Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The End of the Decade

Oh, my dear Lord, let's hope the next one is better.

The farther down this corporatist, military/industrialist, fundamentalist, predatory-capitalist right-wing path we go, the worse it gets.

It has gotten harder and harder for me to write over the last year or so, as my complete emotional and intellectual attention has been taken up by trying to stave off foreclosure and keep things together amid the collapse of our economy. And it's not just me and my family; so many people I know are going through the same thing. As independent musicians, who even in the best of times don't have a guaranteed income, we tend to be on the front lines of any kind of national financial setbacks - we're canaries in the coal mines. But it's not just people like us; it's the people who used to tell us to "get a real job" so as to have security who are going through the same thing. "Job security" means nothing any more, and people who have staked their emotional well-being on the fact that they have a steady job are in the same boat as we are.

And the worst of it is that so many people are feeling as if it's their fault - feeling ashamed and guilty for not having a job - when the fact is that we have been robbed. And we will continue to be stolen from as long as this predatory capitalism is allowed to go unchecked.

My fervent wish for the New Year, and the new decade, is a change of direction. 

Much love and best wishes to you all, my blog friends.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

On Thanksgiving - Thoughts on Charity

It's Thanksgiving today. I am grateful that I have my health, my darling husband, my beloved kids, my wonderful friends who are like family to me. I am grateful that I will be eating a meal today with our big, fine family, and that there will be more than enough food for everyone. I am grateful that I have a roof over my head; a warm, safe place to sleep. I have a job; I have clean clothes. And it doesn't matter to 'whom' I am grateful - or if indeed it is 'anyone' at all; I am just grateful - counting my blessings makes me appreciate what I do have and keeps me from being unsatisfied because of what I don't have. It's an exercise in mental health for me.

Many of us are doing 'charitable' things on this day; gratitude for me - and for many others - involves giving to those who do not have these things that I include in my gratitude list. There are people that believe that government should not be in the business of helping those in need; that it should be taken care of through private charitable giving. Many of these same people, however, simultaneously feel that 'charity' should only go to people who meet their own specific criteria as to whether they are 'deserving' or not, and that the 'haves' ought to get to decide whether or not to help the 'have-nots'.

If you think deeper on this you will see that these particular 'haves' are acting as though they believe that the 'have-nots' are that way by choice. If this were indeed the case, then the 'haves' should have the right to choose whether or not they should offer their help. They pay lip service to the idea that the poor are deserving of help, but the reality is that they believe that 'laziness and poor choices' are the primary determining factors for poverty, and to help them is to reinforce and reward those factors by 'confiscating' from those who are not lazy and do not make poor choices. Those in need should be judged and punished by those who have more, or they will continue on their immoral path.

Yes, there are a small percentage of people who 'take advantage of the system', and even for those - is that such an enviable way of life, to receive the relatively small amount of assistance that public support entails? The ones to criticize are the ones who steal big; those people who really 'game the system' live in mansions and are lauded for their entrepreneurship.  But most people (and more than ever in these difficult times) are in need due to no fault of their own, and it is our responsibility as a society to provide a safety net that includes help for a way out of poverty with dignity, not a punitive, finger-pointing, judgmental sort of 'charity' which is not charity at all but arrogance.

The difference is in the assumption that poverty is a choice. If indeed I choose not to work, not to take care of myself and my family, and you choose to work and are therefore successful, then you are indeed within your rights to decide whether or not to help me with your own resources, and to use your judgment to decide whether I am deserving of your charity. However, that is not very often the case  - it is the exception, not the rule. You don't 'have' everything you have simply due to your own awesomeness, and as a society, we are better off as a whole if we help those who fall through the cracks. We help ourselves by helping the 'least of these', as the Prince of Peace knew very well.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

In Which I Finally Meet My First Reviewer, David Swanson!

Last night, I attended a local event for David Swanson, who is currently touring with his new book Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union, sponsored by Winograd for Congress 2010, Progressive Democrats of America, Code Pink, Westside Progressives & Ilene Proctor's Great Mind Series. Lila Garrett from KPFK's "Connect the Dots" and Marcy Winograd moderated, and it was a very illuminating and interesting evening. Swanson is one of the most informed, informative, thoughtful and active progressives I know, and his book reflects his years of work both inside and outside the Beltway, giving him a unique and valuable perspective.

His talk, while it touched on the major themes of his book, was not really about the book itself, but about what the book was written to address: namely, the necessity of finding a way to make the voice of the people more powerful through a re-examination and reorganization of our current broken system of government representation. The supposed 'three branches of government' which are meant to be a system of checks and balances, where each branch is held in check by the other two and no one branch is more powerful than the others, are badly askew. The executive branch, which was intended not to make law, but to execute law made by Congress, has morphed into a law unto itself, having taken for itself the right to write law through 'signing statements' changing laws written by Congress, or by simply making up its own laws by issuing 'executive orders'. We saw this happen most egregiously under the Bush Administration, but the larger problem that many of us saw coming has come to pass also - that this 'unitary executive' power would extend to subsequent Presidents, who would have no incentive to let go of that power. We are already seeing evidence of this in the Obama Administration.

Along with the enhanced power of the executive, we also have a Congress which is unable to really represent the people, due to the way that the House and the Senate are currently set up. The allotment of members of the House of Representatives for each state has not been changed in many years, even though the population of these states has ballooned far beyond any one House member's ability to truly represent the people of their district. For example, CA-36 currently has about 700,000 constituents with one person to represent them. It is unrealistic, given the increase in population from when the districts were drawn up and Representatives allotted, to expect one Congressperson to be able to properly advocate for that many citizens. Swanson suggests increasing the House and doing away with the Senate altogether, and perhaps having a large citizen-based advocacy group in each state. I don't know enough about the mechanics of that to argue for or against that idea, but Swanson, with his hands-on experience and knowledge of the inner workings of our government, has taken on the big solutions, and I applaud him for that.

It was a remarkable evening, and I was so glad to get to meet David Swanson in person at last, as well as seeing Marcy Winograd - who is forging ahead with a strong progressive campaign to unseat Jane Harman in 2010 - my hero Vincent Bugliosi, and my friend Bree Walker, who will soon be back on the airwaves with her powerful progressive voice.

"We the People" need to speak out more than ever. Our work is only starting, and David Swanson made the point that I have been talking about for a while now - that we may not see the change we want in our own lifetimes, but most important social change is like that. The abolition of slavery, the Civil Rights movement, womens' suffrage, workers' rights and the union movement, and American independence itself, came about through several generations of work with no guarantee of success, and we must work as hard as that for our progressive values.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Mad As Hell

Will fight health care with every fiber of his being, and the last gasp of his oxygen tank...

In Which I Travel To Our Nation's Capital and Attend a Lovely Tea-Party

The timing could not have been more fortuitous.

I am, once again, here in Washington, DC with Americans United for Separation of Church and State - along with many of my favorite bloggers -  for their annual conference. The West Coasters got in a day early, and I managed to do 3 live music broadcasts yesterday and got a good night's sleep in preparation for the festivities tonight.

Little did I know what riches would be in store for me today!

As I strolled along this morning, sightseeing around Capitol Hill, I spied a colorfully-clad man reading a speech to an interested gaggle of three or four people. His young son held up a yellow "Don't Tread On Me" flag. He informed us that they were voting on the health-care bill today and to be sure to come back at one o'clock for the big rally.

I had heard that the teabaggers were planning another rally to stop government takeover of health care, but I didn't know that they would be having it while I was here. It was almost as if they had planned it especially for me!

So, after enjoying a visit to the Folger Shakespeare Museum, we ambled on over back to the Capitol, where the promised party was in full swing! I could hear the dulcet tones of the one and only Michele Bachmann braying across the lawn, where around 250 millions of outraged Americans were raising their voices in opposition to the stealing of their freedoms.

