Connect the Dots, Damnit!

Brain Dropping #163 — Connect The Damn Dots.

 Demagogues and other political schmucks love fragmenting perceptions, compartmentalizing and isolating events as a way of ignoring interlocking relationships.  For example, the tired and shopworn argument over whether there is a causal relationship between poverty and crime.  The conservatives always argue that it’s not poverty but broken family values that breed crime.  They say the same about educational achievement – it’s not broken down segregated schools, crowded classrooms and underpaid teachers that are the problem – but once again, collapsing family values.  Bullshit.

           It is glaringly obvious that the growing worldwide social crises – racism – anti-semitism – the rise of neo-Nazism in Europe – the on-going shooting of unarmed black men – Islamic Jihad – ISIS – the Tea Party loonies – are engendered by the desperation of people driven to despair.  On a planet where 2.2 billion live on less than two dollars a day and one billion lack safe drinking water, violent behavior and social disruption are a given.

          It is hard to argue against the proposition that the greater degree of inequality in any society the greater the social tensions. In this week’s New Yorker magazine (March 16, 2015) “Richer and Poorer” by Jill Lepore, there is a discussion of what is called the Gini Index which plots the degree of inequality world wide.  “Income inequality is greater in the United States than any other democracy in the developed world.” The article goes on to say:  “In 2001 the American Political Science Association formed a Task Force on Inequality and American Democracy; a few years later it concluded that growing economic inequality was threatening fundamental American institutions.” To update that finding in starker terms, big money has bought the American government. 
          Police officers shooting and killing unarmed black men has become commonplace in the “Good Ol’ U.S. of A.”  In all the media accounts of these state sanctioned murders, we are never told about the salaries of the officers involved.  That economic “dot” is never connected to the “dot” of the demoralized, exploited, angry police officers with spouses and kids, barely scraping by.  Among the highest paid police officers in the country are the New York city police officers.  Rookies start at $42,000 a year – about twenty bucks an hour.  In Ferguson, Missouri it’s $28,000 a year – $14 an hour – just a few bucks more than a high school hamburger flipper at MacDonalds.  Are we to believe that this insultingly low compensation for such a crucial and dangerous job requiring  courage and astute judgement, does not have an effect on the morale and perceptions of a police officer as he confronts an equally disgruntled kid on the block?  That’s a question the “law and order loonies” never ask.

