Monday, November 7, 2011

Occupy Worcester again

The conversation of regular people are very different from the one going on in Congress, Beacon Hill, City Council chambers - or the pages of the T&G. What we're saying around our kitchen tables, barbecue pits, lunchrooms and locker-rooms is not getting heard.

What we actually think about the core issues that affect our lives rarely finds its way into the circles of power. Our views about bank bailouts, foreclosures and student debt, foreign wars, their plans to cut Social Security and Medicare, Medicaid, the Post Office, about how to fix health-care and the urgent need to create more jobs and put the people back to work, and about how bad things out here really are - those views are not getting heard and are having little effect.

We elect people who promise change - good people or phonies, Republicans or Democrats - and it never seems to make much difference. Issue politics doesn't seem to work anymore. Everyone is stretched to the limit on their own issue, no one has time or money or energy for solidarity on other issues. But they're all linked, because we're all up against the same juggernaut. The billionaire corporations and banks, with their almost unlimited ability to lobby, spread propaganda and buy influence, have overwhelmed our democratic system.

The young people who are trying to stake out a place in our Commons have their own issues and grievances - especially jobs and their crushing student debt. But, these are their piece of what we're all up against. The kids on the Commons understand that! They're trying to create a space where we can all come together, where we can all share the conversations we've all been having around our kitchen tables, where we can find each other and join together.

It is said that if you throw a pebble in the pond the ripples keep spreading, but so what? They're still just ripples. If we all throw pebbles in the pond, so what? They're still just pebbles and the ripples just cancel each other. But if we could all get together and throw in one huge rock ...

Monday, October 24, 2011

The occupiers: they R us.

Comment posted to the Worcester T&G 10/24:

These young people are not just fighting for us, they ARE us. Except perhaps for some of the folk on this comment list who obviously must have well-feathered nests to be so out of touch with what's going on out here in the real America, so ready to believe all the trite and convenient stories about how everything would be OK if only people would stop interfering with the system and let it roll on unrestrained.

Underneath all the other issues lies jobs and the student debt. The real unemployment rate for young adults is huge, wages are low, and they are caught between this and the crushing burden of their student loans, about to top $1 trillion. But isn't this just their version of the crisis we are all facing?

A huge part of our population is not only unemployed but becoming unemployable - to all the usual reasons now they won't hire you because you're unemployed! Wages for the rest are falling. A huge proportion of homeowners are "underwater", owing more than they could sell their homes for, unable to refinance, unable to follow the work, barely able to make the payments. The Federal debt is ballooning, driven by wars and by many trillions in overt and hidden bank bailouts. Prices for a realistic market basket are climbing much faster than the official cost of living index, eating away at such pensions and savings that haven't been cancelled or drawn down for living expenses. Medicare is facing the chopping block, access to health care is declining, and we're sliding toward a catastrophic war.

The student loan crisis - peonage, a life of debt bondage since Congress in '05 passed the bankruptcy reform act and made it inescapable - is just their version of what we all face. And only a movement that focuses on the heart of the matter, a system which is making the rich richer and the rest of us - the 99% - poorer and driving us all into debt bondage, will help. Issue politics, electing good candidates, none of those are working.

The students speak for us, bringing our own conversation out into the open.

We should join them.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Why Occupy Worcester belongs in the Commons

This is Part II of a column submitted to Worcester InCity Times, Oct 21, 2011:

On Monday night, Oct. 17, at a meeting in the Commons, the Occupy Worcester General Assembly discussed where to stage the Occupation, and the first choice was the Commons itself, a 300-year-old park behind City Hall.

The Worcester Commons is a place where people from all parts of Worcester would see us. It is surrounded by symbols of power - City Hall, bank buildings, State and Federal offices and the regional daily newspaper.

“Occupying the Commons” symbolizes the idea of moving the conversations that have been going on around millions of kitchen tables and barbecue pits all across America “into the commons”, with a goal of drawing us all – the 99% - together into a larger conversation. It is an attempt to create a “democratic space” where we can find each other and escape from the illusion that we are separate, outnumbered and on our own.

But beyond that, the Worcester Commons is a place with a huge historical significance - one we have every right to claim as our own! For it was one of the great stages on which the largely-forgotten drama of our American Revolution played out.

Much of the story of that drama, as reconstructed by historian Ray Raphael, was found in the vaults of the Worcester City Hall. In Raphael’s words:

"During the late summer of 1774, each time a court was slated to meet under British authority in some Massachusetts town, great numbers of angry citizens made sure it did not. These patriots were furious because they had just been disenfranchised by the Massachusetts Government Act. … They feared that arbitrary rulers might soon seize their tools, their livestock, or even their farms.

"Worcester was at the center of this massive uprising. It was the patriots of Worcester who first called for a meeting of several counties to coordinate the resistance. It was at Worcester, on September 6, 1774, that the British conceded control of the countryside."

Unlike the storybook version of the Revolution, the one Raphael uncovered was not a conspiracy led by wealthy merchants, not an armed uprising, not a war. It was a profoundly democratic and largely nonviolent movement. The war came later when the British tried to reverse that revolution by armed force.

The Occupations are in the same spirit. They are very reminiscent of the seemingly endless debates and messy decision-making processes of 1774 as described by Raphael. Those debates spread to nearly every church, tavern and town commons in Massachusetts. By October 1774, when the Provisional Assembly met in Concord to form a new government, he estimates that nearly the entire population of Massachusetts had participated in this “direct democracy”, and well over 90% were in full support.

On Sept. 6, 1774, according to the archives in the Worcester City Hall, 4,722 unarmed militia from 37 towns in Worcester assembled in the Worcester Commons to stop the meeting of the Courts, an arm of what the people had come to see as an illegitimate government. In a profoundly democratic process that lasted all day and in which every person present participated, they negotiated the terms of surrender of the court officials.

Like the Occupations today, the Massachusetts Revolution of 1774 had no prominent leaders, no special heroes, several scary face-offs with the British but no armed battles, and there is no record through the whole Summer and Fall of 1774 of any violent deaths.

The Occupations are the true heirs of that Revolution, beginning anew a great mass discussion by all the people - the 99% - of what to do about a government and institutions that are failing us and have lost their legitimacy.

The Worcester Commons would be a very special place for that!

Who's Behind Occupy Worcester?

Part I of article submitted to the Worcester InCity Times for publication on Oct. 21, 2011:

The media is full of talk about who is behind the Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Washington, Occupy Boston and now the Occupy Worcester movements, and what they’re really after.

I can’t answer for the other cities, but I know the answer for Occupy Worcester: No one!

No one is funding it. There are no paid organizers. No scheming hand of Obama or Soros. The entire decision-making process is entirely transparent, and care is taken that there is never just one or a few leaders.

In fact, there is no money. Sure, we may have to raise money for bail bonds or porta-potties, but people bring food and all kinds of skills. The Mass Nurses Association just showed up at an Assembly with a large gift of food. But “no one” is behind it – no one but the people who’ve stepped forward to participate – mostly young people but a growing number of older folk.

It is an idea whose time has come, driven by the desperation that regular people everywhere are feeling over the economic hardships and injustices that just keep getting worse. I’ve met working people and professionals at Assemblies. I’ve met libertarians, Democrats, anarchists, socialists, died-in-the-wool apathetics, and even a Tea Party Republican. None of this seems to matter. The conversation cuts below all of the hot-button issues and old ideologies to the core problems that we all face.

The young people involved are deeply concerned about foreclosures and bank bailouts, about the attack on Social Security, the endless wars and the erosion of our liberties, but talk with them long enough and the conversation usually comes around to their crushing student loan debt – for college, graduate school or trade school – that can never be repaid because the good jobs aren’t there.