Naturally, I was agog. Being a total fangirl of the amazing Bachmann, I was simply beside myself with joy at seeing her in person. But - my thrills were about to be compounded, because who did La Bachmann introduce but the legendary firebrand, über-patriot Jean Schmidt!!!

Yes, you read that right. What a bonanza! Double the pleasure, double the fun!

Stay tuned for more teabaggery later - I'm on my way to meet up with my fellow bloggers down at the hotel lounge!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Marcy Winograd on Big Pharma and Patent Medicine

Marcy Winograd has an excellent diary up at Daily Kos (please read/recommend if you're so inclined!) regarding the pharmaceutical industry's stranglehold on patents for "biologics" - cutting-edge, life-saving drugs. The new health care bill includes an amendment by Representatives Anna Eshoo and Joe Barton which will grant 12 years of patent protection for these biologics. Marcy writes:
While it’s clear, as Rep. Eshoo points out in her counter-blog, that the Eshoo amendment, limits for the first time patent protection for exorbitant cancer and HIV drugs, it’s also true that a minimum 12-year monopoly that allows Roche-Genentech to charge cancer patients with breast or brain tumors $185,000 per year for Avastin  or Abbot Labs to suddenly increase its prices five-fold for Norvir, a key ingredient in the AIDS-HIV cocktail, constitutes an excessive stranglehold on access to medicine desperately needed, not only here but worldwide where AIDS leaves a trail of tears throughout Africa.

CALPERS, California’s 1.4 million employee pension plan, and AARP, the senior insurance group, both opposed the 12-year protection as unsustainable.
Congressman Waxman (D-Santa Monica), Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee wanted a five-year patent; President Obama supported a seven-year compromise exclusivity on biologics.

"Many members are looking for so-called game changers that would bring more competition and lower costs" in the health-care sector, said Mr. Waxman. "But if we do what the drug companies want and add on long periods of monopoly protection...we will not only lose that opportunity, but guarantee higher drug prices for the foreseeable future."

 Jane Hamsher notes that:

because of an "evergreening" clause that grants drug companies a continued monopoly if they make slight changes to the drug (like creating a once-a-day dose where the original product was three times per day), they will never become generics. Instead of the Waxman-Deal amendment that granted much more reasonable terms to biologic patent holders, Speaker Pelosi chose to include the Eshoo-Barton amendment. And we could all be paying for that choice for the rest of our lives.
 When you couple this with the fact that most insurance companies will not pay for name brands, only for generics, you see what a Catch-22 this is for the average patient, who is in desperate need of these drugs but cannot afford the cost of the name brand, which can be hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Marcy writes:

The real question on biologics, however, reflects deeper issues also mirrored in the single-payer debate.  Just as single-payer advocates object to for-profit insurance companies whose first responsibility is a fiduciary one, to make money for shareholders, health care activists who challenge Big Pharma question whether for-profit corporations, often reliant on partnership money from the taxpayer-supported National Institute of Health,  should be allowed to own the rights to life-saving medicine now out of reach to some 90-million Americans who are uninsured or under-insured, millions more whose insurance companies refuse to cover the costs, as well as much of the Third World living in poverty.  

Selling medicine is not like selling cars or dish washers.  If you can’t buy a car, you can take a bus.  If you can’t buy a dishwasher, you can pick up a rag.  If you can’t buy Norvir, you can suffer with night sweats until you waste away.

No one should own the right to someone else’s life.
I think it's really, really important to, as Marcy says, shine a spotlight on what's happening with Big Pharma, and especially the patent issue.

Yes, they spend money on research. But the building blocks that they use to develop their drugs have been mostly put into place via public funding - NIH and university research. They don't 'invent' drugs out of thin air, from scratch - they use existing research to work from.

I think Marcy is spot on on this issue. It's not a matter of holding up a bill because it's not perfect - it's a matter of raising awareness about how the pharmaceutical industries work, and which politicians are benefiting from their largesse. When insurance companies will not pay for a life-saving name-brand drug but only a generic, it is imperative to find a way to make these drugs available and affordable to those who need them to survive and cannot afford literally millions of dollars in drug costs. Unless these companies developed these drugs completely from scratch, using no one's research or money but their own - and they don't; they certainly benefit from taxpayer money, both past and present - I think that entails a certain obligation to these taxpayers.

That is why I believe that in matters of life and death - which is what health care is - that the purely 'for-profit' corporate model, which is solely responsible to its shareholders and not to the public, is not appropriate. As Marcy pointed out, it's not like selling cars or dishwashers. We need to realize that there is a difference between health care and dishwashers, and treat them differently in the public sphere, as do other industrialized nations.

Marcy Winograd is challenging Blue Dog corporate Democrat Jane Harman in the June 8, 2010 Democratic Party primary.  In 2006, when Winograd jumped into the race just three months before the primary, she mobilized almost 38% of the vote.
To donate to Marcy's progressive challenge, visit

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A 'Must-Read' Synopsis of the Impact of Predatory Capitalism

I seldom just link to articles, but this one by William K. Black, author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One puts it so clearly and succinctly that there's nothing for me to add.

From the excellent website New Deal 2.0:
Roosevelt Institute Braintruster William K. Black explains how the finance economy preys on the real economy instead of serving it. He shows how both have become dysfunctional and warns that we must not neglect the real economy — the source of our jobs, our incomes, and the creator of goods and services — as we focus on financial reform.
Read, please.

Friday, October 02, 2009

The Democratic Achilles' Heel - A Tale of Two Worldviews

 From the Onion on Facebook -

BREAKING: Democrats Hoping To Take Control Of Congress From Republican Minority In 2010

What up, Dems?

Setting aside the fact that many Dems (particularly Blue Dogs) have been lobbied hard enough (and contributed to highly enough) by the insurance, for-profit health and pharmaceutical industries that they are not in a position to challenge them, but are merely attempting to placate them without threatening their right to continued dominance and profiteering, the fact remains that the Democrats' Achilles' heel is their tendency to seek accord and common ground (or 'bipartisan support') when their opponents have no such intention.

If you look at it from a framing perspective, the 'nurturant parent' model upon which progressives tend to base their worldview values consensus as the way to make decisions, not hierarchy and authority. And, while not perfect by any means, this is basically our approach as a nation - democracy, I think it's called.

This is our strength and it is also our weakness, because Republicans, as a conservative body, tend towards an authoritarian, winner-take-all approach which seeks to dominate rather than compromise. Democrats reach out across the aisle because they believe that everyone is entitled to have their input considered - and they also believe that if they give, they'll get. This is in contrast to Republicans, who have shown time and time again that they regard that sort of thing as weakness, and respond to bipartisan overtures with even more aggressive refusal to budge. This they see as 'standing on principle'.

I see each worldview as having two components - the left/liberal worldview composed of the 'nurturant parent' frame and the 'hunter' social aspect, and the right/conservative worldview consisting of the 'strict father' frame and the 'farmer' social aspect. I don't see the two components as contradictions but as the 'leader/follower' or 'hard/soft' sides of each worldview. (And, as I always qualify when talking about this, real human beings have attributes of both left and right; but for most people, one or the other aspect tends to take precedence when it comes to choosing a political viewpoint.)

On the left model, the 'nurturant parent' view of how to run a society is formed by the 'hunter' social aspect, or, to be more specific, the hunter/gatherer social aspect, which was how society was arranged before we developed an agricultural society. This society tended to be governed by consensus rather than top-down authority; there were nominal 'leaders' but they did not 'rule' in an authoritarian fashion. The governing style was 'soft' rather than 'hard', but there was more individual autonomy within the society, and the 'hard' aspect came from the necessity for individuals to be risk-takers and aggressive in order to survive as hunters and feed their people as well as defend themselves from predatory or dangerous animals. A hunter/gatherer society was also communal and relatively non-acquisitive, as food could not be stored but must be consumed as it was killed or found, and one animal was no use to hoard, since it could not be eaten entirely by one person nor 'saved for later'. Since many hunter/gatherer societies were nomadic, the idea of ownership was rather vague, and did not require a harsh authority to control and protect property.

