Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Dude from Midnight Oil gets a cabinet post in new Aussie government!!!

Peter Garrett, former lead singer with Midnight Oil, becomes environment, heritage and arts minister! Hell ya!!!!!

I'm still laughing about this...

Ya gotta love the fact that the Republican National Convention is happening in Minneapolis--site of the infamous wide-stance Larry Craig airport restroom fiasco. Image gratefully borrowed from the good folks at Firedoglake...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

True Trade -- The Revolution Starts Now

Read for your mind to explode?

Let's go.

This past Sunday I spent 2 hours participating in an online book salon on Firedoglake discussing Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism with author Naomi Klein. Extremely cool format, extremely cool conversation.

Several of the people asked, 'so what do we do' (about the fact that conservatives use natural disasters or create economic disasters or launch coups in order to implement their draconian economic program). Naomi Klein's answer was, 'look south.'

Latin America is furthest ahead when it comes to developing alternatives to this vicious economic model, so it would seem to make sense to look south for ideas. A few years ago I helped make a documentary called The Take. It is about groups of laid-off workers in Argentina who decide to occupy their shuttered workplaces and turn them into democratic cooperatives. More broadly, I think the lesson of what is happening in Latin America is that the first stage is building strong and militant social movements, that have the power to keep politicians honest once they take office.

So I checked out The Take and it's this extraordinary documentary about a group of factory workers who decide to expropriate a factory on their own. Let's call it micro-expropriation.

Which is fascinating and a thrilling development on its own but then it gets more interesting. On The Take website is a bit of text that says:

Brendan Martin, a young New Yorker, saw The Take in September 2004 and two months later started this nonprofit organization that makes democratic loans to the recovered companies in Argentina.

And it links to a website called The Working World which is basically a socialist venture capital company--it funds worker owned cooperatives.

And then, on their website, I read a life-changing idea:

Introducing true trade: fair trade with complete transparency.

With most products you buy, at least 80% of the price goes to marketing and branding - convincing you that you need the product, and telling slick stories about the company's 'identity' and 'values'.

The whole process of production - the raw materials, the factory, and the workers who make the product - can account for less than 10% of the price you pay.

This expensive project of corporate branding has re-shaped the global economy, replacing relationships between producers and consumers with relationships between consumers and brands. The producers, and the reality of their working conditions, have been disappeared.

It's time to change that.
At the Working World, we treat the middle man (us) as nothing more than a tool to connect human producers and human consumers. And everything on this site is made by people who run their own democratic businesses. This is a story we are writing together, in real time: the story of the solidarity economy.

With the expensive middlemen and their overpriced hype gone, we can cut the price in half. And for everything you buy, you'll see exactly where the money goes: the vast majority of it straight into the pockets of the people who make the products.

Meet the people behind what you buy. Share the alter-globalization of true trade with a friend. Change the equation.

So let me just try to break it down. Imagine you go to buy a t-shirt at your local Macy's. And on the label, it says where it was made and how to wash it and how much cotton and polyester is in the shirt (just as it does now). And then imagine a tag that shows you how much of the purchase prices goes to the laborer who made the shirt, and how much of the purchase price goes to the store, how much of the purchase price went to transportation, and how much of the purchase price went into advertising (and telling you that you're a lame piece of shit unless you buy this shirt).

Previously it would have been impossible to get this information. But the internet changes all of that. By connecting consumers and worker-owned companies (committed to true trade), the internet makes this sort of transparent economic transaction possible--benefiting consumers and those who make the goods and screwing those who previously added enormous cost but didn't add any value to the product anyway (Madison Avenue advertisers).

Check out how they do it at The Working World:

One of their cooperatives sells glassware made from recycled glass. They offer 6 hand blown champagne glasses (made from 70% post-consumer recycled glass) for $11.74 and fill out their tag like this:

Price: US$11.74

Cooperative receivesUS$7.00
Real middle man cost 1.75
Fund contribution1.40
Import Duties 1.59

If such a True Trade system were implemented it would completely destroy the concept of the luxury brand -- to the enormous benefit of consumers and laborers (you and me). Luxury brands today are based almost entirely on the illusion that by paying more, you are getting higher quality. In fact, when you are buying a luxury brand these days, what you are paying for is the marketing of that brand--marketing that tells you that you are ugly and no good and that you will be sexy and everyone will love you if you buy this brand. But the product itself is probably produced at a sweat shop where the workers are paid poverty wages and ill treated and forced to rush and cut corners in making your supposed luxury product.

