Sunday, December 4, 2011

Be Careful What You Wish For

Note: This is a rare cross post from my newly revived Zionism and Aliya blog. The issues involved deal with more than just the Arab-Israeli conflict. This piece touches on what I believe to be a fundamental flaw in U.S. foreign policy and in the media reporting of these and similar issues around the world.

For months the American and European media reported on the so-called Arab Spring as if it was a breakthrough for democracy in the Arab world. Dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen have now been overthrown, with varying degrees of force and loss of life. The Western media acted as cheerleaders and Western leaders, including President Obama, first encouraged the overthrow of these regimes and then hailed these events as victories for freedom. Sadly, they were nothing of the sort.

Across the Arab world where elections, many of them the first free elections these countries have seen, are being won by Islamists who believe that democracy is a form of Western decadence. Assuming the Islamists come to power in some of these countries we could see the sort of one and done elections we saw in Gaza, where the winners, Hamas, promptly eliminated the democratic process that brought them to power as well as their opponents. It is very likely that the end result could be even more repressive than the dictators which have been deposed.

Somehow this hasn't quite dawned on the press who are trying to find distinctions and differences between the various Islamist and jihadist groups who seem poised to come to power across the Middle East. The Associated Press, in reporting the results of the Egyptian elections, engaged in some truly amazing and contradictory double speak. The first few paragraphs of their article are factual. For example:
The High Election Commission said the Islamic fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party garnered 36.6 percent of the 9.7 million valid ballots cast for party lists. The Nour Party, a more hardline Islamist group, captured 24.4 percent.
Having accurately described the parties involved the author(s) of the piece then find it necessary to tell us that, really, the Muslim Brotherhood might be moderates after all:
The party has positioned itself as a moderate Islamist party that wants to implement Islamic law without sacrificing personal freedoms, and has said it will not seek an alliance with the more radical Nour party.
Really? How could anyone come to that conclusion in the wake of what was said at the Brotherhood rally just before the election? The following is from The Jerusalem Post article on the rally since the American media somehow didn't find this newsworthy:
Muhammad Ahmed el- Tayeb, the imam of al-Azhar Mosque, told the crowd: “Al- Aksa Mosque is currently under an offensive by the Jews... We shall not allow the Zionists to Judaize al-Quds [Jerusalem]. We are telling Israel and Europe that we shall not allow even one stone to be moved there.”

Protesters chanted, “Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv: Judgment Day has come,” and passages from the Koran vowing that “one day we shall kill all the Jews.”
How is promising genocide for the Jewish people moderate? Can someone please explain that to me? Why are mainstream media outlets making excuses for these people?

John Henry, of the liberal Low Genius blog, hit the nail squarely on the head in a discussion on Facebook:
I think that western minds have a very serious problem parsing the idea that there really are some people - ordinary people who live under these regimes - who *don't want democracy*. We could go round for hours about why that is, but all the talk won't address that simple issue: what do you do when a people, given the option, *choose despotism*?
His comments referred both to the Russian elections and the recent elections in the Arab world. Here was my response to him:
Mostly it falls into cultural differences and what these people are taught in their schools (assuming they have them), by their media, and in their houses of worship. One of the reasons American foreign policy fails in so much of the world is that we tend to look at everyone as if they are displaced Vermonters. All we have to do is show them freedom and democracy and "the American way" (whatever that is) and they will suddenly be just like us. Both Republican and Democratic administrations have operated under this illusion. The result is what we are seeing in Iraq and Afghanistan, where Americans are absolutely despised and where we will likely end up with totally hostile regimes.
Sadly the media also operates under the "displaced Vermonter" notion and wishes for events that have horrendous consequences that they can't seem to fathom even though they should be obvious to anyone who knows the Middle East at all. I fear the end results will not only be more repressive regimes but also a destabilization of the Middle East and a bloody regional war started by an attack on Israel. An old saw seems to apply: Be careful what you wish for; it may come to pass.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Big Business is NOT Creating Jobs; Corporate Tax Breaks are a Huge Waste of Money

Republicans keep telling us that only the private sector can create jobs. They claim, time and again, that reducing corporate tax rates and giving huge tax breaks to big corporations creates jobs. Maybe, once upon a time, there was a degree of truth to the idea. In today's economy it's pure bunk.

