Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Scott Brown Catches Jean Shaheen in the Polls

Mississippi Police Awaiting Freedom Riders

Georgia Policeman Ripping American Flag from Boy's Hands

Scott Brown is out of work and looking for a job. He is a good looking man, who very much liked being a Senator from Massachusetts and he realized this was the best job he was ever going to get, so now he's running in New Hampshire.

If he has any thoughts of his own, if he is capable of any independent thought and analysis, we will never know because he cleaves to the party line which is:  1. The road to Paradise is through private enterprise.  2. All the ills of the American economy emanate from government interference and regulation . 3. Government is the problem,not the solution.  4. Obamacare is the root of all evil.  5. Lazy no good nicks are unwilling to work and liberals want to take your hard earned money and give it to them.  6. Cutting taxes for the rich will be good for the poor because the rich will hire the poor and wealth will trickle down to them's that needs it.

Of course, as Paul Krugman points out every day, there is no good evidence that any of these propositions of Republican economics is true, and in fact, there is plenty of evidence it is all false, but that doesn't stop people from believing what they want to believe.

When Mad Dog was growing up the prevailing belief was that Blacks were lazy and only wanted a government hand out, that if the Blacks were paid more, it would come out of the pockets of hard working Whites and Whites would suffer. Of course, what happened, when some Blacks got better jobs is it lifted the whole economy and it was better for everyone.

And now we have Scott Brown, candidate of the rich, pulling even with Jeanne Shaheen, riding a wave of negative ads funded by the Koch brothers and we are facing the prospect of our state represented in the Senate by Scott Brown and Kelly Ayotte.

But New Hampshire is not Mississippi or Georgia, is it?

Or is it?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Vulture Capitalism

Oh, look what I've found on the ground.

Here's an image for you:  That vulture is stalking that kid, who is on his last, spindly legs. 

So when a board of directors, a bunch of vultures, decides to swoop in and scarf up a pile of money they have fund in the accounts of the company which is paying their stipends, think of this bird, and this kid.

Market Basket had a pile of money--about $500 million dollars, and the board of directors decided they would simply grab it.  Arthur T had other ideas: Use the money to pay employees, to lower prices for consumers, but the board members wanted it for themselves.  It was a case of "stakeholder" capitalism vs, you name it--"Market" capitalism or "Wall Street"  capitalism or "Vulture" capitalism. It's all the same. The way Wall Street works is a "board of directors" governs the corporation and they meet in some private room, far from public view and decide how much to pay themselves and as long as the stock price of the company stays up, nobody finds out.

This practice is legalized robbery. Robber barons, feasting on the defenseless.

So when the departing CFO or CEO or provost gets a million dollars a year for life from the company, or when the board of directors votes to pay board members $500,000 a year for all their hard work, there is nobody there to dissent, to raise a hand and say, "Whoa! Who does this money rightfully belong to."

Nice work, if you can get it. 

It's all just curled up there, in front of you.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Beheadings, Intervention, 9/11

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I heard the news on my car radio and I thought:  There will be nothing left of Baghdad but a greasy yellow spot. 

We had been attacked, as at Pearl Harbor, by people who had grievances we could not fathom, people from another continent, another culture, from another world.  It was a War of the Worlds.  But the aliens did not use space ships; they used our own airplanes.  It was more like the "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." They infiltrated us, and they looked like us and they destroyed us. 

As Jim Lehrer asked a guest on his program, "Why do they hate us so?"

Well, we now have a better idea who "they" are and why they hate us. 

George W. Bush is not a very bright man, but he did reflect a gut reaction which burned in many of his fellow countrymen: Let's go kick some ass, somewhere--doesn't matter if we kick all the right asses, we'll kick some of the right asses.

His father, who was brighter, had the option of doing the same thing, during the first Gulf War, when Stormin' Norman Schwartzkopf, his commanding general,  said, on his way to Kuwait, "I can turn left and there's nothing between me and Baghdad." But George H.W. Bush, who had flown airplanes off carriers in WWII, said, no, if we do that--then what?

President Obama opposed the war against Iraq, calling it the wrong war. But he did buy into the idea of denying Islamic extremists "sanctuaries" in places like Afghanistan, and, at first, that seemed to be effective--the Taliban was routed, temporarily, and fled across the border to Pakistan and things seemed to settle down, for a while. 

