Thursday, April 30, 2009

April 30, 1975: United States Evacuates Saigon, Flees In Advance Of Viet Cong Moving In To Re-Take Their Own Country.

The U.S. War Against Vietnam.

Vietnam is a small nation in Southeast Asia. It has been attacked and occupied by foreign countries for generations, and the people have developed a commitment to independence and resistence to being controlled by any foreign country. It was a French colony ("owned" by France) before World War II, and the French stole the resources, propped up a corrupt puppet regime as a "pretend" government, and enslaved the people.

During World War II, the Japanese invaded and the French fled, leaving the poor Vietnamese with no protection except themselves. Many of them fought valiently and heroically against the Japanese under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh. After World War II was over, Ho Chi Minh went to the leaders of the Allied nations (U.S., France, England, Soviet Union) and petitioned for Vietnam's freedom. He said that the people of Vietnam did not want to "belong" to France or anyone else, but instead wanted the freedom and independence that the allied forces had just fought for throughout the Pacific and Europe. They were turned down, and Vietnam was once again declared to be a colony of France -- to "belong" to the nation of France.

Not surprisingly, many of the Vietnamese did not accept this decision and began fighting against the French. Beginning in the early 1950s, the U.S. started giving money to France to prop up its colonial empire in Vietnam. The U.S. theory was that if Vietnam was "given" its freedom, they might become aligned with China, which became Communist in 1949, and the U.S. did not want Communism to spread. Therefore, the people of Vietnam would have to remain slaves forever. Or so the U.S. believed.

(Our allies, the South Vietnamese, execute suspect without inquiry or trial. Pictures like this were common, and helped to turn the American public against this war. This is a 1968 Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph taken by Eddie Adams, showing the execution of a young man by a South Vietnamese official).

The financial aid did little to help the French, who were quite masterfully routed at Dien Ben Phu. The U.S. began sending in military advisers, then special groups, and eventually troops. And this commitment continued for over twenty years, with the U.S. eventually taking over the entire war. The strongest country in the world, richest nation, biggest military, was nonetheless defeated by the people of Vietnam.

Vietnam was divided into two: South was Western-controlled and aligned. North was anti-Western, pro-freedom, and communist (or at least nationalist). Many people in the south were sell-outs and traitors, betraying their own people and even family. Many were just caught in the middle.

Some people in Vietnam burned themselves to death publicly in opposition to the U.S. war against their country.

The U.S. had by far the superior military force. The air bombing of Vietnam was probably an international war crime. See Errol Morris's "The Fog Of War" for a brilliant discussion of the war in Vietnam, and Robert McNamara's viewpoint decades down the road.

The "Body-Count" became a public relations tool during this war. Because the Viet Cong were such a poor group of people, the American political leadership just could not understand why the U.S. couldn't just crush them. But no matter what we did, they reorganized and fought back. The Body-count was designed to try to justify the increasing war commitment despite its growing unpopularity with the U.S. population. The military would report in that they killed so many people here, so many there, and the grand total would be reported as evidence of "success."

(First we dropped napalm on the villages, then the poor draftees were stuck carrying out the bodies of young children, hopelessly burned over much of their bodies, and trying to figure out exactly WTF this war was all about.)

We had "free fire" zones. John Kerry, to his disgrace, volunteered to be assigned to a free-fire zone. A free-fire zone was one in which the U.S. military were told that they should fire at anything that moved. So they would approach villages and, if they heard any noise, just open fire. Women, children, grandmothers, it didn't matter. It was "free." Free killing. No consequences.

We also used chemical warfare against the civilians of Vietnam. You'd never know it to hear the U.S. politicians proclaim chemical warfare as the most hated weapons of a monster like Saddam Hussein. But no, actually, we used them, contrary to various international treaties in existence after the World War I use of gas was declared abhorent. We dropped napalm, an herbicide, all over the country. It was supposed to kill every single plant that grows in the ground, and prevent anything from growing back for a long time.

We dumped white phosphorous onto the people. We dumped Agent Orange, another chemical plant-killer which, as it turned out, also killed people. Including many Veterans who came back to the U.S. and developed a series of horrible diseases including cancer, and died very young. And the United States denied until very recently that Agent Orange caused these problems. So we killed our young, betrayed our veterans. Same old story.

In Vietnam, it is estimated that 400,000 Vietnamese were killed from direct exposure to Agent Orange, 500,000 were born with birth defects caused by their parents' exposure to Agent Orange, and two million additional people have developed cancer and other serious illnesses from the effects of Agent Orange in their country. The United States has done essentially nothing to either compensate the Vietnamese victims, or take responsibility to clean up the chemical disaster it created in that country.

Most of the young men who went to Vietnam were drafted. They didn't want to be there. Most people didn't even know where Vietnam was, never mind understanding why we were in a war there. There was a tremendous gap between the officers and the draftees. The officers were often ROTC-trained college kids who learned the "correct" way to engage in war, but that way was suicidal in a jungle environment. They would order their men to walk down the middle of a road, for example, but time and again the men would be ambushed from the side and slaughtered. The draftees became so enraged at the incompetence of the military leadership that some began killing their officers -- a practice that was so common that it was given the name of "Fragging."

Two million Vietnamese were killed during the U.S. War Against Vietnam.

(Children flee napalm being dropped onto them by U.S. military planes).

Over the entire period of the U.S. War Against Vietnam, 3.4 Million Americans were sent to fight against the Vietnamese, 58,000 Americans were killed, and 150,000 were injured. Between 20% and 30% of the 3.4 million servicemen and women suffered from post traumatic stress disorder when they came back to the United States. Many of them never recovered and became homeless alcoholics and drug addicts, their lives forever ruined by that war.

No matter how many people we killed, no matter how many bombs we dropped, no matter how many villages we burned, the Vietnamese just kept fighting.