How Limited Liability makes for Vast Carelessness

Brain Dropping 162  —  Limited Liability. 
It is a fundamental principle of corporate law that a shareholder ordinarily is not liable for the acts of the corporation or its employees, officers and directors.”  This can also be termed “getting away with murder!”      “However, courts will hold shareholders liable for the acts of the corporation if wrongdoing is proved.  This is called “piercing the corporate veil.” If this sounds vague and difficult to nail down, you have it right.  Corporations hiding behind complex loop-holes can indeed, as with Union Carbide in Bhopal, India, get away with murder.  But as amoral as corporations are with their “fiduciary requirement” to maximize profits, the government has them beat by the sheer magnitude of the swath of destruction the U.S. has cut through the countries of the world.
       In “The Great Gatsby” F. Scot Fitzgerald has Nick Caraway say:  “They were careless people Tom and Daisy – They broke things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”  Characterizing U.S. foreign policy as “vast carelessness” has the ring of  truth – but seriously understates our criminality.  We break nations and then retreat into our “vast carelessness” until public amnesia sets in – and then we go out and break some more.  Patriots call it “protecting our national interests!”  Others, who see clearly, call it “empire building” for the corporate profiteers.
       We broke Cuba and the Philippines in the Spanish American war, burning entire villages, taking no prisoners, slaughtering the civilian population.   The U.S. Marines broke Nicaragua and occupied it from 1912 to 1933 in the “Banana Wars,” to protect United Fruit and to eliminate the possibility of a rival to the Panama Canal. The U.S. Marine Commander at the time, Major General Smedley Butler said: “I helped in the raping of a half-a-dozen Central American Republics for the benefit of Wall Street!”  We broke Guatemala in 1930, installing the brutal dictatorship of General Jorge Ubico who, in gratitude, gave hundreds of thousands of acres to the United Fruit company.  In 1954, a popular uprising and democratic election brought President Jacobo Arbenz Gusman to power. The CIA planned and executed a coup d’etat and reinstalled a military dictatorship under Carlos Castillo Armas. 
        In 1964 we broke Brazil by backing a military coup against democratically elected, moderate-nationalist Joao Goulart who wanted to socialize the profits of big companies to help the poor.  The deadly military regime, bowing to the oligarchs and the U.S.A., lasted until 1985.  Next, in our overweening arrogance we broke Chile in 1973, when Henry Kissinger committed one of his many crimes by overseeing the murder and coup against democratically elected socialist Salvatore Allende, beginning the barbaric regime of General Augusto Pinochet , ass-kissing friend to American
business rapists – especially AT&T.  Is there no end to our murderous policies?  Not yet!  In 1979 the leftist Sandanistas of Nicaragua overthrew yet another American puppet, Anastaso Somoza, but rather than accept the will of the Nicaraguan people, Reagan’s Washington supported counterrevolutionary forces with money and arms, illegally paid for by supplying arms to Iran (counter to the Boland Amendment.)   In 1963 the U.S. sent 10 Special Forces personnel to El Salvador to help General Jose Alberto Medrano set up the first paramilitary “Death Squad.”  These squads went on a thirty year killing spree with the blessings of the U.S.A. which trained many of these torturers at the “School of the Americas” at Fort Benning, Georgia. We helped them murder Bishop Oscar Romero, a supporter of liberation theology, as he said mass.
        This is the dossier of a homicidal manic! And notice, I haven’t mentioned the mass slaughter and poisoning of the Vietnamese – thousands still dying today from UXO (unexploded ordinance) and the residual effects of Agent Orange, nor the “shock and awe” carnage in Afghanistan and Iraq.  We have not only broken these societies but have trampled them into the dust.  But our liability in these matters has seemed to escape us. Like corporations we offer mealy-mouthed justifications and little by way of reparations.  Among the developed world the U.S. is last in the percentage of GDP we give to foreign aid – half of one percent.  That’s right .5%!  That represents our “vast carelessness!”