But, as Richard Russell once pointed out to Lyndon Johnson, those Vietcong knew we didn't want to stay in Vietnam, and all they had to do was to wait us out. 

So, we make plans to pack up and come home, and the rats crawl out of their nests and take over.

So it is, apparently, with ISIS in Syria, Iraq and who knows where else?

And I say "apparently" because we do not know anything more than what war correspondents can tell us. The reporters are peculiarly brave people and as James Foley, from Rochester, NH now knows, they pay the ultimate price for trying to tell us what is happening in obscure and,  in many ways, unknowable places.

The beheading of an American, complete with video, has, of course outraged most people in this country.  It was a spit in the eye, a kick in the teeth.  It seems to encapsulate everything we hate about Islamic fundamentalists: Their bogey-man -under-the-bed-viciousness, their taunting.  It makes your blood boil.

Of course, head lopping has been going on a long time. English kings do it. The French made a special instrument for it. 

But, what Mad Dog argues is: do not get sucked in. Do not be George W. Be more like George H.W.  Pick your time and place, the way Mr. Obama did in Pakistan with Osama Bin Laden.  Or let the drones do the work. That is what really must frustrate ISIS (I am guessing) and all those who travel with them. We can hit them from a secure room in Langley, Virginia and not even get our hands dirty. 

They've been lopping off heads weekly in Saudi Arabia for decades. Hands, too, in the public squares in Riyadh and other Saudi cities.  The Taliban did it in Afghanistan. Drove up to a school where a teacher had the audacity to try to teach girls and marched all the kids outside, thrust the teacher to his knees and whap: off with his head. 

What do we make of this sort of public violence?

Ask the grinning white boys as the black youth dangled above their heads in Mississippi. He whistled at a white woman. String him up.

It's a nasty, brutal world we try to protect our women and children from seeing.

For the most part, we in the United States cannot and do not know whether intervention in foreign lands is a good idea until after we have done it. In World War I, we were all aflame and anti German, but was the Kaiser really any worse than the King of the British Empire?  As for WWII, It was only after we defeated Hitler and opened up his concentration camps we knew about those, for sure.  Until then, who could be sure whether reports of concentration camps were real or just propaganda? 

But consider our other interventions:  The Spanish American War--a bogus war based on false claims of Spanish atrocities, rapes which was Mr. Hearst's war, a war designed to sell newspapers.  The War in Vietnam, based on the essentially ignorant, false and foolish claim that if we let Communism gain a foothold in Southeast Asia, India, the rest of Asia, South America would fall like so many dominoes and we'd be surrounded and ultimately defeated.  Oh, all the experts agreed. All wrong. Now Red China and Vietnam are out capitalist-ing us. All that wasted effort, all those lives destroyed because we had no understanding of the cultures we were trying to destroy.

 Then the wars in the Middle East, which have not extirpated and destroyed radical Islam or denied terrorists safe haven because it's like whack a mole--hit them one place and they pop up somewhere else around the planet. 

The 9/11 bombers lived in Berlin, then Florida. Somalia, Libya, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Indonesia all harbor large Islamic populations, not to mention Canada, France,  Detroit and London. What are we going to do? Drone bomb all those places?

We do, it appears, have a problem with radical Islam, all around the globe. To deny this is an exercise in politics, not thought. We do not want to ship off all our Muslims to concentration camps for the duration of the war because: A/ We did that to Japanese Americans and we should still feel guilty about that B/ It wouldn't make us any safer and in fact would likely alienate a lot of otherwise loyal, productive, and valuable Muslims who live in this country and like America  C/ Likely, if you are trying to police a community, the best source of information is from people in that community who have a stake in that community D/The "duration" is an illusion. There is no "War on Terrorism" any more than there is a "War on Crime" or a "War on Cancer." Wars end. This effort will never end. 

During the Civil War, there were Southern spies and sympathizers throughout the North. It was like Cylons on Battlestar Galactica. It's always a problem when your enemies live among your own people and cannot be identified as harboring ill will and harmful intent. It means living with suspicion based on group identity.  

But the great strength of this country has and continues to be our diversity, and our inclination to welcome all sorts of people. Nothing can cement loyalty more than decency and open arms, in short, love.

We have to be humble, and recognize we do not know enough about other cultures to ship our young men and women abroad to try to win hearts and minds. All we can do is to sweep in, blast a few people and get out with all dispatch.