Finally, on April 30, 1975, the North Vietnamese converged at the outskirts of Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, and the U.S. evacuated in a panic. The stunning photos and news video for the two days of April 29 and 30, 1975, shown on televisions around the world, were from the the U.S. embassy building in Saigon, helicopters landing, packing in as many people as they could hold, then taking off in a white-hot panic and depositing the people in ships waiting off-shore.

(The U.S. military tried to hold back the South Vietnamese who massed outside the embassy in Saigon, desperately hoping the U.S. would let them get on the evacuation helicopters).

Many of the South Vietnamese people had worked with the Americans, and knew they would likely be killed once the Viet Cong took over the city. But not all of them could be evacuated. Many were left behind, which gave rise to the phenomenon known as the "boat people." Vietnamese people would cram into boats and set out to sea, hoping to reach land in another nation, willing to live in a refugee camp if necessary.

The reason the Vietnamese who came to the U.S. are so extremely radical and right-wing is quite simply because they were radical and right-wing in their own nations. They may have thought they were acting properly, but the fact is they sided with western nations (first France then the U.S.) that militarily occupied and controlled their country and killed many of their own people. It's hard to have much sympathy for anyone who betrays their own country and sides with an occupying force. Of course some of them were quite innocent, just caught in the middle.

To this day, the right-wing in this country insists that we should have stayed in Vietnam, nuked them all, killed all the people. Because they were humiliated at the thought of "losing" the war. These people are too stupid to ask whether we had any business being in that country in the first place. Vietnam never attacked us, never attacked any other country, didn't threaten us. We waged a war of aggression against Vietnam. Our reason was because we were afraid of China, now our biggest business partner. We were wrong to have invaded Vietnam, wrong to have waged the 20-year war against them, wrong to have killed 2 million of their people.

(Once it became obvious that Saigon was going to fall quickly, with relatively short notice, the evacuation of U.S. personnel began in haste. Ships were brought near the shore, and helicopters were sent to certain buildings in Saigon to try to evacuate the Americans and as many of the South Vietnamese who had worked with the Americans as they could fit in. When people ask "when will the helicopters begin landing on the roofs in Iraq," they're referring to this famous scene).

The scene at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon was one of terror and panic, as the South Vietnamese who had worked with the Americans gathered outside the walls, trying to get to a helicopter so they could be evacuated.

Just like in Iraq -- we had no business going in, we cannot "win" an unjust war, and the only thing we can do is to leave. But I guess President Obama hasn't figured that one out yet, so more people will have to die.

There are 5 million Iraqi refugees living in horrid conditions in neighboring countries. We have littered Iraq with depleted uranium from U.S. weapons, which has already caused a radical increase in birth defects and cancer from the last time we invaded them, and will do the same this time. There is something called the Gulf War Syndrome which has sickened and disabled a large percentage of the young people who served in the U.S. military in the first Gulf War. The U.S. government denies liability for that, just like they denied liability for the Agent Orange cancer and birth defects for many decades. And it is equally unlikely the U.S. will ever do anything to clean up Iraq, just as we have done nothing to help clean up (the chemicals) in Vietnam.

We really need to get out of this war business. The only people who profit from war are the owners of corporations like Halliburton and Blackwater. The people who suffer the most are the innocent civilians and the children from the working classes who are sent to fight, kill or be killed. End the wars. Bring the troops home. Not next year, but now.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

We Are So Pathetically Grateful For Our New President: The First 100 Days.

We have become such a pathetically grateful nation. I heard Ron Reagan say yesterday that it is so wonderful to have a president we can be proud of. It's pathetic how grateful we are. We have spent the past eight years being humiliated on a daily basis by the Moron and his Gang of thieves.

(Loneliest job in the world.)

We are pathetically grateful for a president who, when he goes overseas, we don't have to cringe every time he opens his mouth. Just a President who can speak English reasonably well. Someone who doesn't grope the women leaders of other countries, make wisecracks to the Pope, chew with his mouth open. We are so pathetically grateful because the past eight years have been such a disaster.

(I like this picture. Jeans, windbreaker, definitely one of us.)

(Remember the Republicans said this was a terrorist greeting? They are so lame.)

(The troops seem to love him).

And today we will enter the First 100 Days Celebration. Is this like AA? Will Obama get a "Chip," a 100-day Chip? Do we, the citizens? We know the Banks and Wall Street got their 30 day chips already -- they pretty much cleaned out the house. Will we celebrate 150 days, 200 days? Probably so. We'll still be pathetically grateful.

(Our very handsome President and his lovely wife, the First Lady Michelle Obama)

(A bunch of white men running things isn't really "change." Where are the 50% women that should be in this picture? I'll bet everyone of these men has a background in law, Wall Street, or finance. That's why their "solution" to the economic problems is to give money to the white collar professionals, their friends and mentors. Put some women in here, some mothers, some teachers, some real people, you would get some real solutions. Such as job creation, free healthcare for every citizen, free education through college, invest in infrastructure, screw Wall Street and the Banks. In fact, throw those criminals in prison.)

Remember these pictures?

Recently a White House photographer took a photo of Caroline Kennedy visiting President Obama in the same office where the above photos were taken of JFK when he was president, and of Caroline and her brother John when they were children. President Obama stooped down and looked under the desk, remembering. It's a really cute picture:

(Thanks a million, Ted. For everything. What a wonderful Senator he has been.)

(President Obama viewing JFK Portrait in White House. Big shoes to fill.)

I wish Caroline Kennedy was the new Senator from New York. I assume the only reason Paterson didn't appoint her is because the Clintons put pressure on him, because they were angry that Ted and Caroline Kennedy supported Obama over Hillary in the primary. So Paterson made his apparently very lumpy bed of straw and chose Annie Oakley, a relatively unknown gun-loving barrel-sucker from upstate with no public name, who probably will be unable to raise any significant money for the next Senate run. And he passed over Caroline Kennedy who probably would have gotten $50 million in donations from around the country for the next election for that Senate seat. In her first month in office.