On the right model, the 'strict father' view is derived from the need for an agricultural society to operate along very specific lines. There is no 'wiggle room' with planting and harvesting; it must be done exactly so, and to deviate in any way will mean starvation. These rules are imposed by nature rather than other humans or animals; thus it cannot be argued or negotiated with, but must be accepted - the penalty for disobedience is death - starvation. This requires a kind of unquestioning obedience that was not as important to a hunter society. It was the advent of agriculture which also brought with it the necessity for ownership and property - to grow food, you must possess land to grow it on, and make a long-term commitment. Being attached to a certain piece of land brought with it the necessity to defend it, not just from animals or the elements, but other humans. These factors brought about an authoritarian mindset as a means of survival - the combination of obedience and dominance in a hierarchical setting. So while the 'soft' aspect of the society presents as obedience to authority, the 'hard' aspect is the governing authority which is a black-and-white, win-or-lose idea, where the idea of authority emanates from its position rather than its function. Authority for authority's sake is the overriding principle, so logic and reason are not as important as obedience.

This is why the contradictions and hypocrisies of the Republican approach don't bother them at all, because the facts are not the issue; the obedience to those in charge of the viewpoint is what matters. I would say 'party' but it isn't so much the Republican Party itself as those who present themselves as the kind of right-wing authoritarian leaders that authoritarian followers accept and are drawn to. Some are within the party leadership, and some are not, such as the hate-mongers like Limbaugh, Hannity and Beck. Not just anyone in a position of leadership can reach real authoritarian followers - obviously, they do not accept the President of the United States as their leader! Actually, they thrive on those contradictions and hypocrisies, because that means that they are even more obedient if they obey in the face of those glaring inconsistencies - and the more obedient they are, the more secure they feel.

Two hallmarks of the conservative mindset are resistance to change and acceptance of inequality. We see both of these traits from the Republican side in the healthcare debate. But - not all conservatives are authoritarians, and not all authoritarians are conservatives! What we are hearing from mostly right now is the rabid authoritarians - the followers, the leaders, and what Dr. Robert Altemeyer calls the 'double-highs' - those who score high for both authoritarianism and social domination. Dr. Altemeyer's definition of the authoritarian personality is one who exhibits:
1) a high degree of submission to the established, legitimate authorities in
their society;
2) high levels of aggression in the name of their authorities; and
3) a high level of conventionalism.
There are conservatives who do not exhibit the authoritarian aspect, but they are increasingly being marginalized as not 'ideologically in step', and the Republican Party is controlled for the most part by authoritarian conservatives. This works out well for the real 'powers that be', the corporatocracy, because resistance to change works in their favor, since they are currently in charge, and acceptance of inequality works in their favor as well - for obvious reasons.

So we see that most of the rhetoric coming from the Republicans is from the authoritarians - those who unquestioningly follow the directives of their accepted leaders, and who are aggressively hostile to those people and ideas to whom their leaders object.

Conservatives and liberals can have a dialogue. Authoritarians and liberals cannot.

And this is why Dems get their asses handed to them on a regular basis - even when they are in power! Because they cannot find it within themselves to change the tactics they are used to, and keep treating the Republicans as though they are seeking the same things - consensus instead of domination. When a Dem with cojones enough to stand up to these thugs comes along, like Alan Grayson, they practically pee all over themselves.

Democrats (at least, those who aren't enmeshed in the sticky webs of the Washington insider/lobbyist culture, unable to move) need to get in touch with the 'hard' aspect of their worldview - the individualistic, risk-taking, 'hunter' side of their natures - or we will continue to have an aggressive, reality-challenged minority dictating its destructive will to the rest of the country. Dems - the Republicans as they stand today are never going to budge, and and the more you roll over and give away the store in hopes that they will respond in kind, the more they are going to take without giving anything in return, and the more they will disrespect you as weak and unprincipled.

Seeking common ground and compromise only works when both parties are on board. It's already been tried, and tried, and tried again, with the same results. Time to put your big-boy boots on, Achilles. Is Alan Grayson the only Dem who knows that the only way to deal with a Republican bully is to stand up to him?

Update - Melanie has a post with some thoughts on the same subject - very interesting.

Can We Clone Alan Grayson?

I'm going to toot my own horn just the littlest bit; I chatted online with - and sent money to - Alan Grayson back in January of 08 at Firedoglake when he was running for office. He now represents my former home of Orlando, where I lived for 4 years and still have very close friendship and family ties, and I can be proud that BlueAmerica supported a fighter like Alan Grayson.

Dems, listen up - this is how it's done.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Something To Think About - Where Does All That Lobbying Money Come From?

Well, we know that the incessant inundation of our congresspeople with torrents of lobbying money has hamstrung any attempts to get a 'robust public option' into the dialogue, much less single-payer, which is what would really make the difference in giving every American access to decent, affordable health care.

But let's take this question a bit further.

Let's see...

What do insurance companies do?

One definition is "pooling the resources of a large group to pay for the losses of a small group." In health care terms, this would involve taking money (premiums) from a large group of people, and paying the medical bills (losses) of a small group of people - that is, people who are ill, which are a smaller sub-group within any given group of people - with that money. The insurance company makes determinations about how much money they will need to cover these medical expenses by calculating the odds that a certain percentage of people are going to have medical expenses at any given time, and that furthermore, they estimate which of those people will be more likely to need medical care by calculating age range, medical histories and other criteria, and charge premiums according to who is most likely to need care. The larger and more diverse the pool of customers, the lower the overall cost of covering these losses.

Every business has income and expenses, and hopefully, profit.

For insurance companies, the expenses are:
  • the medical bills they pay on behalf of their customers
  • employees' salaries
  • building and infrastructure overhead
  • administrative costs
(I'm sure I've left out plenty, but this is a very broad overview)

And their income?
  • customer premiums
Out of the customer premiums, all these business expenses need to be paid - including whatever is left over, which goes to profit for the shareholders of the company.

So - what you and I pay to the insurance company is the only income they have. Everything else is outgo.

Oh, gosh - it seems I've left out an expense!

I forgot about - lobbying!

Yes - your insanely high health insurance premium is what the insurance company lobbyists use to donate to your congressperson's campaign fund, to get their ear and convince them to vote against a public option and to not even consider single-payer!

That is where all that lobbying money comes from! You and me.

While they're taking our money to deny us care, they use our money to insure that nothing changes! All those billions of lobby dollars did not come from anywhere else but our pockets - and they're being used against us to literally destroy our lives if we should be so unlucky as to fall ill - while paying an enormous percentage of our income to these same insurance companies. The money that could be used to pay our medical bills so we don't lose our homes and go bankrupt instead goes to persuade Congress to allow them to keep stealing from us to give their CEOs multi-million-dollar salaries and a fat return for their shareholders.

It's the same way with the credit card companies - they get the money they use to influence Congress into screwing us over directly out of our pockets.

And an insurance bill without a public option is merely forcing all Americans to buy insurance, whether they can afford it or not - what a gift for the insurance companies! Millions of new customers to fleece! And bought and paid for, as usual, by you and me.

We're not rocket scientists here at Hooterville, but we can put 2 and 2 together.

Just something to think about.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Hooterville's AU Church-State Issue of the Week

Every time I try to institute something "of the week" on this poor blog, it never gets very far. My ADD sees to that. Consistency? I think not!

Nevertheless, since I am on the executive board of my local chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and have been involved with this fine organization for the last 3 years or so, I'm going to attempt a regular feature of a church-state issue here. To me, the church-state question encompasses so many different aspects of what I believe as a progressive that I think it's important to keep on top of it, and to see where the attempts by the right to blur (and eventually erase) the line really lead to.

