Saturday, September 28, 2013

How could Snowden and Navy Yard killer get top security clearances?

Le's get this straight.

The headline question is "How could Snowden and Navy Yard killer get top security clearances?"

The story reveals that we have had an explosion in the number of Federal positions and positions with Federal contractors that require a top security clearance. ( I've read elsewhere that it's around a million positions now that require one.)  And millions more requiring lower level security clearances.

The result is a government where no one can talk to anyone else about what they're really doing or why.  Telling us, the American people, what these million people our tax dollars are paying for are doing has been raised to a capital crime, a crime so serious that our President created a major international incident to try to make one of them shut up!

Now we learn that the job of deciding who should be trusted with admission to this vast web of secrecy has been privatized, turned over to a private corporation whose central organizing principle is the bottom line - organized greed - with bonuses for doing the job quickly!  Mass produced top security clearances for profit!

All of this supposedly to protect us from the threat of Al Qaida-led terrorists - the ones the US is now openly arming and supporting in Syria!

This is not only breathtakingly insane, it's also extremely dangerous.

But the question the article seemingly poses is "how do we do this better?"

Actually, there's a deeper problem here. Snowden had access to all those top secret files because so much is top secret, so many have top secret clearance, and they need to talk to each other to get anything done at all. The more gets classified, the worse it gets. 

The deeper danger, now plain to see, is that this web of secrecy is indefensible in a free society, impossible to maintain.  It is thus incompatible with freedom of speech and freedom of the press. 

One or the other will have to go - this massive secrecy or democracy - and the issue is on the table now.  

Thursday, September 19, 2013

MCAS Scores are up!

Yes, rickrickrick, if you make the stakes high enough, the penalties for teachers, students and principals high enough and throw enough of your limited resources at it you can get students to learn how to jump through the hoops and pass a test. 

But have you ever tried to teach a math class in this environment? What a joyless occupation! The kids do what they have to do, but they couldn't care less. 

Thinking? That's not on the test. Curiosity? It's been beaten out of them. Those are for after school, where real life happens, as in electronic game playing and hanging out. 

Goals? Whatever it takes to prep for a job. Later. 

Sports? For the jocks, but not for most of them. And the jocks dream of wealth and fame, like Megabucks junkies. They'll spend their lives resenting and envying the Pros and their salaries, nursing regrets over not making it. ("If only ...")

One school I taught at had a winning football team, but the real number-one sport that all the students followed was hallway fights. I hear their MCAS scores are up though. 

Music? You call what those kids are into music?? But the stars are rich and famous so it must be good. "It's all good." 

The hard-working teachers, none of whom went into it for the money, all of whom are branded as "the problem", struggle to make a difference in this bleak environment. In the spaces between test-prep sessions, they nurture little bright spots where a few students for a small part of their day can find some joy, some satisfaction, some real learning. But so many burnt-out teachers now dream only of the day they can retire from the profession they once dreamed of joining! 

But their students' MCAS scores are up! And more teachers have Masters Degrees. (Want a real snoozer, try taking some of those after-school Masters-program classes!) 

And those cynical kids with their depleted educations, stifled imaginations, stunted thinking skills and stunted dreams are our future. 


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

City Manager quitting? Time for a Strong Mayor system!

Worcester city manager explores job with developer

Manager O'Brien has demonstrated for all to see and reflect on why we need to get rid of the Weak Mayor/Strong Manager form of government.  This unelected official was accustomed to negotiating deals in secret and then getting the Council to rubber-stamp them.  Rarely would they stand up to him, no doubt because to get anything done they had to stay on his good side.

Each time his position came up for review the Councilors would swallow what they were saying in private, heap praise on him and give him top marks to continue.

The last time Councilor Joe O'Brien, who had announced he wasn't running again, spoke some of the truth.  The other ten punted.  Joe had tried being Mayor for a term, but what's the point when the Mayor has so little power?

Now a series of deals Manager Mike made have been rejected, due to public demand and the exposure of the details to debate. He has several times stepped out of his role to advocate for them, clearly in distress, to no avail.  The Hotel TIF deal, the Slots Parlor deal, the Mandatory Foreclosure Mediation ordinance and more, Mike couldn't deliver as promised.

Maybe the Council, which has finally found a backbone, will manage to manage the next Manager next time, and manage to not let the law that says the Manager works for the Council become a fiction again.  That will depend on the active involvement of the public as much as anything.

