Friday, November 25, 2011

As Black Friday Goes...

from the site Pepper Spraying Cop

Who would have thought the hot product for Black Friday would be pepper spray?  Cops spraying customers and customers each other, plus tasering and a couple of shootings--all part of the ritual apparently. Can't wait for Buy Small Saturday and Cyber Monday.

Actually the fashionable use of pepper spray since the despicable incident at U.C. Davis, in heavy video rotation on the Internet and cable news, was already being satirized at the collective site Pepper Spraying Cop, which included this fake-comes-true image:

Check Wikipedia and see that this instance of Black Friday is the only one that isn't overtly (as opposed to ironically) a catastrophe. Our society's dependence on consumption is at least as dangerous as its dependence on fossil fuel, and of course the two are intimately related.  Yet it is dependence in every sense of the word.  And so this Black Friday is both different from the others and exactly the same.

Black Friday follows Gluttony Thursday, and Think Progress has two instructive notes on that: the fact that hunger in the U.S. is increasing both statistically and in plain sight, and that the cost of the traditional Thanksgiving feast is increasing--clearly related to, and as clear evidence of the Climate Crisis.

Speaking of which there is a provocative new study that suggests it may take a little longer for civilization to destroy itself, which would be good news if there seems any likelihood that the requisite action will be taken to use the time to stop it from getting worse.(Which some claim is simpler --at least in part--than generally feared.)
Meanwhile, new evidence of the oppression of the 99%: the average Bush tax savings for the 1% is greater than the average annual income for the 99%:  about $66 thousand versus $58.5.

And what's keeping things from being even worse for the 99%?  The Obama federal stimulus and its millions of jobs, the federal tax cut for the 99% and unemployment insurance, both set to expire unless this Tuesday-to-Thursday workweek Congress prevents it.  And such Obama federal initiatives as the evil health care law--evil in the rhetoric of candidate Cowboy Rick, but a great boon to Governor Cowboy Rick who has been way less than shy about claiming as much of that money for Texas as he possibly can, I reckon.   

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Gratitude 2011

"Perhaps respect and gratitude are more important than we may think, ranking near the top of those modes of action we call ethics," writes Frances Cook, after describing Buddhist ethics.  Linking these--respect, compassion and gratitude--as Buddhism does, suggests that without respect and compassion, gratitude is empty, prone to be a celebration of selfishness.

There's some sense of that combination beyond selfishness in Thanksgiving traditions of family and extended family.  (I recall a few Thanksgivings comprised of a motley collection of people who had nowhere else to go.)  And in the ritual turkey dinners for the poor and homeless.  So it might be a necessary combination beyond the holiday, linking compassion, respect (for others, for the planet) and gratitude.  

I've been quoting Joanna Macy's essay on gratitude pretty much every year at this time.  Considering the news of the world these days, here are the most appropriate paragraphs:

"That our world is in crisis--to the point where survival of conscious life on Earth is in question---in no way diminishes the value of this gift; on the contrary. To us is granted the privilege of being on hand: to take part, if we choose, in the Great Turning to a just and sustainable society. We can let life work through us, enlisting all our strength, wisdom and courage, so that life itself can continue."

"The great open secret of gratitude is that it is not dependent on external circumstance. It's like a setting or a channel that we can switch to at any moment, no matter what's going on around us. It helps us connect to our basic right to be here, like the breath does. It's a stance of the soul...."

"There are hard things to face in our world today, if we want to be of use. Gratitude, when it is real, offers no blinders. On the contrary, in the face of devastation and tragedy, it can ground us, especially when we're scared. It can hold us steady for the work to be done."

Happy Thanksgiving in advance to U.S., belatedly to Canada.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pol Quiz

Which of these news stories is not an Onion parody?
For Halloween, these employees of a New York law firm that specialized in foreclosures made fun of people being thrown out on the street.  The firm has now folded and its employees are on the street.

b) Poll: Fox News Viewers Less Informed Than Those Who Read No News

c) Gingrich Says Child Labor Laws Should Be Rolled Back So Kids Can Be Janitors

Answer: a, b, c.

The Political Moment

A certain drama has taken a decisive turn.

 After the 2010 elections, while GOPer extremists strongarmed their extremist and anti-democratic measures in the states, the GOPer House zealots combined with the willing Congressional career GOPer tools of fossil fuel and finance billionaires to impose their extremist agenda and humiliate the President, at any cost.  They held unemployment insurance hostage.  They held the budget hostage. And finally they held the full faith and credit of the United States hostage.

The country, the world, held its breath.  No one could quite believe the true believer recklessness of the GOPer Congress.  The President of the United States had no choice but to appear calm and reasonable, in order not to spook the markets around the world into an uncontrolled panic.  He almost pulled off an enormous deficit deal that would have restored some badly needed revenue.  GOPers ran away from that, and the deal that was made seemed at the time to be all on their terms.

Turns out it wasn't.  It made budget cuts to take effect over ten years but mostly not beginning until 2013.  It set up a Super Committee charged with agreeing to more deficit reduction, with penalties if they didn't agree.  On Monday, they didn't agree.  But it turns out these cuts won't take effect until 2013, and Congress has a year to meet the deficit-cutting goal in other ways.  If they don't, there are deep cuts to defense and to domestic programs, but not to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.