fifth column

 Brain Dropping #161

                   Not just the Fifth Column, but The “Academic”  Fifth Column.  The term “Fifth Column” was coined by a fascist General during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930’s.  Generalissimo Franco’s army was advancing on Madrid in four columns and his General spoke of a “Fifth Column” of clandestine fascists living in Madrid who would rise up against the democratic Republic.  Hemingway wrote a play with that title.  I never thought calling that conflict a “Civil War” was appropriate, because Hitler and Mussolini sent arms and troops to crush the Republic, while the U.S. imposed an embargo and the rest of Europe watched with arms folded as Stuka dive bombers obliterated the Basque Village of Guernica.
                   It is my contention that we have a “Fifth Column” in the U.S.  A not so clandestine group of reactionary academics who support the agenda of the corporate oligarchs with bogus studies and presentations.  With corporate profits at an all time high, institutions of higher learning and so-called think-tanks are reaping the benefit  of multi-million dollar, tax deductible gifts with political strings attached.  From the prestigious “Ivies” of Yale, Harvard, Columbia etc. to little known southern“Christian” Colleges, we are getting a steady stream of factually and historically distorted papers and publications to support the right-wing agenda against any attempt to level the playing field.  And, of course, the corporate media, in reporting the content of these “academic studies” rarely reveal the underlying funding.
                                          A Few Exalted Members of the American Academic Fifth Column                                                  
          1-   Milton Friedman, economics guru of the University of Chicago and his “Chicago Boys” selling the idea of the “invisible hand of the free market” and the evils of regulation, is probably responsible for more deaths in the struggling, developing world than AIDS and Ebola combined.  Using the bludgeon of the IMF, Friedman’s vicious paradigm of free flowing capital, privatization and cuts in social services has driven dozens of poor countries into the mud of despair.
          2-  Arthur Laffer, of Mercer University, Georgia, is considered to be the father of supply-side economics.  In his academic study he found conclusive evidence that cutting taxes for the rich will create jobs and raise all boats – to me, mostly one hundred foot yachts.  George W. H. Bush rightly characterized Professor Laffer’s theory Voodo Economics.  But this economic zombie is still alive and kicking, not only on a national level but also here in Vermont in Governor Shumlin’s agenda.
         3-  Abigail & Stephen Thernstrom.  He a Harvard Professor of History. She a member of the reactionary Manhattan Institute.  In their book “America in Black and White” they argue against affirmative action programs and flirt with the idea that intelligence is a genetic characteristc – a wink and a nod to racism.
         4-  Moshe Adler teaches economics at Columbia University.  In his book “Economics For The Rest Of Us” Professor Adler discusses the great economists of the 18th and 19th centuries – Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Jeremy Benthem, Vilfredo Pareto and – I’m not making this up – never, ever mentions Karl Marx – not a smidgeon, not a footnote. Good job Moshe!  I’m sure all the historical revisionists at Columbia applaud you.
        5-  Jared Diamond, Professor of Geography at UCLA and well-known author of popular books on the environment. In his book “Collapse” subtitled: “How Societies Choose To Fail or Succeed,”  He deals with the deforestation of Easter Island, the environmental collapse of Greenland,  the fall of the Anasazi culture of Chaco Canyon and the despoilation of the island of Hispanola, divided between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.  The professor qualifies for this list because of his ties to the Chevron Oil plunderers – being shamelessly apologetic for big business and supporting the inane idea of the beneficent corporation.  The degree to which Prof. Diamond has  sold-out is evident in this quote from the book “Collapse.”
                   “Two years after Trujillo’s death, the democratically elected President Juan Bosch attempted to persuade loggers to spare the pine forests so that they could remain as watersheds for the planned
Yaque and Nizao dams, but the loggers instead joined with other interests to overthrow Bosch.”
     Do I have to tell you who “the other interests” were?  The CIA!  The fact that this part of the history of the Dominican Republic is so well documented, makes Diamond’s historical lie by omission so flagrant.  
The obfuscating words of these learned academics calls to mind the old joke: “What does PHD stand for?”  Answer: “Piled Higher and Deeper!”


Brain Dropping #159  —  Hypocrisy

   Allow me to distinguish between two polar opposites – General David Patraeus as opposed to Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning.  First, a little biased background.  How does one become a General?  Answer: By always saying “YES, SIR!” followed by a snappy salute, no matter how idiotic the command.  Saying “NO SIR!” is never, ever an option even if your superior officer is a certified moron.  Having your nose firmly inserted in your commander’s asshole greatly increases your chances of advancement.  That is euphemistically called the military “pecking order.”  If you can withstand years of this kind of humiliation, schizophrenia and repression of personal integrity, you may very well end up “the ruler of the Queen’s navy!”

        So, General Petraeus, when head of the CIA, kept eight notebooks filled with highly sensitive, classified information about the identities of covert officers, intelligence capabilities – lent them to his official biographer and source of nooky, Paula Broadwell.  If ever there was a serious violation of the 1918 Espionage Act this is it – in spades!  Instead of a jail term MR. Patraeus was given probation and levied a $40,000 fine which he could pay off with just one of his speaking fees on national security issues. SAY WHAT???  In addition he keeps his lucrative post-government career as a partner in a private equity firm – providing he keeps his nose clean.
       By contrast, John Kiriakou, a 14 year CIA veteran, got 30 months in jail for exposing the perpetrator of illegal torture.  And intelligence advisor Stephen Jin-Woo Kim got 13 months in prison for disclosing a report on North Korea to a reporter.  But the “end all” and “be all” of this double tiered form of justice is the draconian 35 year sentence for Chelsea (formerly) Bradley Manning for leaking classified military documents to Wikileaks.  Obviously, the Obama Justice Department under inert Eric Holder, understood and honored the amoral pecking order of military justice. “Yes Sir!” (Followed by a snappy salute!) 
      There is a social ripple effect created by such blatant impunity for the kleptocratic, upper echelon in our society.  Whether its a corrupt General or the thieving CEO of a bank “too-big-to-fail,” the lesson being taught to the mass of Americans is abundantly clear – the higher up in the pecking order the less likely you’ll be punished for murder, theft, torture, disloyalty and an endless list of criminality.  In all honesty, you’d have to believe that the underpaid cop on the beat, say in Ferguson, Missouri, is mindful of the license he has in meting out his brand of arbitrary justice, with little fear of suffering the consequences. 

