Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Times they are

In 1963, Bob Dylan wrote a song that I think he first performed publicly the day after John F. Kennedy was assassinated. It became an anthem of my youth, just as I entered into my teens.

"Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone..."

Last night, the American People returned Barack Obama to the Presidency.
As I just explained in my last post, I am not an Obama guy.
But I find tears of joy welling up in my eyes nonetheless.
And it isn't because we dodged what I fear was the Romney bullet.
It is because a huge portion of my country rejected fear, which in my view was the hidden power behind Republican positions - the fear of change chief among them.

When Dylan wrote that song, the idea of a black American president was close to ludicrous.
But times have changed.

Last night, at least two states voted to allow gay folks to marry.
One of those states, Maine, can not be called a liberal bastion - its Governor is a Republican. Since 1815,  it has had only two US Senators who were Democrats, the last in the 1970's.
When Dylan wrote that song, being publicly identified as homosexual was enough to get one fired and/or evicted from one's home. And killed. I well remember one of the "men's magazines" from those days that my brother kept hidden in his closet, the kind of pulp trash that featured uniformed nazis torturing blond women on its cover, which had a photo expose of the men who visited Fire Island. The pictures, taken at a distance, had the men's faces covered with black squares. Last night, not only was the first openly gay when running for office candidate for US Senator elected, the subject was not an issue in her campaign.

Last night, for the first time I can remember, citizens of at least two different states voted to allow the use of marijuana - and not just for medicinal purposes. If this can become a national movement, we would cut our prison costs and populations dramatically.  And that is just a start, but that is a topic for another day.

Last night, the American People stood up to conservative religious bullying and defeated a mindset that holds women to be subservient to men. It is with great happiness that I note that the men who made incredibly ludicrous statements about rape and pregnancy were defeated.

If Obama holds true to his promise to get us out of Afghanistan (and that target date is too far away to suit me) the US will end over a decade of having our armies and our National Guard (who should not have been used for such purposes) entangled in foreign wars.

I could go on, but I have to go off to work, and I think I've made my point.

Last night the people of the United States voted to resume the changes started in the 1960's, when it became important to our people to begin to live up to the fine words and ideals expressed in the opening lines of our Declaration of Independence, that -all- of us are created equal and are endowed with rights. I'm no longer a freshly minted teenager, I'm 62 now. It has been 50 years to get here, far too long. For now, I'm setting aside the pattern of "red versus blue" states and what that means, I'm setting aside the obscene cost of this election and what could have been accomplished with that kind of money. I'm setting aside the frustration I felt yesterday listening to young adults state that they weren't voting or had no time to vote. No, for now, for just a short bit, I'm going to savor those tears welling up in my eyes. And I'll be humming an old Bob Dylan song to myself all day.

Monday, November 5, 2012

In order to form a more perfect - say what?

Continuing on from yesterday's post... this was going to be illustrated, but I've decided against that choice - it is really just distraction from what I want to say.

Okay, so here's the thing. I'm not an Obama guy. I voted for him last time, which I think (just off the top of my head) is the first time I ever voted for the winning candidate. But while the Obama administration has done a number of good things, there are a number of missteps and mistakes that are galling.

Obama may tout his first day in office signing of the Lilly Ledbetter act, but it was passed by Congress before he took office and really doesn't do anything to make certain that women receive pay equal to men in the same job. What it does do is extend the period of time in which women have the right to sue over such a situation. Provided they can find out about it. Then again, guys going for a job don't necessarily get paid the same starting salary as the guy before them either. Companies expect to hire cheaper. They expect the applicant to name a salary range, but they want to get by without mentioning what they are offering. The potential employee is at a disadvantage - the employer controls the information to keep an upper hand. Why not just do away with such nonsense and state upfront the salary range the employer expects to pay for the job without regard to sex, race & etc?

Obama did not close the facility at Guantanamo Bay as promised. Its use as a torture prison by the Bush administration, along with the policies exemplified by it, further sullied the reputation of this country. It is a symbol of what went wrong, of America itself gone wrong, and it needs to be closed and dismantled or burned to the ground - Publicly - for everyone to see. The terrorists held there have no rights. This country was based on having equal civil rights. It may seem odd to give such guarantees of treatment to those who wish to kill us but we need to do it - we need to live by our ideals - they apply to everyone, not an anointed few. These were the ideals for which we stood, and for which we  let ourselves, our neighbors, and our children die in wars foreign and domestic. They mean something, dammit.