The English learned this during the long years of their Empire, as, I am told, "Follow the Drum" vividly describes. The problem for the Brits is they wanted Empire. They wanted to rob local peoples and take the spoils of war home to London. 

Americans have not been enamored of empire.  We'd rather stay home in the shire, and simply send ships and trade and buy and sell things and bring home what we want.

But now we have to establish some sort of defense of the homeland against people who will smile and shave and then board our airplanes and slit throats, or bring a nuclear bomb into a port and try to blow up Washington or New York. 

This will not be easy, but better a muscular and active police force than a stupid mission doomed to failure in some foreign country.

We do not have the choice of fighting them in the Middle East rather than in the streets of New York.  

They will come here, while we are in Baghdad, Mosul, Jakarta, Somalia, Libya, you name it. 

We will not prevent every attack, but we will have to keep trying. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

SWAT Teams for the Well Heeled

Keeping the Peace In Ferguson

Ross Douthat writing in the New York Times about the police in Ferguson, Missouri, who showed up on the streets of that St. Louis suburb with machine guns and armaments which made them look like they could out gun the 101st Airborne on D-Day.
Police Assert Themselves in Missouri

It reminded Mad Dog of a story one of his neighbors told about the police on an island in Maine, where the residents got around in golf carts and the police, on this island of privilege and wealth really had very little crime to chase, but they had jobs and equipment, so they followed local teenagers around, hoping to see some malfeasance on which they could pounce. 

It's the old Alice's Restaurant thing--so well described by Arlo Guthrie, after he dumped his trash at dump of a small Massachusetts town without having his resident's permit and this excited the local constabulary greatly, because this was the biggest crime ever in that small village. So, all the equipment which had sat idly by got put into use by police who may have wondered when it would occur to the town fathers that a police force equipped to solve murder and to thwart mayhem may not be needed in a small town.

Keene, N.H., it turns out has equipped its police with an armored Bear cat, just in case Al Qaeda or ISIS or the Weathermen should decide to make a last stand in that town.

The Hampton police occasionally strike one as having too many units with too little to do, but presumably, during the summer at Hampton Beach, all that police presence may thwart mischief. Not so for the idle hands in the North Hampton force, who seem to specialize in harassing adolescents who may be driving around with alcoholic drinks in their automobiles, whether or not those drinks have been opened, much less imbibed.

These are, Mad Dog supposes, good problems to have--places in America where the problem is not uncontrolled demoralizing crime but bored police.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Making Sense of Market Basket: Stakeholder Capitalism

Paul Solman

Until last night's Paul Solman's PBS piece on the Market Basket brouhaha, Mad Dog was mystified by the "family feud" story of Market Basket.

What Solman showed was this not so much a family feud but a struggle between good and greed, between the capitalist system and a new idea of what the American capitalist system can be.

At the heart of this is the $500 million which Market Basket had accrued in profit. One cousin, Arthur S, saw that hunk of cash and said, "Give it to me," and the other cousin, Arthur T, said, "No, that money does not belong to you, or to the members of the board of director or even to the stockholders, but it should be plowed back into making improvements in the company, and ultimately, to rewarding our employees and customers."

The trouble with the  "Wall Street" version of American capitalism is the boards of directors, who are actually in place in the boardrooms can rape the companies they have been given to govern, and they can award themselves huge bonuses and stock options worth millions while the hundreds of thousands of stockholders, who are spread out from Tewsbury to Omaha to Los Angeles cannot see any of these pillagers at work. All the stockholders know is whether the stock price has gone up or down, and possibly, whether or not a dividend got paid out. As long as the stock price maintains or rises, the distant, ignorant stockholders don't care whether they sell rat meat at Market Basket.

But the Market Basket employees had a different idea of the raison d'etre for the corporation:  The company existed once to serve the customers first, the employees second and the stockholders last.  This is what Solman calls, "Stake holder" as opposed to "Stock holder" capitalism.  

And the Arthur T cousin was the consummate practitioner of "stake holder" capitalism, paying $12 minimum wage, plowing back profits into employee bonuses, and generally treating his employees like members of a beloved family. Apparently, he loved the family he chose (his employees) more than the family foisted upon him by the accident of birth (Arthur S.)

So, it turns out this is not a family feud, after all. There is a right side and wrong side here. This is Main Street vs Wall Street, benevolence for the many vs greed of the few.