My Angle on Firewood

Brain Dropping #153 – Firewood.

For the first time in twenty years my woodpile had dwindled down to one third of a cord at the beginning of February, making me very uneasy.  It had been a consistently cold winter.  I called Pat Stanley, my reliable firewood guy, and ordered an additional cord of wood dry enough to burn without creosote problems. Creosote in green wood will condense out as the smoke cools going up the chimney coating the stove pipe and flue, creating the danger of a dreaded chimney fire that can burn your house down. not having a healthy wood pile when you heat with wood can give you bad dreams.

      In a few days Pat delivered the wood  in his dump truck.  It was a load of Rock Maple, Birch, Beech and Hardhack or American Hornbeam, also known as Ironwood because of its density – excellent BTU factor. Pat maneuvered the truck close to the garage opening and raised the truck bed, neatly tumbling the cord half-in and half-out of the garage.  I gave up stacking my wood years ago and built a crib inside the garage out of two by sixes and heave the wood in helter-skelter.  It’s not as efficient space-wise but easier on my back. Neatly stacking firewood requires more positioning and adjustment therefore more bending.
     Snow was coming and it was imperative to get the wood in before it was buried and frozen together. In the past I took pride in doing this myself but I wasn’t sure my back would hold out.  I started nice and easy and was doing pretty well while resting every now and then in a lawn chair.  But I soon realized that it would be more pleasant and faster with some help.  I called my good friend Doug Reaves but his message machine came on and I cursed myself for waiting until the last minute.  Luckily, he got the message and arrived in fifteen minutes.  The first thing he asked me was about the order of things – what was my method?  “I’m just heaving it into the corner of the crib and letting the wood find it’s own angle of repose.” Doug chuckled at that.
     I remember reading a novel by Wallace Stegner titled “Angle Of Repose” about family relationships. Stegner explained that when a pile of sand unloaded from a dump-truck stops cascading down it forms a stable pyramid at the “angle of repose.”  I believe there’s a mathematical equation for that angle.  Looking at the woodpile Doug and I flung into the crib relieves any anxiety I may have had about keeping the house warm for Gail and me until warm weather finally arrives.  You might say I’ve arrived at an angle of repose.

Liars ! I say

Brain Dropping #152 –  Apologists & Other Liars.  

The historical revisionists are on the march, transmogrifying recent history.  The audacity of these media pundits, academics and “for sale” historians in misrepresenting events to which there are still alive and kicking witnesses, is breathtaking.  Was it Goebbels or Goring or Herr Shickelgruber himself who said: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it!”  No, I’m not referring to that sap Brian Williams and his pathetic lie about being shot down in a helicopter.  If he wasn’t such a dope he would have realized that it’s far easier and less detectable to lie when there are no witnesses alive who were there to repudiate or corroborate the account.  Any accomplished liar knows that the further back in time the subject of the lie the smaller chance of being exposed. Fraudulent historians depend on this.  This masking and changing of the truth with passing time is  essential for religious dogma.   But Williams arrogantly lied about events perilously close in time, with plenty of witnesses who saw what actually happened. That incident is undoubtedly the tip-of-the-iceberg where corporate media eunuchs are concerned.