True Trade changes everything. It creates a workers' paradise without a a violent revolution (because people will naturally want to buy products produced by the highest skilled craftspeople--and the highest skilled craftspeople will naturally want to work for the companies or cooperatives that return the most money to the craftspeople). True trade takes domination out of the economic system and replaces it with skill. True trade takes violence out of the system and replaces it with fairness. True trade makes the world a better place.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Back in junior high I played on a soccer team with a great guy named Jesse Johnson. We lived in different school districts and eventually lost touch. But a few years ago I was watching basketball on TV and a commercial came on and Jesse was in it. Since then he's done some really funny national commercials. Every time I see an ad with Jesse in it, no matter where I am, I always scream out, Jesse!!!

Today the Center for American Progress is out with a brilliant ad campaign that shows what it means to be a progressive. And wouldn't you know it, Jesse is in 2 of the ads!!! The ads are brilliant and as always, Jesse is funny and winning in them (he's the young smart progressive). Check 'em out:

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A few links

Digby writes what a lot of us have been thinking -- Chris Matthews, Tucker Carlson, Joe Klein, etc. have issues when it comes to women.

Big time college football programs generate millions of dollars in profits. "In 2005 — Notre Dame, Ohio State and the University of Texas — each generated more than $60 million for their institutions." [It's all tax free by the way.] Big time college football coaches get paid millions (the University of Alabama recently gave Nick Saban an eight-year contract worth roughly $32 million). The college football players themselves -- you know, the performers who actually do the labor that generates the profits -- get paid $0. I think there's a fairly compelling case that the NCAA is violating everything from racketeering laws to Article XIII of the Constitution.

I know I'm about two years late to this party... but I saw Arcade Fire on Austin City Limits last night and they were extraordinary. It was like watching a post apocalyptic riot mixed with a really good dance beat. Rebellion, Neighborhood #2 and Neighborhood #3 (Power Out) or (live version) are works of such uncompromising beauty, they make me happy to be alive.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Bleeding Heart Liberal (3 stories)

I've been meaning to post this for a while, so here goes...


Everybody knows the phrase
Said seethingly
The quick sharp bite of venom that paralyzes
political discourse


Except it doesn’t make any sense.

The phrase itself.

Bleeding heart liberal.

Hearts don’t bleed.
The heart itself is almost entirely hard,
fiberous muscle.
Your leg bleeds, your arm bleeds, a vein bleeds.
Hearts, technically don’t really bleed.

What’s more, other than the phrase itself, there are no
examples of hearts that bleed in popular consciousness.
No common experience of skinning your heart on the playground
and covering it with a Band-Aid.
No fairy tales about bleeding hearts.
No nursery rhymes.
No Greek myths.
No Cabbage Patch Dolls featuring
spontaneous eruptions of
blood from the heart.
Because it wouldn’t make sense.
Hearts don’t bleed.

And yet, everyone knows the phrase.
Everybody understands the feeling that is being conveyed.
Which is what exactly?

For that we need to turn back to 5th grade and my classmate who explained,
giddly, on the playground one day
that in ancient Rome, the heart shape
that we draw on Valentines to symbolize love,
was intended as a representative of
the vulva.
An arrow through the heart represented sexual intercourse.

Indeed, any study of the symbol that we now identify as a “heart”
will tell you
its original signified
is actually the female genitalia.

And suddenly, it all makes sense.

When they say bleeding heart liberal
They’re speaking of the symbol not the
What they mean is “bleeding cunt liberal.”
Because cunts bleed, vaginas bleed, women bleed.
Everybody knows that.
It’s the thing that disgusts, that puts
the intended inflection into the phrase.
When they say bleeding heart liberal
what they’re saying is that you’re too feminized,
we’re too feminized,
as a nation
we’ve become too female.