I'd like to share a recent example from here in North Carolina. Apple built a new, huge new data center here. How many jobs did that create? A whopping 50! That's right, there are only 50 new jobs there. Let me quote from an article on Yahoo! Finance, which is originally from Business Insider:
"Apple has chosen to manufacture its products where it can manufacture them most efficiently--outside the U.S. And Apple's shareholders are benefiting accordingly.


But the point is that the hope that a few more companies like Apple, Google, and Amazon will restore the U.S. economy to its former glory is misplaced.

The companies create amazing products and vast shareholder wealth, but they don't spread this wealth around as much as earlier industrial giants did."
Please note that I deliberately chose an article from a business publication, not a left-leaning political site. It seems even business reporters can see the truth now.

So, how can we create more jobs in this country? It's not all that hard: you hire people. It worked for FDR in the 1930s and it can work now. No, government hiring for public works projects didn't end the Great Depression, but it did reduce unemployment from nearly a third of the workforce down to 12%.

First, start by rehiring the teachers, firefighters and police officers who were let go because of state and local budget cutting and the end of stimulus funds. The "Teachers and First Responders Back to Work Act of 2011", originally part President Obama's jobs bill, would have done that. It was blocked in the Senate by every last Republican, one independent (Joseph Lieberman) and two conservative Democrats (Bill Pryor and Ben Nelson). Polling shows that an overwhelming majority of Americans do not support the cuts to education and to first responders. The cost of the bill would have been $35 billion.

Second, rebuild our crumbling infrastructure in this country. Even the pro-business, conservative Chamber of Commerce endorsed President Obama's call for more investment in our nation's infrastructure. Once again, public support is there for repairing and building roads, bridges, the power grid, and other needed projects. Once again, the Republicans blocked the bill in the Senate. The cost would have been $60 billion.

Bare in mind that Republicans opposed closing tax loopholes on the wealthiest Americans to pay for these bills. I still have yet to hear a rational explanation from Republicans telling me how tax the breaks they defend for luxury yachts, private jets and second homes is good for the economy or will create jobs. I do know that employed people, whether in the public or private sector, spend money which helps businesses profit, creates more jobs and, in turn creates more consumer spending. Employed people pay a heck of a lot more in taxes than unemployed people too, which reduces the deficit. Coming back to my original point: corporate welfare, whether it's subsidies for oil and energy companies or tax breaks to build a new data center, are a huge waste of money which does nothing for ordinary taxpayers but does enrich a small slice of the top 1%. Corporate welfare also increases the deficit by more than enough to pay for the two jobs bills I referenced.

The plain fact is that Republicans are deliberately tanking the economy and killing job creation because they believe that people will blame President Obama and elect more Republicans next year. They are all about their own power and their wealthy and big corporate donors and to hell with the rest of us. Maybe, just maybe the Occupy movement is finally waking people up to that reality. Maybe instead of the "throw the rascals out" mentality we saw in 2010 we might just get the "throw the 1% and their lackeys out" mentality we really need. Maybe, just maybe, people will pay attention and put the blame where it belongs this time.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Where is the Outrage?

I've been listening to ELO lately for the first time in a long time. What does a '70s and '80s pop band known for love songs have to do with anger and outrage?
Well... my first ELO album, one of the first records I ever bought, was Electric Light Orchestra II. I got it when I was maybe in ninth grade. On The Third Day, the first pop ELO album, was out by then, but the song that had originally received lots of airplay was the seven minute long cover of Roll Over Beethoven and that's what I wanted. Once I had the album that wasn't the song that grabbed me.