     These smarmy TV newshawks or newshens, or rather pigeons, have had their balls cut off – and whatever the female equivalent might be.  Their impotence in regard to the truth earns them those corporate bucks which pay for their Fifth Avenue condos and their Frank Gehry beach-houses in the Hamptons.   The grist for their mill are half–truths, distortions and most importantly omissions of fact.
     I’m talking about twisted accounts of America’s favorite pastime – not the NFL or Major League Baseball or NASCAR – but waging war and dropping bombs on brown people and killing them by the hundreds of thousands in the name of planting the seeds of democracy.
     The latest attempt to defenestrate the facts are two movies about the brutal bungling of the American military and the consequent horror of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians being obliterated by the firepower provided by Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Boeing, Booz Allen Hamilton and hundreds of other profiteering death factories.  The films are: “American Sniper” directed by Clint Eastwood and a documentary “Last Days in Vietnam,” directed by Rory Kennedy.
       I have not seen either film and will avoid seeing them – so these comments are based on reviews from sources like The Nation Magazine and The New Yorker.  The former has a ‘liberal’ slant and is somewhat mealy-mouthed, the latter is as slick as the paper it’s printed on, and appeals to the conscience-ridden ‘one percenter’ with ads for Prada, Rolex and Rolls Royce.  And to people like me by (increasingly rare) reportage by muckrakers  like Seymour Hersh.  ( Sadly,  the legendary cartoons have become largely pointless. )
      To begin with The New Yorker review of “Last Days In Vietnam” touts it as a masterpiece, thereby putting the imprimatur of excellence on the film.  How does one argue with a masterpiece? The Nation however claims that “Last Days In Vietnam distorts history large and small.”  Mr. Kennedy, bogged down with patriotic tunnel-vision, deals with the final days of the illegal American occupation and the chaos of the evacuation of American personnel, leaving behind many Vietnamese collaborators.  According to the author of The Nation article, Nick Turse, Mr. Kennedy saw fit to leave out all the essential background information as to why we were there as an aggressor in the first place. No details about brutal French colonialism, no mention that Harry Truman believed that if fair elections were held Ho Chi Minh would win by a landslide.  No mention of the nearly two million dead because of our intervention. No mention of the tens of thousands of birth defects to this day, caused by the residue of Dioxin and Dieldrin, the two active chemicals in Agent Orange.  This historical distortion is comparable to talking about the Indian wars of the West without dealing with the constant betrayal and abrogation of our treaties with indigenous peoples – a form of historical racism. And have no doubt, racism is a key element in Iraq as it was in Vietnam – good old American racism that saw thousands of lynchings and black men burned alive.
       “American Sniper,” from what I read in both the NYT and New Yorker review could have been called “The Outlaw Josie Wales Frets About His Gunplay.”  In Mr. Eastwood’s manichean world you either wear a white hat or a black one representative of unambiguous good or evil.  It is essentially a child’s world, a simpleton’s world – no nuance, no subtext.  You’re either for us or against us – pure American hogwash calculated to thrill the “good ol’ boy patriot,” whose gun can only be “pried from his cold, dead hands.”   Here again the reviewers know which side their bread is buttered on.  Obscenely absent from this apology for American war crimes is  historical context, no casus belli.  Is there a legitimate reason for us to be in Iraq?  Duh!  Are all the Iraqis depraved savages, men, women and children to be picked off by the hero’s  sniper’s rifle?  Is Eastwood aware of the history he is distorting – the fraudulent march to war by morally insane men?
     From Richard Brody’s review in The New Yorker: “It’s a family story that starts with Chris’ father teaching him to hunt and discovering the boy’s natural gift for marksmanship. Chris is a sort of Mozart of the rifle.”  Or A.O. Scott in the NYT: “He approaches his work with steady nerves and a clear conscience banishing the doubt and fatalism that afflict some of his comrades and buttressed by the unambiguous depravity of his enemies.  These are people who use women and children as suicide bombers, who mutilate and torture anyone who opposes them, who ambush American marines in the street.”  Eastwood, in his spaghetti-western world, would never dare to ask what the fuck those marines were doing there in the first place.
      These liars have been found out, but if you think this historical dishonesty really doesn’t matter, allow me to imagine a review of my own employing the same mindless amorality of The New Yorker and the NYT.  ( I’ll have a better  chance of  re-writing some history, as it’s been awhile) “Young Adolph was a quiet boy with a talent for painting watercolors. As a young man he fought in the trenches of WWI and soon came to the belief that his enemies were depraved savages who wanted to replace the purity of his world with that of a corrupt, mongrel morality. He and his followers knew that they had to act forcefully to make the world safe for the better good of humankind!”