Our critics talk about this movement’s lack of focus; but what brings us together is the recognition that all the issues we face have a common thread - the growing power and wealth of the so-called 1% and their corporations and banks at the expense of the rest of us. (Some would argue it’s really the 1/10 of 1%, the folks with enough money to buy political influence and game the system. See “Who Rules America, posted by G. William Dumhoff, )

This idea is captured in the slogan “We are the 99%!”

What the Occupation is doing is moving the conversations that have been going on around millions of kitchen tables and barbecue pits all across our land “into the commons”, with a goal of drawing us all – the 99% - together into a larger conversation. It is an attempt to create a space where we can find each other and join together our struggles, our anger and our strength.

Could have been: Why we need the Occupation!

Published in InCity Times 6 weeks ago:

Are We Stupid?

The American people weren’t born stupid. How could we be? For three centuries the best and brightest made their way here looking for a fresh start, to escape from the tyrannies and rigid class systems of Old Europe (and Old Asia,) from the legacy of the Conquistadores, from wars and dictatorships and the bondage of poverty.

It was said that if you worked hard, you could always make it here, and the people who came were the ones who were willing to. And work hard we did. It’s said we are the hardest-working people on Earth – working longer hours, longer weeks, working faster, with less vacation time and later retirement than anyone. Our children could always go farther than we did – with the best schools and colleges in the world, with nothing stopping them from moving up in the world and giving their own kids an even better start. So how could we be stupid?

We’re the “land of the free and the home of the brave”, who threw off the chains of empire and serfdom in a great revolution and the chains of slavery in a bloody civil war. We put a man on the moon, built the Interstate System in ten years, split the atom and raised a great citizen’s army that in four short years finished off the fascist hordes of Hitler and Tojo.
How could such a people be stupid?

But, you ask, how could we have let things come to the state they’re in now if we weren’t stupid?

With our living standard’s collapsing, our jobs exported, our cities and states, schools, roads and bridges collapsing, and the banks taking our homes and leaving them boarded up to rot. Aren’t we stupid?

We’re taxed to the limit by a government we don’t trust that gives the billionaires a pass, and we’re not getting much back for it. Our treasure’s being squandered in wars we don’t support, led by a President and politicians who promised to end them ,who lie with every breath, who gave away TRILLIONS to the very bankers that are ruining us. And yet, we elected them! So aren’t we stupid?

Are we? Lots of folks say so – about each other. But most people I talk to are still pretty smart, about the things they know about.

And there’s the rub.

We’re not stupid, we’re just ignorant. Given good information most of us will do the right thing, but we aren’t mostly getting it. Sad to say, the American people, who were long among the cleverest and best educated on Earth, are now among the most ignorant – about what’s really going on around the world, in Greece, in France or Iceland, in Libya or Pakistan - or in Wisconsin or Sacramento or on Beacon Hill and City Hall!

This is not entirely our fault. With a “corporate media” – television, radio, dailies, cable providers – that’s almost entirely owned by a few incredibly rich families; with a public broadcasting system beholden to its corporate sponsors, whose news director was a propaganda chief for the CIA; with endless corporate PR messages and with Rupert Murdoch’s empire deliberately spreading lies and confusion, it’s hard to know what to believe.

So what to do?

First, we need to turn off our TV and radio, and really talk, really listen to each other – about what’s going on and what we’re seeing in our lives, what we’re hearing from other people and what we’re learning.

But then somehow we need to put our truths into a bigger picture, a shared truth, free from the lies of the media barons. To share our stories across the city, the state, the land. Stories that will give us the courage and knowledge to get together, to act, to defend our homes and take our country back.

For that we need independent media: local radio stations, community cable, blogs and reader-supported Internet news services. And locally owned independent newspapers, like InCity Times, in whose pages we can tell our truth to our neighbors across town.

Remember the “Underground Newspapers” of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s? If you’re my age you do. They helped break the media silence about Vietnam and Jim Crow, and gave us courage, knowledge, news of each other. Labor papers like New Unity in Springfield, movement and party papers, independent student newspapers and free entertainment weeklies broke through the silence and empowered us to turn the country around.

InCity Times is one of the few independent papers from that tradition. We need it now, and we need it to be joined by tens or hundreds more around the state. Because we need each other, and we need to be able to share our truth without the by-your-leave of the editors of the T&G.

So Happy Birthday, ICT, and many more!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Occupy Worcester Assembly

Reply to the negative and nasty comments in the T&G:

Most of the arguments here are about theory and stereotypes - about how things should work and why people cause their own problems by ignoring this and what sort of people are doing that and then whining about the results. The people at City Hall yesterday came from all walks of life and many were people who had worked hard for a lifetime or were still working. Their conversation was about what's really going on and what we know about it and what we can do about it.

For more about that reality, see the front page story today about how family incomes are going down twice as fast in the last two years "since the recession ended" as "during the recession". That's reality and your theories won't fix it. Our political parties and most of our politicians either ignore us or can't do anything, our banks are acting like a Mafia and our wars are out of control, and the economy bad as it is will probably get much worse. Arguing about Obama is irrelevant; he's all words but doesn't seem to be able to do anything.

Instead of bellyaching, come join in. You won't be able to dominate discussions with your theories, so try checking them at the park entrance. You'll get the same 1-min turn as the others. So come to listen, share, reflect, join with the Libertarians, Progressives, Republicans, Democrats, Anarchists, Socialists, Independents and "Apathists" - who are all checking their theories at the door too - and join in thinking about how to find a new way forward. There's hardly anyone on this list who's part of the "1%" that's getting s*****d, and we're all caught up in the same disaster.

What's there for us is learning how to really talk to each other and really listen, much like our forebearers did in the Summer of 1774.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Bank Locally, or Don't Feed the Trolls

Think Globally, Bank Locally; or Don’t Feed the Trolls!
by Chris Horton and Grace Ross, published in InCity Times

So here we are in the year 2011 in Worcester, Massachusetts, USA. The “Great Recession” goes on and on, and it’s starting to seem somehow normal – unless you’re the one losing your home or exhausting your unemployment right now!

A quick rundown of how we got here, which most of us could agree to, stars the big banks as chief villains – yet they’re the banks that most of our money is deposited in! So why are we doing that?

The big banks and corporations with the help of laws like NAFTA shipped most of our good jobs overseas and turned us into consumers of cheap imported junk, in the process ruining millions of Mexican farmers who then at risk of their lives crossed our borders looking for work.

Then the banks created a huge housing bubble, bet against it and left us sitting in the rubble with “upside-down” mortgages that sometimes reach two, three, even four times the market value of our homes. In the process they made trillions in profits while crashing the world economy. Now they’re foreclosing, emptying homes and leaving them to rot at a rate that’s climbing back toward 100 a month just in Worcester, flouting the laws and all human decency, while more and more of us double up two or even three families to an apartment.

Congress bailed the bankers out with hundreds of billions of dollars of our tax money, the Treasury Dept. gave them trillions more in guarantees, and the Fed - the private bank that issues our money – has given them guarantees of “tens of trillions of dollars”, bringing the dollar itself to the brink of collapse. But will they lend those trillions to the businesses that could put us back to work? Not! They’re still sitting on them while small business access to capital has dried up and many are going under or hanging on by their fingernails.

The great corporations control our “news”, tell us which itch to scratch, buy our politicians and get us into endless, senseless foreign wars “defending” people who don’t want us there. With our mortgages, car payments, student loans and credit cards, declining real wages, and interest rates that keep going up, they’ve driven us into virtual debt bondage.

