials describe the program as a large data-mining operation.


This so-called "pattern analysis" on calls within the United States would, in many circumstances, require a court warrant if the government wanted to trace who calls whom.

here for the rest.

I've really got a few questions about all this now. If the FISA court virtually always hands out warrants when requested (only six rejections out of 15,000 requests in two decades), why did the NSA blow them off? If, as Bush says, the operation is not illegal, why did they try to get authority for it, which was ultimately rejected, included in the Patriot Act? How could they not know it was illegal when Congress turned them down? Why lie about the vast scope of the wiretapping if it's no big deal?

I think it's pretty obvious what I think. This is waaaaay beyond anything Nixon did. Impeach him; he's just a thug.


Federal agents' visit was a hoax

Updating this story from a last week. From the Massachusetts Standard-Times courtesy of the Daily Kos:

But on Thursday, when the student told his tale in the office of UMass Dartmouth professor Dr. Robert Pontbriand to Dr. Williams, Dr. Pontbriand, university spokesman John Hoey and The Standard-Times, the student added new details.

The agents had returned, the student said, just last night. The two agents, the student, his parents and the student's uncle all signed confidentiality agreements, he claimed, to put an end to the matter.

But when Dr. Williams went to the student's home yesterday and relayed that part of the story to his parents, it was the first time they had heard it. The story began to unravel, and the student, faced with the truth, broke down and cried.

Click here for the rest.

Annoying, to say the least. I don't know what the hell this kid was thinking, but it sure did make him look like a fool. Apart from the fact that it's a hassle for me to issue a retraction, this helps makes the entire category of unbelievable White House abuses, well, unbelievable. That's a problem because it seems that true unbelievable White House abuses are making it into the headlines every week. Man, if this were a New York Times or CBS story you can bet you sweet patooty that Karl Rove would be using it to whip up one of those bullshit debates that somehow "proves" that the NSA scandal is of little importance. Fortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case here, but I'm sure you follow my point. What was this guy thinking?

More on this from Orcinus here.


Friday, December 23, 2005


Well, Becky and I are headed to Houston to reunite with our respective families, throw some gifts around, eat some Xmas yummies, and all that anti-humbug stuff. Consequently, Real Art is going dark until probably Tuesday. Until then, enjoy this Yuletide grab bag.

First, from Adrants courtesy of my old pal from high school and college, Matt, an amusing video satirizing the liberals' WAR ON CHRISTMAS:

Agency Christmas Card Declares
War on Anti-Christmas Movement

Taunting those who have a politically correct stick up their ass, NightAgency has offered the industry a Christmas card we, well at least Christmas lovers, can all take joy in as the card skewers every group out there calling attention to the notion Christmas isn't for everyone. Before the Comment section explodes, remember, it's called satire.

here for a link to the video.

You know, I don't remember if I've addressed this whole anti-Christmas thing going on over at Fox News, so if I'm repeating myself, forgive me. I'm extraordinarily liberal, and I love Christmas. Even as a non-Christian, I still think that Jesus is a seminal figure as far as Western Civilization goes, and I generally embrace his values of forgiveness and love. What's not to celebrate? Furthermore, I know lots of liberals, from New York to Los Angeles, and I don't know a single one of them who has some sort of politically correct issue with the holiday. Really, the only thing I've ever encountered that comes even close is an SNL skit from the early 90s that skewered a p.c. "Holiday party" of various lesbian stereotypes--it was pretty funny, too; Glenn Close was the guest host, which, I guess, makes sense. In short, this whole "war on Christmas" thing is a total fabrication. A lie. Liberals like Christmas, too, and Bill O'Reilly has clearly run out more substantial issues to rant and rave about.

Anyway, onto the next feature.



There's just something about goofy Christmas pictures from yesteryear that make the holiday season special. Whether its a half drunk Santa with his beard hanging crooked, or a kid screaming as if he's sitting on the lap of The Devil himself, charm abounds.

here for the pics.

They're pretty darned funny. Go check it out.

Also from


I'm a big time fan of the great puppet animation Christmas specials by Rankin and Bass. From "Santa Claus is Coming To Town" to "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer" they've never failed to please. My favorite, though, without a doubt, is 1974's "A Year Without A Santa Claus". Mickey Rooney returns as Santa and Shirley Booth (TV's "Hazel") does a fantastic job as Mrs. Claus, but it's the incredible (and all too brief) appearances by Snow Miser and Heat Miser that make the special an all time classic!

The two brothers just don't get along. Just like Pat Benatar said in her song, "Fire and Ice"... "you come on like a flame, but you turn a cold shoulder!" I don't know why I quoted that, but it makes it look like I know what I'm talking about if you're just skimming this for the pictures.

But who's really the better of the two Miser Brothers? Is it "Mister 101" or "Mister 10 Below"?

here for the rest.