The Obama administration had majorities in both houses but was unable to pass a decent Health Care bill. The administration settled for a bastardized piece of legislation that will prove a boon to the insurance companies which helped create the problems we have with our healthcare system in the first place. They say it's a decent first step. Yeah, sure. This situation will not be resolved until part of the expense of healthcare is removed from the employer, who offers a lesser salary in order to pay it. Healthcare should not be tied to one's job. Certainly, in my low wage case, I paid a larger weekly sum for healthcare than the contribution required of my employer. Just like most other people I know, my portion, with its sizable deduction, left me unable to afford to use my coverage to go see a doctor or to purchase many of the medications I had been taking before I took that low wage job out of necessity. My weekly deduction would have served me better if it had been pooled into universal coverage. The Republicans claim that such a move would financially destroy the country, yet it hasn't destroyed all the other countries which adopted such a system as noted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in the post World War II environment. (The United States has never signed that portion of the Declaration.) European countries afforded it while rebuilding after the destruction of war.

At the time of Obama's inauguration, the Republicans said upfront that they intended to stonewall his administration's legislation, and to do everything they could to make certain that he failed the country and become a one term president. And they delivered on their promise. They don't care about our lives. Yet Obama has never publicly taken them on, never used what was once called the "bully pulpit" to hoist the other rich bastards on their own petard. He should have used this situation to campaign, and lent the support of his person and office to Democrats, Independents, and Republicans willing to compromise who are running for the House and Congress. We don't need a passive aggressive President. We need a fighter, and a Leader.

I could go on, and I was prepared to, but there really isn't much point in it. People seem to think that Obama is some kind of populist President. He is not.  Most people who think this do so because the republicans and their o&o (owned and operated) media told them so. It is uncritical acceptance of an untruth as truth. He didn't start the bank bailouts, but he did administer them, and created and oversaw others. It should be noted that the work he did with the automotive industry was not a bailout, it was a bridge loan. The bailouts were probably necessary, and followed the system set up in the eerily similar Swedish banking crisis of 1991 brought on by the collapse of their housing/real estate markets engineered by speculators. The important thing here is that the Banks got bailed out. The mortgage companies got bailed out. The people did not. Most of the people who owned real estate were middle class. Obama, in his original campaign, talked a lot about the middle class. Too bad he didn't do much about it. In those campaigns, he did not talk about the poor. He barely mentioned the poor this time around. No one talks about the poor anymore except the poor. And Bernie Sanders. Under Obama, Wall Street came back and is enjoying record profits. Which means that the rich, and the corporations, oil companies, and etc. are doing very, very well. The big companies get to take out big loans through the non-government bank called the Federal Reserve  - loans backed by the government using our taxes - at 0% interest. When did we the people who pay the bills get that kind of service? The money the people lost (including pensions and retirement savings) in the banking crisis just "disappeared". That is mostly fiction. It was stolen. We were mugged, just not in a dark alley. Mr. Obama has continued many of the polices that created this situation, just as he has continued Guantanamo Bay, the onerous Homeland Security laws and etc. Do you really think that the financial crisis that came close to destroying us just happened? Do you think that Banks didn't learn anything from the Great Depression? Or the similar situation in Sweden in 1991 that was resolved by government bailouts? This crisis was less an accident than a managed event.

And the really sad thing is that none of this is new. It is a cycle that has repeated many, many times - and not just in the United States. This is the way things work. We pay taxes for services - most services are local - water, sewer, streets cleaned, etc. The larger share of taxes go to the government - for what? Only a small pittance goes to the arts, to education, to parks & etc. We are never asked how, or on what, we want our taxes spent. Why not healthcare? One thing I always adored about my country is that our forefathers chose the name United States. The initials read "us". It hasn't ever really been all of "us" now, has it? The rich and super rich are the 1%, the 5% or whatever. We outnumber them. We pay them to take care of things, but all they really do is take. It is time we demand more. Not request. Demand. Today is Guy Fawkes day. It used to be common to burn effigies of the disliked ruling classes on this day. We need to do more than burn effigies.

So why vote, and why vote for Obama? Because if you vote for the Republican candidate, things will get worse. Much worse. The republicans will use religion and morals (which they themselves do not follow) to make our lives completely miserable. The real reason they do this is to keep us busy trying to survive, and to distract us from the other things they are doing, like stealing everything they can.  I don't know about you, but with my meager income, I pay taxes. Money is taken out of my check. The government uses it without paying interest. I get a portion of it back as a refund - but by no means do I get the full amount back. Yet the Republican candidate states that 47% of the people of this country simply drain off the treasury, meaning the lesser than working men and women amount they put into the kitty. We work. We pay taxes. They stole our money, and they go unpunished. In voting for a President in this country, what you are really doing is voting for a philosophy. Do we the people want an almost illusory chance to move up the economic ladder, a chance to have a little trickle down to help our lives (acquired after the riots of the past), and a few paltry civil rights to attempt to live our lives with a modicum of dignity; or do we want to become serfs to the ruling classes which own the majority shares of the corporations in one giant company town? That's the choice we really have.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Disney, Star Wars, and the Election.