As I have written about in my book, the rise of the Right as far as power is concerned has happened because of the alliance of the religious fundmentalist right and the big business right. Neither of these groups by themselves is powerful enough to be able to thwart the will of the rest of America, which considered itself fairly liberal (not hard-left, mind you, but liberal) until after the sixties, when a group of über-wealthy Republicans, fearing the loss of their power structure and 'free enterprise', got together and formulated a long-term, highly-organized and well-funded plan to stamp out liberalism. Richmond lawyer (and future Supreme Court justice) Lewis Powell wrote a memo to the Chairman of the Education Committee of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce which outlined the necessity of halting the influence of the Left, lest the whole free-enterprise system collapse, and soon after, as Lewis Lapham writes in Harper's, the machine was set in motion.

As the Big Business conservatives planned their comeback, Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the Heritage Foundation, had a plan of his own. Outraged by the Supreme Court decision in 1964 that removed prayer from public schools, Weyrich wanted to hitch the evangelical Christian wagon to the Republican Party star. The problem was, at the time, neither side had an interest in the other. The Republican Party was, first and foremost, business-oriented, with no interest in challenging church-state separation. The evangelical community had largely separated itself from public life after the Scopes Monkey Trial; although William Jennings Bryan prevailed against celebrity trial lawyer Clarence Darrow and obtained a conviction against John Scopes for teaching evolution in school, evangelicals took a pounding in the press and were labeled 'ignorant' and 'backward'. In response, they retreated from the public sphere, and chose not to engage in 'worldly' activities, forming their own communities apart from the mainstream.

Weyrich was convinced that these two groups had common interests, and worked to unite them, but was not successful until 1978, when the IRS threatened to revoke tax-exempt status for private schools that were not sufficiently integrated. At this point, evangelicals suddenly saw that Big Government was the enemy, and that the Republican Party could be their ally in their fight against it.

This, basically, is an overview of how the religious right and big-business right combined their assets - big money and big obedient voter bloc - to wrest control of the public debate to their side, although they were numerically and ideologically in the minority. The evangelical vote pushed 'anti-government' Reagan into the presidency over the evangelical Jimmy Carter, whose liberal social views disappointed those who thought one of their own would uphold fundamentalist ideals; and the dismantling of the New Deal, which had rescued America from the Great Depression and given the country unprecedented prosperity and a strong middle class, began in earnest.

Neither side - Big Business or evangelical right - holds the mainstream view of America, but together they have proved a powerful juggernaut that will take an equally motivated and dedicated opposition to halt. My goal is to inform and engage the progressively-minded segment of America that is not aware of this - and there are a lot of people who fall into that category. This is why I work with church-state issues; because this is the way that the Big Business wing persuades the fundamentalist wing to support, with their massive and loyal voting bloc, public policies that actively hurt this country and the principles of democracy that our nation was founded on. This is the carrot; the motivator that the corporatists dangle in front of the fundies to keep them in line. Issues such as teaching creationism in schools, school vouchers, hot-button issues like abortion and gay marriage, and generally inducing taxpayers to support religion with tax dollars, while attempting to dismantle public education and public services in favor of privatization, keep the evangelicals engaged and supportive of Big Business policies.  The aims of Big Business, however, have nothing to do with religion and everything to do with obtaining and controlling as much of the public purse and power as they can get their hands on, for their own benefit, and the subsequent detriment of the rest of the country.

They use the buzz-word 'Freedom' - to the fundies it means the freedom to impose their religious views legally on the rest of the country, without allowing anyone else the freedom to do the same to them; to the corporatists it means the freedom to prey financially on the rest of the country without regulation - the only regulations they care for are those which keep the rest of us from protecting ourselves from these predators. You can't blame them for being predators any more than you can blame a lion for being a predator - it is their nature. They are incorporated to make profit, not to protect the interests of the people. That is government's job, and the reason we have a government at all.

My first Issue of the Week is judicial ruling on church-state separation. Rob Boston, Assistant Director of Communications of AU, gives us Justice Antonin Scalia's take on it. No surprise here - he doesn't believe in it; doesn't think it is constitutional. Scalia thinks public schools should be allowed to teach "creation science" - an oxymoron if there ever was one. We have seen specifically where the danger lies here, during the Bush Administration, where 'differing views' on science on the subject of climate change, instead of one scientific standard, led the Administration to "suppression of scientific evidence that does not support administration plans."

When science is legally reduced to 'some guy's opinion', while individual views on morality are considered 'moral relativism' which should be eschewed in favor of one particular unyielding Christian standard as if it were scientific fact, then we are headed down a dangerous road indeed.

For more on AU's fight to keep Church and State separate, as it is in the Constitution, please check out their site at

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Review of "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union" – by David Swanson

Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union – by David Swanson

I want to live in David Swanson’s America.

David Swanson is an activist’s activist; I first became aware of him through the organization he co-founded, On May 3rd, 2005, through a link on Raw Story , I read about the Downing Street minutes, a recording of a meeting chaired by Tony Blair in which it was revealed that (as Rep. John Conyers wrote) “[the] British government and the United States government had secretly agreed to attack Iraq in 2002, before authorization was sought for such an attack in Congress, and had discussed creating pretextual justifications for doing so." I was just stunned, and even more stunned by the deafening silence from the mainstream media. Swanson and his co-founders were on it like white on rice, and I joined the group and bookmarked as the ‘go-to’ website for information on the efforts to bring this into the light of day.

He has worked within politics, within peace groups, within labor groups, within communications groups, and his involvement in –and knowledge about – such a broad range of progressive issues and his hand-on experience with the inside workings of government and politics gives him a unique perspective on what is really going on in America; and, what’s more – what can and ought to be done to make it better.

I was thrilled to have David Swanson be the first person to review my book The Price of Right, and while it was not uniformly glowing I thought it was fair, made good points deserving of consideration and in general positive rather than negative, which is what one would hope for in a review, and I was glad to have it. One of his main criticisms was that, while I pointed out problems within our system, I did not present ideas for solutions to those problems.

When he was kind enough to send me his own book, Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union, to read and review, I saw why.

This book is sweeping in scope, and not only articulates the problems but nuts-and-bolts approaches to solutions to these problems from a progressive point of view. Swanson’s premise is that it is not a bad President or a corrupt party in power that is the root of our current trouble in America, but the imbalance between the so-called ‘three branches of government’, with an all-powerful, ‘imperial’ executive branch and a defanged, ineffective legislative branch, that has made the voice of the people unable to be heard.

Step by step, he outlines how the power grab by the executive branch during the Bush-Cheney regime has endangered, not only our present situation, but our future. The unprecedented powers that Bush and Cheney claimed for themselves – lying to Congress, starting a war of aggression based on those lies, ignoring the Geneva Conventions and habeas corpus, torture, illegal wiretapping, extraordinary rendition, abuse of the Justice Department – the list is so extensive as to be almost unbelievable; yet they have gotten away with all this and more; and they have yet to be so much as frowned at for these crimes – Congress (and the new President) seem to prefer to act like none of this ever happened, and want to ‘look forward rather than backward’. The reason that Cheney, Bush, et al. must be held accountable, Swanson asserts, is not, however, for revenge or retribution, which will not bring back one soldier or innocent civilian, but a far more important reason – to prevent future administrations from seizing those powers for their own use.

As much as the former administration abused the office, they could not have done so without the acquiescence of Congress, and this is what Swanson sees as a main point of his book. It is Congress that is the vox populi, and Congress which must stand its ground for the people if the American experiment is to succeed.