Just for the record, I support Snow Miser. It's no contest, really, when you get right down to it. Snow Miser, with his jovial
Fred Astaire-like aura of classiness, beats the grumpy, dumpy cross between Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger known as Heat Miser any day of the week. Who could ever dig Heat Miser more than his fun-loving brother? I'll tell you: someone with no heart, that's who!

Next, just to sober us up a bit in case we've imbibed a bit too much, or spent too much on gifts as the case may be, is this report from
PBS's Frontline documentary series:


It's one of the most wonderful times of the year for the banking industry's most lucrative business: credit cards. In the coming weeks, millions of Americans will reach into their wallets and use plastic to buy an estimated $100 billion in holiday gifts. But at what cost?

In "Secret History of the Credit Card," FRONTLINE® and The New York Times join forces to investigate an industry few Americans fully understand. In this one-hour report, correspondent Lowell Bergman uncovers the techniques used by the industry to earn record profits and get consumers to take on more debt.


The industry's most profitable customers, the ones being sought by creative marketing tactics, are the "revolvers:" the estimated 115 million Americans who carry monthly credit card debt.

Ed Yingling, incoming president of the American Bankers Association, tells FRONTLINE that revolvers are "the sweet spot" of the banking industry. This "sweet spot" continues to grow as the average credit card debt among American households has more than doubled over the past decade. Today, the average family owes roughly $8,000 on their credit cards. This debt has helped generate record profits for the credit card industry -- last year, more than $30 billion before taxes.

here to read the rest of the introduction essay, and here to watch the entire show on streaming video.

I've managed to make it this far without using a credit card, and I hope I'll die without ever giving those filthy loan sharks my money. I've seen plastic fuck up numerous people over the years. At the same time, I've watched helplessly as the banking industry uses the Congressmen they own to rewrite the law so as to make their predatory practices legal--the bankruptcy law they recently passed is but one example. Do yourself a big favor and just say "no" to credit cards.

Finally, continuing a tradition I started last year, I give you the lyrics to, and a link to
a cool cover version of John Lennon and Yoko Ono's wonderful ode to both Christmas and peace.

Happy Christmas (War Is Over)

(Happy christmas, kyoko.
Happy christmas, julian.)

So this is christmas and what have you done?
Another year over, a new one just begun.

And so this is christmas, i hope you have fun,
The near and the dear one, the old and the young.

A very merry christmas and a happy new year,
Let's hope it's a good one without any fear.

And so this is christmas for weak and for strong,
(war is over if you want it,)
For the rich and the poor ones, the road is so long.
(war is over now.)

And so happy christmas for black and for whites,
(war is over if you want it,)
For the yellow and red ones, let's stop all the fight.
(war is over now.)

A very merry christmas and a happy new year,
Let's hope it's a good one without any fear.

And so this is christmas and what have we done?
(war is over if you want it,)
Another year over, a new one just begun.
(war is over now.)

And so this is christmas, we hope you have fun,
(war is over if you want it,)
The near and the dear one, the old and the young.
(war is over now.)

A very merry christmas and a happy new year,
Let's hope it's a good one without any fear.

War is over
If you want it,
War is over now.

Happy christmas!

God bless us! God bless us, everyone!

Well, that just about does it for this year. Merry Christmas to all, and lots of other holiday clichés.

(Cover version of Happy Christmas courtesy of the Cranes.)





Sammy and Frankie



Last week
I complained about how the New York Times had put its columnists behind a subscription only firewall which meant that I hadn't been reading my favorite left-leaning Princeton economist lately. Then it occurred to me to try taking the seven sentence stubs that the Times uses as a tease on a Google search. Presto, Krugman's columns came up, syndicated elsewhere. Granted, they're at least a week old, but that's okay; his insight is always pretty poignant.

Consequently, I offer these two Paul Krugman essays.

From the New York Times via
Wake-Up Wal-Mart:

Big Box Balderdash

But instead of resting its case on these honest or at least defensible answers to criticism, Wal-Mart has decided to insult our intelligence by claiming to be, of all things, an engine of job creation. Judging from its press release in response to the religious values campaign, the assertion that Wal-Mart "creates 100,000 jobs a year" is now the core of the company's public relations strategy.

It's true, of course, that the company is getting bigger every year. But adding 100,000 people to Wal-Mart's work force doesn't mean adding 100,000 jobs to the economy. On the contrary, there's every reason to believe that as Wal-Mart expands, it destroys at least as many jobs as it creates, and drives down workers' wages in the process.

Think about what happens when Wal-Mart opens a store in a previously untouched city or county. The new store takes sales away from stores that are already in the area; these stores lay off workers or even go out of business. Because Wal-Mart's big-box stores employ fewer workers per dollar of sales than the smaller stores they replace, overall retail employment surely goes down, not up, when Wal-Mart comes to town. And if the jobs lost come from employers who pay more generously than Wal-Mart does, overall wages will fall when Wal-Mart moves in.

here for the rest.