In a televised fundraising concert to benefit areas hard hit by hurricane Sandy this past Friday, Bruce Springsteen is reported to have ended the concert with the words, "God bless New York. God bless the Jersey shore". Amen to that, brother, amen to that.

On October 30th, as the hurricane hit areas in which I used to live - and still love - there was another story briefly in the news which affected other things I love. The Walt Disney Company, now a multinational corporation with investments in media and amusement parks, has acquired Lucasfilm, another Hollywood heavyweight. This gives Disney full control of the Star Wars franchise. They have already announced that Star Wars Episode VII is in the works with a release targeted to the year 2015.  (Lucas' deal with Fox gave him the Star Wars rights. His deals with with Paramount for the Indiana Jones series are much more complex and it may prove hard for Disney to meddle with that material.)

Now, I used to love the Disney organization and its work. Walt Disney created something wonderful. Not that all was a bed of roses - just about every animator out there wanted to work at Disney, but the exchange for giving one a certain degree of artistic accomplishment was long hours and low pay. Disney took a huge hit with the combination of the outbreak of World War Two and an animator's strike. (If you remember the movie Dumbo, there is a scene in which the silhouettes of circus clowns are seen on a canvas tent while the clowns complain and sing about hitting up the big boss for a raise - those were caricatures of some of the striking animators.) The studio recovered, and diversified into TV, Disneyland and Disney World  Over the years, the product became ever more homogenized so as to not offend, and to appeal to the largest number of potential ticket and product buyers. But it was still a largely good company with a high quality product. The Disney of today, however, is a different matter.

Beginning in the 1990's, the Disney organization under the leadership of Michael Eisner, and now Robert Iger, went on an investment buying spree. The Disney Company now owns a number of TV stations, ABC television and its myriad companies, ESPN, the Muppets, Pixar, Marvel comics, 27% of Hulu, 50% of A&E (A&E, History, Biography, Lifetime) - and etcetera. In terms of revenue, it is the largest media conglomerate in the world. The quality of the Disney product has suffered, and the company covered itself in ignominy for its part in the shoddy Marvel treatment of the late Jack Kirby (the family of the man who created or co-created many of the Marvel characters and visual style, and who revolutionized comic art, was denied any financial remuneration from the success of those products as Marvel considered his contribution to their incredible success "work for hire" with no creator's rights whatsoever).

It is just this kind of thing which gave corporations a bad and evil name. And such tactics make me think of the current crop of Republicans and their Tea Party amanuenses who have given the Republican party and its puppeteers an even more sinister reputation for evil. Any person who has followed the current US Presidential campaign has by now had the chance to see or read multiple reports which cover Republican attempts to squelch the vote by falsely removing voters from the rolls (usually black and Hispanic folk), require restrictive ID checks even though there is little evidence of voter fraud (thankfully found illegal so far), and possibly change the tabulations of electronic voting machines (most of the companies involved are right wing, and one voting machine company has a large ownership stake by the Romneys - and in Ohio yesterday a mysterious unvetted software "patch" was added to voting machines in make or break areas of Cleveland and Columbus). Their candidate has continuously changed positions in a move to get more votes - translation - he is lying about his and his party's intentions. Period. You don't have to dig to find evidence - it's all in the public record. These folks are out to destroy the concept that government exists to help the people who pay for it through taxes, and who give it power over their lives - although they do seem to want the power to force their religious morals on everyone else. Current media polling claims that this election is tied. I can not understand this, and I can not believe it. Before the first "debate" Obama had a sizable lead. In that debate, Obama seemed tired and disconnected, but Romney came off as a shrill, lying frat boy easily angered when he wasn't getting his way. But the media declared him the winner of the debate. Most media news ownership is in the hands of right wing aligned companies and owners. They have to be lying about the polls to make it less obvious that they are going to attempt to steal this election. These are the bully tactics of the Boardroom. The completion of the corporate takeover of the country may finally be at hand. Considering the storm that will hit us if this happens, God bless the United States. God bless its people.

To be continued....