When Electric Light Orchestra II was recorded in 1972 the Vietnam War was still raging. ELO gave the majority of side 2 of the record to an antiwar song called Kuiama. Band members still claim it's the best song they ever did. If you haven't heard it the word "dark" doesn't even begin to do it justice. Even the instrumental section, which runs for maybe six minutes, is dismal. Don't get me wrong, it's brilliantly done, but it is effectively written to bring out the sadness and anger and guilt that match the story. From WikiPedia:
At 11:19, it is the longest track on the album, and the longest song ever recorded by Electric Light Orchestra. It tells the tale of a soldier who has found an orphan girl wandering the ruins of a battle-ravaged village in the Vietnam war. The soldier is trying to comfort the girl and also to explain how he was the one who killed her parents.
The deeply affected vocals feature some of ELO's trademark harmonies and lots of overdubs, but they aren't anywhere near the pleasant sound the band would be later known for.
Kuia stop your cryin,
there's no bombs a'fallin
no horsemen in the night
a'ridin through your dreams
and tearing at your life
baby goodnight

No more silver rain will hit your ground
and no more guns will sound
and no more life be drowned
No more trenches where the soldiers lie
and no more people die
beneath that big black sky

Wake up Kuiama, I got somethin to tell you
it's just that I mean, well that is to say,
that I'm trying to explain but I'll start again,
for you, I must be true.


Kuia please believe me. I just couldn't help myself.
I wanted to run but they gave me a gun
and they told me the duty I owed to my Fatherland.
I made my stand.

Kuia I just shot them, I just blew their heads open,
and I heard them scream in their agony
How many real life Kuiamas are there in Afghanistan today? What can we accomplish there? Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of 9/11, is dead. So are most of his lieutenants from that time. The Taliban are based now in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. Don't worry, our drones are bombing Pakistan too.

The government we support in Afghanistan stole the last election and has little popular support in the country. We Americans are absolutely hated in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. There is no longer any possibility of a good outcome, much like Vietnam in the early 1970s. President Obama says we will be fighting there for another three years. Why? Some Republicans excoriate the President for setting a departure date at all. They want us to stay and keep killing until the mission is accomplished. What mission? What on earth can be accomplished other than more needless deaths?

Where is the outrage that caused Jeff Lynne to write a song like Kuiama? Where is the horror at the senseless loss of life that goes on day in and day out. What possible purpose can it serve? What "victory" can we achieve?

Two Republican Presidential candidates, former Utah Governor John Huntsman and Texas Congressman Ron Paul, actually have the right answer: get out of Afghanistan and withdraw now. They are the modern equivalent of Senator George McGovern (D-SD) in 1972. Like Sen. McGovern they have no chance of winning. Heck, they have no chance of being nominated. The leading Republican candidates according to the polls are the most bloodthirsty of the bunch.

Have we, as a society, become so numb to the horrors of war that we just accept it? Where are today's protest songs? Why are we seeing people protesting Wall Street and greed and the corrupting effect of unlimited money flowing into the political system (which are worthy of protest) but nobody protesting a decade of unrelenting war? This 40 year old song can still stir emotions. Maybe people need to listen to it again.

Here is the original 1972 version and the 1999 version from Live at the BBC:

Thursday, November 24, 2011

As Bad as Things Seem...

This week, just before the Thanksgiving holiday, I learned that the company which had been my largest customer this fall had filed for bankruptcy and closed their doors. They were a wholesaler/distributor and the Christmas orders from retailers never came this year. Oh, I'm sure they had some but sales were so low compared to previous years they simply could not stay in business. The newly unemployed former IT Director, my main contact there, gave me the courtesy of a call to let me know. He's in his upper fifties. His job is not going to be easy to replace, especially in this economy.

As frustrated as I am at times with the direction I see things moving in I know that they could be much worse. I, at least, still have some customers and some income. The lights are on, the heat is running when needed, and I know when my next checks should arrive. My income isn't what it should be, but considering how many people are unemployed, some for a very long time, I'm fortunate by comparison.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

CD Review: Bill Quist - Piano Solos of Erik Satie

I think about three years have passed since I posted a review of a CD from my collection to my blog, and I don't think I've ever taken the time to review one of the classical albums I occasionally enjoy. Before returning to politics and news and other weighty matters I thought it might be nice to write about a CD I really like.
More than 30 years after it's initial release, this recording still stands up as my favorite of Erik Satie's piano works. Recorded in a studio rather than a concert hall, it has a rich and full sound and the works are performed beautifully. Windham Hill wasn't known as a classical label. This may be their only true classical release but it is an outstanding one. Brian Eno refers to Satie as the father of ambient music. That may fit for some of the pieces but I sure wouldn't want to try to nod off to Bill Quist's forceful perfomance of Ogives #1. Some of Satie's compositions selected here are delicate and beautiful, of course. In general, this is an excellent selection of his short piano works performed by a pianist associated with the San Francisco Symphony.

