Master Mechanics

April 17, 2011

For the title of his article in the May issue of Vanity Fair, Pulitzer Prize-winner Joseph Stiglitz has borrowed Abraham Lincoln’s phrase, “ . . .of the people, by the people and for the people . . .”

His essay is called “Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%, “ a title that’s currently more accurate than Lincoln’s famous line by billions of taxpayer dollars, but who’s counting? Certainly not working and unemployed Americans who still support Republicans. Maybe there was a time the GOP considered the interests of working class Americans, but today’s Republicans have given up any semblance of being a party of the people. The Republican Party is a wholly owned subsidiary of the richest Americans, a church of the top one percent.

But first, let’s be clear. The leadership of the Democratic Party is as culpable as Republicans in the corruption of our political process, but it at least still maintains a vestige of U.S. working-class sensibility. The corruption in American politics is deep and bi-partisan; it’s just that Republicans have gone fully over to the dark side while the Democratic Party (but not necessarily its leadership) still retains a shred of working-class consciousness.

But don’t we live in a classless society?

How silly to think this today in the midst of the most gluttonous redistribution of wealth from one class to another since the days before the 1929 stock market crash and great depression. To believe we’re a classless society in 2011 is to inhabit an ideological media-fogged zone of denial. The only factions that have an interest in claiming that America is classless are those busy as a cabal of lords feverishly establishing a new feudalism: a full-fledged society of over- and-under classes.

As Stiglitz says, “The upper 1 percent of Americans is taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent.”

I’d add that, in practical terms (in terms of the significance of your voice, the accuracy of information available to you, your opportunities for jobs) —if you’re a middle-class working American, you are beyond 40 percent controlled. The stock argument of conservative rip-off artists has (at least since the reign of the odious King Reagan the Charmer) been, “Trickle-down, people, trickle down. The richer I am, the better you’ll feel.”

Stiglitz again: “While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall.” That’s 1 percent of New Rome living the high-life and 99 watching WWW Smackdown.

In a feudal society if you’re not a king or lord, you’re probably somebody’s dog or vassal (which my dictionary says is a “person granted the use of land, in return for rendering homage, fealty, and usually military service or its equivalent to a lord or other superior.”). I’d wager most of us these days are feeling more like vassals than lords, and many are feeling like mutts. But the corporate line is that mass of us are as lucky as Lucky in Samuel Beckett’s prescient play while they pull strings like Pozzo.

Regarding use of land, we need only meditate on the country’s current home foreclosure rate to understand the power of taxpayer-bailed-out-banking-lords: when lords are too big to fail, they make up their losses by snatching recovery funds out of the hands of vassals. Add to this the fact that most U.S. military personnel are not drawn from the ranks of lords, and it would not be strange to have a feeling of insipient feudalism.

This American lord/vassal relationship becomes more pronounced every day. It permeates the operation of our system from the Supreme Court ruling that corporations may fund the careers of politicians with founts of cash while Republicans simultaneously attack unions in state after state. GOP hostility to labor also shows in Maine, where the Republican governor insisted that a mural depicting the virtues of labor be removed from Maine’s Department of Labor! Finally, there’s Congressman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget plan. His idea is to balance the federal budget by giving more tax breaks to the richest among us while wringing every last buck from programs that benefit the rest of us, including SS, Medicare and Medicaid. To see Republicans in action, you’d think American labor had no part in building this nation and, therefore, has no claim to its bounty.

In an article in Yes magazine, writer Robert Scheer laments, “The delusion of a classless America in which opportunity is equally distributed is the most effective deception perpetrated by the moneyed elite that controls all the key levers of power in what passes for our democracy.”

Sadly, it’s a delusion that affects too many average Americans who support Republican buzzword issues such as “family values” while their families are relentlessly devalued by Republican economic policy.

The bottom line is that Republicans have an axe to grind with labor because labor unions typically support Democrats and challenge corporate interests. As Rachel Maddow reported on her MSNBC show recently (4/7/11), this attack on Democratic financing is not coincidental; it’s part of a strategy of the corporate elite to muzzle the voice of average working Americans, to bust unions to kill Labor’s financing of Democratic candidates while allowing corporations to buy any politician they deem corruptible. Insistent application of this strategy will soon shut up American workers and virtually shut us out of the electoral process.

We’ve come to a lousy pass since the beginning. In America, what was good has been replaced by what’s profitable, while what is profitable is worshipped as The Good. It’s a simple matter of perspective and moral relativism for some. For instance, the Bible says that “In the beginning was The Word,” but that was obviously reported by a poet. A mechanic would probably have said the first efflorescence was a wrench. But a politician would have said the universe had flowered from a lie. Everybody loves his tool.