So here we are in the midst of the “Great Recession”, which is looking more and more like a depression. Unemployment benefits are running out for thousands. Sales managers, designers, carpenters and programmers all trying to survive on part-time work at WalMart - if we can get it – and everyone but the economists and pundits knows the economy’s about to take another big lurch off the cliff.

And now they all agree the problem is us! Us getting lazy on unemployment and making hospital visits we can’t afford while our pension plans, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and our "greedy overpaid" teachers, postal workers and police ruin the economy!

Have I summed it up about right? Good enough for 400 words or less?

So why are we letting them use our money?

The big national and international banks are at the heart of most of this dismal picture, so why would we choose to give them our money to play with and use against us?

Those of us that is who aren’t flat broke can pull our money out of them and put it into locally-owned banks and credit unions!
Through all the upheavals on Wall Street, the owners of the big banks, brokerage houses and investment companies have been doing quite well for themselves, thank you. But the real economy – where people make, distribute and exchange real things and useful services, raise children, care for each other - is floundering. There’s a huge and growing disconnect between the two. We need to cut the local economy loose!

The big banks have been sucking money out of our local economy, and sending it elsewhere, squandering much of it on useless speculation and bets that create no jobs, here or anywhere else. Local banks on the other hand lend locally, keeping our money in local circulation, and they invest disproportionately in the small businesses that create most of the new jobs. In 2009 according to the FDIC, small banks, with 11% of all assets, provided 34% of all lending to small businesses, while the 20 largest banks, with 57% of all assets, provided only 28%. Credit unions’ loans to businesses are limited by law to 12%, but they lend most if it to members who spend it locally.

Local banks are invested in their communities, know their borrowers and work with them to help them succeed. The big banks could care less. We see this every day in anti-foreclosure work; few of the foreclosures are by local banks and credit unions, and when they do it’s usually truly a last resort. What’s true about local banks is even more true about our credit unions, which are member-owned non-profits.

Worcester Local First has been hosting discussions of a local move-your-money project. In Boston, an alliance of local banks and credit unions is funding Boston Community Capital Collaborative, a non-profit that is buying back foreclosed homes at current market rates and reselling them with a small markup to the previous owners. Discussions are underway to set up a similar venture here in Worcester.

Local banks and credit unions generally have lower fees and penalties than the big banks, pay the same or higher rates on deposits and charge lower rates on loans. Plus, they won’t play “gotcha!” and raise your rates when you slip up or hit a rough spot, and they’re always ready to work with you when there’s a misunderstanding. Funds deposited in a community bank or credit union are insured by the FDIC, and most are part of a network of bank machines so you can always find somewhere nearby for free banking.

An example of the power of moving our money is when the Firefighter's Union in Madison, WI decided to close all their bank accounts when they found out the largest bank in WI had bankrolled Gov. Walker. They went down one afternoon and closed all of their accounts, and withdrawing that much money at once shut down the largest WI bank branch in the 2nd largest city in WI.
“Everybody pretty much is outraged by the biggest banks’ behavior”, says Grace Ross, author of ‘Main St. Smarts’, “but I think we all feel small and powerless, because we forget that most of the economy depends on what we do as regular people. Moving money out of the biggest banks will demonstrate what they already know – they can’t afford to have us take away our money, which they depend on.”

More about how to find a local bank near you and how to move your money can be found at the Grace Team website:

Will moving our money solve all our problems? By no means, but our money will be going back into the local economy to generate jobs, and won’t be helping feed the banking giants to use against us.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Why not Obama?

A problem with any argument that we have to back Obama to stop the Republicans, that he's moving our way finally, that we need to vote strategically, etc., is that the working people have had it with him and most cannot be brought back. If the alternative presented is between Corporate Democrats or Fascist Republicans, sooner or later - probably sooner - enough will be sufficiently disappointed or angry enough with their phony champions to join in punishing them not just by staying home but even by voting for the Republican.

The other side of the coin is that we have a huge historic opportunity and challenge in front of us, one which most activists somehow seem to have missed.

The working people are in a very different mood and at a much higher level of consciousness than I have ever seen in my lifetime, but deeply cynical about the possibility of change through the ballot box. Exhibit A for most of them: Obama, who has disappointed them terribly. We need a voice and a leader who will use the election to put forward a new vision that we can rally around. Nothing, by the way, will do more to get folks out to vote for progressive Congressional candidates. Failure to grab the initiative now could have disastrous consequences. Our biggest obstacle is the failure of progressives to grasp this reality.

The labor/populist candidate for the Dem nomination for governor in Mass in 2010, Grace Ross, running in the primary against Deval Patrick, a Black corporatist incumbent, reached 27% in a Rasmussen poll of likely voters in a matchup with the Republican and Independent candidates - even though only 51% reported knowing enough about her to express an opinion. Signatures were easy to collect; Ross failed to get enough to get on the ballot because activists didn't see her as having a chance and wouldn't turn out to collect them!

The best line I found for getting a signature for Ross: "She can't deliver on these things for us by herself. You should know that if we put her on the ballot we're picking a fight and choosing her to lead us in that fight." If they looked like a working person, black brown or white, Yankee or immigrant, young or old, big city or small town, that usually got their signature!

Five or ten years ago folks would have run the other way from that line, because that was exactly what they were afraid of! Now apparently they're ready. If we fail to rise to the occasion by offering an authentic populist leader to challenge Obama it will be at our mortal peril

Friday, September 23, 2011

Mayor O'Brien steps down for personal reasons

Joe O'Brien has been a good mayor, a friend to many parts of our community, an open door and a breath of fresh air. On the issue I am most involved with - stopping the foreclosures and keeping people in their homes - he has been a friend and supporter. I agree with Clive that "... his decision not to seek re-election as mayor is a blow to the city." I fear that my own being too busy with other struggles and issues - such as making a living - to help with his reelection campaign may in some small way have contributed to his decision.

Clive also writes "Despite his advocacy for those 'living at the margin,' Mr. O’Brien also understood that helping them should not come at the expense of other residents." Joe's own experience with trying to juggle the mayor's seven-days 60-hour-a-week job and a challenging experience with fatherhood on $35k illustrates a deeper truth: lots of us are struggling to get by, struggling with issues of survival and holding our families together. This is not just a problem that is "over there" in Great Brook Valley, not just an immigrant problem or a "minority" problem.

A politics that deals with this, that supports us all, has to include reaching out to all those on the margins of our city. Our struggles are theirs too, and a politics that includes them is one that makes us more powerful, not less.

Joe's genius is that he understands this. Putting him in the Mayor's office was a win for all the regular people of Worcester. His personal decision to step down, discarding the gains of our past efforts, was a defeat for us all, whether he intended that or not. But we should not let our disappointment blind us to our need to keep his voice on the City Council.

That one person's decision to step down could so impact the work and interests of so many highlights the need for a different kind of politics, one that is not about candidates and personalities.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Dear John Kerry,

My response to a letter from Sen. Kerry to PDA asking for our support around his (very weak) Afghanistan proposal, and appealing to us to see him as the young Lieutenant who became the voice of the Vietnam Vets against the war:

Sen. Kerry,

My hasty and rude comment on your letter to PDA failed to honor your willingness to reach out to us. Please allow me a second chance to respond.

The heart of your letter is a discussion of the problems of decreasing the US commitment to Afghanistan and establishing a stable government while protecting US interests and still defeating the enemies of the US. The underlying unspoken assumptions are that "we" have some right to be there, "we" have some claim to be able to "build" their nation, "we" have lessons to teach in good government and democracy, and "we" have a right to go into other people's countries to kill "our" enemies.

These assumptions come in two flavors: unapologetic Republican and nuanced sugar-coated Democratic. Missing from both is the question: what do you mean by "we"?