In this book, he clearly articulates, in very specific detail, not only what progressive values entail, but how they can be implemented. It is a radical approach, to be sure, and it’s difficult to imagine that these gigantic changes could happen in today’s climate of liberal timidity and conservative aggression. Some of these ideas are already on the progressive agenda – campaign finance reform, cutting the military budget, election protection, etc. However, Swanson goes further and dares to suggest solutions even many progressives would shy away from proposing - enlarging the House and eliminating the Senate, eliminating the electoral college, enlarging the Supreme Court and lessening its power, and tosses around other ideas requiring Constitutional amendments. As radical as these ideas may be, they are not idly thrown out – they are carefully researched and thought through. He carries progressive ideals to their logical conclusion, and it is only because we have gone so far in the opposite direction – towards corporatism and away from democracy, towards empire and away from a republic – that they seem so startling.

Swanson is more than an idealist – he has a firm direction and vision that he outlines in Daybreak, and has a history of successful and practical action working within the system as well as outside it. But, what is most important in my opinion, is that he works and fights for what he believes in, regardless of its chances of immediate success – and Daybreak is a practical handbook for change; the kind of change that is brought about by people who work towards their aim in the face of daunting opposition. Swanson is no stranger to that path, and this book is a call to those who are ready, with him, to ignore the ‘conventional wisdom’ and the naysayers, take on the big fight, and work for, not spare change, but real transformation – towards a ‘more perfect Union’.

Buy your copy of Daybreak here.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Illegals, Watch Out - We're Taking Back Our Jobs!

There's a new movement afoot in the American Right. Inspired by the rabidly anti-immigration, tirelessly pro-American-worker Lou Dobbs, it's springing up all across America. From the meatpacking plants of Iowa to the dairy farms of Arizona, from the kitchens of New York's finest restaurants to the Salad Bowl of California's Salinas Valley, in hotels, motels, and Holiday Inns all across this great nation of ours, the patriotic men and women who for years have stood by and watched illegal immigrants swarming across the border to brazenly steal their jobs have had enough.

Formerly known as the Minute-Man Movement (or 'Beer Guts Across America'), whose aim was to merely monitor the flow of illegal immigration across the border between the U.S. and Mexico, the troubled group disbanded amid infighting and accusations of internal corruption and financial misconduct in 2007. Yet, the dissatisfaction and frustration felt by these hard-working American patriots has only grown more intense, as they watch job after job after job go to those with no legal right to that job, while they themselves, deserving natural-born citizens, sit at home on their couches, with an ice-cold Coors, a family-sized bag of Chee-tos and a clicker in their hands as they wait around for the job that never seems to materialize.

Well, the time for waiting is over.

The time for action has arrived.

Illegal criminals, take notice - Conservative Americans are taking back their jobs!

Yes, from the ashes of the failed Minute-Man Movement, the Gimme Back My Job, Dammit Coalition (GBMJ,DC) has risen, and it has spread like wildfire among conservatives sick and tired of illegals taking the jobs from deserving American citizens. No longer content to wait for the government to do it for them, these patriots have taken matters into their own hands. Now they're doing more than just protesting or watching from the sidelines - they're taking back their Constitutional, God-given right to a job. Suddenly, you see them everywhere - on the sidewalk with a leaf-blower strapped to their back, in the parking lot of your favorite restaurant with the keys to your car or inside, balancing a heavy-laden bus tray full of dirty dishes as they adroitly refill your iced tea glass on their way back to the kitchen. You may find them bent over in a lettuce field under a blistering sun with a rake in their hand, or endangering their limbs with casually-maintained but lethally sharp meat-cutting machinery for fourteen hours or more a day while earning somewhere around three dollars an hour, with no benefits, medical insurance, workman's compensation, or even bathroom breaks.

Most of them say they've never been happier.

"For the first time in my life, I feel needed," says Coalition member Chuck B. Liggett, 70, a former accountant who now works in a chicken-packing plant in Amarillo, Texas. "When the floor boss screams at me for slowing down, I feel a surge of pride because what I do actually matters. Now, I do an honest day's work for my pay, and by the time I collapse on my filthy mattress on the floor of my stinking room at the end of my fifteen-hour shift, I know I really earned that forty dollars!"

And it's not only men who are flocking to this bold new movement. Conservative women are finding satisfaction, fulfillment and a sense of what it feels like to be a real American as they embrace this exciting, energetic new way of life. Darlene Simmons, 47, works in a factory in downtown Los Angeles, sewing elastic bands into men's underwear seven days a week.

"It works out great, because working seven days means that I can save the expense of a car and an apartment - not that I could afford them on my salary," she explains. "I just fall asleep sitting at my sewing machine, and when I wake up, I'm right there ready for another day of rewarding, eye-straining, repetitive-stress-injury-inducing work!"

The jobs bonanza has been beneficial for Darlene's whole family as well.

"We're going back to the good old-fashioned American work ethic that made this country great!" says Darlene. "My kids used to be spoiled, lazy, smart-mouthed and never satisfied. No matter how much stuff we bought them, it was never enough. Now my kids work in the factory right along with me! Even my seven-year-old daughter can sew a button on a fly with those itty-bitty hands of hers - she's pretty handy, considering how she was always so busy texting her little friends! And you'd better believe there's no more complaining - you should see them cry with happiness for a little half-cup of water!"

Not even Darlene's aged, infirm 94-years-young grandmother has to miss out on the fun - when she was fired from the factory for sewing her hand to a pair of extra-large briefs, she quickly found work again as a housemaid to the factory owner's wife. With tears in her eyes, choked up and unable to speak for gratitude, Grammaw merely trembled with joy, as Darlene quickly interjected, "They're so good to us here!"

Conservatives are done with talking - now they're stepping up to the plate and claiming what's theirs. All those cushy jobs that the illegal immigrants have been stealing are now back in the rightful hands of natural citizens like Chuck and Darlene. Unemployment? These stalwarts don't know the meaning of the word.

As a wise American patriot once said, "How uniquely American."

Friday, September 11, 2009

Just Imagine the Response...

...if a Democrat had yelled out "You lie!" during a George W. Bush speech before Congress.

Just think about it.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Health Care, Corporate Personhood, Campaign Finance - the Unholy Trinity

Yes, yes, I know that there's "no way we can get the public option in there, much less single payer." We are up against, not the ridiculous tea-baggers and right-wing fundie nutballs, but the mightiest corporations in the land - and in the world. Make no mistake - this is no 'grass-roots uprising by the little people' - this is a massively funded Astro-turf operation, financed by the limitless coffers of the corporations who have made that money off of the backs of the sick and the poor. and they are not about to watch their cash cow just wander out of the pasture.

As we have seen by the lackluster efforts of the Democrats in Congress and even the President, this is not only a Republican issue (except for the fact that those corporations favor Republicans, which is traditionally and proudly the party of Big Business) - everyone in Congress has been paid scads and scads to grant these corporations a favorable ear. And until we find a way to get that kind of money out of Congress - the kind of money that is being called "First Amendment Free Speech Rights" by the insurance corporations, drug corporations, and health-management-for-profit organizations, and "bribery" by anyone else with a brain cell rolling around in their head - we will not be able to allow the people's voice to be heard - and the American people want health care!

Health care that will not send you to the poorhouse after a single catastrophic illness.

Health care that will not be doled out to you by people who stand to lose money by giving it to you, and stand to make money by denying it to you.

Health care that will lower overall costs by allowing everyone preventive care and practical treatment that keeps them from getting so sick before they get care that they end up in the emergency room, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars for something that could have been taken care of earlier for 50-100 dollars.

Health care that will that will help us all stay healthier and therefore more productive, taking less sick days.

Health care that will save us all money by keeping families out of bankruptcy and destitution, and off of the public welfare rolls, beause of an illness.

Lisa over at That's Why has a great post on health care and why there's no real debate - check it out!