I should note that this album has been out of print for years. Used copies are usually available from and other websites which carry used CDs. Highly recommended.

NOTE: The main part of this review has also been posted on Discogs.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

It's all President Obama's Fault

Every day I see and read another right-wing opinion piece telling us how President Obama and an intrusive government are the cause of all our economic woes. Tea Party pundits and libertarian true believers seem to dominate the media, the Internet and the discussion despite their endless complaints about the "liberal bias" in anything that doesn't parrot their views. Living in a conservative state like North Carolina these views are now the real mainstream. My brother, who lives near Atlanta, made a comment that fits my feelings about my adopted home: "I used to be a conservative Republican until I moved to Georgia. Then I became a liberal Democrat... and my views didn't change." What was once conservative, or perhaps still is in New York where I cast my first ballot, is called liberal here.

Sorry, I don't see the government as more intrusive now than it was 30 years ago no matter how many right wingers say otherwise. We don't have a nanny state, though if social conservatives take power we might have government policing our bedrooms. We don't have too much government regulation. We have too little. Corporate greed rides rough shod over realistic planning for our future and for a sustainable economy rather than the quick buck. The right wingers who claim to be saving us all from an overbearing government that will tax us to death are ready to dismantle Social Security and Medicare, effectively handing granny a tin cup for her retirement, while refusing to cut one penny from corporate welfare (pardon me, subsidies) for big oil companies making record profits.

2011 resembles 1937. The Republicans were decimated in the 1932 election and we had one party rule for the next four years. With New Deal programs and the government building infrastructure FDR managed to cut unemployment from more than 25% in 1933 to 12% by 1936. That was still too high and people were suffering but the economy was in recovery. By 1937 the Supreme Court had thrown out some New Deal programs. A new Conservative Coalition in Congress called for fiscal restraint and deficit reduction. The economy went straight back into full blown depression and didn't recover until World War II.

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. --George Santayana

I believe in times of economic crisis, and that is where we are now, an activist government is a necessity. Yes, debts and deficits are a problem and they should be addressed. Start by ending what caused the deficits in the first place: unnecessary wars coupled with ill timed massive tax cuts that mainly benefit the wealthy. In wartime past Presidents have called on Americans to sacrifice. Neither President Bush nor President Obama has done so. Neither of them put this country on a wartime footing. The Bush tax cuts cost $4 trillion over 10 years, or roughly one third of our current deficit. Let the tax cuts expire next year, end the useless wars which we cannot possibly win and the deficit wouldn't look so daunting after all.

Make no mistake, President Bush and the policies of the right caused the current crisis. President Obama, through lack of leadership and a negotiating style that gives away the store before he even begins, has continued those policies and given as a Republican-light agenda that perpetuates the problems.

I am not a fan of President Obama. I'd gladly vote for someone else who would be an improvement. The current crop of Republican candidates is so extreme, so incredibly far to the right, that any of them would make things far, far worse. Unless President Obama faces a primary challenge or a strong independent with sane policies emerges I will have to hold my nose and while I vote to reelect him. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, is it?

Oh, and before the usual people simply write me off as some crazy liberal I will remind people that once upon a time I was a Reagan Republican. To paraphrase: I used to be a conservative Republican until I moved to North Carolina. Then I became a liberal Democrat. OK, my views on economics have moved to the left, but not by as much as you might think. As President Obama pointed out, President Reagan did take a balanced approach to deficit reduction. All too often President Obama's positions are far closer to those Ronald Reagan took than those of the Tea Party faithful who now effectively dominate the Republican Party.