Long live Arthur T.  
Power to the workers.
God Bless the customers.
Let Freedom Ring. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

A Republic, M'am, If You Can Keep It

"What sort of government have you given us, sir?" a woman asked Benjamin Franklin, outside the Constitutional convention. 
"A Republic, ma'm, if you can keep it," he replied.

One of the problem with a government which is supposed to represent its people, which is supposed to respond to what they are thinking,  is determining exactly what it is "the American people" are thinking. Mostly, what we hear is inchoate noise.

When you hear a politician or a pundit tell you what "the American people" are thinking it's what he thinks. "The American people" think we need this or we should do that is pretty much what the speaker thinks we need or should do.

But how do opinions get formed? How does conventional wisdom get made?  It's often a case of, "If you say it often enough, it's true." Shakespeare had the line, "In speech, there is logic," which Mad Dog found opaque as a youth, but he now understand translates as, "It doesn't matter how absurd, illogical, bizarre what you say is; if you say it, it will carry a certain patina of truth, simply because it has been said. The reality of existence (of a thought) validates the truth of that thought."  So, "if you teach children they are descended fro animals, they will act like animals," may be manifestly untrue and not logical, but if you say it, the very fact that the thought exists means it is a thought, a reality of sorts.

 What you hear, as public thought comes, typically, from those who have the time, the energy, the anger to take the actions necessary to be heard. Or, you hear from those people who can afford to pay others to speak for them.

So, we have the best Congress money can buy.
And we have, if not mob rule, then wacko rule.

Political parties try to "energize" their base.

What Mad Dog is seeing, as he tries to mobilize the voices of light against the forces of darkness, is it is hard going.  People with jobs, lives, families, careers, talents for music and drama and high tech, tend to be busy with those things.

One thing you could say for the 60's was that people with voices used those voices to batter the "Silent Majority" and to make the things the Silent Majority was said to believe look ridiculous: America is fighting for freedom in Vietnam; premarital sex is a sin against God; my country right or wrong; opposing your government's official policies is unpatriotic; Blacks ought to know their place and stop causing trouble.  Joan Baez, Peter Paul and Mary, a whole group of performers raised their voices and devoted their time to change the narrative in America.

But now, people who really have nothing better to do than to sit at home and watch Fox News, eat Nachos, tend to be the ones who are angry enough to go to rallies and conventions and to steer the big boat of state in a direction they want to see. They are the Tea Party people, the gun owning, NASCAR loving, resentful, Bible thumping, creationist crowd. And they make sure they are heard.

The American Civil Liberties Union never does so well in contributions as it does when some Rush Limbaugh, Rick Perry bombast gets aired.  The righteous, raucous right is the best fund raiser the left has got. But the problem is, the right shapes the narrative in this country; the left just donates money.

Mad Dog is finding that, on the Seacoast, people who might be able to help, with some very stellar exceptions, simply find other things to do. Well meaning, thoughtful liberals have simply dropped out.  They are at the beach, doing gigs at cafes, doing the New York Times crossword puzzles, reading novels, sailing, eating dinner out. They are, in short, enjoying the things which enrich life.  But where is their call to service? 

Are they asking what they can do for their country?

And the Right shall inherit the earth.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Teenage Contraception in Colorado

Teen Age Sex with Immigrants!

This morning, on the BBC, the story hit the airways about teen age pregnancy having dropped by 40% in Colorado.
First there was the interview with the woman who oversaw the project: An anonymous private "billionaire" had offered to pay for free contraception for teenage girls in Colorado. Thousands of IUD's were implanted, and free birth control pills were handed out and, Lo, and behold! Pregnancy rates actually dropped!

What a surprise.

Actually, it was something of a surprise. The Colorado state demographers said they have never seen such a dramatic result from any program in any arena. 

Because no government was involved, there could not be the usual roadblocks to the use of IUD's. No government money was involved. And you know about IUD's, the devil's work--"They are really just implanted abortion machines." (They prevent implantation of a fertilized egg in some cases; in others they simply  prevent fertilization.)

The BBC managed to find a person they described as head of some Colorado right to life organization,  who decried this program saying, "When young girls of 13, 14 and 15 are told they are descended from apes and other animals, it's small wonder they start behaving like animals. This is awful. They get depressed. They get STD's. They get HIV. This is an offense against nature."

So, there you have it.  Real Americans speaking on the BBC. 
It took the Brits to show us ourselves.