And from the New York Times via

Age of Anxiety

American workers at big companies used to think they had made a deal. They would be loyal to their employers, and the companies in turn would be loyal to them, guaranteeing job security, health care and a dignified retirement.

Such deals were, in a real sense, the basis of America's postwar social order. We like to think of ourselves as rugged individualists, not like those coddled Europeans with their oversized welfare states. But as Jacob Hacker of Yale points out in his book "The Divided Welfare State," if you add in corporate spending on health care and pensions - spending that is both regulated by the government and subsidized by tax breaks - we actually have a welfare state that's about as large relative to our economy as those of other advanced countries.

The resulting system is imperfect: those who don't work for companies with good benefits are, in effect, second-class citizens. Still, the system more or less worked for several decades after World War II.

Now, however, deals are being broken and the system is failing. Remember, Delphi was once part of General Motors, and its workers thought they were totally secure.

here for the rest.

The bottom line for me, for both of these essays, is that the myths used by corporations and the wealthy elite to justify the economic brutality imposed on average ordinary American citizens simply don't work in the real world. "Rugged individualism" is fine and all as a principle as long as it recognizes that such rugged individuals exist within a social, political, and economic context over which they have very little control. That is, I'm all for "individual responsibility" up to a certain point, which starts where corporations, using the political influence they've bought, rig the game in their own favor.

Wal-Mart says that they create jobs, which is true, but they're crap jobs, with no or few benefits, not really paying enough to support a family. "Jobs, jobs, jobs" can no longer be a justification for whatever the corporations want. The situation is much more complicated than that. So, too, with retirement and health care benefits. It is becoming increasingly clear that corporations have the ability to simply walk away from their commitments to workers, to take away that for which they've worked for years. It's not like a rugged individual, at the age of 65, can just go find another retirement nest egg. If the government is going to allow companies to break such agreements with workers, then the government must clean up the mess, either by imposing severe legal sanctions on these deadbeat businesses or by establishing a European style welfare state.

Again, I'm all for pulling oneself up by the bootstraps and all, but when private wealth ties one's hands behind one's back, that's impossible.


Thursday, December 22, 2005

Abramoff reportedly ready to deal

From the New York Times via the Houston Chronicle:

Jack Abramoff, the Republican lobbyist who may be facing an array of fraud and corruption charges, has been talking with prosecutors about a deal that would grant him a reduced sentence in exchange for testifying against former political and business associates, people with knowledge of the case said.

What began as a limited inquiry into $82 million of Indian-casino lobbying work by Abramoff and his closest partner, Michael Scanlon, has broadened into a far-reaching corruption investigation of mainly Republican lawmakers and aides suspected of accepting favors in exchange for legislative work.

Click here for the rest.

Fantastic! Abramoff's going to testify. What's so marvelous about this is that the uber-lobbyist had his fingers all over the GOP side of Capitol Hill: it sounds like he's going to name names, and it may very well be an extremely long list. What this is about, ultimately, is catching legislators in quid pro quo exchanges for actual legislation. That is, in exchange for getting laws passed on behalf of his corporate clients, Abramoff rewarded Congressmen with lavish gifts and vacations, choice lobbying jobs for former politicians and their families, and massive campaign donations. This kind of case is virtually impossible to prosecute unless you get an insider to switch sides, and that's exactly what's happening here. Don't get me wrong on this; Democrats are largely rotten, too. However, the Republicans are in waaaay deeper than their opposition, and it'll be fun to watch them fry.


Domestic Spying Is Old News

From AlterNet:

The big puzzle is why anyone is shocked that President Bush eavesdropped on Americans. The National Security Agency for decades has routinely monitored the phone calls and telegrams of thousands of Americans. The rationale has always been the same, and Bush said it again in defending his spying, that it was done to protect Americans from foreign threat or attack.

The named targets in the past have been Muslim extremists, Communists, peace activists, black radicals, civil rights leaders, and drug peddlers. Even before President Harry Truman established the NSA in a Cold War era directive in 1952, government cryptologists jumped in the domestic spy hunt with Operation Shamrock. That was a super-secret operation that forced private telegraph companies to turn over the telegraphic correspondence of Americans to the government.

Click here for the rest.

And that's partially the reason I didn't understand the significance of the NSA wiretapping scandal from the get-go: I'm well aware that this Soviet styled domestic surveillance on US citizens by their own government has been happening for decades. Indeed, my shock came when I learned at some point in the mid 90s that the FBI had wiretapped Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. because J. Edgar Hoover thought he was a communist. Consequently, when this current scandal broke, I had no idea that it was going to cause such a ruckus. Actually, it's quite a good thing that so many people are in high freak out mode on this. The reason these kinds of operations absolutely must be overseen by the courts is because the lure of abuse is irresistible to government bodies--they're trying to get their jobs done, and cherished American freedoms get in the way of that. Of course, those freedoms are a large part of what this country is all about. We simply cannot allow expediency to be a blanket excuse for national self-immolation. If that were to actually happen, if we were to become a police state, the terrorists, by forcing drastic change upon our collective identity as Americans, would have definitely won. And we can't have that now, can we?