Those who say it's all President Obama's fault want to take the policies that brought us to a crisis in the first place and put them on steroids. President Bush and a much more moderate Republican party gave us the Great Recession and record deficits. Those who ignore that bit of recent history don't want to repeat the mistakes of the past. They want to amplify them. Between TARP, bailouts, the stimulus package, new fiscal regulations and all the other policies they vilify we avoided a Second Great Depression. Yet on Fox News and on right wing and social media websites black is now white and white is now black. Those policies that saved our economy from going off a cliff are now the problem. Indeed, as the recent clamor on the right to not raise the debt ceiling amply demonstrated, they are more than happy to throw us all off that cliff.... and it will all be President Obama's fault.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

It's Time For the Linux Community to Rally Around One of Our Own

As some of you have undoubtedly seen, I published a piece this morning on O'Reilly Broadcast about the unfortunate situation Ken Starks and Diane Franklin of the Helios Project find themselves in. Diane had a stroke, the main arteries which deliver blood to her brain are largely blocked, and she needs surgery which may very well be the difference between life and death. If you haven't already please follow the link and read the piece I wrote.

Anyway, I wanted to write about it again, this time from a more personal perspective. This post is unusually long, even for me, and I have been known to get long winded now and again. Please bear with me and read it through.

Diane, Ken's partner, is 64, retired, and living on Social Security alone. She isn't eligible for Medicare yet and her puny $1,200 per month income is too much for her to qualify for Medicaid in the great state of Texas. Diane has worked as the Helios Project's Logistics and Planning Director for the past year without renumeration. She gave her time freely to help underprivileged kids. As is all too often the case in our great American society, no good deed goes unpunished.

As you might guess she can barely make ends meet at all on that income and she surely cannot afford health insurance. I know what health insurance costs for single coverage for a woman in her 50s very well, since that is my situation. It's prohibitively expensive. I can only imagine what it would cost for a woman of 64. I'll save the obvious political rant for later. I don't want politics to distract from what is at stake here.

I've never met Diane or Ken. Heck, I spoke to Ken for the very first time on the phone last night. My own history with Ken, as some of you may remember, got off to an inauspicious start. To say he rubbed me the wrong way would be an understatement and a half. For those who may have missed the little incident from 2008 let me tell you about it.

Ken was deeply involved in something called Lindependence. Part of the idea was to get an entire town to switch from Windows to Linux. OK, it was a small town in California, but still, getting an entire town to agree on anything takes some doing. Ken's style back then was confrontational. Heck, he even blogged about a physical confrontation he got into later over his Linux advocacy, but that's besides the point. Anyway, I was writing for O'Reilly quite a bit back then and Ken wanted publicity. He e-mailed me.

Ken is, to say the least, very passionate about Linux. I read his website, his blog, his comparison of running Windows to a "ball and chain" and found it full of zealotry and way, way , way over the top. I wrote a very formal, business like response to "Mr. Starks" declining to cover his story. I wasn't alone. Most of the tech press had pretty much decided to ignore him en masse. Well, my e-mail rubbed Ken the wrong way every bit as much as his writing had done to me. I was the blogger Ken called a "coward" in this 2008 post from his blog.

I have no idea if my e-mail had an impact or not. I don't know if others found a more effective way to critique his work. I do know that Ken's once overly long, wordy and sometimes difficult to follow prose became crisper and more precise. The confrontational attitude slowly disappeared. Thankfully the passion never dissipated and Ken became a very, very effective advocate for Linux.

His Helios Project, which recycles old computers for kids who otherwise cannot afford them and successfully solicits fund to make sure these kids get Internet connectivity to go with it undoubtedly helped. The mellower Ken won awards for his public service and earned praise for his selfless and, I should add, full-time efforts to help those in need in his community. Ken also does some Linux consulting work but, based on what I've read, his income is scarcely better than Diane's. Neither of them can afford much. Their reward comes in what they do for others. Oh, and yeah, somewhere along the line I earned Ken's respect as well, as evidenced by this 2010 blog post.

In contrast to Ken's very public persona, both as a Linux advocate and community activist, is Diane's very much behind the scenes contribution. Ken described her work in the Helios Project to me as "critical." From what I gather she has made serious improvements in the gathering and allocation of resources, making the Project all the more effective. Now the Project is on hold as Ken scrambles to find help for Diane.