I understand Governor Paterson's ratings are very low, and he is looking to be a One-Half Term Governor. Bad decision to pick Annie Oakley over Caroline Kennedy. I actually hope Caroline Kennedy takes on Annie Oakley in the primary and beats her. Caroline For Senate!

(President Obama with Bill Cosby. Another great American whose lifetime of work, and commitment to education and to this country, was part of the solid foundation that made it possible for Barack Obama to become President of the United States.)

(In the oval office).

(View from the top.)

Press Release Re Funeral Arrangements for Republican Party

The former Republican National Party has issued a press release late today regarding the funeral arrangements. For the Republican National Party. The Party that once called itself the "Permanent Majority," has lost so many voters and politicians, become involved in so much corruption and stupidity, so many of their members have blood up to the elbows from international war crimes and torture of prisoners, that the Party has died.

Viewing will be from 11-12 p.m. tonight. Nobody is expected to show except the crazies because nobody cares anymore. The leaders have all fled the country and are reportedly hiding somewhere in South America hoping to avoid extradition. The records and archives have all been burned.

People should wear red and yellow as a sign of joy and celebration yet a remembrance of the blood spilled because of this monstrous crime syndicate.

There will be a somber procession of remembrance, then the symbolic ashes of this dead party will be dumped at the edge of town. A street party will follow. Free Beer!!

Senator Arlen Specter Announces He Will Leave The ReTaliban Party And Become A Democrat. Welcome.

The AP is reporting that Senator Arlen Specter from Pennsylvania has announced that he intends to leave the Republican party and become a Democrat. If he does, and assuming that Al Franken is confirmed as Senator from Minnesota, that would mean the Democrats would have 60 Senators, a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

I don't think the 60-person majority means the Democrats would do much except whine and dodge and evade, since they only use the theoretical threat of a filibuster by Republicans as an excuse for never doing anything to help American working people. For example, the failure of the Democrats to give American working people the option of having a single-payor healthcare system, or essentially Medicare for everyone, is not because the Republicans prevented it. It's because the Democrats take so many bribes from the health insurance industry, the hospital industry, the doctor's lobbies -- and they're very rich precisely because they so grossly overcharge Americans every single day. So this is one of many cases in which the Democrats sell their votes to the corporations and sell-out the working people of this country. I don't expect 60 corrupt Democrats will bring a big change in the Senate -- just more bribes for the corporations to pay.

But it would make it harder for the Democrats to hide behind the Republicans, and might make it easier for the people of this country to demand the Democrats get up off their lazy corrupt asses and do something for us.

(Pennsylvania's early candidates for Republican Senator primary, 2010)

Supposedly the polls were showing that Senator Specter would have a tough fight in the Republican primary in 2010 because Pennsylvania has a hard-core reactionary group in the Republican Party -- Christian Crazies, fundamentalists, racist, gun-loving fans of the drug addict on the radio -- and Specter is just not crazy enough to meet their standards. You've got to be completely insane to get their support, and Specter is more of the traditional old-style moderate Republican, one of the few left in the Republican party. Or should we call it the ReTaliban Party.

Which raises an interesting point. The ReTaliban Party is killing off its own (which is okay with me), destroying the moderates in favor of Sarah's gang, the stupid, the ignorant, the anti-science, the corrupt, the secessionist, racist, fairly crazy Bush-style ReTalibans. Which is fine, except that those people are a minority in this country. So if they kill off their moderates, they will never again be able to win elections except in districts or counties in which they are a majority. Like Utah, for example, or maybe Texas. But in the majority of states, the people fall into a wide variety of political leanings, and many will not vote for the ReTaliban Party.

"A senior White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because no announcement has yet been made, said at 10:25 a.m. EDT Tuesday President Barack Obama was handed a note while in the Oval Office during his daily economic briefing. The note said: 'Specter is announcing he is changing parties.' At 10:32, Obama reached Specter by phone and told him 'you have my full support' and that the Democratic Party is 'thrilled to have you.';_ylt=AhL9RAa6UPZXEKnq5Dy7p3.s0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTJpbHVudjg1BGFzc2V0A2FwLzIwMDkwNDI4L3VzX3NwZWN0ZXJfc3dpdGNoBGNwb3MDMQRwb3MDMgRzZWMDeW5fdG9wX3N0b3J5BHNsawNzcGVjdGVyc2F5c2g-

Monday, April 27, 2009

John M. Barry - The Great Influenza

John M. Barry wrote a terrific book a few years ago titled The Great Influenza. It is about the international flu of 1918, mis-named the Spanish flu, which killed millions of people.

(From the cover): "In the winter of 1918, the coldest the American midwest had ever endured, history's most lethal influenza virus was born. Over the next year it flourished, killing as many as 100 million people. It killed more people in twenty-four weeks than AIDs has killed in twenty-four years, more people in a year than the Black Death of the Middle Ages killed in a century."

One of the interesting things about the 1918 flu was that the death rate was highest among young, healthy people. In normal flu, it is the infants and the old people who are at highest risk of death. But in the 1918 flu, it was the young, the strong, who died. When the flu germ enters people's bodies, the body's immune system fights back by sending out white blood cells to attack the flu germs and kill them. That combination -- the extra white blood cells and the dead germs -- creates a waste material inside the body -- mucus, for a cold, for example -- which must be expelled for the body to heal.

These young, healthy people's immune systems put up such a valiant struggle that their bodies actually became impacted with the waste products, and that is what killed them. The proper, highly-effective functioning of their immune systems killed them.

This 1918 flu began during World War I. It started I think in the spring, with a mild version causing little note, then came back months later in its deadly form. Young men from all over the United States were being drafted and sent to Europe to fight in World War I. They were brought to certain military make-shift bases for training, then transferred to the East Coast of the country, then shipped to various places in Europe. In the military bases, the only shelter they could put together on such short notice for so many young men draftees were tents.