Wednesday, December 21, 2005


From PBS's NOW:

BRANCACCIO: So, if the goal is living democracy. What, is it dead?

FRANCES MOORE LAPPÉ: Well, it's very weak. It's very frail. It's very ineffective. Because I call it actually thin democracy. And thin democracy is what I grew up believing in. That all we needed was elections and a market economy and hey we've got democracy. We're home free.

I didn't realize that actually democracy's premise is the dispersion of power, right. Everybody can have a voice. But our market economy is based on one rule, highest return to existing wealth. So, what happens is that wealth keeps concentrating, concentrating until it's so concentrated that it can subvert our political process. So, that we have 56 lobbyists in Washington for every one person that we put there to represent us. So, that's--

BRANCACCIO: Quite a ratio.

FRANCES MOORE LAPPÉ: --thin. That's weak. It can't serve us.

BRANCACCIO: And we clearly do have a problem here. I saw this NBC/WALL STREET JOURNAL poll that showed that 24 percent of Americans believe that the Republicans have their point of view, that they reflect their priorities. The Democrats don't do much better. To put it another way, essentially 2/3 of Americans don't think that Congress has their priorities. Something is broken down here.

FRANCES MOORE LAPPÉ: Absolutely, I've seen the same sorts of figures like 90 percent of us think that corporations have too much sway in Washington.

And we have been warned about this. We have been warned by Thomas Jefferson, by Dwight Eisenhower. But no one warned us more eloquently than Franklin Delano Roosevelt in April of 1938.

He said, "The liberty of democracy is not safe if we tolerate the growth of private power to the point that it is stronger than the democratic state itself." That in its essence is fascism. That's what he warned us of.

So, that's the fundamental bottom line for me of thin democracy is that it's vulnerable to take over. And that's why--something like 3/4 of us say that-- those in Washington-- it's run by a small group who don't care about anybody but themselves.

here for the rest.

"Thin democracy." Well put. I'm always looking for good ways to explain to people who still believe in the system why it doesn't work. Like my Dad. I've told him on more than one occasion how corporate power is essentially running the government. He just kind of smiles and nods, quietly disagreeing, but, I'm sure, thinking deep down that I'm totally full of shit. It strikes me that many, if not most, Americans simply are incapable of intellectually digesting the fact that our republic has been hijacked by the concentrations of private power known as corporations. It's along the same lines as the "not in my back yard" mentality: people just cannot accept that things are not as they were taught when they were children. But I think the "thin democracy" concept is a much easier sell than my usual "no democracy" song and dance. Maybe that's what I'll be ranting and raving about back home this Christmas.


Lawyer says UT players won't be charged

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

An attorney for two Texas football players said he's been told by police the athletes will not be charged in an alleged downtown assault earlier this month.

Police questioned starting defensive back Cedric Griffin and running back Ramonce Taylor about the Dec. 10 incident, which happened after a team banquet.

Attorney Ken Oden said in a prepared statement that he was told Sunday by police that "no arrests will be made and no charges will be filed."

Oden's statement did not say who told him the investigation was finished and he did not immediately return a telephone message. Police spokeswoman Toni Chovonetz said Monday the investigation remains open and declined further comment.

Click here for the rest.

Okay, that's something of a relief. You may recall my post from a couple of days ago where I expressed worry that this investigation might distract the hell out of the Longhorns as they play for the national championship. Of course, if I recall correctly, four Longhorn football players were being investigated. Who are the other two? Are they starters as well? I think the team could fairly easily weather a couple of third stringers in trouble with the law, but if it's somebody like Vince Young, we're just fucked.

Really, I'm probably stressing over nothing. I ought to be writing about how the patriarchal and violent culture of football often carries over into the real world, and whatever incidents in which these players may or may not have been involved are likely some sort of function of that. But no. I'm too shallow and superficial. I want to win, so I'm busy finding things to worry about.

I hope I don't have a heart attack or something while watching the Rose Bowl. I'm going to be a nervous wreck, I'm sure.