Your "we", if I'm not mistaken, is the folks you move among, see every day on Capital Hill, mingle with socially and on business, the folks who come to you for favors and whom you go to for money ... the ruling class and political class and corporate folks who constitute your world and pay for your campaigns. But that's not all of who you are.

You appeal to the connection you have with us from your experience as a leader of the Vietnam veterans. Some of us are old enough to remember that and revere you for the part you played - a part you carried forward into your first years in the Senate around Iran/Contra. I would suggest that it also marked a unique episode in the life of a young man who had been groomed and educated for a life among the powerful and wealthy - an experience of intense involvement with the regular folk of America - the grunts - to the point where you shared our anger and earned leadership as one of us.

As your constituent I read your emails, and have been deeply disappointed by your positions, your framing of issues and your lack of passion for the interests of regular folk. Now, when we are in such distress and our security and very survival needs are under relentless attack, and we need so badly for something different to happen, they have become painful to read. But if there were a way you could somehow reconnect with the passion and anger of young Lt. Kerry, there is an urgent need for someone "on the inside" of the system to come over to us, throw their support to our movements and give expression to our demands for a "new deal" and fresh start - to a Monopoly game that has reached the end and that only a few winners still want to keep going.

The way Roosevelt did in the '30's in a time much like this one.

The need for someone to play this role is urgent. I canvass my neighbors every year around one campaign or another - including several of yours way back when - and I can tell you that the level of bitterness, anger and disillusionment of regular folk with the political and economic system is becoming explosive. When it breaks it will be a lot like Greece, only more chaotic, because our labor movement is so weakened and we lack national leaders who are known and trusted by the millions.

I'm not sure how you would do this. You've drifted pretty deep into the rarified world of the elite. But Lt. Kerry is still there inside you somewhere. Perhaps you could tell everyone you're checking into a rehab hospital, and instead disguise yourself as an unemployed Vet and just start traveling around asking a lot of questions and doing a lot of listening - until you really start seeing the world through our eyes again and feeling our pain and anger as your own, the way you did in '72.

It won't be easy. It would involve incurring the anger and even hatred of many people in your life - perhaps most of your fellow Senators, the members of your clubs, your wife's family, your fellow Bonesmen. It could even be dangerous. Many of them still hate Roosevelt, as I'm sure you've noticed. But you might find an answer in it to the question of why you were put here on this Earth.

Hope that helps.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Puerto Rico Status Referendum

[The article in the T&G on Obama's statement about the Puerto Rico status referendum] fails to bring out what a dangerous setup this referendum would be.

In the first step voters will be asked if they are satisfied with Puerto Rico's current colonial status. There are many reasons why a voter might vote "No", not all of which have to do with wanting Statehood or Independence. If the No's win, the second stage will be an up or down vote on Statehood vs. Independence.

At this point Statehood becomes a slam-dunk winner, because after 500 years as first a Spanish and then a US colony, and with an independence movement that is semi-dormant, Puerto Rico is not prepared, economically or politically, to take on being an independent country.

If Congress then votes to make Puerto Rico a State, the stage would be set for a new disaster. Those Puerto Ricans who have struggled passionately for independence, and whose parents and grandparents, and forbearers going back ten generations, have fought for it, will not give up their dream, no matter how hopeless it may then seem. But now they would be secessionists, traitors to a country they never accepted as their own.

This is a snare that has been set for the Puerto Rican people. Beware!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Saudi Women Drivers

In response to the call for a day of solidarity with the right of Saudi women to drive, and the commentators who dismissed it as trivial:
Not the most urgent issue, no more urgent perhaps than the right to ride in the front of the bus or drink from the same fountain, but important anyway. An egregious little symbol of Saudi tyranny and backwardness, and an affront to women everywhere.

Saudi Arabia is the heart of reaction in the Arab world, a land of freedom for no one but wealthy men, of less than none for the migrant workers and their children and grand children and great grandchildren who make up more than half the population. A land where corruption disguised as tradition is the system, fanatic priests are the judges and terror is the law. A land which funds the spread of a violent, backward, twisted, anti-female distortion of Islam around the world, which sponsored the mujahadeen led by Usama Bin Laden who waged war in Afghanistan by killing the doctors and teachers and burning health clinics and schools. The land which provided most of the 9/11 terrorists (the patsies, anyway) from among the addled children of its idle rich.

The land which sent its army into neighboring Bahrein to crush and murder the demonstrators who were overthrowing that tyranny, which imprisons and tortures doctors for daring to treat wounded demonstrators.

All freedom-loving people everywhere are watching Saudi Arabia, hoping and wondering when it's going to blow, and this issue is a toe in the door. A little pen-light shining into a filthy closet. Maybe even a spark in the powder-house.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Why I'm leaving CREDO

I find it ironic and unacceptable that my wireless provider, CREDO Mobile, which uses non-union carrier Sprint, is waging a public pressure campaign against the merger of ATT and T-Mobile. CREDO claims to be the voice of progressives, uses a share of its profits and a share of its revenues to support progressive causes and sponsors internet-based pressure campaigns around progressive issues.

A look at the causes to which CREDO donates its subscribers' money does not show much that involves the rights of working people as such. Last year, CREDO members helped raise $2,780,439 for "groups working to change the world." While much of this money went to causes I applaud, only a small proportion of the 49 groups funded last year were openly pro-union and none had supporting labor or working people as central to their purposes.

While I detest the anti-labor political contributions of AT&T, recent events have forced me to face the fact that "progressives" who don't support labor won't be with us in the crunch. And I have had to ask the question: what kind of a progressive outfit is it that doesn't support union rights and chooses to buy non-union?

I've been struggling with this - but my path is clear now. It's not about choosing union rights over women's rights or defense of the constitution or peace or fair elections or any of the other causes CREDO supports. This is not a salad bar where we get to pick some of this and some of that and weigh one against the other. This is not a trade-off between this good and that one. It is a fundamental choice of whose side we're on.

I'm giving up my CREDO phone and signing up with AT&T. A bit of my money will end up with the CWA and I trust them more than CREDO to use it well.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Comment on Clive's Column on Foreclosure

The woman in question is a neighbor of mine, a hard-working professional and a mother, who has been struggling to keep her home and renegotiate the terms of her mortgage for over a year. Like more than half the people who have bought homes in Worcester during the past ten years, she is "underwater", owing more than the current market value of her house, which severely limited her options.

The notice that was posted on her door and then mailed to her came just days after the auction. It was illegal, untrue - and terrifying. It is part of a pattern in this city of emptying buildings very rapidly after a foreclosure. Just weeks after an auction most of the owners and most of the tenants are gone. By law the banks are required to keep the tenants in foreclosed buildings on as tenants of the bank, but they scare or drive them away anyway.

And then ... the banks seal up the building and leave it standing empty to rot. Don't ask me why they do it, it doesn't make sense from any normal business perspective, but that's what they do!

This is not the world of Jimmy Stewart, although we still have wonderful local credit unions and banks that play fair and deserve our support. The mega-banks helped set up this crisis and the housing bubble that underlies it, made a fortune lending and on the side betting against the loans they were making, and are trying to stick us with the bill. In the process they triggered a world financial collapse that is starting to look more and more like a depression. And then they collected nearly a trillion dollars of our money to bail themselves out - which they paid back by borrowing many trillions at near zero interest to buy Fed notes at over 4%. Now they are trying to stick millions of their victims, like my neighbor, with the bill.

So what is the sense of trying to blame her for this? Some folk, it seems, just like kicking people when they're down.