For fundamentalist white male America, the only thing worse than the brown man is the feminine.

Bleeding cunt liberals. Bleeding heart liberals. We know what they mean.

It’s important to point out, that the phrase
starts being used after Vietnam.

After carpet bombing a third world country for ten years
killing 3 million people
raping, burning, and murdering.
Their narrative to explain it all is that
we weren’t cruel enough,
lethal enough,
masculine enough.
Their narrative is that we’ve become too soft,
too caring,
too goddamn menstrual.

Bleeding heart liberal
Everybody knows the phrase
code words -- the Trojan Horse that
smuggles hate speech into everyday discourse
an underlying message that would be laughable
if it wasn’t so psychotic.

Pinko Commie

So too with “Pinko Commie.”

Everybody knows what it means.

The two words,
put together,
don’t make any sense.

It is certainly true that Communists
have a distinctive fashion sense.

Communists had the star
before Nike had the swoosh.
Chairman Mao sold a billion suits to the Chinese,
long before the creation of Men’s Wearhouse.
And Che seems to be on half the world’s t-shirts.

From everything we can observe,
communists seem to love the color red
and the color black.
Sometimes a little yellow.
But they never choose pink.

Pink is a capitalist color,
a bourgeois color,
it’s too happy for communists.

So how did pink get paired with communism?

Because the mullet wearing,
guys who actually use the phrase Pinko Commie
think of pink as a feminine color.

Once again when the say Pinko Commie
what they mean is that
these people are awful
because they are too feminine.
Indeed fundamentalist America
distrusts the communist focus on
the collective,
the shared, and
the greater good
precisely because they see those values as feminine
(and in opposition to the American masculine values of
agency, and

It also seems more than coincidence
that commie
rhymes with mommie.
Because if there’s one thing that conservatives like,
it’s calling someone a sissie or a momma’s boy.
Very sophisticated them.

The Myth of the Spat Upon Veteran

Data point #3

Everybody knows the story
of the spat upon Vietnam Veteran.

The conquered hero,
returning home,
only to be spat upon,
by some dirty fucking hippie,
at the San Francisco airport.


Except it never happened.

Sociologist Jerry Lembcke
examined news accounts
and archival footage from that era.
He studied accounts of anti-war rallies,
and marches.
And found zero evidence
that any Vietnam Veterans
had been spat upon by anti-war protesters.

The clue that gives it away
that shows us this is myth
rather than fact
is that it’s always women and girls
who supposedly did the spitting
and it’s that famously gay city
San Francisco
that is often depicted
as the setting
where the alleged incidents
took place.

In fact the myth of the spat upon veteran
doesn’t really appear in culture
until George Bush Senior
launched a propaganda campaign
to whip the nation into a lather
in preparation for the first Gulf War.

When they say Vietnam Vets were spat upon.
What they mean is that
female wetness
female fluids
femaleness itself
was what cost us the war.

The myth of the spat upon veteran is
an alibi
a stalking horse
a scapegoat to blame the feminine
for a war that was
planned, executed and bungled
by arrogant white men.

Taken together
these three hateful memes
Bleeding heart liberal
pinko commie
and the myth of the spat upon veteran
constitute nothing less than
linguistic domestic violence
inflicted upon society
by a culture of pathological masculinity
that refuses to accept responsibility
for its own sins.

To which I say this:
Liberals have heart
and compassion
and courage.
Yes females bleed
isn’t it about time you got over that?
and by the way
the feminine is sacred.

We welcome all the colors under the rainbow
and the full expression of god’s good creation.
The communal and collective
are just as important
as the individual and agentic.

We thank soliders for their service
but call upon them to lay down their arms
when called upon to kill
without provocation or justification.

And next time you want to introduce your tired old
hateful trojan horse memes into conversation
I say no
and close the gates.
Your misogyny is not welcome here.