So in the middle of winter in Iowa, in the freezing cold, knee-deep snow, thousands of young American men lived and slept inside poorly-insulated tents, sleeping on cots, often with inadequate blankets, all breathing the same air. When the flu first surfaced it was in these military camps, but nobody understand it was more than just a bad cold, so the draftees were not quarentined. Some would be exposed, get up the next day and ship out to the East Coast, be put on a ship, maybe die on the way, some carried it with them to Europe, including to Spain, so Spain got the blame for the 1918 pandemic.

It is of course impossible for an electric fence or the National Guard to prevent disease from crossing our border. Maybe the western world will finally wake up and realize that we need to have a wealth tax, take the 50% of the world's assets away from the 2% who own them, sell the assets and use the money to eliminate poverty, create communities for all people in which they have food, shelter, education, healthcare, sanitation, and functioning government systems that will be alert to outbreaks and have the resources to immediately contain them.

Or, in the alternative, we can continue to allow much of the world to live in dire, severe, deadly poverty, and wait until most of them die -- or maybe most of the world dies. If not this flu, then the next one. If not the flu, then some other disease. It's inevitable that millions, maybe hundreds of millions will die from disease unless we end the terrible inequality that condemns so many to an early and needless death. And oh yes: since we don't even have a national healthcare system in our own country, our own people will in many cases never go to the doctor or report a problem unless they are near death, because they can't afford to. So just like in Mexico, the failure in our country to have a single-payor government-provided system free of charge to the citizens could contribute to the deadly spread of a disease such as influenza.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Republican's "Ticking Bomb" Scenario Support For Torture Is A Fraud.


The Republicans and the right wing (and some Democrats) argue that it is proper and should be legal to torture a Prisoner of War in the event of a "Ticking Bomb" Scenario.

This is the "Ticking Bomb Scenario" as defined by the Republicans:

1. The Prisoner of War is believed to be a member or supporter of, or otherwise associated with, the Enemy.

2. Because of the Prisoner of War's alleged membership in, or support of, or association with the Enemy, the Prisoner may have valuable information about a planned attack by the enemy -- possibly a planned imminent attack by the Enemy.

3. The Prisoner has been repeatedly questioned, and denies any association with the Enemy, and/or denies having any information about a planned attack by the Enemy.

4. If the Prisoner was tortured, and if the torture was so severe and painful and terrifying that the Prisoner believed he or she was about to die, and if the Prisoner was associated in some manner with the Enemy, and if the Prisoner had valuable information about a planned attack by the Enemy, then the Prisoner would be more likely to disclose any such information he or she had.

5. If information was obtained about a planned attack by the Enemy, then it might be possible to use that information to stop the attack or otherwise prepare for it and save lives.

Here's the fraud in that argument: the assumptions dictate the conclusion that torture is always permissible. If we accept the Republican position, it means all Prisoners of War may be tortured -- even the children.

By definition, all Prisoners of War are alleged to be members or supporters of, or otherwise associated with, the Enemy. That is by definition. In fact, they might be a part of the Enemy or they might be a civilian who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. They might be trained assassins or secret agents or spies, or school children or secretaries or farmers.

Because there are no trials, no witnesses, no peacetime tribunals in which to hear and adjudicate criminal charges, no attorney to represent the Prisoners, who they are and what they may or may not have done cannot be reasonably established. They have not been tried and found guilty of anything. (That is one of the reasons all countries agree that Prisoners of War may not be tortured or punished: they haven't been found guilty of anything.)

By definition, all Prisoners of War, because they are allegedly associated with the Enemy, might have information about a planned attack by the Enemy.

Therefore, the logical conclusion of the Republican's argument is that all Prisoners of War might have valuable information about an imminent attack, and therefore they should be tortured, and that torture should be legal.

This Republican argument is a fraud because it is intended to deceive the public. It postures as a patriotic desire to protect the country, but in fact it is simply the cheap peddling of the tools of dictatorships everywhere -- the claim that the "rulers" are always allowed to torture anyone, without legal consequences.

Civilized nations agree that torture is never appropriate. Anyone who engages in torture must be criminally charged and tried and, if found guilty, punished according to law. Prisoners of War, in particular, are entitled to the complete protection by the government that has taken them prisoner. This is an accepted standard of conduct for all nations of the world, and the U.S. decision to simply break these laws because there were a bunch of sadists and monsters running these wars is appalling. One more thing: people that Bush and Cheney called "Enemy Combants" are really Prisoners of War, and are entitled to all the protections owed to Prisoners of War anywhere in the world.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

It Isn't "Torture." It's "Lively Conversation."

The former rulers of the junta, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Gonzalez, Bybee, Yoo, and all those who promoted the torture of prisoners of war, apparently for their own sadistic twisted pleasure, have demanded that the media and all the supporters of that junta never, ever, no matter what, under any circumstances use the word "T-O-R-T-U-R-E."

Instead, they issued a directive to the public and to Rupert Murdoch's whorehouse at Fox and all the newspapers he owns, and to the drug addict on the radio, and to all the deranged and despicable people in Congress (like that crazy-lady Bachman), that whenever they are discussing the "issue," they must call it: "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques."

(Here's an example of what the media calls "enhanced interrogation techniques": kicking and beating somebody over the head so they bleed profusely, then throwing them in a cell to wait for the next round of "enhanced interrogation techniques.")

The sad truth is that most of the media is still obeying the criminals and monsters from the Bush regime. Even after we finally threw them out of office, they still control most of the media. And most of the media on most of the channels and in most of the newspapers are talking about "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques." Instead of calling it what it is, which is torture. With a capital T.

(What about electrocuting people. Is that okay? Is it "interrogation?" Or is it Torture?)