But guess what? She's not staying down, she's fighting back now!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Worcester Anti-Foreclosure Team visits local realtor who is illegally scaring people out of their homes

by Grace Ross and Chris Horton, published in InCity Times under my name:

Twenty-four members and supporters of the Worcester Anti-Foreclosure Team (WAFT) gathered on Friday, April 29th in front of the office from which ReMax realtor Tony Economou works at 179 Shrewsbury St. Economou, a candidate for City Council, posted and mailed an illegal notice to a homeowner, just days after the auction in which the bank that she had been trying to negotiate with for a year purchased her house.

We demanded he immediately stop these actions and give us the list of all addresses where he sent or posted these illegal and threatening notices, so we can notify them that they do not have to move and that the leaflet violated their rights. “In Massachusetts, where our neighbors do not have the right to a day in court before their homes are foreclosed, it is even more important that their rights to not be evicted except by the courts be honored,” said WAFT member Matthew Griffin.

“I know how devastating losing your home is, and like all the research shows, how hard it is on a family to be homeless,” said Christeen Friend, “But I joined the Worcester Anti-Foreclosure Team and found out my rights. When the wrong bank tried to evict me post-foreclosure, I fought them. In my case, they did not even know which bank owned the mortgage or the house post-foreclosure. So I fought and my child got to finish out the school year and we got a settlement.” She added: “Due to them illegally foreclosing I am still fighting to get my home back.”

“We are here today because we have had it with illegal behavior by the banks and their agents,” said Grace Ross, a WAFT member. “And we are here because we cannot afford – as residents, neighbors and as the City as a whole – to have any more of our houses emptied. This realtor is engaged in an intentional disinformation campaign to scare people out of their homes. It must stop.”

“I got this notice pinned to my door four days after the foreclosure and then mailed to me giving me ten days to move out or all my things would be declared abandoned and removed,” said Charity who brought this notice to our attention, who asked that her last name be withheld. “Thank God, the Worcester Anti-Foreclosure Team came to my door. My heart was pounding. I had gotten boxes, terrified that at any moment the realtor would arrive to move my stuff out.”

The demonstrators presented Economou’s office manager with the demand that he stop posting illegal notices threatening victims of foreclosure, that he provide WAFT with the addresses where he has posted them so we could contact the occupants and set the record straight, and that he make public the letter from the foreclosing bank authorizing the illegal notices so we can take the fight to its source.

Mr. Economou has responded by email but has taken no steps to satisfy our demands, and we are considering what other actions can be taken.

We need to make this perfectly clear. If you are a tenant or former owner in a foreclosed property, and if you received a notice telling you that you must move right after foreclosure, it’s not true! You cannot be harassed or coerced out of your home. No one has the right to threaten your possessions, cut off your utilities, padlock your doors or touch your belongings until an eviction date set by a judge.

If you are a tenant the bank is pretty much required to let you stay, pay it rent and maintain the property until it is re-sold, and even former owners may be able to negotiate this right. But in far too many cases they are scaring former owners and tenants into panicking and abandoning their homes.

So if you are facing eviction post-foreclosure, please be in touch with the Anti-Foreclosure Team. We meet 1st and 3rd Wednesdays at the Pleasant St. Neighborhood Network Center, 301 Pleasant St. Come to a meeting if you have ANY questions.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Osama bin Laden show - Final Episode

The comments these past few days have been full of digs at the nuts who doubt the story of the killing of Bin Laden - like it's some kind of a creed that you have to recite if you want to belong. What's that all about?

The best way to understand this final episode of the Osama Bin Laden Show is in terms of Orwell's 1984 - well worth re-reading if you haven't looked at it since high school! It's National Triumph Week. Next will come the naming or elevating a new face of the Enemy, a new bogyeman, a new National Hate Week.

Bin Laden was one of Reagan's "Freedom Fighters", welcome guests in the White House, who took billions of US dollars and the latest anti-aircraft technology to drive the Russians out of Afghanistan. His followers then set up the Taliban government - but apparently deeply offended their sponsors by abolishing the Opium trade. Osama was an islamic fundamentalist, a fanatical mass murderer whose followers waged war by burning down schools and clinics and killing doctors, teachers, nurses and women wearing "un-feminine" garb, but he was our monster then. Anyone remember that?

Is one a conspiracy theorist because they still don't buy the story that some rich Saudi fanatics with box cutters could fly two airplanes into two skyscrapers and cause *three* of them to collapse like a house of cards? And where is the proof that Bin Laden was responsible, as they claimed within hours after it happened? Have you noticed that ten years later we still haven't seen it?

Bin Laden was reported to be very sick in late 2001, reported as having renal failure, and we saw photos of a Bin Laden with grey hair and a ravaged face, looking like an old man. And then there was a report, supposedly from Al Qaida, that he had died. Remember that anyone?

Then we had a series of videos and statements with photos featuring a healthier younger-looking Bin Laden with black hair and a different nose. If you're over 30 you must remember that.

Now we have reports of Bin Laden killed in a firefight, no wait, he was unarmed, with his wife killed, no it was his other wife, no his mistress, shot behind the ear, no shot in the head and chest, and his body dumped in the ocean out of respect for Moslem tradition - no wait, it was to prevent his grave becoming a shrine, but we'll show you the photo, no wait, we can't show you the photo yet it will make them angry, no wait it's too grizzly we can't ever show it... And did you notice no one in the media is even asking the question: If Osama was unarmed, why didn't our forces do whatever was necessary to get him out alive for questioning about what really happened on 9/11?

And anyone who says none of this makes sense is ... a conspiracy nut?

I'm sorry folks, but malarky is malarky, even if everyone who is anyone agrees it must be true. Even if it is accepted without question in Radioland, Tellyworld and the pages of our dear old T&G.

One example among many: An AP story in Tuesday’s T&G quoted Brad Sagarin, a psychology professor at Northern Illinois University, as saying the burial at sea “would certainly be a rich sort of kernel for somebody to grasp onto if they were motivated to disbelieve this.”

“Rich kernel to grab onto?” Give me a break! Was Pinocchio’s nose a “rich kernel to grab onto?”

The people planning this operation certainly knew that the burial at sea would raise red flags all over the world - and the only ones that would buy it were - us, their gullible captive Americans. And maybe the Brits. What possible reason could they have had for ditching the body that would trump the need for certainty, unless they were hiding something?

At the very least they could have cleaned up the body and put bandaids over the entry holes and taken some show-able photos!

Tell me the truth: What was your first reaction when you heard Obama had been killed and immediately "buried at sea"? Bet it was the same as mine: "Yeah, right! They must think we're stupid!"

I've been asking regular people that question. Every single one over the age of 30 had that as their first reaction. Some are coming around under the constant pressure from the media and constant digs at the doubters as "conspiracy nuts", "deathers" or "soft-minded liberals", but we all still remember that first reaction.

Even the NPR audience didn't buy it at first. As it chanced, when I first heard the news I Googled it and the NPR site came up. In the comments that followed it, not one commentator believed the story, and every single one cited the burial at sea for that! Yet listening to NPR a few days later they were still nattering on and on about this staged news event with nary a hint that anyone could possibly doubt it really happened!

So if this story, like the rest of the Osama Bin Laden show, is phoney baloney, then the real question is: why did they decide to kill off the show's villain now? Do you think maybe it has something to do with Libya? Or Syria, or Yemen or Iran? Do they need a new bogeyman? Someone more contemporary, like Qadhafi perhaps? Are they trying to establish the rightness of waging war by death squad before they kill him? Or perhaps they just need to pull back from Afghanistan because they're overextended and they need the troops for other adventures?

We need to hold onto our first reaction to this story, the little voice that said “Yeah, right!” That little voice speaks from all of our experiences of government and media from the last 50 years, all the accumulated hurts from being tricked and betrayed by their lies and manipulations. The little voice that warns us not to take what they say at face value, not to get swept up by their great noise machine. We need that part of our mind. We need to cultivate it, listen to it and guard it as a sacred space, the place from which we watch what’s going on and think about it.