On Monday President Obama placed responsibility for the failure squarely on the GOPers who would agree to no new tax revenue from the very richest. (Polls show Americans see it this way.)  He said that he would not sign any bill that sought to just circumvent the mandatory cuts--that Congress was going to have to pass a real deficit reduction, a mix of cuts and new revenue.  He challenged GOPers to help pass extensions of soon to expire tax cuts for the 99%, and to extend unemployment insurance.  He challenged them to prove they cared as much about cutting taxes for the 99% as they evidently do about the 1%. 

All this comes after President Obama, no longer constrained by the threat to force the nation into default, has talked in direct terms about the need to pass what were formerely bipartisan provisions to address unemployment.  After all the complicated and muddy deficit talk, he has hammered home "Pass This Bill" (the American Jobs Act) and "We Can't Wait."  And he has named names of those who are opposing what the American people overwhelmingly want Congress to do.  All this comes as Occupy Wall Street has made the 99% a national identity.  And there was getting to be a lot of agreement to the proposition that this is the Worst Congress Ever.

On Monday President Obama continued to call for provisions of the American Jobs Act to be passed.  He also signed into law the one element of the Jobs Act that was passed--that provides tax incentives to small businesses who hire veterans.

Though it looks more than ever like for the next year we'll be gripped by the starkest showdown of modern times, the extremist positions of the Rabid Right--leading back beyond the 19th century of Dickens to the Dark Ages--are increasingly isolated.  Still, it remains a dangerous time, if for no other reason than this degree of repressed anger can explode in a destructive direction, and can still be manipulated.  But the empire of the Rabid Right is naked, and everyone can see it for what it is.

Politics of the Future

But while the politics of the moment clearly has consequences for how we confront the even larger phenomena that will more profoundly determine the future, we can't be deluded into seeing this as much more than a tragic distraction.

It's been in the wind for awhile now, that the climate scientists and others working through the UN were about to unleash some really grim news over the coming months.  In just the past few weeks and the past few days, it has certainly started.

A few days ago, an IPCC report confirming the reality and effect of the Climate Crisis, and warning that extreme weather is going to increase: heavier rainfalls, storms and droughts.

  Then Monday the UN confirmed that despite all the talk and even a little action, greenhouse gas levels in Earth's atmosphere are at a record highAnother story put it this way:

"Heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are building up so high, so fast, that some scientists now think the world can no longer limit global warming to the level world leaders have agreed upon as safe.

New figures from the U.N. weather agency Monday showed that the three biggest greenhouse gases not only reached record levels last year but were increasing at an ever-faster rate, despite efforts by many countries to reduce emissions."

Other scientists have seen the writing on the wall for months if not years.  This is official confirmation that we are not going to avoid a serious Climate Crisis, and unlike a lot we all blather about every day, these are realities that will shape the lives of billions of people, many billions of creatures and other lifeforms, over centuries, many centuries.

Another international meeting of politicians as well as scientists begins soon in South Africa.  We'll see if all this news--and there's likely to be more--is enough to concentrate the world's mind.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Emerson for the Day

"No fact in human nature is more characteristic than its willingness to live on a chance."

William James

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday Tweets

In his second Inaugural in 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke famously of "one-third of a nation, ill fed, ill housed and ill clothed."  This week the U.S. Census Bureau released a study showing that 100 million Americans--one third of the nation--is living in poverty or in "near poverty," or what the New York Times called "that fretful zone just above" the poverty line. “These numbers are higher than we anticipated,” said Trudi J. Renwick, the bureau’s chief poverty statistician. “There are more people struggling than the official numbers show.”

With this in mind, judge for yourself a segment I caught on the Saturday CBS Evening News, about "successful" programs to defeat unemployment.  One example was a previously unemployed woman who now has a job at a call center, dunning and threatening other poor people who are behind on their credit card payments.  Another "success story" is a new company that employs ex-military to clean the homes of the rich.  From combat in Iraq to cleaning toilets of a McMansion.  Thanks, America.

The Occupy movement is currently embroiled in actions and reactions to coordinated efforts to dislodge their encampments in various cities.  I saw a story on this, followed by a story on a Congressional vote to defeat another infrastructure bill.  By the logic of events, it seems to me inevitable that sooner or later, all these local Occupy movements will have to go to where the fateful decisions are being made.  They are going to have to Occupy Washington.  An encampment of thousands from all over America, outside the U.S. Capitol for as long as it takes. 

As GOPer presidential primary politics becomes an ever-greater public disgrace, it seems obvious now what the outcome is going to be.  Newt Romney is finally showing his hand in Iowa and will be openly campaigning there.  He is either going to win the Iowa caucuses or Ron Paul will.  Either outcome will take any remaining drama out of the New Hampshire primary, which Romney will win, and it's unlikely that any one candidate will defeat him.  It is very unlikely that the current Mitt Gingrich boomlet will last long enough to challenge Romney, especially now that his campaign is going into high gear in the early states.

Meanwhile, President Obama is still rising in the polls. On Veterans Day he attended a college basketball game between Michigan and North Carolina on the deck of the U.S. Naval vessel Carl Vinson, reportedly in the company of Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan.  Now the Obama campaign has announced an "Obama Classic," a series of basketball games to raise money for the campaign, featuring current NBA stars.  And the roster just so far is impressive.