Archive for November, 2008

Door-buster Nation

By Steve Klinger

I am obviously not only a worrywart but a moron. Since about mid-September we’ve been staring into the economic abyss with our ankles wrapped around the last tree at the edge of the cliff, watching our less fortunate neighbors go whizzing by on their way to total ruination. I somehow thought that might be sobering to some folks. My dumb.

The country has lost over a million jobs this year. The stock market has lost a third of its value in the last two months. Home foreclosures continue to increase, along with homelessness, hunger and bankruptcies. Even optimistic experts say things will get worse before they get better. If they get better.

So what does America do? Go shopping on Black Friday, of course! And I don’t just mean stop by the big box store on the way to turkey leftovers with mom. I mean camping out. In a tent. All night. In a line outside Best Buy or Wal-Mart.  And not just a peaceful line where dutiful shoppers wait their turn to calmly roll up more credit card debt. I mean stampede, as in one Long Island Wal-Mart, where a crowd of 2,000 that had been building since 9 p.m. literally broke the door down at 5 a.m. and trampled a Wal-Mart worker to death. When we say door busters, we mean door busters.

Meanwhile, in Palm Desert, Calif. two men were shot dead in a Toys R Us store, though apparently the dispute that led to the shooting was personal and not over an Xbox. Cynic that I am, I have to suspect there was a shopping angle somehow. I mean, you don’t go to Toys R Us just to have witnesses.

Nationwide, revenues were up 3 percent over last year’s Black Friday, and the MSM spent every minute not devoted to burning buildings in Mumbai chronicling Americans loading up with the latest gifts and gadgets. The manager of a Las Cruces Wal-Mart says business was great, and one guy had five 32-inch HD TVs in his shopping cart. Recession, what recession?

No mainstream reporter or well-coiffed anchor even bothered to pause and reflect on this phenomenon, if only to ask, What is wrong with these people?

No, the operative approach remains a total state of denial, with the economy just one more annoying obstacle between regular folks at their big-screen TVs, like rainy weather, or maybe a flat tire. Dad lost his job, and we just applied for food stamps, so I guess we’ll have to get the 50-inch plasma instead of the 52-inch LCD, and we’ll have to wait on the Blue-Ray player till after the first of the month.

We don’t talk about the shopping addiction; the underlying behavior is as sacrosanct as apple pie. I can hear Sarah Palin right now, all the way from Wasilla, sayin’, “You betcha, we were out there by four at 25-below, just stockin’ up on those laptops and smart phones at those great pro-America prices that God gave us the opportunity to go out there and do that shoppin’ in our mighty, freedom-lovin’ nation that we give so many thanks for with all our great family values.”

If a lot of these people (Palin aside) voted for Barack Obama, it wasn’t to help him make the hard choices that just might set the country back on the right track. It wasn’t like they could even focus on choices, except for deciding between Samsung and Sanyo. What the hell, gas is back under $2 a gallon, so let’s fire up the Expedition and load it up with good deals. Obama will fix everything.

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Let Citi Regroup, Chapter 7

By David Evans

The fourth week of November 2008 found numbers worthy of consideration for the first time. Some were from the bureau of great big numbers, a division of Bernanke, Paulson and Geithner (D-WS). Others were honest numbers like 175 and 173, the tally of house seats and electoral votes. Still others were slow deciders, MN and GA, one blue and one blue.

Three seems a good number, blue states among the eleven that once broke away. Reconstruction may be viewed as three-elevenths complete. Some wanted it to take a little longer. Of the twenty-two deliberators from the rebel band, new blues are VA and NC. Equally valid, civil rights is now given fair odds of three in eleven, given six blues and sixteen on the emergency brake on freedom’s ride in the New Old South.

Jim Martin will be good for Georgia. He doesn’t have a mouthful of peach pits and grits. He doesn’t smear his opponents. He is reasonable on guns and gays and he will not be morphed into a fear-laden caricature.

Aficionados know it isn’t Dixieland without swing and without horns. The first Tuesday of December will include trumpets and bones, but no sax. Max Cleland will play a little fife and drum solo though.