Of course we don't really know what all these pervs directed be done. How many of the reports were destroyed. The theory they are promoting is that there was a ticking bomb, the people they tortured had critical evidence, and the only way to get the information was by torturing them.

Dick Cheney, a bully and a coward, who has hidden behind women his entire life to make sure his bloodless lazy corrupt self was never in the tiniest bit of danger or discomfort, the man who hid behind his wife's skirts to get five deferments (Five-Deferment Dick) to avoid being drafted into the military and possibly be sent to Vietnam, the man who just this week sent his little girl out in public to get smeared with association with torture while he hides at home, this man claimed he wanted to go to the "Dark Side." Which, in his entire cowardly life, consists of going to bed without a nightlight

That's the courageous Mr. Cheney who now claims he is some superhero, out to protect the public. He hid behind Scooter Libby and let his buddy go to prison for his role in "outing" a CIA Agent and hid under his desk when they came to ask him questions about his involvement. He let this little England girl from West Virginia, someone who probably never got a break in her life, go to prison while he sat protected in D.C. and kept his mouth shut.

If Cheney is so insistent that torture was the right thing to do, why doesn't he stand up for once in his cowardly life and take responsibility for what he did? Instead of hiding behind all these women, too scared to go out in public, too cowardly to ever take responsibility for his own wrongful conduct. If he's a superhero, I'd call him Dick the Coward.

Did they authorize rape? Rape is a very typical weapon of war. Or rape of the families, maybe the children of the prisoners? Did they authorize that? And if not, why not? After all, the bomb was ticking, right?

Here's an interesting question that the pathetic media isn't discussing: how many people did they kill? No mention of that, but people did die -- from being beaten, kicked, brutalized. So what do we do about that? Do they get a pass on murder because somebody thought they heard a "ticking" sound?

Should we call this the Captain Hook Defense? "I heard something ticking -- I thought it was a bomb. So maybe it was an alarm clock, my mistake."

(Why does he have the gloves on? Because he doesn't want to get blood on his hands when he beats these bound or unconscious prisoners?)

I'm tired of hearing those media newsreaders mouth the phrase "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques." After all, most of the news casters, "anchors," didn't even graduate from Beauty School -- they dropped out once they got to the Hair Coloring class because they couldn't distinguish Sienna from Auburn.

So I've got an idea. We can't call it torture. We can never speak the truth in this country. That is the disgusting fact. No matter what, never speak the truth.

(What about piling on someone, suffocating them, so they can't breathe. Is that okay? What if they die? Still okay?)

Why don't we just call it "Lively Conversation."

On one side, you have a large crowd of jack-booted thugs with weapons, metal bars, guns, knives, heavy boots, well-fed, covered with tattoos of swastikas and White Power symbols, screaming racial hatred and murderous rage, often brainwashed by right-wing fascist Chaplains who have taken over the military and instruct the enlistees that their job is to kill Muslims for God, often directly recruited by our military from the American Nazi and other White Power criminal groups -- and on the other hand you have a usually sick, weak, confused, vulnerable, helpless, tied, injured, bleeding, cuffed, chained and shackled prisoner-of-war who has been kidnapped, taken to some other country, starved, terrorized, stuck in a dungeon or cage, and is now being brutalized and in some cases will be murdered.

I think "Lively Conversation" is as accurate as "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques."

What about Congress? I heard Harry Reid standing up for Jay Bybee, 9th Circuit Court of Appeal Torturer in Chief. Bybee wrote one of the Torture Memos providing a legal excuse and rationalization for the Bush Junta to use in going forward in torturing prisoners of war. Why would Reid stand up for this monster? Because they're both Mormons? Does that tie trump a commitment to the law? If so, Harry better step aside.

What about everyone else in Congress? This week we learned that Bush had wire-tapped Jane Harman, a California Representative. Remember how Congress was so eager to grant complete immunity for the illegal wiretap program? So the citizens would be legally blocked from ever being able to find out who was wiretapped. Why did Congress do that? One of the questions at the time was whether Bush had wiretapped every Democrat in Congress (and maybe the Governors of New York and Illinois, among others) to get secret information that he could use against them if, after he left office, the Democrats tried to prosecute him and his gang for war crimes. Was the Harman take-down this week just a "reminder" to the other Democrats that they'd better quash this torture issue? Or they'll release the dirt they've got on the corrupt politicians in Congress? Is that' what's going on?

(What about having a woman point a pretend gun at a bunch of naked men's penises. Is that okay? What exactly is the purpose? If she went to prison, why didn't Rumsfeld and Cheney?)

Come on media. Come on you cowardly corrupt lazy Senators and Representatives. It's Torture. With a Capital T. And it isn't confined to waterboarding. It includes the atrocities committed at Abu Ghraib, all the barbarism done at the "Black Hole Sites" set up by the CIA in dungeons in nations that did the torturing for us. And what happened to the people stuck in the black holes? Were they murdered? We need a full accounting. We need truth and we need justice.

We need public hearings, we need all the truth to come out, we need criminal charges, prosecution, and imprisonment for all the leaders of the Bush junta who directed, authorized, ratified, consented to this torture of prisoners-of-war by the United States. The investigation must start with the people at the top including but not limited to George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice, Jay Bybee, and John Yoo.

New York Times escalates the rhetoric and finally, today, goes out on a limb and refers to "harsh" interrogation techniques. Instead of just "enhanced" interrogation techniques. Bra-vo. With such courage from our newspaper of record, it is no wonder our democracy thrives and the citizens can sleep safely at night.

Today, Washington Post reports that the military agency which provided advice on "harsh interrogation techniques" described it as torture. But the Washington Post doesn't describe it as torture. They use the Cheney-dictated phrase: "enhanced interrogation techniques." I'm going to send them an e-mail suggesting that if they want to change things up every once in awhile, they could call it "Lively Conversation." I think Cheney would be okay with that phrase.