Low Life Scum

Brain Dropping #151

        I”m starting a new club! Anyone can join! No Color bar!  A peaceful club!  A club for rational human beings, and perhaps a hairy primate or other!  A club that does not worship “the invisible man in the sky!”- nor any other hallucinatory creature.  The club shall have no liars, no poseurs, no scallywags!
Oops! Note:  Scallywag, the dictionary informs me, can mean rascal which is why I used the term.  But it was also the term used for white Southerners who supported the Republican Party’s advocacy of integration just after the Civil War. (Yes, I’m aware of the irony.)  So scallywags WILL be welcome to join the club. Our club jackets will be pond-scum green with an accurately rendered Swamp Toad as our icon.  Our secret call could be a high-pitched “Haruuuumph” or a low, rumbling “Gurgle, Gurgle, Gurgle.”  In imitation of the Masons we could create a secret handshake.  The club name?  LOW-LIFE SCUM!
       As you probably already know, the distinguished statesman and erstwhile Presidential candidate Senator John McCain, in one of his more hateful outbursts, used that epithet when members of Code Pink attempted a citizen’s arrest of Henry Kissinger who was appearing at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Code Pink, a group of courageous women, interrupted the tedious mutual-admiration-pandering between the committee and “good old Hank”, with shouts condemning Kissinger as a war criminal – which by any standard of decency, he is!  Kissinger is already restricted from visiting certain European countries for fear of being indicted and tried for backing the coup in Chile in 1974, leading to the murder of democratically elected Marxist Salvatore Allende, and for the illegal bombing of Cambodia and a lengthy list of other crimes against humanity.
     With a withering scowl that could peel paint off the wall, Senator McCain, watching the Capitol Police escorting the women out, and fully aware that the camera was on him, brayed: “Get outta here you low-life scum!” There you have it!  So, in the spirit of making a silk purse out of a sows ear, let us proceed with the founding of the LOW-LIFE SCUM club, dedicated to helping humanity, and even Senators, crawl out of the lubricious sludge of hatefulness and wash themselves clean in the clear water of truth.

The Mosiach

Brain Dropping #150 – The Mosiach !

Mosiach is the Yiddish word for Messiah.  The tsuris (another Yiddish word meaning trouble or grief) suffered by the Jews for over two millennia stems from their refusal to accept any Mosiach but their own.  They were slaughtered for turning their backs on the Jewish Rabbi the gentiles deified as their savior.  They were slaughtered for rejecting Mohammed’s appeal to join him in Medina.  They have been called “dogs” by St. Augustine, and “that stiff necked people” by St. Thomas Aquinas.  This treatment as the alienated “other” in Islam and Christendom set the scene for the horrors of the holocaust.