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Dancing as fast as she can

Humanities professor and social critic
Camille Paglia, the first intellectual to take Madonna seriously, brutally trashes her new album in this essay from Salon:

Even allowing for the fact that she must strenuously maintain her hipness for a busy husband 10 years her junior, Madonna is starting to morph into the mature Joan Crawford of "Torch Song," still ferociously dancing but with her fascist willpower signaled by brute, staring eyes and fixed jawline. In cannibalizing her disco diva days, Madonna runs the risk of turning into a pasty powdered crumpet like the aging Bette Davis in "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" Will she become a whooping Charo shaking her geriatric hoochie-coochie hips on TV talk shows? Or should we expect a sudden, grisly collapse from glowing beauty to dust, like Ursula Andress as the 2000-year-old femme fatale in "She"? Too hungry to connect to the youth market, Madonna goes on childishly using naughty words and flipping the finger (as onstage at Live 8 last summer). Marlene Dietrich, her supreme precursor, knew how to preserve her dignity and glamour.

here for the rest (you'll have to sit through a brief ad first, but it's well worth it).

It's funny. Back during the early 90s, just as Camille Paglia was starting to get some press attention for holding up Madonna as some sort of brilliant artistic expression of Paglia's concept of "
sexual persona," I was starting, myself, to lose interest in the gyrating pop star.

This is no big secret: from the first moment I saw Madonna writhing around on the ground in her video for the song "Burning Up" on MTV back when I was fifteen or sixteen, I was smitten. Of course, Madonna was hot, and I have absolutely no doubt that her sexual appeal played no small part in my interest, but it was also a great song. There was obviously something more to her than that early sex kitten oriented image might superficially suggest. A few months after that, Madonna was writhing all around on a big wedding cake while singing "Like a Virgin" for the MTV music awards. Suddenly, she was a superstar, and the rest is history.

God, I loved Madonna. I saw her play live twice. I collected her posters, hanging dozens of them on my walls. I bought all her albums, and was thrilled with each new musical style she attempted, each new image she adopted. It was a fun ride through the 80s, being a Madonna fan. But as the 90s dawned, she started sounding stale and contrived to me. I'm not sure what it was. Maybe the scene in her documentary film Truth or Dare where she coldly brushes off an old friend from childhood made me think she was a bitch. Maybe the pretentious sterility of her softcore coffee table book Sex grossed me out. Or perhaps all the pseudo-intellectual accolades being lavished upon her by snotty pseudo-intellectuals destroyed all the fun she appeared to be having; maybe she started taking herself too seriously. Or maybe I was just growing up and finally started seeing her for what she was, a highly derivitave hack dressed like a stripper.

At any rate, by 1993 or 94, I'd had it with Madonna. Granted, I still liked some of her singles here and there--"Ray of Light" was pretty cool, I thought, and so was that song for Austin Powers. But, on the whole, Madonna became like a party I was relieved about not being invited to. Sure, all the Manhattan dance club hipsters still loved her, but that only revealed them to be vacuous and superficial idiots. Lately, I've had much more fun stroking my catty side and slinging mud at her.

It's nice to see that Camille Paglia finally understands what's been going on all these years.




Bush vows to continue domestic spying

That's like a headline from
the Onion. Sadly, this is no joke. From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

In opening news conference remarks, Bush said the warrantless spying, conducted by the National Security Agency, was an essential element in the war on terror.

"It was a shameful act for someone to disclose this important program in a time of war. The fact that we're discussing this program is helping the enemy," he said.

On Capitol Hill, Democrats rejected Bush's rationale and said he had abused his authority.

"Where does he find in the Constitution the authority to tap the wires and the phones of American citizens without any court oversight?" said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., said, "We will not tolerate a president who believes that he is the sole decision-maker when it comes to the policies that this country should have in the war against terror and the policies we should have to protect the rights of completely innocent Americans."

"He is the president, not a king," Feingold said.

here for the rest.

Well, I guess I've finally figured out what the White House talking points are for the NSA wiretapping scandal. They're something to the effect of "Yeah, sure, we did it, and it was the right thing to do, and we're going to keep on doing it, and the New York Times is treasonous for reporting that we did it." Of course, that's all a bunch of bullshit: they went waaaay outside the law for this operation, and thank god the Times finally reported it after sitting on it for a year. But you've got to admire Bush's balls on this. It's the same kind of trumped up arrogance that plays well on right-wing talk radio and among the lunatic fringe. Now they've all got something to beat their chests in self-righteousness about while they're avoiding all the inconvenient facts that make Bush out to be worse than Nixon. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant. Clearly, this strategy has Karl Rove's hands all over it--when backed into a corner, don't even try to defend yourself; attack with both guns blazing. That ought to confuse the mainstream news media, continually caught up in their he-said-she-said philosophy of political coverage, just enough to give the White House some breathing room on this. But a good number of Republicans are pissed off, too. There are going to be Senate hearings in a few weeks, and that's brand new territory for Rove--he might not be as adept on this playing field. Looks like we're going to find out just how brilliant "Bush's Brain" actually is.


Monday, December 19, 2005


From the Massachusetts Standard-Times courtesy of
the Daily Kos:

Agents' visit chills UMass Dartmouth senior

A senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's tome on Communism called "The Little Red Book."