(Lively conversation between beaten, bleeding, chained, cuffed, near-dead prisoner of war, and the proud men and women of the United States Military).

Friday, April 24, 2009

Kurt Weill (1900 - 1950)

Kurt Weill (1900-1950) was a pianist and composer, working much of his life in the musical theater first in Germany and later in the United States. He began studying piano and composing music at a fairly young age. In his teens and early twenties he studied composition, gave private music lessons, performed in public, and worked in the theater.

Weill met the actress and his future wife, Lotte Lenya, while working in theater in Germany. Although Weill’s earlier composition were more classical in style, his work became more centered on light musical theater songs, which became very popular with the public in Germany by the early 1930s.

(Lotte Lenya)

Weill’s best-known work is "The Threepenny Opera," written in 1928 in collaboration with Bertolt Brecht. Weill’s most famous song, "Mack the Knife," came from The Threepenny Opera. Weill’s creative relationship with Brecht eventually came to an end because of political differences. Weill supposedly said that he could no longer work with Brecht because he was unable to set the communist party manifesto to music.

(Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya)

Weill fled Germany in 1933 as the Nazis came to power, going first to Paris, then on to the United States where he continued working in musical theater. He and his wife, Lotte Lenya, settled in New York City in 1935, and he became a naturalized citizen in 1943.

Barbra Streisand recorded Weill's "Speak Low":

Weill dedicated his talents to the field of musical theater in the U.S. He worked with many different writers and lyricists including Maxwell Anderson and Ira Gershwin. He developed a musical-theater style of opera known as "Street Scene," with lyrics by Langston Hughes, for which he won the Tony Award for Best Original Score. He also later worked in Hollywood in the film industry. During World War II, Weill was a volunteer air raid warden and worked on many artistic projects to support the war against the Nazis. He died at the age of 50 of a heart attack.

The Doors perform Weill's "Alabama Song" (Whiskey Bar):

After Weill’s death, his music continued to be performed by his wife, Lotte Lenya, who set up a foundation in his name. But other artists soon began recording his work, and it has continued to be recorded by modern artists to this day. Bobby Darren and Louis Armstrong both made "Mack the Knife" a top hit. Weill’s music has also been performed by The Doors, Judy Collins, Lou Reed, Marianne Faithful, as well as the Metropolitan Opera of New York.

Wynton Marsalis and Sarah Vaughn perform Weill's "September Song":

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Credit Card Companies Are Criminal Enterprises - Loan Sharks - Who Pay Off The Cops.

I could not even begin to address the criminality that is the essence of the credit card industry.

In order to understand credit cards, we need to recognize that most banks will loan people money for a modest interest rate. If the borrower has some assets -- a house, for example -- as collateral.

But for working people with few assets, the only loan they can get is from the credit card companies or the loan sharks -- same difference -- at outrageous interest rates. The interest charged does not reflect the "risk" of the loan, the number of defaults, the difficulty in collection, or any of the other stories they always tell us. They charge it because they can get away with it, just like the mob does.

Every once in awhile, some leading Democrat has a press conference and insists they're going to "get tough" on credit card companies. But it's all just a show -- a circus to divert the public from the truth, which is that most of the Senators and Representatives take bribes from the credit card companies. Take bribes to look the other way when the credit card companies steal everything from the working people of this country.

Most countries in the world have laws about usury. We do too. They prohibit people from charging excessive interest on a loan. For most of us, for example, if we loan money to somebody, we can only charge a certain amount of interest -- around 10% in most states.

So why don't the credit card companies have to obey the laws about usury? Because they paid bribes to the politicians in Congress to get a special law saying that they don't have to obey those laws. It's just straight-up corruption.

Credit card companies are thieves, the same as the street hoodlums who hide in alleys and knock people over the head on their way home from work, steal their wallets. The credit card industry is responsible for stealing trillions of dollars from working people in the U.S. every year.

We need serious new regulations of this industry. The absurd "disclosure" additions to the law, put into place by Wall Street's favorite Senator Chuck Schumer, does absolutely nothing to help the people. So what if the Loan Sharks have to "announce" what they plan to do right before they break your legs? Disclosure does not cure or solve theft and fraud. Chris Dodd recently announced his own "get tough" new rules, which are also garbage. From now on, when they send you a statement, they have to put it in 9 point instead of 8 point type. Just absurd "reforms" which do nothing to help the people of this country.

When working people's wages are being crushed by corporations sending jobs outside the country, when the cost of everything is artificially raised by corporations manipulating the markets (i.e. the oil companies), most people need to borrow money to pay for emergencies. When the only loans available come from the Loansharks, then having a law that makes them "disclose" that they will charge obscene amounts does nothing to help working people. Thanks for nothing Chuck Schumer and Chris Dodd. And Congress, which just this week asked President Obama to "talk" to their biggest contributors, ask them to please be nicer. Yeah, that'll do it.

Here's some shocking numbers on the Loan Shark industry in the U.S.:

Let's talk about a few of the biggest problems. This is what Congress needs to change. Now.

1. Usury. Credit cards should have a maximum interest of 10%.

2. "Late" Fees. Late fees should be illegal. If someone is late, the interest keeps running so the credit card company loses nothing.

3. Over-limit charges. Straight theft. They lose nothing if somebody charges over the limit.

4. Cash advance charges. Absurd. Enormous charges on top of the obscene interest rates for, essentially, somebody borrowing a couple of hundred dollars.

5. Dragnet clauses. If you default on your car loan from another lender, then the credit card company will "drag" that default into the credit card account, and raise your interest to 25%. Ridiculous. The two things have nothing to do with each other.

6. Mailing location for billing statements. They tell people the due-date is, for example, the 28th of the month (more below). Somebody in California puts the check in the mail on the 25th or 26th, but their payment center is in God-knows-where Maine, rural, with poor mail service, to maximize late fees.