Bluegrass classics will be whistled during whittlin’ in South Georgia. The locals have a few favorites. Here’s one from 2000, sung to the Beverly Hillbillies theme:

Come and listen to my story ’bout a man named Jeb

A rich connected Yankee who’s here posin’ as a Reb

He’s tryin’ to win a big state for a brother name of George

Who ain’t exactly like the one who fought at Valley Forge

Big Oil that is, Not Bold, Harlow T

(c) 1999 Blaise Pascal Publishing

Sixty is now a passing grade. It would be useful for the blues to pass something very soon. Recall 1992 and 1994 when majorities chose fiscal conservatism and brought the trogs to power. People need help now. Let Citi hawk its financial recklessness on international credit markets. It is certain to get some offers.

Speaking of ’92, ’94, James Carville is ever ready with the telling quip. He says election time is time to stab your enemies and transition time is time to stab your friends. As President Clinton’s administration is examined, a point of much interest will be assigning responsibility for the inexplicable choice in summer ’92 to silence dissenting voices at the convention. If this did not play directly into the midterm election debacle, the alternative explanation for it will most likely lack parsimoniousness as well as explanatory power. It’s hard not to like the cueball though. The cajun corporal boils it down to basics, just crawfish and McIlhenny pepper sauce.

The Chattahoochee River runners will choose the wettest candidate next week, strumming a Martin without reed instruments, but with accompanying dramatic wood flute. Grant us deliverance. The civilized people should back the oddsmaker’s favorite because they know Jim Martin listens. They also know his opponent. Columbus had a big party for the bourgeois, with attendees from all over the western hemisphere. Athens will show itself to be the model of self-government, not bad for a college town in a formerly red state.

Atlanta has some suburbs and some suburban voters. The soccer moms and the hockey moms are also NASCAR moms and gun show moms. They are also college moms and mortgage moms and grocery moms and cookie jar moms. They will vote for the change that brings them relief for the holidays. They are tired of being overstressed moms. They don’t mind being working moms. They do wonder why work doesn’t pay according to merit. Seniority is a fine concept unless all the most senior are good ole boys.

Perhaps proportional work for proportional pay will become the norm in right to work (an ancient misleading indicator) states. Check your cards. Talk to your steward. Have courage and confidence that change is not only possible, it is inevitable, mothers of the South.

SPEAKING OF MOTHERS

Mesilla Valley Native Jimmy Carl Black will be remembered in an LA tribute on December seventh. He was a versatile singer, musician and band leader for decades after a brush with fame as the drummer for the Mothers of Invention in the 1960s. Jimmy played the Bulldogg in El Paso throughout 1975 as “Sonny and the Mesilla Valley Lo- Boys” and performed frequently in Mesilla and Las Cruces venues. Later, Austin knew his band as Mannish Boys. He passed away in Siegsdorf, Bavaria on November first. Sons Darrell and Geronimo Black will play the musical tribute on the first Sunday in December. Info at jimmycarlblack.com or music trade publications or geronimoblack.com or from Candy Zappa. .

IN THESE TIMES

This space has several times carried an objection to commonly used language in financial reporting. The writers and editors of the NY Times are belligerent (bordering on criminal negligence) in repeatedly misleading their readers and misinforming, by innuendo, their real constituency.

In a Saturday Nov 22 story about Citigroup, the grayling has offended us with a mischaracterization worthy of an official state organ. “Mr. Rubin helped loosen Depression-era banking regulations,” goes the anodyne rehash. Mr. Rubin helped repeal Glass-Steagall, the New Deal regulatory remedy for the excesses directly caused by overlapping accounting inexactitudes during the roaring twenties’ crash. His buddy Sandy Weill thought this would be okay. It was not.

When people learned U.S. History, they understood bankers, brokers and insurers wear different hats. They do not swap. Bad things result when this rule is indifferently enforced. For sixty-five years, Glass-Steagall worked. It will work for one hundred sixty-five more. Bob Rubin (D-WS) has some ‘splainin to do.

Now he is in position to do so. He need only speak fully about his tenure at Treasury and his relationship with Travelers/Citigroup. Gramm Leach Bliley Rubin is not yet repealed. Speaker Pelosi and Chairman Frank should not need a gold-embossed prod. Voters spoke. Do your duty. Do not delay. Let those who profitted from the regulatory unevenness do the bailing. The rest of the people are a little tired of the bait and switch.

DSCC

The blue deliberators have chosen Bob Menendez for campaign committee duty. How nice to have someone close to Wall Street for a change, unlike Bob Torricelli or the last one.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

The privateers who took a boat of oil last week have caused a philosophical dilemma. Are they criminals or are they terrorists? Maritime insurers want to know. They also want to know if Somalis waging jihad against infidels should have their actions characterized as piratical, or could such a bold stroke be called an act of God? Only maritime insurers are interested.