The place from which that "Yeah, right!" spoke needs to be our mental citadel, from within which we resist being swept up in the manufactured outrage, insanity and war fever now being unleashed on us.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Budget cutting "compromise"

Comment in the T&G online, 4/12/11:

So, spending on the small part of the Federal budget that is non-military and discretionary - the part that often involves our tax dollars being spent on things that are actually useful - are taking a huge hit, while military spending goes up, for no net reduction in spending! And Obama calls it a win because it could have been worse! This isn't deficit reduction, it's "everything overboard to support the wars!" Stand by to watch all kinds of things you value that you never knew were your tax dollars at work go under!

Obama spoke in his Nobel Peace Prize voice - a stirring roar of defiance to the Republicans in defense of Social Security and Medicare - while also saying that "everything is on the table." I can feel in my gut that he is already planning to cut both programs, and make it look like a compromise.

The sanest thing I've heard today was Jesse Ventura's comment:

"You control our world. You've poisoned the air we breathe, contaminated the water we drink, and copyrighted the food we eat. We fight in your wars, die for your causes, and sacrifice our freedoms to protect you. You've liquidated our savings, destroyed our middle class, and used our tax dollars to bailout your unending greed. We are slaves to your corporations, zombies to your airwaves, servants to your decadence. You've stolen our elections, assassinated our leaders, and abolished our basic rights as human beings. You own our property, shipped away our jobs, and shredded our unions. You've profited off of disaster, destabilized our currencies, and raised our cost of living. You've monopolized our freedom, stripped away our education, and have almost extinguished our flame. We are hit...we are bleeding...but we ain't got time to bleed. We will bring the giants to their knees and you will witness our revolution! "

-Former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, April 12, 2011

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Police unions

Posted to the T&G:

The heart of people's complaints about the police unions is that they are getting things - and demanding rights - that most of the rest of us aren't getting, paid for out of our taxes. Next, people resent the police because they tell us what to do - who likes that? - and when they get out of hand their union demands that discipline be done fairly following due process. Finally, several posters said something like "unions used to be good but they aren't anymore."

Starting with the first, yes, people with unions aren't getting their wages and benefits slashed as fast as the rest of us because they have some power to push back. Should those of us who don't have a union drag them back into the muck with the rest of us? Or should we be focusing on getting a better deal for everyone - with their help?

Then, unionized public workers have legal rights to be able to speak about working conditions benefits. I've worked union and non-union - and the difference was huge. When I worked union I could talk without fear, without putting my job on the line. Do we really want cops on our street with a chip on their shoulder because they're disrespected and afraid for their jobs?

Then there's who pays taxes. There would be plenty of money for public employees if we had a fair tax and revenue code. Rep O'Day's initiative in the Legislature has highlighted over a billion dollars we could gain by changing the tax code so that the wealthy pay the same proportion of their income in taxes as the rest of us. But here we are scrabbling over the scraps in the pit.

Finally, the public employee unions are among the last unions standing amidst the devastation the banks have brought on our economy. Solidarity with them is the foundation for any fight back to reclaim our country. The long slide into the mess we're in started when the other unions let Reagan take PATCO down without a fight.

The police unions are our PATCO. We stand by them now or we all go down together.

Why Planned Parenthood?

Comment posted to the T&G on why fight over Planned Parenthood funding is not about abortion:

The fight over funding Planned Parenthood is not about abortions, it's about power. It's about a return to the world of Sigmund Freud and his famous quote about women: "anatomy is destiny." A world where a woman got one choice, usually while little more than a child, and then returned to a state of servitude. It's about the power of husbands to rule their wives. And it's about the power of the corporations to use men to control the lower-paid women in the workplace, keeping us divided and driving all of our wages down.

Men, as we love the women in our lives - our wives and girlfriends, our sisters, daughters, nieces and daughters-in-law, we must not let this nightmare return to the past happen. The cost will be disease, violence and too often the early death of someone you love. And the cost will be families bound together by fear, poisoned by anger and bitterness, unable to have honest conversations with each other.

And the cost will be further destruction of our ability to organize and to a decent workplace.

Men, we mustn't let the secret pleasure of imagining more power over women - or the camaraderie of the locker room or bar or hunting lodge - lead us astray. Standing by our women and standing up for their rights is one of the keys to the unity we need, as we try to stop the corporations and the banks from wrecking our economy, taking our homes, exporting our jobs and reducing us all to poverty and peonage.

Our Democratic representatives have caved on almost everything else - don't let them cave on this too!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Letter to McGovern on Libya

Dear friends,

Here is an improved version of the letter I just sent to Rep. McGovern urging his support for H. Con. Res. 31 requiring a Congressional debate of the U.S. War on Libya.

I see President Obama's actions as a grave threat to what is left of the power of Congress to decide on war and peace, indeed as an assault on democracy itself in the name of democracy. If Congress then has no power over matters of war and peace, if it is to be confined to domestic matters when half the Federal budget (and the entire Federal deficit) are for war, to whom will we then write or whom will we attempt to influence when we want to influence our country's policies?


"Dear Rep. McGovern,

"I am writing to urge your support and sponsorship of H. Con. Res. 31 - "expressing the sense that the President is required to obtain in advance specific statutory authorization for the use of United States Armed Forces in response to civil unrest in Libya."

"The war on Libya is wrong in many ways. It is a blatant intervention in a civil war - at first thinly disguised as a humanitarian mission but now brazenly committed to regime change - a goal which was never the UN or the Arab League mandate. The outbreak of demonstrations was used to launch an apparently planned and organized armed uprising, reportedly involving some very unsavory characters with connections to Western intelligence agencies and/or Al Qaeda - some with American blood on their hands - and now the US and its allies have committed to their victory in a war they now say will end only when Qaddafi has been removed.

"It is foreseeable that the result of the war and our intervention will be the destruction of what was a relatively prosperous, relatively modern country, and that the primary beneficiaries will be the oil companies. Presented as a humanitarian intervention, it is almost certainly killing far more people than it is saving, and prolonging a war that was nearly over. And the cost - already huge - will continue accruing because - as the generals as much admitted with their estimate of the cost per year of this adventure - peace will not come to Libya soon.

"Most seriously, President Obama hasn't even a fig-leaf behind which to hide his trashing of the War Powers Act; he is blatantly saying that this is not defense against an assault on or even a threat to America or its armed forces, but a matter of pursuing his ("our") interests and values - clearly a matter that legally requires prior Congressional authorization. The searing irony of Obama's speech was his presentation of this grave assault on the norms of American democracy and on the Constitution itself as a grand and selfless defense of democracy.

"Congress must force a debate and a vote on this war, or it may well mark the end to any formal democratic control or influence over our government's foreign policy, and the end to people's belief that Congress has any power worth calling on. Your loud and vocal opposition will at least give heart to those resisting this usurpation of power, and remind us all that there is a kernel of dedicated progressives around whom we can rally as we try to salvage or reclaim popular sovereignty in America.

"I urge you therefore to co-sponsor and spare no effort in support of H. Con. Res. 31 requiring a Congressional debate of the U.S. War on Libya.

"Your friend and supporter,"

(Signature, street address, city, zip, phone)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Libya and feelings in the pit of the stomach.

Comments to the T&G article of 3/22/11 "Support, with Caveats, for Mission in Libya":
Who was it that said "there's a smell of sulphur in the air?"