7. Due-dates chosen to maximize late payments. Due-dates are generally the 28th of the month, or the 13th, around there. They know people get paid on the 15th and 30th, will write the check out the next day, and are more likely to be late. All due-dates should be on the 20th of the month.

8. Interest independent of what the loansharks pay us to borrow our money. Credit card companies borrow my money, taxpayer's money, from the federal government, and pay less than 1% interest per year. Then they turn around and charge 25% per year on credit cards. Their total "costs" consist of paying some 12 year old girl in a third world country about $1.00/day to sit in front of a computer and process payments, issue new bills. They're making a killing off of us. And Congress knows it, and they let them because they get kick-backs. Interest for credit cards should be capped at 10% but also tied to the federal discount rate -- say 5% more than the lowest federal discount rate for the preceding 6 months -- which means today's rate should be 6% on credit cards.

Torture Has Been A Part Of The U.S. Official Policy For Decades.

The United States has used torture, directed, trained, encouraged other dictatorships to use torture to get control of their own countries, for many decades. This is not something new. The reason that our government keeps doing this is because nobody in this country has ever been prosecuted and imprisoned for their war crimes. Let's change that now.

Back in the early 1970s, the United States, specifically at the direction of Henry Kissinger, decided to overthrow the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende and install a right-wing military dictatorship in its place to ensure that U.S. corporations could continue to steal the resources from that nation. The coup and subsequent years of dictatorship under Pinochet have been thoroughly documented in truth and reconciliation hearings held after Pinochet was finally out of power.

Unfortunately, the people in the United States who directed and participated in the torture and murder were never tried, never publicly exposed. Maybe if they had been, maybe if our leadership had been held accountable decades ago, these monsters in the Bush administration and the despicable attorneys that served them might have been hesitant to adopt an official policy authorizing torture by the U.S.

The U.S. went on to support, train, direct torture from governments, death squads, in Argentina, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and others, and today has a direct military intervention in the country of Columbia, another right-wing dictatorship, in addition to indirect military interventions in many other countries in the region. The School of the Americas has been run for years by the U.S. to train government thugs from countries in Central and South America in the fine art of torture and murder of political opponents. See School of the Americas Watch:

What do we mean when we talk about torture? What really goes on? It isn't "enhanced interrogation techniques." Thats just a lie designed to cover up what's really going on. People are beaten, electrocuted, bones broken, drowned, starved, drugged, raped and murdered. That's what is being discussed in all this sanitized public debate. This is what our country does, has for decades, and supports other governments that do the same thing. This is what we're really talking about.

We need to prosecute and imprison every single person who authorized, directed, participated in or approved of torture. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, everyone involved. The most despicable attorneys Jay Bybee and John Yoo.

Here are some excerpts from the website of the United States Institute of Peace, Report of the Chilean National Commission on Truth & Reconciliation, Part Three, Chapter 2, g 2.

"Torture and mistreatment were practiced systematically at the DINA’s [secret police’s] secret detention sites and those of other intelligence services, as we have already pointed out when mentioning some specific places. The main object of torture was to obtain information from the victims - either to bend their resistance or to assure that what they had already said was true. A second purpose was to break their resistance or their physical or moral integrity, so as to directly instill fear into others who could see or hear the torture and to intimidate other persons who might hear about it."

"Mistreatment, including beatings, humiliations, insults, degrading conditions of confinement, being held blindfolded and poorly fed for a long time, went along with torture and contributed toward the same aims. Such mistreatment, even if it did not fall directly into the category of torture, should be regarded as those other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment that are likewise categorically prohibited by international human rights law."

"Often mistreatment or torture were practiced not as part of a particular interrogation process, but were rather the expression of the cruelty or base passions of an agent or a guard. Sometimes they were deliberately used to kill or punish a prisoner. This section deals with the torture methods used by the intelligence services..... "

g.2.1) Usual methods

"Certain methods were routinely practiced on all prisoners held at secret facilities. These sites had permanent installations for applying such methods and personnel trained to use them. These people were not the same as the officers who took charge of the interrogation, although these officers might take part in applying torture and indeed did so directly. Such methods were:
The "grill," that is, applying electrical current to prisoners while they were tied to a metal bed spring. The current was applied to the most sensitive parts of the body. "

"Suspension, that is, hanging the victim either by the wrists or by the wrists and knees for long periods of time. Sometimes the guards made it worse by hanging onto the victim themselves thus adding their weight. While thus suspended the person was given electric shocks, and was beaten, cut, or humiliated. "

"Immersion, or the "submarine," which consisted of pushing a person's head into a vessel of liquid, generally filthy water, and holding it there to the point of asphyxiation, and doing so over and over. One variation of this method was the so-called "dry submarine," in which a plastic bag was used to cut off a person's air supply."

"Beatings of all kinds, inflicted with fists, feet, rifle butts, and chains on different parts of the body, causing serious wounds and even killing people. Hitting people over the ears with cupped hands, or the "telephone," left some people with permanently impaired hearing. "

"The SIFA commonly held back food and water, a method that the Joint Command took to greater extremes. The Joint Command tended to use the "grill" and suspension. It also beat prisoners with such intensity that in at least one proven case a prisoner was beaten to death. Other methods were also often used, but they were generally extraordinary measures taken when other methods were not producing results. The official in charge of the interrogation made the decision to use such methods. They included: "

"Torture of a psychological nature, that is, abducting a relative of the prisoner who was not politically involved and torturing or sexually abusing that person in the presence of the one being interrogated, or perhaps threatening such possibilities."