Insurance has its place - for cosmetic or elective surgery, perhaps; for boutique care. If some rich yahoo wants a fancy hospital suite to get their facelifts and boob jobs in, by all means - get insurance for that! Pet insurance - sure! Pet medical care is expensive, and if we have pets, we want them to have good care and can pool our risk for that. I am consdering that myself, if I can get to where I can afford it. Insure your house, your car, your valuables. That's free-market.

But not profit-making off of life and death.

Every other civilized nation in the world makes it illegal to sell for-profit insurance for primary, necessary care. There are places (Switzerland, I think) that allow private insurance but it must be not-for-profit.

We cannot allow the necessities of life to become hostage to a private, for-profit model that is accountable not to the people, but to its shareholders only. Water, electricity, clean and breathable air, infrastructure (including basic communication) - these are things that fall under the category of 'life' in the phrase 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness'. Freedom does not mean freedom to monopolize and steal. That original phrase was going to be 'life, liberty and property', and it was rightly changed.

'Government' is not a dirty word - unless you make it one!

So, to really be able to attack this problem in a way that we can win, there are two thing that we must look at - corporate personhood and campaign finance.

'Corporate personhood' was bought and paid for in the 1880s. Before then, there were restrictions by the states on how corporations could operate, and they could be dissolved by their state if they broke those laws. Of course, that was incredibly grating to the corporations, and they began lawyering up and devising legal strategies for many years before, waiting for just the right case and right justices to make a case for corporate personhood, which arrived in the case of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad in 1886.

Once that was established (using the Fourteenth Amendment - same amendment that installed George W. Bush in the White House without being elected), corporations were not 'artificial legal constructs', like churches, unions, unincorporated businesses, civic clubs, and even governments. Corporations had the same rights as human beings - including freedom of speech - with none of the attendant vulnerabilities. They have an infinite 'lifespan'; no medical needs; no need for food, water or air; no families to protect and provide for. They can dissolve and re-form at any time. In a legal battle between a person and a corporation, the corporation can simply stall until that person dies. There is no way to have a fair contest between a person and a corporation - yet we are to consider them on the same legal footing as human beings?

This misguided judgment has set the tone for the declining quality of life for human beings as a whole, and a concentration of power, wealth and comfort to those few humans who reap the benefits of association with big corporations. And one of the biggest scams they have going is the 'health insurance' scam. And since a corporation's only obligation is to its bottom line - by law - the real-life-human-being effects of its money-making model do not figure into its calculations.

It can't.

We must understand that if a corporation were to put human well-being before profit, it would be breaking the law - violating the legal conditions of its obligations to its stockholders. It's not wrong to put profits first for a for-profit corporation.

What is wrong is placing the life and death of human beings into the hands of a for-profit corporation.

The government, on the other hand, was specifically designed to put the welfare of 'we the people' first. And the government is also accountable to us, unlike a corporation. That is why these life-and-death issues need to be in the hands of 'we the people'.

No, the government is not perfect. Yes, there are many things that could and should be changed to ensure accountability - but as citizens we do have that power. With corporations we do not. And do not give me that hoo-haw about 'competition and free market and the consumer making the choice and influencing the corporation that way'. That is malarkey and everyone knows it - even those who spout it like the Holy Gospel.

Which brings me to the next point about campaign finance.

As long as politicians are dependent upon huge sums of money to get elected and stay in office, almost half their time is involved in fundraising. And the massive amounts of money necessary to buy the television ads and other costs of campaigning are only available in three ways: one's own money - in which case you are merely purchasing an election; small donations from individuals - which is like trying to build a sand castle one grain of sand at a time; and corporate donations. Each one comes with a cost that does not belong in public elections and the running of our country to the benefit of all, not the privileged few.

And the cost of corporate donations, of course, is an obligation to give that donor your ear. The response to that is always. "I only listen; just like I'd listen to any citizen - that doesn't mean that I will legislate the way the corporations want me to."

Bull. Shit. On a stick.

The pressure to deliver is tremendous. Corporate donations include both a carrot and a stick. The carrot is, of course, the big donations, which frees up the time that a congressperson has to spend fundraising, and ostensibly 'tend to the people's business'.

But there is also the stick, that rarely gets spoken about on TV and the media.

The stick involves financing a more cooperative opponent for your seat - either the seat you seek, or the seat you hold. Tom "Dancing With the Stars" DeLay (and stay tuned for some more Tommi revelry when I get half a minute to put it together) ruled the House with that bludgeon. And that is another excuse that even the best-intentioned politicians can use to kid themselves and justify toeing the corporate line - "Well, if I don't go along, then I'll lose my seat to someone who may be worse - at least I can try to mitigate it and do some damage control. The person who takes my seat might be a 100% corporate tool all the way, but (insert rationalization here)". This is what we are seeing now with the Dems and Obama.

We need to overhaul the way our campaigns are financed - it's by the public; for the public; and it has to be with public money. The same with election and voting machines - these cannot be run on private proprietary software! How the hell can we even allow that to happen? Proprietary voting machine software owned by a corporation with a political agenda? Who the fuck thought that was OK?

So, we need to understand at a basic, gut level why these two issues - corporate personhood and campaign finance - must be addressed to get any kind of change enacted. Otherwise, we're spinning our wheels in a muddy ditch - and wondering why we're not moving forward.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Woo Hoo! Just Got My Review Copy of David Swanson's New Book "Daybreak"!

May 3, 2005.

I read an article that floored me.

Raw Story reported that Rep. John Conyers had written a letter signed by eighty-eight members of Congress, calling for "deeper inquiry" into a secret Iraq attack plan that had been discussed by the US and the UK in 2002, long before Congress had been consulted or authorization sought, according to a document soon to be called the "Downing Street Memo", although they were technically the minutes of a meeting chaired by Tony Blair to discuss military action towards Iraq, "having already committed himself to supporting President Bush's plans for invading Iraq." "A separate secret briefing for the meeting said that Britain and America had to 'create' conditions to justify a war."

But the line that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up was "A British official 'reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.' "

'the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.'

Somehow, that report just set off all my alarm bells. I could not get those words out of my head. Yet, in the mainstream media, nary a peep! It was all about the runaway googly-eyed bride and that endless, cascading fountain of infotainment dollars - a pathetic, pajama-clad Michael Jackson and his sad, humiliating trial.

But there were a few progressives that were onto the Downing Street Memo, and at the forefront of these was David Swanson and his new website, which mobilized immediately to become the center of the movement to draw attention to a document that, in any kind of a just world, would have yanked Cheney and Bush from office, hauled them into court, and clapped them into jail.

I immediately bookmarked that site as the 'go-to' place for all things Downing Street, and followed the work and activism of Swanson as he cut a mighty swath through the jungle of lies, red herrings, distractions and obfuscations thrown up around the subject.

Fast-forward to September 2008 and the release of my book The Price of Right. David Swanson gave me my first review, and though it was not uniformly glowing I thought it was fair, made some good points deserving of consideration and in general positive rather than negative. I was thrilled to have him review it.

Fast-forward another year, and now David's own book, Daybreak - Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union, will be out tomorrow, September 1. He was kind enough to send me a review copy which I just got in the mail today, and am going to be staying up all night to read, so I can get my review out as soon as possible. He prefaces his book with an I.F. Stone quote that really resonates with me, because I feel the exact same way:
“The only kinds of fights worth fighting are those you are going to lose, because somebody has to fight them and lose and lose and lose until someday, somebody who believes as you do wins. In order for somebody to win an important, major fight 100 years hence, a lot of other people have got to be willing - for the sheer fun and joy of it - to go right ahead and fight, knowing you're going to lose. You mustn't feel like a martyr. You've got to enjoy it.”

After all, what kind of a fight is it if you're guaranteed success? That's not a fight; that's the WWF. It's entertainment; it's self-indulgence; it's dilettantism. There's no valor in fighting for something when you already know you're going to prevail. The forces of entrenched wealth and entrenched power and corporatism that we are up against are so strong, so massive, and so pervasive that to think that all we have to do is wave a few signs to bring them down is ludicrous. This may well be the fight of our lives, and we have to be okay with continuing to fight even when we don't obtain our objective right when we want it and think we ought to have it.