          As a secular humanist, I find the whole miserable story a tragic case of the “theater of the absurd!”  All this carnage and death because of the primitive hallucination of an “invisible man in the sky” who will someday redeem us and forgive our sins.  If it all wasn’t so horrifying I’d find it amusingly pathetic.
         There seems to be something in the human DNA that requires us to yearn for a savior – a celestial life-guard who will jump in and save us from drowning in a sea of troubles.  This mindless whining and gnashing of teeth is particularly desperate in a society of alienated, narcissistic consumers who cling to the mirage of “exceptionalism.”
         I raise this issue of a savior, of this “cult of the personality,” because of the now ubiquitous calls for  Senator Elizabeth Warren to run for President and save our bacon.  I attended a talk by Senator Warren in Burlington, Vermont where she firmly made it known that she is not running.  And yet, like the adherents of Sabbatai Zevi, the seventeenth century Jewish mystic who was declared to be the Mosiach, but under duress converted to Islam, Ms. Warren’s followers refuse to take no for an answer.  I like Elizabeth Warren and I believe she has more integrity and moxie than Barak Obama could ever hope to have – and if she runs I’ll vote for her.  But I’m under no illusion that, short of massive protests and civil disobedience, any one person can make a significant difference in changing a terminally diseased system. As long as the drooling oligarchs, fortified by a loony-tunes Supreme Court, treat our electoral process like a cattle auction, there is little chance that real democracy will prevail.  There will be no Mosiach on the ballot.

A Few Words on Banking

Brain Dropping #149 – Banking

          An old protest song goes: “A weary Vermont farmer / plowing his field of loam / hears the auction hammer / knocking down his home. / The banks are made of marble / with a guard at every door. / The vaults are lined with silver / that the farmers sweated for.”  The one and only time Jesus used physical  violence was to drive the bankers from the temple.  There’s a wonderful El Greco painting of the scene with Jesus, whip raised and about to strike, overturning the money changer’s tables and kicking ass.  With widespread corruption and financial gangsterism, bankers are an easy target and, I think,  deservedly despised.  The lying, cheating and gambling with other people’s money is rampant, especially after the repeal of the New Deal’s Glass / Steagall Act which placed a so-called “firewall” between depository or commercial banks and investment banks more appropriately called gambling casinos.
         Just the nomenclature of these risky financial machinations seem calculated to disguise the devious nature of these transactions: Hedging, Derivatives, Credit Default Swaps, Collateralized Debt Obligations etc.  But while the banking scam artists walk away with millions in bonuses, even when the offending bank requires a taxpayer bail-out, in the final accounting the little investor or depositor gets the shaft.  The “too-big-to-fail” private banking system is rotten to the core. Their political power allows them to evade any regulatory restraints to keep them honest.  The evisceration of the Volker Rule designed to over-see derivatives is a case-in-point.  And that is precisely why publicly owned and administered banks are an idea whose time has come if the hardworking depositor is to be fairly treated.
        A publicly owned bank is not a new idea. North Dakota’s State Bank goes back one hundred years. In Germany public-owned banking goes back to the late eighteenth century, established to help the poor and low income folks to save small sums of money and to support business start-ups. The Swiss have a network of provincially owned banks more profitable than their private counterparts.  Public banks are true non-profits recycling earnings back into the community rather than into off-shore tax havens.
       In November 2014 The Wall Street Journal reported that the Bank of North Dakota(BND), the nation’s only state owned bank is more profitable than Goldman Sachs and has a better credit rating than JP Morgan Chase.  The BND turns a profit year after year because of lower costs and risks than private commercial banks.  The BND pays no exorbitant executive salaries, no bonuses, no fees, no commissions and no private shareholders.  The bank does not gamble in the derivatives market and therefore has no losses from trades gone wrong.  It engages in old fashioned community banking.
       What’s wrong with the status quo? Well, the problem is getting bigger: The sub-prime mortgage crisis showed clearly that the private banking industry is motivated largely by the money-grubbing accumulation of wealth using illegal and ethically questionable methods at the expense of the middle and working classes – and to hell with the well-being of the community.  With the country’s leadership bought and paid for, the bankers wheel, deal and steal with impunity. Not a single sleazy banker has been indicted by the, misnamed, Justice Department under the directorship of the morally challenged Eric Holder.  So, it is not surprising that the billionaire members of the banking establishment support the infamous TPP – the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement being secretly negotiated among 12 Pacific Rim States – US, Singapore, Japan, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, and Vietnam. If the TPP becomes law, a private corporate tribunal, could have the power to override the sovereign laws of the signatories regarding environmental laws, clean water regulations, pure food regulations, public banking systems under the rubric of unfair trading practices.  The TPP has the potential of being the ultimate step toward the time when corporations and big banks rule the world!