Jim McGovern is a thoughtful, honest, caring and brave man handling an impossible job with grace and humility, attempting to represent our interests in the face of enormous corporate pressure - but this liberal instinct of his to support interventions "in support of democracy" is dangerously naive. He needs to listen better to that feeling in the pit of his stomach and draw some stronger conclusions from it.

If you look at the main players in the US-led coalition - Britain, France, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman - it is all former imperialist powers or client kingdoms and dictatorships, all concerned with controlling the world oil market. Frankly, anyone who really thinks that they give a rat's tail about democracy in Libya - or that Obama and Hillary really do - has been drinking the Kool-Aide.

Sen. Kerry says this is completely different from Bahrain, and he's right. In Bahrain protesters are being slaughtered by a "friendly" government - friendly to the oil companies and international bankers - under the very guns of the US Naval Base, and the US does nothing but a little bit of meaningless scolding. In Libya we're dealing with a government that nationalized the oil 40 years ago and used the revenue to raise their people from the lowest living standard in Africa to the highest - and the oil companies and bankers want their property back!

My call: this war will end with half a million dead Libyans in a wrecked country governed by another kleptocracy with phony elections, a foreign occupying force that will be there for 20 years fighting another endless low-level war - and the oil fields returned or sold off to Texaco, Chevron, Shell and BP.

The only honest position for anyone who really believes in democracy is to oppose this war.
Qaddafi is no winner and a lot of Libyans want him out. I was at first happy to see this revolution happening - until the curtain was pulled back and we got to see where this is going. But the issue is not whether Qaddafi is good or bad for Libya - however bad he might be he isn't nearly as bad for Libya as this war and the occupation that will follow will be. The issue is: what are "we" doing there? Do you trust the people who are making decisions for our government to act in the interests of us, the American people, never mind the interests of the Libyans?

Liberals imagine that "we" are a group of fair-minded honest democratic liberal smart people who because of "our" great wealth and power have the right and duty to go in and straighten out other people's messes and (in Wilson's words nearly 100 years ago) "make the world safe for democracy." I see no evidence - except maybe, maybe for World War II and its outcome - that the "we" that are making decisions about the use of American power have ever really cared about that.

You don't have to be an ideologue to know when you're being lied to and manipulated by people with hidden agendas.

Friday, February 18, 2011

In defense of Neighbor to Neighbor

In response to the attacks on N@N in the T&G comments


So what's democracy? Is is a system of voting? A set of rules? A way of legitimizing the rule of the rich and powerful with a public sign-off?

Or is democracy about the rule of the people? Maybe even "by the people, for the people?"

Because if that's what democracy is we've drifted a long, long way away from it. Most of the working people in Worcester, immigrants and native English speakers alike, don't bother to vote any more, and will tell you flat out it's because they don't think their vote makes a difference. The people they elect can't or won't do what they promise, and then they forget about us.

And who can blame them for thinking that? We send people - mostly good people - off to City Hall, Beacon Hill, Washington, yet things keep getting worse. And many of them do get sucked into the system and lose track of what's real out here.

So is that democracy?

Democracy - to be real - has to be much more than voting. Voting is maybe 10% of it. It requires people being organized to support their neighbors, standing with each other, looking out for each other and defending each other. Democracy is not just politicians having to go to the people for their votes, but having to answer to the people for what they do - and being held accountable, not just every two or four years, but every time they come home.

And democracy is about people looking out for sick and aged neighbors, organizing a neighborhood watch, making sure teens have something useful to do and guiding them. Stopping an unfair eviction and turning out to demand the hospital give a life-saving treatment to a neighbor. Making sure no one goes hungry or freezes.

And then it's neighbors making sure their neighbors get to the polls and know how to vote for the candidate they've all agreed on.

That's who Neighbor to Neighbor is. They are the beating heart of our dying democracy, struggling to fan it back to life. If they made mistakes - I don't know - they were not corrupt ones.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Throw-away kids

In response to T&G article today on soaring youth homelessness and a bunch of stupid comments about blaming the kids and punishing them or washing our hands of them or what do you want to do shoot them all? I wrote and posted this:


This is a nightmare situation if you only look up close. Parents can't raise their kids right, they get taken away and put in foster care, foster parents can't handle them because they're angry and resentful and don't trust anyone so they get moved from home to home until they're 18 and then they're essentially put out in the street with an 8th grade education and no ability to hold the jobs that are out there, which don't pay enough to support an apartment and transportation anyway, even if they can get and hold one, and about the only things they can do that will earn enough are illegal things, which pay enough *because* they are illegal except they wind them up in prison where they get brutalized and usually raped but get a good education in doing illegal things better and then they're out on the street again with a CORI and still no skills - but they can still look for love, love they have to find, even they don't believe they can ever have it and can't accept it when they get it but they have to find love and they have to find the family they never had and do right all the things their parents and foster parents did wrong even though they have no idea or ability how .. but at least they can make babies and make a world where they can get and give love - until the baby starts screaming because they can't feed it or can't pay attention to what its trying to tell them or can't watch it all the time while they're trying to hustle up some bread so they get angry and abusive and maybe even start hitting and torturing the poor thing because it's driving them totally crazy - and so the State steps in and takes it away and puts it in foster care.

So folks, what are we going to do about that?

The starting place is jobs. Good jobs at decent pay doing things that don't require much skill, like making things in a factory or growing vegetables.

Can't be done? All the jobs are high tech or they're in China or Mexico? Well we'd better think again. We need those jobs here. Now. Millions of them.

We're consuming all this stuff that's made in other countries, paying for it in dollars that are only accepted as being worth anything because the US has 700 foreign military bases and 2/3 of the world's nuclear bombs and an infrastructure of control mechanisms ranging from the Special Forces death squads to the "Endowment for Democracy" inserted deep into the fabric of almost every country on earth, and what has it gotten us? A hollowed out country which doesn't make its own stuff, and a people with not enough to do. You can fix the schools and fix the foster care system and fix the courts and fix the jails and it won't fix the problem if there's no jobs there that the young people are prepared to do - and if we got them all college degrees then there wouldn't be enough of those jobs. There aren't now.

So how do we do this in an age of computer-controlled automated production? How do you undo all the tremendous (stupendous? stupefying?) progress that's been made in productivity, the benefit of which has all gone to someone other than the people who are making or growing things? Well it all looks impossible, until you consider what we are going to have to do when the dollar collapses and the Empire collapses and we're left with a country that's starving and massively unemployed and unable to buy any of the things that we no longer know how to make or grow.

We'll have to start over. And we'll need all of those superfluous, obsolescent leftover throw-away kids working together with us to do that.

Are these right wing stereotype?. Right wing stereotypes don't come out of thin air. LSomething happens and we make up a story about it. Well it's not right wing to say what's there, it's only right wing to blame the kids for it or blame the parents for it or blame anybody for it. It's progressive to say what's so and then say what we - and those kids - can do about it together.

At least, that's how it looks to me right now.

Why bother saving Congressional funding of public broadcasting?

In response to a letter from Matt Lockshin of CREDO mobile action calling on us to support continued Congressional funding of public broadcasting, I wrote in reply:


For 30 years I relied on NPR and PBS, and by extension the CPB, to supply me with "the rest of the news"; but a recent experience with looking into the nature of their coverage left my confidence in them shaken, to the point where they are no longer my menu - except occasionally when driving. I would like to ask you to consider my findings, and then to make the case that we should save Congressional support for these corporations anyway.

I have often noticed that there are news stories that go under the radar, stories that no rational, fair-mided media decision-maker would have failed to cover. During the Spring of 2008 I used the capabilities of Google News Search and Yahoo News Search to carefully research who was covering which stories. My starting place was stories that I had picked up from alternative sources but had not seen in the major media, and my criteria for pursuing the investigation were that any reasonable person would agree the story was newsworthy, interesting to the general public and important for the public to know about. I had several friends confirm my judgment on these points. I searched for coverage of each of the stories I suspected were being ignored on all the major television and radio networks, most of the national dailies and a sampling of regional dailies.