But let's not forget that it has been done before, and it can be done again.

I'll be back as soon as I can with the 'official' review. In the meantime...David says:
If everyone buys it on Tuesday, September 1st, at, it will jump to the top of the political bestsellers there, displacing Glenn Beck. Here's the link:

Even though I already have my copy, I'm going to buy one, just for the satisfaction of kicking some Glenn Beck ass.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Thank You, Senator Edward Kennedy, For Your Lifetime of Service

Senator Ted Kennedy - the greatest senator this country has ever had.

I need to take some time to write about this - my heart is too full right now.

Please, everyone - let us honor Senator Kennedy's unstinting support and love for the American working man and woman by redoubling our efforts to fight for health care for all. Basic health care is a right, not a privilege for the privileged only. We are up against massively rich and powerful corporations who are battling for their own lives, but we cannot let the magnitude of the task before us stop our efforts.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I'm Playing at Netroots Nation in Second Life - Come On Down!

Ever since I first started blogging in 2004, I've wanted to go to Yearly Kos, which has now grown into Netroots Nation. I am a person whose life has been profoundly transformed by blogging and the people I've met through it, so a conference for progressive activism hosted by bloggers is one that I have longed to go to.

We are in the midst of a revolution in how information is transmitted, and bloggers have been at the forefront of it. I don't mean to wax melodramatic about it, but blogging and bloggers have changed politics in America, and given a voice to ordinary people in a way that was not possible before the Internet.

Every year I've hoped to be able to swing the Netroots conference, but never could pull it together to go. I have been fortunate enough to be invited to the Americans United for Separation of Church and State conference in DC the last 2 years, where I got to meet some of my very favorite bloggers in person - and, yes; they're all - without exception - as wonderful in person as they are online. So being able to go to the Big Kahuna of blogger meet-ups - the place where blogging meets real-world progressive activism - would be a dream come true. Because that, of course, is the goal - writing is all very wonderful, but writing that culminates in and intersects with boots-on-the-ground work is what it's really all about.

And, no, I won't be going to Pittsburgh.

But I will get to experience it through Second Life, and I'm scheduled to perform at Netroots Nation in Second Life!

I'll be doing an hour of music before Markos Moulitsas' speech on Thursday - I'll be playing from 5:45 to 6:45 PM - and after Bill Clinton gives the keynote speech at 3:00!

I am really jazzed about this - it's the next best thing to being there! Even if you're not able to be in Second Life, you can still catch the live stream. As of right now I don't know if I'll be using my server or theirs, but when I find out I will post the link here. Then you can just click on the link and listen.

But if you, like me, want to go but can't make it to Pittsburgh, I'd like to invite you to give Second Life a try - just for the conference. The NNSL team is organizing a special event for people who aren't usually Second Lifers who can't go to Pittsburgh but would like to experience Netroots Nation in 3D. Netroots Nation in Second Life will be streaming video from the conference - you'll get to see and hear the speakers, the workshops, the panels, the documentaries - plus special presentations that are just in Second Life (like my music - ha!)

Since they're expecting a large group of people who are brand-new to Second Life, there is a whole contingent of volunteers who will be there to help you get around and show you what to do. I can't think of a better time to give Second Life a try, with all the help for new folks available, and to experience the inspiration and excitement of Netroots Nation live and in 3D - for free, in the comfort of your own home! It's the best of both worlds, and I'm thrilled and honored to be a part of it.

I'm including some links that will give you some info about getting started. My friend BookemJackson Streeter (also known as SeattleTammy), a real-life independent bookseller, is the one who got me going in Second Life, and she is one of the main volunteers who are helping people get situated for NNSL. If you get in touch with her, either through her blog or in Second Life (search for BookemJackson Streeter and IM her), she will get you rolling in no time at all. These are Tammy's posts about SL.

Also, check out this link for a comprehensive overview about Second Life for Netroots Nation. Very informative!

Sewenviro (Mala Fegte) has another great diary, and Stormy does too.

Those of you that have come to my online shows with just audio, I'd like to invite you to the whole show with Idella Quandry in Second Life. It really is a cool way to share the live music experience.

Hope to see you there!

Friday, July 24, 2009

So Beautiful It Made Me Cry

Is this a social blog? No. Do I post YouTube stuff here? No. Is this I Can Haz Cheezburger? No. I don't do LOLcats here. But this wedding video was so beautiful it made me cry. What an original and joyous way to start your married life.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

In Which My Virtual Self and Real Self Meet: Netroots Nation In Second Life - August 13-16, 2009

For the past few months I have been leading a Second Life. SL is an avatar-based virtual world - sort of a 3-D video chat room, if you will - where people with common interests can get together and create a virtual environment, complete with tools for integrating streaming audio, video, chat, IM, some web, and various sorts of social media. I joined because of my friend General JC Christian, who started a progressive group there called Cafe Wellstone, and did a virtual book signing there at Jackson Street Books, but soon found out that there was music in Second Life also. I began doing live gigs there singing and playing keyboards, streaming audio in real time for a real audience that I could see and interact with - albeit with a 7-second delay!

I wrote about my Second Life gigs as the lovely Idella Quandry a little while ago, so I won't belabor them, other than to let you know that I am now doing a regular Thursday night online from 8-10 PST (which, fortunately for me, is Second Life time as well) and that you can tune in on the web as well as in Second Life. I'll put the info to hear it at the bottom of the post.

I love having a platform where I can do the two things that mean so much to me in the same arena - progressive activism and music - and coming up soon I will be doing both with Netroots Nation in Second Life. Netroots Nation, while originally Yearly Kos, has expanded to include many different sorts of online activism and communities, and will be holding its annual conference in Pittsburgh, PA on August 13-16. There will be a Second Life contingent of progressives who will share it with those who can't make it to the event physically.

Of course there will be blogging, and video, and all the other ways people usually communicate these things, but Second Life has a uniquely 'immersive' way of delivering the Netroots Nation experience to make you feel as if you're really a part of the conference. There will be streaming into Second Life of speakers and panels, interviews, videos and workshops - and there will be also special events streaming out of Second Life into the live Netroots Nation. I'm going to have a booth there for this blog, my book and my music, and will also be playing live at some time to be determined later.

Because of blogging and the web, I was able to connect with people all over the world, and write a book about a subject that I deeply believe in - making a case for progressive values. To me this is taking the next logical step in communication - and finding a way to reach 'hearts and minds' with grassroots activism, and share information in a way that would have been unthinkable before the Internet. So I hope I'll be able to connect with you all - maybe at Netroots Nation in Second Life, or maybe you'll catch my live stream. If you do, be sure and let me know - email, comment, Facebook - whatever! I'd love to hear from you.

Tomorrow night - Thursday - Idella plays at Artistic Diversion in Second Life from 8-10 PM PST.

The web address for my streaming server is:

and you can click on the 'Listen' link to hear the stream. Note: it will only be active when I am actually playing, so if you go there when I'm not playing, you won't hear anything.

See you in cyberspace!

Jimmy Carter: Losing His Religion, Keeping His Faith

Jimmy Carter, once again, proves that he knows - and lives - the true meaning of Christianity. A couple of days ago he wrote an article called "Losing My Religion For Equality". The lede is "Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted interpretation of the word of God." In the article, he lays out the reasons that he is severing his ties with the Southern Baptist Convention after 60 years of membership.

My heart goes out to him. I can only imagine how difficult that must have been. As a former Catholic and present liberal Christian (who is not quite smart enough to be an atheist) I have eschewed any formal denomination, because of the actions of many who call themselves Christians. I am a Christian because I believe the teachings of Jesus show the way to the highest, most moral and sane way to live. I also know that many who call themselves Christian will say that I'm not one. But they're right - hopefully, I'm not the same kind of Christian that they are.