PARDON ME

Can a presidential pardon be challenged? Can it be appealed? Could the people have tried Richard Nixon or Mark Rich or Scooter Libby? Maybe RICO statutes did not apply to Nixon. Happy Thanksgiving. Eat sensibly, enjoy family and friends, take a quiet moment for a genuine thanks. Despite the turbulence, we really do have a lot to be thankful for. We survived eight of the worst years… well, let’s discuss that later.

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Obama, Hope, and Finding Our Way Out of This Mess

By Gordon Solberg

What a relief! The election was best-case scenario at every level. This was a pleasant change of pace for us shell-shocked veterans of recent electoral wars. Nationally, Obama won a substantial victory – in other words, too substantial to steal. Statewide, New Mexico has become a delightful shade of blue – both of our senators and all three representatives are now Democrats. And in Las Cruces and Doña Ana County, Democrats swept every contested race. Now the real work begins – ensuring that the Dems don’t resume their usual spineless capitulator routine. Unfortunately, some would say they’ve already started caving. Yo Dems, we voted for CHANGE, not more of the same!

I wonder what the white racists think while they’re standing in line at Wal-Mart, surrounded by the smiling, happy faces of the Obama family on every magazine and tabloid cover. The older racists will never change, but their children and grandchildren are now growing up in a world filled with black role models. The demographic wind is at our backs – this is becoming an increasingly nonwhite country, and young people voted for Obama 2-1. It’s just a matter of time till the balance of power shifts permanently. But I wonder if there’ll be anything left by the time the old white men in suits finally lose their grip on power.

I hope there’s more to Obama’s “hope” routine than mere rhetoric. Obama is clearly a once-in-a-lifetime transformational figure, and as such – to phrase it delicately – won’t be with us forever. We don’t want to depend on the charisma of a single individual. I wonder what we, out here in the cheap seats, can do to create a positive vibe to replace the paralysis that has gripped our country for far too long. I find myself asking a lot of questions these days because the answers aren’t obvious yet. Everything is still preliminary and unformed, although it looks like the Obama administration will be “status quo lite.” At least the president will be able to speak his nuanced policy positions in complete sentences.

Obama probably ran the most intelligent, tightly-managed campaign in American history. After eight years of a corrupt dumbass president, a majority of Americans were eager for change, donating unprecedented amounts of money and countless volunteer hours getting out the vote. Barack, Michelle and their two girls are obvious incarnations of higher consciousness – which is to say, they are positive, intelligent people. Obama possessed an astounding equanimity throughout the campaign. He was unflappable, a veritable Rock of Gibraltar, and earned the nickname, “No Drama Obama.”

McCain and Palin, by contrast… my fingers grow numb at the thought, and recoil from typing about them; I’ll have to use my teeth: McCain and Palin ran the lamest, most incompetent, lying-est, nastiest, sleaziest, flip-flopping-est campaign of our lifetime. They were the successors to the most unpopular president in American history (who also happened to be a Republican), who got us into a needless travesty of a war, who wrecked the economy, who condoned torture, who trashed the Constitution, who turned his country into an embarrassment for anybody more intelligent than a loaf of bread… and after all was said and done, despite everything, McCain still captured 46 percent of the popular vote. Which in my mind is almost half. Nearly half of the electorate quite specifically rejected Obama’s message of conciliation and hope. Obviously, there’s something terribly wrong with this country, but we already knew that. This election merely sharpened the focus to an excruciating level of detail.

Fundamentalist Christians have a series of novels, the “Left Behind” series, in which the True Believers are Raptured into Heaven, while the rest of us – secular humanists, goddess worshippers, atheists, Wiccans, Druids, Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists, animists, shamans, sexaholics, freeform meditators, latte liberals, homosexuals of all flavors, unchurched mountain bikers, Earth pagans, mystical beekeepers, tree huggers, anarchists, Zen mamas, rock & rollers, freethinking feminists, agnostic punks, serious spiritual seekers, alternative newspaper editors, and the whole Motley Crue – will be “left behind” to suffer the consequences of our disbelief. (Imagine a world in which the fundies have all disappeared… this seems like an intriguing prospect to me, and gets my vote! Bring it on, God!)