In Praise of the Truly Free: Street Peddlers & Buskers

Brain Dropping #148 – Street Peddlers & Buskers...

                      As a child at 575 Williams Avenue in East New York, Brooklyn I remember Mr. 48.  He was a Roma, or as we called them then, a Gypsy – from the erroneous belief that they had their origins in Egypt.  Mr. 48 was an itinerant shoe-shiner with his equipment in a box doubling as a foot stool, slung over his shoulder.  Why Mr. 48?  His specialty aside from polishing shoes for a quarter, was naming all forty-eight states in one minute.  Yes, this was way before Alaska and Hawaii were made the forty-ninth and fiftieth states.  We kids would surround him as he rattled off the states alphabetically from Alabama to Washington.  His box and his leather vest were festooned with pop bottle caps of all descriptions.  In those days each bottle cap had a cork liner.  You could extract the cork, place the metal cap on your shirt, and on the reverse side force the cork back into the cap to hold it in place. 
                Mr. 48 was one of the many street peddlers who came into our neighborhood during the Great Depression, just before WWII.  There was the Rag-Picker with a bulging sack on his back, his cry of “RAAGS!” “RAAGS!” “RAAGS!” echoed through the alleys.  There was the Accordion Player in the same alleys.  As he payed the squeeze-box he scanned the windows from which housewives would throw a penny or two wrapped in piece of newspaper.  My mother would allow me to wrap the coins and toss them out the window. I can’t remember which tunes he played, but the narrow alleys bounced the sound delightfully between the walls.
               There was the Knife Sharpening Truck – a panel truck with a hinged panel which when propped open revealed a work bench with a turning shaft of various emery and polishing wheels.  This in contrast to a Knife Sharpening Man on foot, carrying on his back, a  treadle-operated round honing stone on a tripod. In both cases the attraction for us kids were the sparks flying from the wheel as the knives and scissors were brought to a keen edge.
               We also had a Merry-Go-Round on a flat bed truck. For a nickel you could ride one of eight battered horses ’round and ’round in a ten foot circle, the power supplied by the driver using a hand crank.
               Baked sweet potatoes, potato knishes, chick peas, or in Yiddish “arbis,” were sold wrapped in old newspapers from enameled metal carts warm with smouldering charcoal fires.  During the worst of the Depression, when the furrier trade was slack, my father joined the ranks of street peddlers, selling potatoes from a horse drawn wagon.
               Today, with the world in economic turmoil, these stalwart street peddlers and buskers are everywhere in countless numbers. Their presence fortifies the soul in a largely inhospitable society.  I rarely fail to acknowledge their healing magic with a buck or two.  A while ago I saw a Japanese man on the 59th Street subway platform playing the Koto, the traditional Japanese stringed instrument, in the midst of the hurrying crowd and the crash and roar of arriving trains.  Not long ago, a team of acrobatic, kamikaze hip-hoppers with breathtaking moves, came storming into my subway car.  A superbly talented classical violinist, classical guitarist and, awesomely, a string quartet, on different occasions, all doing their thing in the nooks and crannies of the NYC subway system staying out of the rain and cold.  My son Eli is a mighty busker who has travelled the world – California, Burning Man, London, Barcelona, Berlin – playing and singing his heart out above the crowd on six foot stilts.
                 No story captures the spirit of the street peddler/musician more than that of Steven Slepack who died in 1996 at the age of 46 in Rochester, Vermont.  Abandoning a full science scholarship to the University of Hawaii he earned his living as a street banjo player and, according to the NYT, “a Street Balloon Virtuoso” twisting balloons into animals for children in Central Park, Paris and elsewhere to the accompaniment of 1920s jazz on his tape deck.