In a few short years Ken Starks has become one of the best advocates for Linux I know of. There was a time I never imagined I would say such a thing. Now it simply is true. His work for the less fortunate people of his Austin, Texas community is a great example of one of what the first President Bush called "a thousand points of light." Let's make sure that light is neither dimmed nor extinguished. All of us in the Linux community need to gather around and help a little.

There are tens of millions of Linux users around the world. If 10,000 of us gave just $10 to fund Diane's surgery it would be paid for. It really doesn't take much. The Linux community, the public, non-corporate face of who we are, will be well served in Ken and Diane can get back to doing what they love to do.

Ken has setup a PayPal account to allow those who would like to contribute to do so. Contributions should be made to For those without a credit/debit card or a PayPal account contributions can be sent to the address found here. I run a small consulting business that recently lost it's largest customer. Add some slow payers and I am not exactly having an easy time of it right now. Despite that, I am expecting some checks to come in this week and I will do my small part. I am asking you to do the same.

There is one other thing I am going to ask: the major Linux portal sites are not covering this story. One has a prohibition against fund raising. I don't know what excuse the others have. This needs to be a grass roots effort within the community to get the word out. If you have a blog, a Facebook page, anything at all related to Linux or helping needy kids or whatever then, please, share Ken and Diane's story. It can still have a happy ending.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

How To Reduce the Federal Budget Deficit: It's Not Rocket Science

When you look at polling most Americans want spending cuts to reduce the deficit, but when you get to the actual spending items most Americans do NOT want to see cuts to Medicare, Social Security, education, or fighting terrorism. Without radically cutting those items you can never meaningfully reduce the deficit without raising taxes.

We had a balanced budget in 2000. Four things moved us from balance to record deficits:
  1. The Bush tax cuts

  2. Unfunded wars (Afghanistan and Iraq) paid for through supplemental spending bills, not included in the regular budget process by the Bush administration

  3. The Medicaire prescription drug benefit

  4. A deep recession

When I talk about the wars, I would argue that we have won absolutely nothing in Iraq, where violence is on the rise and most Iraqis see America as the enemy. We also can't win anything in Afghanistan. It's time to get out of both places expeditiously. This is one area where Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) is right. We also need to look at how valuable other overseas troop deployments are and how many are cold war relics.

I like lower taxes as much as anyone, but... eliminating the Bush tax cuts for everyone slashes $4 trillion from the deficit and would have the largest impact in terms of getting our financial house in order.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Storm Damage

First, I'd like to say that my heart goes out to all those who have suffered from what Gwen Ifill referred to last night on the PBS Newshour as the "plague of tornadoes" which have struck the midwest and the southeastern United States this spring. My deepest condolences to those who have lost loved ones. I also hope that those who have been hurt or who have lost their homes can recover quickly.

The city of Raleigh, North Carolina, where I live, was hit with a record breaking cluster of tornadoes on April 16. Here is some video of the damage on South Saunders St., maybe 10-15 minutes from here by car. Areas all around my neighborhood had severe damage but not much happened right where I live. OK, a tree outside my (home) office window came down and an awning downstairs was damaged, but all in all we were spared.

I wasn't quite so fortunate less than two weeks earlier on April 4. Shortly before 4:00 that morning a severe thunderstorm came through. Lightning struck a tree directly behind my building. The old oak came down, partially on my roof, and partly through my roof, through my attic and through the ceiling into the kitchen. This photo doesn't really show how large that hole was or how bad the damage really was. What you do see is the sky from what used to be my kitchen.

A few hours later water was coming in all across the back of my apartment. The place was uninhabitable.

I've got to give tremendous credit to my landlord. He owns a lot of rental units and found three for me to look at that morning. I picked one that I liked and with the help of three of his maintenance crew I was moved out by late afternoon and into the new place. My personal property loss was pretty minimal. Nobody was hurt. All things considered, it could have been a lot worse.

It took me maybe a month to get my life back to normal between the storm damage and other things that were happening at the time. Looking at what has happened in Joplin, Missouri and other cities and towns in recent days makes me realize how fortunate I am. It also makes me realize just how close I've been to being among those who really suffered this spring.