But maybe this is the time to look at a Charter Revision, so we won't again have a Manager acquire the power to intimidate the Council, rule from behind the scenes and deliver for the developers in secret!

It takes a lot of work and trouble to elect a Mayor to represent the people. A lot of organizing and canvassing by a lot of people went into electing Joe O'Brien Mayor, into convincing the voters it was worth bothering to come out to the polls and vote. When Joe quit as Mayor and now as Councilor, he was telling us we had wasted our time!

This is not what democracy looks like!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Jobless claims drop as 2 states upgrade computers

My comment:
As reported in the T&G on Saturday, Massachusetts spent $46 million on a new Unemployment Claims computer system, which is just horrible. People are being denied money they are owed, or delayed for months. There's no one to talk to but some ignorant person in a phone bank, even if it should be clear to anyone who knows the unemployment laws that the computer has it wrong. 
Yesterday I talked with a man who hasn't seen a check in six weeks, can't get a straight answer, and is getting evicted today! 

Plus now the computer is spitting our blizzards of bills for overpayment in the past and garnishing people's benefit checks, often absurdly, and again there is no one to talk to! 

Now we're starting to see people who've given up in frustration and walked away from money they are apparently rightly owed and urgently need! 

I hate to jump to conclusions. I still talk about this as a problem of an incompetent, badly conceived and badly implemented new system. But if this is happening nationwide - and this article suggests it is - then maybe that's the design of the system: to drive people crazy and get them to give up and walk away! 

That would not only save the US and state governments (and employers) money, it would be one more way the Feds can make themselves look good by hiding the true extent of the unemployment problem! 

The Worcester Unemployment Action Group will be having a followup meeting tomorrow with representatives of Workforce Central, the city's Workforce Investment Board and a representative from Boston of the Division of Unemployment Assistance. We will be impressing on them the urgent need for putting DUA specialists back on the job at the Career Centers, and giving them the power to override the computer and fix a problem if the computer can't be made to fix it in a reasonable amount of time. 

This has gone on too long! We don't want to hear any more excuses! We want to know what they're going to do! 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

McGovern's power

Posted the morning after Assad's acceptance of the Russian proposal to take control of and remove Syria's chemical weapons, and Obama's speech demanding that this be coupled with what amounts to the right to attack Syria anyway:

What an astonishing few weeks! The march to war and disaster seemed unstoppable, inexorable, the war propaganda seemed irresistible. This rejection of a war, first by Parliament and now by Congress, is unprecedented, amazing! Someone said it's the first time Parliament has voted against starting a war since 1795. I can't remember Congress doing anything like this, ever! 

Obama & Co. still want their war, and are maneuvering to get it anyway. They're still armed and dangerous, and still have the bully pulpit. And Congress is still vulnerable - not one Democrat in Congress, and only a few Republicans, have publicly challenged their lies. But so far they're holding fast, the anti-war consensus even growing stronger. 

It's the American people, the British people, the people of Germany and France, the people of the world who forced this retreat on Obama & Co., and are holding them to it. 

We can be proud of our own Congressman, Jim McGovern. He will be the first to say he still needs the pressure kept on him, the voice of the people in his ear. He really needs that. But that being said, he deserves - and needs - our cheers! He's been doing a masterful job of organizing Congress, to shape our demand for no new wars into a winning combination that Obama & Co. can't ignore. 

Like any great legislator, he's channeling our power, speaking with our voice. And drawing his courage from us. Way to go Jim! 

Thank you Ed Markey for listening and coming around. Lizzie? Yoo hoo! We need you too! 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Great Russian Proposal on Syria - and the struggle to win it

OK let's play "just suppose". 

Just suppose it is true, as Assad, the Russians and many independent observers claim, that the "rebels" in Syria have chemical weapons, and that, as the chief UN inspector said in May, they have probably already used them against a civilian population. 

And just suppose that it was the rebels, or someone working with or for them, that in fact used chemical weapons in August to frame the Assad government. 

Then we can expect that the Assad government will strongly insist on international guarantees of protection from any further chemical weapons use by their enemies. 

Given the recent history of open US support for the anti-Assad side of the civil war, that guarantor would have to be some power or combination that was not allied with the US, yet with the military heft and the will to act against the rebels if they should use chemical weapons again. 

