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.