Two history professors at UMass Dartmouth, Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand, said the student told them he requested the book through the UMass Dartmouth library's interlibrary loan program.

The student, who was completing a research paper on Communism for Professor Pontbriand's class on fascism and totalitarianism, filled out a form for the request, leaving his name, address, phone number and Social Security number. He was later visited at his parents' home in New Bedford by two agents of the Department of Homeland Security, the professors said.

The professors said the student was told by the agents that the book is on a "watch list," and that his background, which included significant time abroad, triggered them to investigate the student further.

"I tell my students to go to the direct source, and so he asked for the official Peking version of the book," Professor Pontbriand said. "Apparently, the Department of Homeland Security is monitoring inter-library loans, because that's what triggered the visit, as I understand it."

here for the rest.

And from
the Progressive:

Muslim-American Running Back

off the Team at New Mexico State

“Coach Mumme questioned Mr. Ali repeatedly about Islam and specifically, its ties to Al-Qaeda,” the letter states. This made Mr. Ali uncomfortable, it says.

And then, after the team’s first game, “despite being the star tailback for several years, Mr. Ali was relegated to fifth string and not even permitted to travel with the team,” the letter says.

There were only two other Muslim players on the team, and they were also released, it says. The letter adds that the coach “regularly has players recite the Lord’s Prayer after each practice and before each game.”

Ali’s father, Mustafa Ali, says the trouble started at a practice over the summer when the coach told the players to pray.

“My son and two other players who were Muslim, they were praying in a different manner, and the coach asked them, ‘What are you doing?’ They said, ‘We’re Muslims. This is how we pray.’ That had a lot to do with how things went south.”

here for the rest.

I don't know which is more frightening, government agents monitoring students' reading materials and showing up to harass them at home, or lone right-wing fundamentalist nuts in positions of power screwing over people because of their religious beliefs. Either way, it's totally unacceptable and anti-American. I know that the political tide has changed to a great extent in this country recently--the days of mass hyper-patriotiotic hysteria appear to be over; hell, I've even considered bringing up some of my favorite political topics with my right-wing family this Christmas. But the weirdo white trash is still out there, making life hell for random individuals stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time. Something tells me this kind of crap is still going to be around for some time to come. I expect the lunatic fringe to become all the more active as the Bush administration becomes further discredited: like a cornered and wounded beast, they'll fight to their last breath, and, sadly, they may even strike out at average ordinary people like you and me.

Fucking Nazis.

UPDATE: The first story was a hoax. Click here for more.




I cross Caney Creek and pass Porter, Texas.

A billboard for a right wing "Christian" radio station announces, "He loves you, yeah yeah, yeah."

New Caney, Texas where a drummer I knew, Jack Fielder, a soft-spoken man with shoulder length blond hair, a mustache and a beard, was shot in the chest point blank by his wife Tara. His last word was "Why?"

As much as this part of Texas repulses me and sometimes scares me, I don't for a minute forget that this forgotten murky backwoods is a Cradle of American culture both black and white. Perhaps it was the forest that shielded East Texas from the passing of time, allowing culture, both black and white, sheltered in some way from the stifling influences of racism, fundamentalism and political conservatism, to stew and mix in its own way producing a mix of blues and country that to a small extent still exists today. If you've seen the movie "Deliverance", that is East Texas too, and perhaps more appropriately, "O Brother Where Art Thou." In Texas we chuckle quite a bit at that movie because those archetypal characters actually exist here. We all know people here who are exactly like the characters in the film--the same wide-eyed wonder, superstitiousness, but mixed with a certain anger and resentment, and a profound suspicion of outsiders.

Click here for the rest.

Fantastic essay. The woman who wrote it is a pedal steel guitar player who lives in Houston and gigs around the entire metro area--a third or so of the essay is about Houston proper, another third about Rosenberg, and the final third is about Cleveland, approximately thirty minutes up US 59 from Kingwood, where I grew up. She totally gets it. Her description of the fringes of the East Texas Piney Woods is perfect. I used to get my hair cut in Porter; the radio station to which she refers is KSBJ, far more depraved than any Clear Channel property. What's cool about her take on the area is that, even though she's quick to point out the intellectual disability and down home right wing attitudes suffered by the locals, she's also quick to observe that which is good about the place. But the entire article is great: it opens with rundown of Houston's rich musical history, and a lament that its best days are behind it. I never realized, for instance, that my hometown is an outpost for the Zydeco and Cajun music I hear all over the place here in Baton Rouge. I guess it's no surprise that Louisiana doesn't feel so alien to me.

Anyway, go check it out. It's a great read.


Sunday, December 18, 2005

Bush Secretly Lifted Some Limits on
Spying in U.S. After 9/11, Officials Say

From the New York Times courtesy of

Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials.