And lo, it has come to pass that the most sacred tool in America’s tool box is money and Republicans have unfortunately become America’s most malevolent master mechanics.

by Jim Culleny
for The Shelburne Falls Independent



.A particle accelerator in the US has shown compelling hints of a never-before-seen particle, researchers say.  –BBC 4/7/2011, via 3 Quarks daily

Having heard hints
of a never-before-seen particle
my day becomes new
the blue day is further fractured

What were small thoughts become
more pint-sized then the nonsense
of politicians: smaller even
than the bits of stained tile mosaic
under my feet beneath
a urinal

But I’m disappointed. I’m told
this is not the much-sought-after
Higgs boson that I’ve been chasing
my whole life, looking for it between
the pillows of my couch where I
often find keys and nickels or dimes.
Hope surged when I heard the news
but now, again, life seems to be shy
of something elemental, and yet my
tomatoes have just perked green
in several of my potting flats
their petite leaves pulling-in 

Disappointment aside, scientists say
this hinted-at particle could be a
new force of nature, beyond sex perhaps;
maybe greater than greed. Who knows
what new element of nature they’ve
found hinted-at in their accelerator
in unexpected bumps in jets
of colliding particles which they
note while sipping Starbucks
as the white dust of a sugared torus
settles upon the lapels of their lab coats
and the macro-world simultaneously
fragments with the micro
into something even more splintered
than common sense

by Jim Culleny, 4/9/2011

Terry Jones burns a Quran in Florida and Muslims murder seven U.N. workers in Afghanistan. One follows the other in the logic of religions as sure as the death of reason follows the rhetoric of Newt Gingrich.

I don’t know Terry Jones, but if the book of Terry Jones’ soul could be read I think there’d be a chapter entitled “I Don’t Give a Shit About God or Anything Beyond the Arrogant Ugliness of My Own Wretched Mind and the Rage in My Miserable Soul”, which is a long title to be sure but one that appeals to me because it gives enough info so that I would not have to read-and-hurl through a whole Chapter to get a gist of what Jones is.

Jones is a cipher whose (hopefully) brief notoriety is a result of his Bible-impacted head exploding in the media and raining down its bloody debris on the Middle East, UN workers, and (very likely) any American who might find themselves within range of a jihadist. Jones is a dangerous cipher as ciphers sometimes are —he is a nothing as lethal as the array of zeros between the left-hand digits expressing the radiation threat of Fukushima and the decimal. But let’s get this straight, this is not to exhonerate the Muslim perpetrators of homicide in this instance, but to put Terry Jones on a par with them. Their identity is a grotesque thing to behold.

Rich Sanchez interviewed Jones last year when he first appeared in the media like a sudden, unwelcome blemish of melanoma. Sanchez writes:

“When I interviewed Jones last year, I did my level best to hear him out. But all I could think of was how I would feel, as a Christian, if somebody desecrated my most sacred book, the Bible. His only defense was to say that the Quran wasn’t sacred to him.”

Leaving aside the questionable virtue Sanchez finds in having “a most sacred holy book” in the first place (books that holy always lead to trouble for somebody —guaranteed), Jones’ response shows him to be a man of singular disrespect for any ideas but his own. Jones’ sense of right and wrong appears to be hopelessly entangled in his ego; but since this is not a socially acceptable criteria upon which to establish a moral code, he cherry-picks his “holy book” to justify the burning of the “holy books” of others. He bases his behavior on what he believes to be holy because, unlike Muslims, Terry Jones knows what’s holy.

As Sanchez found out, it’s a fools errand to try to appeal to the good sense of Terry Jones or anyone like him —there has to be a seed of rationality to begin with. If Jones had one it looks as if it’s been ground to powder between the millstones of Genesis and Revelation.

by Jim Culleny, 4/3/11


Eleventh Hour

April 2, 2011

Many think we can dawdle. 
Many don’t think at all.
Many don’t think there’s a problem.
Many think it’s impossible to fall.

…but don’t count brilliant Lester Brown in that category. Though he gives us a chance, he’s no Pollyanna.

“In this eleventh video in the series ‘Peak Oil and a Changing Climate’ from The Nation and On The Earth Productions, analyst, author and founder of the Earth Policy Institute Lester Brown discusses how unprepared the world really is for the growing effects of climate change. ‘Economists doing supply and demand projections are largely unaware’ of the scale of the resource crises facing the world, Brown says, and ‘food is going to be the weak link for our civilization as it was for so many earlier civilizations.'”

Brown uses terms like “unsustainable” and  “overshoot and collapse” as laid out in this clip from American Scientist:

“Since founding the Worldwatch Institute in 1974, environmental analyst Lester Brown has been monitoring the effects of unsustainable development and forecasting their possible consequences. He sees signs that we’ve entered what ecologists call an ‘overshoot-and-collapse’ mode, in which demand exceeds the sustainable yield of natural systems. This effect has toppled earlier civilizations; now, he says, it is occurring at the global level.”