At any rate, here’s the actuality: American Civilization (or at least, what passes for civilization in this country) has been evolving for a good long while. Compared to our ancestors, many of us are better educated, more tolerant, much more self-actualized, and more likely to depend on our own unfiltered experience rather than religious dogma for whatever conclusions we may wish to draw from our sojourn on this plane of existence. But there remains, in this country, a distressingly large percentage of the population that is still effectively living in the Dark Ages, living lives of ignorance, intolerance, superstition and fear. Their sophisticated leaders very successfully spread their retrograde message by every high-tech channel available. The rank-and-file have truly been left behind… and as such are very dangerous, being easily manipulated by whoever cares to push their buttons — like Limbaugh, Rove, and the multitude of megachurch preachers. These people will fight us in every way possible, because they feel they have the divine right, the divine commandment, to TAKE OVER. They will never give up, and changing them in any way will be well-nigh impossible. Making progress under these circumstances is like trying to run a 100-yard dash with a cinderblock tied to your foot. Evidently we need to learn to levitate.

A worthwhile research project would be to send a team of outgoing, personable people to interview thousands of conservatives across the country. The team would ask – openly, honestly, and respectfully – what the conservatives believe, and why. After the team accumulates enough information, they might be able to formulate a strategy to effectively influence people who don’t think in the same way we do. I’m not talking about people who merely have different opinions, but people whose thought processes are fundamentally different. This work has doubtless been done to some extent by campaign pollsters, but not in the relentlessly methodical way that is needed.

The bottom line is, we’ve got over 58 million people in this country who not only couldn’t see how stupid and mean-spirited McCain/Palin were, but actually thought they were the better choice. You can’t reason with these people, because verbal arguments don’t work. With them, the cerebral cortex doesn’t work in the expected way. We’ve got to work with the lizard brain, or maybe the spinal column itself. Until we figure out a way to get some semblance of unanimity going in this country, we’ll be fighting the same battles over and over while the fundamental problems remain unaddressed. The “long emergency” we are now entering requires that we finally take politics and public opinion seriously rather than leaving them in the none-too-capable hands of media hacks and political consultants.

Ultimately we’re all culpable. We are all contributing to the destruction of the planet.  We’re all part of the human condition; we’re all enmeshed in the same human reality, which looks like this: At the individual level, most people identify with – consider themselves to be – the nattering, chattering, sense of self apart from everything else, known as “ego.” The ego is constantly churning out thoughts – thoughts about the past, thoughts about the future, thoughts about hypothetical situations – that prevent us from living fully in the present moment. We live trapped within a never-ending web of thought-patterns –which is a trivial way to live. Such triviality leads to the semi-civilization we now have (there is no true civilization anywhere on the planet): a chaotic mish-mash of truth and lies, science and superstition, with no standard of truth, only competing systems of propaganda.

Einstein said that you can’t solve a problem on the level of the problem. We need to go to a meta-level to solve the problem. The meta-level we need has traditionally been called “spirituality” – which is a misnomer, because it implies that there is some “other,” “better,” “more spiritual” reality or state of consciousness. In truth, the answer has always been right here, right now — at the center of our very being – but has been obscured by the multitude of distractions and false beliefs that cloud our clear perception of reality.

I recommend Eckhart Tolle’s book, A New Earth, which is perfectly suited for TV-addled American consumers, frantically going nowhere at half the speed of light. The book is very basic but most importantly, Tolle’s techniques really work. Tolle recommends that people focus on becoming consciously present at all times –  “waking up” as it were. This has got to be the ultimate mental discipline. It seems like such a simple thing, almost trivial. But most people will find themselves constantly forgetting to be consciously present. They’ll constantly drift back into uncontrolled thinking. Those who persist will find that ultimately the distractions start to fade more into the background, and life takes on a new and more vibrant quality. And this is only the beginning. As the Good Book says, “For now we see through a glass darkly, but later we will see more clearly.” I can’t think of a better way to achieve the fundamental transformation we so desperately need.

If you enjoy my Grassroots Press column, you’ll probably enjoy my blog as well. I tackle politics, the economic crash, conscious living, grocery shopping, Georgia O’Keeffe, monsoons, dechaosification, Christianity, alfalfa hay, parallel conversations, intentional neighborhood, and many other topics. You never know what to expect; neither do I. Check it out: http://newearthtimes.blogspot.com.

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