Under a presidential order signed in 2002, the intelligence agency has monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years in an effort to track possible "dirty numbers" linked to Al Qaeda, the officials said. The agency, they said, still seeks warrants to monitor entirely domestic communications.

The previously undisclosed decision to permit some eavesdropping inside the country without court approval represents a major shift in American intelligence-gathering practices, particularly for the National Security Agency, whose mission is to spy on communications abroad. As a result, some officials familiar with the continuing operation have questioned whether the surveillance has stretched, if not crossed, constitutional limits on legal searches.

Click here for the rest.

You know, I really should have jumped on this story, which broke Thursday evening, the moment I heard it and posted it here. This thing has a great deal of potential. I mean, there's a chance with this that the stake finally makes it into Bush's cold and evil undead heart. But when I saw the headlines, instead of actually reading the article, instead of posting it, I thought, "well, that figures." I completely spaced on the significance: I've been reading story after story for years about abuse after abuse coming down from the White House that it's gotten pretty difficult for me to be able to tell what people are actually going to freak out about.

I wonder if that's what it was like for the far left back during the Nixon administration--they already knew Tricky Dick was corrupt and evil, and had plenty of evidence for it; how could they possibly know that the third rate burglary and shoddy cover-up known as Watergate would be the straw that broke the camel's back? I don't want to get ahead of myself; this NSA domestic wire tap scandal may not bring down Bush, but as far as I can tell, it's got a better chance of doing so than any other shocking revelation so far.

According to the Times, no less than twelve officals involved with the operation have talked about it to reporters, so it definitely happened. And these wire taps were all conducted without warrants, which could have easily been gained from the almost always sympathetic FISA court. And the scale is massive; this operation spied on thousands of American citizens. I'm not sure what the GOP talking points on this are, and there might not be any because it's looking like a lot of Republicans are pissed off too, but it's looking like a pretty clear cut violation of fourth amendment prohibitions against unreasonable search and seizure.

In short, Bush showed in as black and white a way as possible that he thinks he's above the rule of law, and not just any law: Bush violated what the Supreme Court refers to as the "fundamental rights" of large numbers of US citizens, clearly not an accident.

Could this be the beginning of the end? I sure hope so.


Probe targets four UT football players

From the Houston Chronicle:

Four members of the second-ranked Texas Longhorns football team, including three starters, are being investigated by Austin police in conjunction with two alleged felonies, a source told the Chronicle on Friday.

According to police reports, the incidents under investigation are an aggravated assault Sept. 4 and a robbery assault Dec. 10. In a one-paragraph statement, police said persons being investigated in the cases were involved in the University of Texas athletics program but did not specify the sports.

Click here for the rest.

Man...this shit does not need to be happening right now. This kind of cloud over the 'Horns has the potential to totally destroy the mental focus needed to play at the extraordinarily high level of competition that they will most certainly encounter in the Rose Bowl against USC. I'm worried.

I'm reminded of the bizarre scandal hanging over the Longhorns before their Sugar Bowl appearance against Virginia Tech back in early 1997. Texas, fresh off its surprise upset victory in the Big XII title game over the reigning national champions, Nebraska's Cornhuskers, suddenly found themselves having to deal with the fallout from revelations that one of their players had assumed a false identity in order to play past his NCAA alloted four years of eligibility. It turned out that this guy had pulled the scam all by himself, so the Longhorns weren't punished in any way, but the news broke only a week or two before the game. When they finally played, Texas was routed by the Hokies. It is my sincere belief to this day that the scandal made them lose focus and play badly. I mean, I know they might not have won absent the weirdness, but they were a much better team than what hit the field in New Orleans that awful day.

Football scandals, real or imagined, hurt football teams. Like I said, this thing's got me worried.

Perhaps I can take some comfort in these lines from the above linked story:

Austin attorney Ken Oden, who is advising one of the players involved in the Dec. 10 investigation, does not believe the player will be charged. He said the player has been questioned and "is cooperating" with police.

"He is not charged, nor do I think he ever will be charged, with any offense," Oden said. "It is a minor incident that ordinarily would get a certain level of evaluation, but because of the run to the (Rose Bowl) and because of wild speculation, there's sort of an atmosphere of insinuation."

I hope the APD gets this straightened out fast. I wonder if anybody there has USC sympathies.

I wonder...


Friday, December 16, 2005


From Yahoo courtesy of
J. Orlin Grabbe:

This is what those historians said -- and it should be noted that some of the criticism about deficit spending and misuse of the military came from self-identified conservatives -- about the Bush record:

*He has taken the country into an unwinnable war and alienated friend and foe alike in the process;

*He is bankrupting the country with a combination of aggressive military spending and reduced taxation of the rich;

*He has deliberately and dangerously attacked separation of church and state;

*He has repeatedly "misled," to use a kind word, the American people on affairs domestic and foreign;

*He has proved to be incompetent in affairs domestic (New Orleans) and foreign ( Iraq and the battle against al-Qaida);

*He has sacrificed American employment (including the toleration of pension and benefit elimination) to increase overall productivity;

*He is ignorantly hostile to science and technological progress;

*He has tolerated or ignored one of the republic's oldest problems, corporate cheating in supplying the military in wartime.