Social Security "Privatization" Explained

The popular debate over Social Security is a total mess. Republicans throw out various coded talking points about the "Social Security crisis" or the "need to reform" Social Security. But these memes have always felt like linguistic Trojan Horses to me -- the polite words that mask more sinister aims to transfer wealth from the poor to the rich. The stenographers in the traditional media dutifully report these memes without explanation. Which leaves Democrats in the position of either denying "the crisis," opposing "reform" (and heck what kind of crazy person opposes reform) or bizarrely repeating Republican talking points. (Note to Senator Obama -- you are seriously pissing off the entire progressive wing of the Democratic Party.)

So today I started doing homework on Austan Goolsbee, who is Senator Obama's chief economic adviser. I expected to hate the dude (because after all, Obama's talking points on Social Security right now are awful). But I stumbled across this paper by Goolsbee, which, fairly succinctly explains what's behind Republican efforts to privatize Social Security.

Creating individual accounts in the social security system would lead to a massive increase in payments of financial fees to private financial management companies. Under Plan II of the President's Commission to Strengthen Social Security (CSSS), the net present value of such payments would be $940 billion.

These expenses amount to more than 25% of the existing deficit in social security over the same period. Rather than using the money to close the social security gap, the plan would transfer this money to private financial managers and mutual fund companies. If the government were to offset the cost of these fees by raising the retirement age, the age would need to rise by about 6 months – just to cover the administrative costs of the individual accounts, not even the accounts themselves.

The fees would be the largest windfall gain in American financial history. The $940 billion payment to financial companies would be an increase more than 8 times larger than the decrease in revenue from the 2000-2002 collapse of the bubble. The net present value (NPV) of the fees amounts to about one-quarter of the NPV of the revenue of the entire financial sector for the next 75 years.

For a worker at the average income level, the fees in privately managed accounts are likely to reduce the ultimate retirement value of their individual accounts by 20 percent for the intermediate case.

So let me just rephrase what he's saying:

Republicans want to privatize social security because financial services companies will make $940 billion (that billion with a "b") dollars off of it.

Said differently, Social Security privatization is a white collar, inside job bank robbery where financial services firms want to steal $940 billion dollars (or 20% of the value of all retirement funds) from the elderly in our country.

Social Security is not in crisis.

Rather, the only crisis Social Security faces is the threat of a bank robbery by financial services firms aided and abetted by Republicans (and idiot Democrats who didn't get the memo that this is a bank robbery) who want to rob from the elderly and give to the rich.

So then here's my question. Austan Goolsbee makes a fairly powerful case for what's really going on in the social security debate (at least from my initial read). So why are Senator Obama's recent talking points on social security so misguided?

Friday, November 09, 2007

3 narratives in traditional media

It seems to me when it comes to political reporting, traditional media cut and paste the facts of the story to fit within 1 of 3 narratives:

1.) Horse race. Who's winning, who's losing.

2.) Strong verses weak. Who got rolled on the bill verses who showed "strength and resolve."

3.) Unity verses disunity. Are the Democrats "sticking together" or has party unity "started to fray." See today's NY Times for example.

That's it. The NY Times, Washington Post, LA Times, and CNN are bakers with only three cookie cutters and they force any political story to fit into one of these three narrative templates.

It explains why readers who are looking for thoughtful analysis (i.e. something other than these 3 narratives) increasingly have to turn to the blogosphere for their news and information.

What is more, it explains why we have a moron for a President and are stuck in a quagmire in Iraq -- because even though the Iraq war is a military, political, moral, and economic disaster -- none of those aspects of the story fit inside their 3 narratives. Rather, the way it is reported by the traditional media is that Bush and Cheney won the horse race, they showed strength in pursuing for the war in spite of the facts, and the Republican party has shown unity is sticking together and continuing the quagmire. In every case, forcing the story to fit within these 3 narratives does a disservice to the readers and cheapens our democratic discourse.

No wonder newspaper circulation is down.

(Meanwhile, Faux News functions more like Pravda forcing all of their stories to fit within only 2 narratives: 1.) Democrats Bad or 2.) Republicans Good -- you decide.)