During the course of thirteen weeks I identified 13 stories that fit my criteria and were in fact ignored by most of the US corporate media. These stories covered a range of topics, from a speech by Obama calling for prosecution of Bush-era law-breakers to a statement by Putin that Russia had determined that Iran was not working on a nuclear bomb; coverage of major events and surprising vote outcomes in the presidential campaigns of Kucinich, Nader and Ron Paul; the House vote to ban Pentagon propaganda; the House resolution calling for a naval blockade of Iran (which reached over 130 signatures before it even broke into the alternative press, and never did get reported by the Times!); the removal of the Army judge in the first Guantanamo case; the Iraqi government's rejection of the US proposal for post-war treaties; and an authoritative report that the House Democrats were going to back down on their planned challenge of Bush's war authority. (They did.)

Most of these stories were picked up by international wire services, services that all the major US media have access to. Many were picked up by AP, Yahoo News and AOL News. Some were covered by a daily paper here or there around the US. In confirmation of our judgments about newsworthiness, many were headline news across Europe. But insofar as I was able to determine, not one of the thirteen stories was covered by PBS, NPR or for that matter by the BBC! Even the disgraceful New York Times did better than that, covering two of the thirteen!

Evidently there must be some group of people, formal or informal, who are deciding what we shouldn't hear or know about. Whether this is coming from some secret media leadership group, is directed by some agency within the government or results from informal conversations in the top private clubs we don't know, but arguably a common thread between all 13 stories is that their publication would have weakened the US corporate international agenda, and their suppression would tend to disempower and conceal domestic opposition to that agenda.

The question I would ask of you and CREDO is this: why should we be urging Congressional support for public broadcasting, in the face of the evidence that these public corporations are not serving the need for an informed public and are fostering the illusion that their listeners are getting an alternative and more thorough source of information? Would it not be better to separate our public broadcasting agencies completely from any power of the government to influence their editorial decisions - in the hope that at some point the contributing public could hold their management accountable for their self-censorship?

I look forward to hearing your case that we should support their funding anyway.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Review of Main Street Smarts

Grace Ross’ book “Main Street $marts, Who got us into this economic mess and how we get through it …” is out. But why a book by Grace Ross?

A list of authors of other well-known books about the crisis includes seven professors, three heads of think tanks or consulting firms and two Nobel Prize winners, cabinet secretaries and advisors to Presidents, liberals and conservatives, all Very Important People.

But Grace Ross? Community and housing rights activist? First-time author? Sometime candidate for public office? No PhD? Not even a gig with the IMF or the Treasury Dept.?

First, not one of those other books was written by someone who knows firsthand what is going on, has been hearing what regular people are saying and seeing what they are going through. Not one of them has been working at our sides as we struggle for our rights and for our survival. And this special point of view - the “view from the shop floor”, our point of view – comes through on every page.

For example, in the middle of an analysis of what the banks are doing:

“The craziest thing is that in over two decades of housing advocacy I have never heard what I am hearing from people these days. You knock on their doors and they end up begging you to please make the lenders take their rent or their mortgage payments. Because they are willing to pay, but the lenders would rather foreclose and evict.” (p.85)

Hers is a voice from the boiler room telling us what all the sailors know but the Captain on the bridge doesn’t - or won’t admit: this ship’s in trouble!

The book is thoroughly footnoted, every fact triple-checked, but it is written for regular folk. She even makes derivatives and hedge funds understandable! Snobby people may not like it. Regular folk love it!

And hers is an angry voice. Not blind rage, but the controlled outrage of someone with 26 years of looking the victims in the eye, holding their hands and walking them through the steps of learning to fight back.

The section about the way the cost of living index (CPI) has been gimmicked over the years to hide the real rate of inflation starts with:

“How often do we go to the market and think: ‘How’d that get so expensive?’” (p.200)

Two easy-to-read pages, a well-explained graph and several footnotes later, it ends with:

“Not angry yet? For seniors reading this: Social Security payments would be almost 50 percent more than they are today if they had not messed with the math!”

But why now? Isn’t it almost over? The book itself makes clear why: this ain’t over baby! This mess is just beginning! Sorry, but it won’t end until we all get together to do something about it! The foreclosure crisis? It hasn’t even peaked yet, with 35% of homeowners nationally “underwater” now and the biggest peak of rate resets yet to come! Unemployment? She explains in detail how the real rate is two and a half times higher than the official rate, which mysteriously is dropping even though no new jobs are being created! And then there’s the “Federal Reserve” bubble, trillions of new dollars being created out of thin air to finance the banks, and why that has to end in a disaster that will dwarf the crash of 2008!

And yet, this book is full of reasons to hope. Woven through the book are stories about programs and policies that could turn our state around, and the struggles that have been waged to win them, including a devastating attack on the “Massachusetts Miracle Plan” that “Obamacare” was patterned on and concrete suggestions of how to replace it with a state single-payer plan that really works!

And it has rich proposals on how to work with the small business community to break our dependence on the international mega-banks and start building a new local green-energy economy. Not just why huge tax giveaways and subsidies for Cape Wind or Evergreen won’t work, but also why locally-owned projects like the hugely successful municipal windmills in Hull can and will!

Grace knows all the players on Beacon Hill, has worked with them, haggled with them and helped them craft policies and legislation, and she has a lot of inside-the-hub stories to tell, but there is never any doubt whose side Grace is on.
This is not a “how to get rich off the coming depression” book or a “they’re so stupid, they should have listened to me” book, it’s a book of ideas and tools for people who want to fight back, people who want to save our communities, save our jobs and our homes, take our democracy back.

They’ve got their books about the crisis. This is our book.

You can get Grace's book Main St. Smarts online at or at independent bookstores listed on it, including Tatnuck Booksellers in Westborough. Paperback, $17.95.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Cheating on MCAS at Goddard

Comment on "Motives are the crux of MCAS probe", Clive McFarlane, in the Jan. 24 Worcester Telegram:

Good column, good discussion!

I know how tempting it can be to help a scared struggling student on a test - or to use a test as a teaching opportunity. And I feel for the teachers who have invested years - and a lot of money - in building a teaching career, only to be threatened with failure and defeat. But in a world where honor and integrity are treated as old-fashioned notions and cheating at every level is spinning out of control, schools and teachers must hold the line and set an example for the children.

And yet, we can't just walk away from the issue of what we are doing with those tests! They are damaging and distorting our children and educational system in very deep ways. Subjects that aren't tested get sidetracked or dropped, and endless hours are spend practicing for tests instead of real learning.

Even deeper, the tests freeze in place old ways of seeing and thinking. They remove the possibility of asking "why are we teaching this?" or "Wouldn't it be better to teach this in third grade or as part of a high school biology course?" And even the possibility of asking "does this make sense?"

As a math teacher, my students often challenged me with "this doesn't make any sense!" I always took the challenge on, but sometimes discovered that it really didn't make sense! Yet it was on the test, so I had to say "get over it, just learn it anyway." Not a good answer for a kid who's sick to death of school!

Students would challenge me with "when will I ever need this?" Often the truth was "you won't, except to get through your next two years of math, graduate and get into college." Not a good answer for a kid on the edge of giving up on 9th grade!

Kids - all of them - enter pre-school hungry to learn, full of the joy of life. Our schools crush that out of them! We can and must make of them places where children keep their curiosity, creativity and love of learning, where their minds keep growing and expanding.

Those tests are in the way!