Click here for the rest.

And all of these issues I've hit on over my last three years of blogging here at Real Art. It's debatable as to whether Bush is actually the worst President of all time, but I think there's no doubt that he's in the top two or three. My money's on him ending up being the worst. No surprise there, huh? After all, I was embracing this concept back in 2003 when Berkeley's Nobel Prize winning economics professor George A. Akerlof saw the truth before most others did. The real question is why it seems to have taken so long for everybody else to come to their senses. The writing was on the wall three years ago. Every item on the above excerpted list was known and understood at that point by anybody who cared to notice. I suspect the wild hyper-patriotism of the post 9/11 era had something to do with the collective insanity that kept people from seeing that the emperor was in his skivvies, but that's really no excuse: it is the duty, the patriotic obligation, of every American citizen to criticize his country, especially when he sees it going to hell in a handbasket; without such criticism, and the debate that it catalyzes, democracy cannot exist.

But then, I don't really believe we live in a democracy, anyway.





Frankie and Sammy



It's been quite difficult to get my Paul Krugman fix lately. The New York Times columnist who also happens to be an economist at Princeton University is now, along with quite a few other Times columinsts, behind a pay-per-view firewall. Apparently, the newspaper of record thinks people should pay to read their stuff, which, strangely, is the opposite approach taken by the Wall Street Journal; all their columnists are available on the internet for free, but their award winning news coverage is availale only with a subscription. Whatever. I don't really understand what either company is getting at, but I do know that I'm enough of a cheap-skate to say the hell with it. Consequently, I don't read the WSJ, and I no longer really read Krugman, which is a drag.

But then I came across this December 7th essay on

The Joyless Economy

But the main explanation for economic discontent is that it's hard to convince people that the economy is booming when they themselves have yet to see any benefits from the supposed boom. Over the last few years G.D.P. growth has been reasonably good, and corporate profits have soared. But that growth has failed to trickle down to most Americans.

Back in August the Census bureau released family income data for 2004. The report, which was overshadowed by Hurricane Katrina, showed a remarkable disconnect between overall economic growth and the economic fortunes of most American families.

It should have been a good year for American families: the economy grew 4.2 percent, its best performance since 1999. Yet most families actually lost economic ground. Real median household income - the income of households in the middle of the income distribution, adjusted for inflation - fell for the fifth year in a row. And one key source of economic insecurity got worse, as the number of Americans without health insurance continued to rise.

We don't have comparable data for 2005 yet, but it's pretty clear that the results will be similar. G.D.P. growth has remained solid, but most families are probably losing ground as their earnings fail to keep up with inflation.

here for the rest.

It occurred to me during the "boom" of the late 90s that there were many many people who didn't seem to have anything to do with all the economic manna raining down from Wall Street at the time. In short, I realized that the economy was, indeed, doing well...if you were participating in it. In other words, if you weren't in the in crowd, the "boom" of the 90s was something of a joke. Wages for rank and file Americans were stagnating. Families had to have two wage earners simply to make ends meet, and nobody seemed to notice that twenty years earlier only one bread winner was needed. Job security was a concern even for people who had jobs and were making good money. Health care access was becoming a big problem. Outsourcing was starting to rear its ugly head.

None of that has gone away. In fact, it's gotten worse. I think it is long past due that we redefine the concept of economic growth: it is not only possible, but reality, that the corporate sector can be drowning in money while everybody else goes without. That's happening right now.

Just to firm up my point, here's a report on wage stagnation during the "recovery" (I'm not even sure what that means anymore) that I found courtesy of
CounterPunch. From the Economic Policy Institute:

CPI dip boosts November wages, but still
no overall gains four full years into recovery

With today's release, we have a full four years of real wage data over the recovery that began in November 2001. The real hourly earnings of non-managers in services and blue-collar workers in manufacturing (the sample covered by this survey) are down slightly over this period, as shown in the chart.

Thus, after four years of solid GDP growth and impressive productivity growth, the average hourly wage of workers in these occupations is down by five cents. Even the large monthly spike last month only replaces the real value lost a few months ago (see chart).

here for the rest.

And here's that chart:

See? The economy is booming, but average ordinary people are being left behind. Face facts: money does not "trickle down" from the rich. It's pretty obvious that the wealthy elite have rigged the game to keep it all for themselves. And why not? They didn't get rich giving their money away.

I say we take it from them. Now.