That could be a problem. The countries that first come to mind which could do this, Russia and China, have been defined as enemies or proto-enemies by the US government. With good will, the problem could be solved. Brazilian peacekeepers for example. 

But I would look for those parties to the negotiations who never wanted a peaceful solution in the first place to ridicule Syria's demands for guarantees and characterize them as proof that Syria is not serious. 

This proposal has to be tried. It's the best one yet, and with enough determination and patience by all parties that don't want a wider war it could defuse the situation. But the issue of who really was guilty of those chemical attacks needs to be addressed, because it shapes how we think about what can be expected of whom, and it will shape what we will see as the different parties' legitimate interests and concerns. 

Lynch Mob: Someone has to pay!

There's been a terrible crime and it feels like someone has to pay. The leader of the mob points a finger at an unpopular figure with a bad rep, yells "he did it, get him! Now!" No waiting for the investigation, no trial - because he might get off! The mob gets worked up, drunk on likker and wild talk. They march out by torch light, seize the accused and hang him. 

Maybe the lynch mob gets the one who did the crime, and maybe not. Maybe death was appropriate, maybe not. Maybe the justice system would have failed, maybe not. But the rule of law dies on that day. 

And maybe the guilty party is the one leading the mob. Or maybe not. 

How would our following the call to demand War on Syria be different from joining that lynch mob - apart from little details like it would cost tens of thousands of (mostly Syrian) lives and tens of billions of dollars, would probably escalate, could end up costing trillions and killing hundreds of thousands or millions like Iraq and Afghanistan, and could spin out of control and set off World War III? 

The case against Assad is paper thin, the public evidence points to the "rebels", yet Obama has rejected a UN investigation. The case for this being an appropriate response makes no sense. The risks are huge, and the stakes for the American people are unclear. 

And intervening in a civil war on the side of Al Qaida-linked terrorists is staggeringly, breathtakingly wrong. 

But we are being told to surrender our reason, to forget all the bitter experience of the past fifty years. Something terrible has happened and *someone* has to pay for it! Obama, Kerry and Co. say Assad did it, they have secret evidence they can't show us, just trust them! And we're supposed to follow them blindly into this new quagmire of blood? 

Been there. Done that. Too many times. The American people have learned our lesson and are sending a loud clear NO! 

Now we need a clear simple "NO" from Senators Warren and Markey.  They need to hear from us, even if we've already contacted them.  Call them again!  And Spread the word!

And Congressman McGovern, who we can be sure is taking a lot of heat for his brave and early stand against this war, needs to hear from us a loud "thank you! Hold steady, we're with you!"

Friday, September 6, 2013

Syria poison gas attack: Whudunit? A reader


Check out these:

Nuke threat from Sen Lindsay Graham: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

Our ruling cabal feels exposed, trapped and desperate around the overwhelming rejection of its Syria policies by the American people and the people of the world.  Their economic power is collapsing, their credibility is just about shot and their political base is crumbling.  By the rules of the game as it's being played, they're just a few moves away from being checkmated.

They can be counted on to try changing the rules.

So we have to take seriously this alarming report, about missing nuclear weapons headed for South Carolina and a warning (or rather a threat) from Senator Lindsay Graham that if Congress doesn't vote to support war on Syria, "terrorists" will nuke Charlston Harbor:

I'm watching to see if any other sources that I already trust pick this up and show that they give it some credence.  I'm really hoping it's a false alarm; but if we have to take it seriously it should get spread around fast!

It's hard to see how our government could come up with a story that makes any sense about a Syrian or Iranian nuke going off in Charlston Harbor.  However a nuclear explosion with mass casualties would create so much fear, panic and confusion that the government would have a free hand to do what they wanted, whether people believed their story about it or not.

If this report is correct, it's encouraging that there's already been at least one whistle-blower in the chain of events.  Widespread repeating of this alert, more whistle-blowing and refusals of those involved to obey orders could yet stop it.

If on the other hand Congress ignores the overwhelming demand of the people to vote against this War on Syria and votes for it, this nuke threat could be the reason why.  And we could perhaps forgive them, because they would be buying us more time.

If this threat is what gets their vote though, that fact will leak out plenty fast and soon everyone will know.

Amazing moment! The people have rejected the war!

The big story that the T&G missed:

The people of a major world power (us) have rejected a war and resisted all attempts to work up a war fever!