My mother left the Catholic Church in the mid-60s. It was an agonizing decision for her to make, but she made that choice after much painful soul-searching and self-examination, realizing that there were just too many things that the Church demanded that she accept without question, and too many areas of her life that the Church wanted to control that had nothing whatsoever to do with faith, and God. She subsequently joined the Unitarian Universalist fellowship, where she found a spiritual and community home, and is active in UU to this day. After we were suddenly 'non-Catholic' I had no further interest in a church, not even UU, and did not consider any kind of faith until I was a young adult, when I began investigating many other world religions. I came back around to Christianity my own convoluted way, beginning with the Twelve Steps and proceeding to the Sermon on the Mount. I find that having a spiritual life helps me to be the person I would like to be, and helps me to find the strength and peace within that sustains me through whatever trials I go through.

But religion and faith aren't necessarily the same thing. Jimmy Carter's belief in God shows how real faith can express itself in the life of a human being. And sometimes that faith must transcend religion to be true to itself. By leaving the SBC, I believe he became closer to the Prince of Peace - and that's the kind of Christianity to which I aspire.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Thanks, Governator - No Taxes for Corps, No CSUN For Sam

I picked up my son last night from a jazz jam session at Cal State Northridge, the college that he was planning on attending, and that the director of the jazz band was helping him get in to.

"How did it go?" I asked him, noticing that his body language was not what it usually was after playing music. He was slumped, silent, as he got into the car.

"Not so good," he replied. Not so good? How could a jam not be good?

"I'm not getting into CSUN," he said. "The director said that the budget cuts had eliminated the place he was getting me into." He was afraid I'd be mad at him. I just hugged him, speechless.

I've been meaning for a while to post about the real-life effects of the implementation of 'conservative values', which is the basic premise of my book The Price of Right. Since the systematic dismantling of the New Deal beginning with Reagan, wages have not kept pace with prices, and the idea that the government is the enemy and Big Business is your friend has replaced the idea of government as a mechanism of the people to "promote the general welfare" of the country as a whole - in other words, to do collectively what is not possible to do individually, such as police, fire departments, defense, national infrastructure. If profit is the only motivator, why provide these things to less-than-profitable markets? This is the whole point of 'insurance' - to pool resources so that all may benefit. (Or does it only work when a company stands to make a profit from it?) But the myth of the invincibility of the 'free market' (which is not at all free or fair) has superseded the idea that we as a nation can meet our own needs. The idea that private is always better and more efficient than public has turned out disastrously for all but those who 'corner the market'. Collective bargaining has been replaced by paternalism and 'hoping for the best'. The balance between public and private has become completely lopsided, and the casualties have been those who can least afford it.

Case in point - in California, the UC system, once the crown jewel of America's higher education - a state which once pledged to make college free and available to all Californians, and succeeded - has now been slashed to the bone by the Governator, along with health and human services, so as not to offend corporations by (Heaven forbid) raising taxes. And the fed refuses to help California, while it bails out private marauders. And the marauders themselves, fat with the largess of the American taxpayer? Ellen Brown says:

Four Wall Street banks, which received $15-25 billion each from the taxpayers, have rejected California's IOUs because the State is supposedly a bad credit risk. The bailed out banks would seem to have a duty to lend a helping hand, but they say they don't want to delay an agreement on further austerity measures. State legislators are not bowing quickly to the pressure, but what is the alternative?

In the latest twist to the California budget saga, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and JPMorgan Chase (which each got $25 billion in bailout money from the taxpayers) and Bank of America (which got $15 billion) have refused California's request for a loan to tide it over until October. Until the State can get things sorted out, it has started paying its creditors in IOUs ("I Owe You's" or promises to pay bearing interest, technically called registered warrants). Its Wall Street creditors, however, have refused to take them. Why? The pot says the kettle is a poor credit risk!

California expects to need to issue only about $13 billion in IOUs through September, and all its Governor has asked for in the way of a loan from the federal government is a guarantee for $6 billion. Total loans, commitments and guarantees to rescue the financial sector and stem the credit crisis have been estimated at $12.8 trillion. But California has not been invited to the banquet. The total sum California needs to balance its budget is $26.3 billion. That is about the same sum given to Citigroup, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan in bailout money; and it is only about one-tenth the sum given to AIG, a mere insurance company. Corporations evidently trump States and their citizens in the eyes of the powers controlling the purse strings. California has a gross domestic product of $1.7 trillion annually and has been rated the world's eighth largest economy. Its 38.3 million people are one-eighth of the nation's population and a key catalyst for U.S. retail sales. When the California consumer base falters, businesses are shaken nationwide. If AIG and the other Wall Street welfare recipients are too big to fail, California is way too big to fail.

I am sick to death of the idea of "what's good for business is good for America".

Guess what? It's not!

Greed is not good. Greed has put us where we are today. And greed continues to take us down - greed disguised as 'personal responsibility', greed disguised as the 'invisible hand of the free market', greed disguised as the metaphor 'wealth=morality'.

And the Governator is following obediently in Reagan's footsteps; first, destroy California's university system, then prop up the corporations on the backs of the poor and the sick.

St. Ronnie must be so proud of how you're Terminating Cali, Mr. Governator! I'm sure he's smiling down on you from his fluffy cloud in the sky.

Wait - no; it's only gas.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Single Payer - Marcy Winograd's Excellent Article!

Read Marcy Winograd's great blog post on Single Payer health care.

The insurance companies are fighting for their lives - they are cornered and therefore the most dangerous. They (and their cronies) are trying to paint Single Payer advocates (i.e. most Americans!) as some kind of marginal, fringe loonies. And the concept of the 'public/private partnership' is a recipe for failure.

There are no federal government cost projections for single payer. If there were, we would see that the beneficiaries would be the public. But we do have the projections for public/private.

Marcy writes:
"(W)e do know the cost projections for the current proposal, the Affordable Choices Act, a hybrid concoction of private insurance and the so-called “public option” which funnels billions into private for-profit insurance companies. In a June 15th letter to Senator Kennedy, the primary sponsor of this legislative effort, Douglas Elmendorf, the Director of the Congressional Budget Office, estimated the proposal would result in a trillion-dollar federal deficit over a ten year period. And that amount could only be offset by increased taxes, payment penalties for the uninsured, and cuts in Medicaid—hardly the way toward health care for all.

Instead of taxpayer money paying for actual health care under the public option, most of it, according to the CBO letter, would pay insurance companies to pay for health care. To make matters worse, this subsidy to the insurance industry requires dramatic cuts in Medicare, a program that should be expanded, not curtailed.

But here’s the real kicker. At the end of the decade, in 2019, under a private insurance/public option proposal, 36,000,000 Americans, as opposed to the current 45,000,000, would still be uninsured, according to the CBO. Because the draft legislation includes an “individual responsibility” clause, anyone who couldn’t afford to pay for coverage could face steep fines. Much like mandated drivers’ insurance, this system would be a boon to private insurers reaping the benefits of the new law requiring everyone to get health coverage.

On top of that there would be more marginalization. Cancer patients who couldn’t get private insurance coverage on their own would be pushed onto the public rolls, thereby saddling taxpayers with having to subsidize insurance policies for the seriously ill. In time, the public option, weighed down by this tax burden and unable to fully exercise bulk purchasing power, would collapse amidst a fiery congressional storm over the cost of the public option, thus legitimizing arguments that publicly-funded health care is a failed idea."

And that's it, folks. They are desperate to prove publicly-funded health care as a failure, and they don't care if they have to take the rest of us down with it.

Read more about Marcy Winograd's 2010 Congressional run against Jane Harman in the CA 36th here:

Winograd For Congress

If you're a progressive, the more you know about Marcy, the more you like!