#  Calls to Congress are running almost unanimous against Syria war!

#  Obama's not close to getting his vote in the House or even the Senate!

"According to CNN, there are 18 "no" votes in the Senate and 24 "yes." Fifty-eight senators -- almost the same number of votes needed to overcome any filibuster -- remain undecided."

"According to CNN's count, 109 members plan to vote "no," while 23 -- including a number of high profile Republicans -- plan to back it.

"More than 280 representatives remain undecided."

But Obama and the Brass are clearly planning on their war anyway.  Evacuating US citizens from Lebanon is one signal - and Obama's said he doesn't need Congress.

Do they just go to war anyway?  That will sure blow up in their faces!

Or are they counting on another major atrocity to get our blood boiling and get us all baying for revenge?

And suppose they do that, and shout "Assad did it!  We have proof!"  and no one believes them?  What do they do then?

Suppose their henchmen refuse orders or blow the whistle on them?

What do we do then?  And what don't we do?

This is an amazing moment in history.  I don't know what to compare it to.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Democrats: Time to Stand Up to Obama! No War on Syria!

I'm glad to see Warren and McGovern putting up resistance to a US attack on Syria, but I cringe to see them conceding - with no good evidence, against all reason and logic, and ignoring the evidence that the "rebels" were responsible for the gas attack in April - that the Assad regime was responsible for those poison gas attacks and needs to be held accountable.

I guess they just don't dare call out President Obama.

We have a week to stop the Obama Administration  from making an awful mistake with disastrous consequences, for Syria, the Middle East and perhaps the US and the world, a mistake that will probably cost the lives of thousands of American servicemen and women before the smoke clears, and that is opposed by a broad majority of the American people.

We need to speak plainly.  President Obama and Senator Kerry are lying to us. They intend to plunge us into a new war of aggression, based on their lies. This is no different from what the Bush Administration did in Iraq.

The members of President Obama's Party need to say so.  They need to stand up to him and tell him loud and clear that he's run out of free passes.  

We, the American people, Independent, Republican and Democrat, Black brown and white, young and old, native born and immigrant, prosperous and poor, have repeatedly said "no" to the pollsters.

Now we have a week  to come together and send Obama a a mighty shout of "NO!!!" that he can't ignore!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Revolution Day 2

As a result of my publishing about Revolution Day I have been made aware of a group of historians and history students in Worcester who have met about the Massachusetts Revolution of 1774 recently, including a meeting with Ray Raphael.  Reportedly some are excited about the project but no one is able to take the lead.  Let me know and I'll put you in touch with them.

Email Chris at

Revolution Day, Sept. 6: Occupy the Revolution!

Another year has gone by, and there will be no celebration of Revolution Day on Sept. 6, 2013.  Which is a shame, because the people really need that story!

Will there be a celebration on the 240'th anniversary of the Worcester Revolution, on Sept. 6 2014?  That may depend on you!

You can read the story in The First American Revolution, before Lexington and Concord, Ray Raphael, The New Press, New York, 2002.

You might want to  read this book:

#  If you love history and don't know about the Massachusetts Revolution of 1774;
#  If you've ever wondered why the American Revolution, our Revolution, looked so different from everyone else's revolutions;
#  If the story that the Revolution was a war never made sense to you;
#  If the story that our Revolution was led by leading citizens - by merchants and bankers and guild-masters - ever puzzled or troubled you;
#  If the story that our Revolution was a conspiracy hatched in back rooms and attics ever troubled you;
#  If the story that the Minutemen were an armed conspiracy, that they rose up on call to overthrow the government and make a revolution, ever troubled you;
#  If you thought that the biggest thing that happened in Worcester during the Revolution was that George Washington slept here, and you'd love to find out different;
#  If it ever troubled you that almost no one from outside Massachusetts has ever heard of Worcester -  the second-largest city in New England - or even knows how to pronounce it, and you'd like to see it put back on the map;
#  Or even if you're just tired of always hearing about what happened in Boston in 1774 and 1775, and are curious about what was going on in the rest of the state.

This book is important not just for history buffs, but for all of us, and never more so than now.

People live out of their stories, and we need this story, now.  And the official story we were taught about the American Revolution is seriously holding us back and leading us astray in dangerous ways.

Our economy and political system continue to collapse.  The level of corruption in high places continues to explode, indeed it has become the system.  Ever more of our wealth gets poured into foreign wars. The destruction of our environment accelerates and grows ever more outrageous. The great banks and corporations continue their leveraged buyout of our cities and towns, our homes and schools, as they suck the real economy dry.  The government becomes ever more intrusive and controlling, and speaking the truth has become a crime - even treason!

The people are watching these things, and the conviction has grown in the hearts of millions that we need a revolution.  But what does that mean?  What is a revolution?  Most people go to "peasants with pitchforks", "storming the Bastille", or rising up in gun in hand to fight the tyrants, and then back away.  If a revolution is a war, who can blame them?

But the Revolution we learned about, the one whose images flash in our minds, wasn't the actual revolution!  That official story starts with the Revolutionary War, the war to defend the revolution, that began with the British attempt to re-take its lost province of Massachusetts by force.  That story leaves out the revolution itself!

Ray Raphael has uncovered and written a first installment on the story of the Massachusetts Revolution, a revolution that looked much more like Occupy than like the Tea Party or the militia movements!  If you're a historian, there is certainly much more to do!  The revolution of 1774 happened in every part of Massachusetts.  Perhaps in every part of New England.  Much of the story still lies buried and undiscovered in town archives, one-room museums and family albums, waiting to be woven together into a larger narrative.

And we, the American people, need that story!  We really need that story!  We need it to be the new American Story, the tale we tell each other about that critical juncture, the Revolution, that shaped who we are and how we got here.  We need that story to help guide us into our future!

And we need someone who loves history and understands it's importance to step forward and organize a celebration for Sept. 6, 2014, the 240th anniversary of the Worcester Revolution.  It's none too soon to start that work now!

Every part of Massachusetts could be involved in this commemoration, not just Worcester.  And every part has its own special day, when the local citizens stood up to the British-imposed dictatorship of General Gage and shut it down!

Can you take the lead?  Yes you.  You found your way to this blog and you're reading this.  Does it call to you?  Does it feel really important to you?

Could you make the time for it if you had to?

One person who has the time, energy and will and who understands or senses its importance can make this happen.

Or, maybe it won't happen, because you didn't do it!  It could have happened last year or the year before or the year before that, but it didn't.  The time was ripe, but no one stepped up to make it happen.

I can't.  My plate is full.  But I'll be delighted to support a volunteer to take the lead, and glad to hook you up with the people I know who have an interest.  Ray Raphael will be delighted too I'm sure!

And I'll be thrilled to join you on that day, Sept. 6, 2014, when the first crowd comes together around this event since maybe 1830 or 1840, and We the People start to take our story back and celebrate it!

Whose City?  Our City?

Whose State?  Our State!

Whose Country?  Our Country!

Whose Revolution?  Our Revolution!


Roll back the Sequester! Break the "Golden Handcuffs" and speak out!

Re: Head Start cuts will devastate kids
By Dianne Williamson

Thanks for your column, Dianne.  Spot on.

These heartless Sequesters - automatic across-the-board cuts to the Federal budget - will hit and hurt almost everyone at one point or another.  Schools, highways, police and fire protection, local, state or Federal, almost everything will take one trim after another.  For some, the poor and people in trouble - it will be devastating.  For the rest of us, it's death by 1000 cuts.

The Sequester was passed by Congress to "force itself" to reach a compromise around deficit reduction.

Read: force itself to cut and/or privatize Social Security and Medicare, two of the most sound and successful - and popular - programs the Federal Government has.

The Big Money boys dream of being able to get ahold of those funds and milk them.  As the rest of the economy continues to sink into a tired puddle, thanks in part to idiocies like the Sequester, their hunger for any remaining streams of revenue they can capture becomes ever more urgent.

Everyone who is being or knows they will be hit by the Sequester needs to get together in one big "De-sequestration" movement, demanding NO MORE CUTS!  ROLL IT BACK!

That's probably everyone who is reading this comment, if you really stop and take count of everything you rely on or are counting on government for.

The people who have the clearest up-close view of what these cuts are doing are the "social service providers" who work in the many public, semi-public and grant-funded agencies and programs providing vital services.  They need to speak out!

It's time for you to challenge the rules that bar you from participating in politics, the "golden handcuffs" that keep you silent.  Time to stop watching helplessly as our civil society collapses around us.  Because what is happening is so very wrong, and laws that keep you from speaking out about it are so wrong!

You - the social service providers, including directors and administrators - need to be leading this De-Sequestration movement!  If enough of you speak out together, the laws will bend!