"Wounds caused by bullets, cuts, or even once breaking a person's legs by running over them in a vehicle, as well as other fractures. "

"Rape or other sexual assaults or the threat of them. It seems that at some places such practices were regarded as an excess and were the work of guards or lower ranking personnel without the permission of their superiors. At other sites, however, as is noted, it was common practice.
Apparently on some rare occasions officers used extreme methods, because they became carried away with anger or sadism. Among these were burning prisoner's bodies with boiling liquids and unnatural acts involving animals. "

g.2.2) Other methods

"The DINA is known to have used drugs (the exact kind is not known) during interrogation, apparently to get people to talk. Hypnosis was also attempted but did not produce significant results. Sometimes torture was relieved with periods of rest between sessions, when there was even the appearance of friendly treatment. The Joint Command also sometimes used drugs and often used strong sedatives when taking prisoners to be executed. "

"The head of air force intelligence and others in that agency fluctuated in their treatment of prisoners. They switched from mistreatment to periods of rest when they would converse about theoretical points, and even lavish favors on prisoners. Guards and lower ranking troops in secret prison sites also humiliated and mistreated the prisoners in both word and deed, on top of their interrogation. Some of the things they did at some sites seem to have been concealed from their superiors. "

If Perez Hilton Can Call Miss California A "Dumb Bitch," Can I Call Him A Stupid Fag?

If Perez Hilton calls Miss California a "Dumb Bitch," can I call Perez Hilton a "Stupid Fag?"

Apparently not at Truthdig, one of my favorite blogs. Their comment moderator sent my comment, described above, to the dustbin. They put in writing that Perez Hilton called Miss California a "Dumb Bitch," and also posted the video of him saying it. [They weren't approving of it, just posting it]. But for my response, in which I just raised the question of whether, if Perez Hilton can call Miss California a "Dumb Bitch," can I call him a "Stupid Fag," they decided no, I couldn't do it. They would not post my comment.

So here's the question. Is it that male thing again? Some protective gathering of the male-klan to protect each other, even their members of the homosexual variety, from the slings and arrows of women? Is it that old idea that men can do anything they want to women, but they must make sure women never, ever, stand up for their own kind? We must remain subjugated and silent? Is that what's going on?

Because otherwise, I can't see any difference. And that's the point I was trying to make. It is not okay for any man ever, in any context, in public or in private, to call any woman a Dumb Bitch. That phrase, all the nasty words used against women -- slut, whore, cunt, bitch -- all of them are foreplay to the violent men in our society who punch, kick, beat, too often murder women in order to control them.

Given the history of violence against women in this society, given the astonishing ongoing levels of violence against women, given that women continue to be excluded from equal opportunity in hiring and promotion, given that women are largely excluded from representation in the Senate and House in numbers reflecting their 50% citizenship, but instead only get a token to keep the little ladies happy, given that women continue to have 1/3 of their earnings ripped off the top and pocketed by some white male, given all that, is it really appropriate for men to continue to call out violent and degrading terms to women at random? Aren't we treated badly enough in this society that maybe somebody could give us a break on the nasty name-calling?

Women pretty much hear and see that our society considers them useless, worthless, discards every day of their lives from the time they are born. They are branded as inferior, stupid, property, desired for sexual reasons, breeding and household work but still largely treated like slave labor.

A woman who is with a violent man is in most danger when she is pregnant. What does that tell us, other than that there is a national diseased attitude towards women that affects all of us, which goes to the central core of her physical being -- the ability to reproduce. What is it about this condition that men simply refuse to admit? Anti-female hatred, sexism, results in more deaths and beatings and violence every year than does either racism or anti-gay attitudes. Yet men refuse to admit or acknowledge this, our society largely ignores it. Is it because men are afraid it would take away all their fun if they can't continue to ridicule and demean women, as part of the "male-bonding" experience?

It's okay with me if gays get married. I don't think anyone, straight or gay, would marry Perez Hilton because he seems like an out-of-control jackass. But for my gay friends, if they want to get married, I'll be the maid of honor and best man, I'll be first to show up at the wedding and last to leave, and I'll toast the loudest and the longest.

But this has nothing to do with gay rights or gay marriage. All this incident shows is that privileged white men, regardless of sexual orientation, continue to ridicule, demean, humiliate women in public as part of the white-male-privileged life in America. I'm really sick of it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Be Grateful For Everything We Receive From The Earth.

Pablo Neruda, Sonnet VI:


Lost in the forest, I broke off a dark twig
and lifted its whisper to my thirsty lips:
maybe it was the voice of the rain crying,
a cracked bell, or a torn heart.
Something from far off it seemed
deep and secret to me, hidden by the earth,
a shout muffled by huge autumns,
by the moist half-open darkness of the leaves.

Wakening from the dreaming forest there, the hazel-sprig
sang under my tongue, its drifting fragrance
climbed up through my conscious mind

as if suddenly the roots I had left behind
cried out to me, the land I had lost with my childhood---
and I stopped, wounded by the wandering scent.

Happy Earth Day!

Happy Earth Day to all the liberal, tie-dyed, granola-eating, candle-making, Birkenstock-wearing, incense-burning, bicycle-riding, anti-war, recycling, Woodstock-celebrating, composting, pinko, tree-hugging, pot-smoking, commie, Hippies.

You were right all along.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Foreclosures, Bankruptcy and Cramdowns.

Since about 1995, real estate prices have soared. That is mostly because the federal government held down interest rates to artificially low levels, which allowed real estate prices to zoom. This was part of Alan Greenspan's effort to create a new bubble (in home real estate) to cover up the major screw-up in the Tech Bubble that he had created by early 2000, and which had tarnished his claim to be a brilliant monetary manager.

Let's say a $300,000 loan at 6%, 30 years, and let's say the borrower would pay around $600 per $100,000, or $1800 total. But if we reduce the interest rate to 3%, then they pay $300 per $100,000, and could borrow twice as much, pay twice as much for the same home -- pay $600,000 instead of $300,000 -- yet their monthly mortgage payments would be the exact same amount: $1800/month. By holding down interest rates, this allowed the developers and the lenders to radically inflate the price of homes and convince people that they could "afford" to buy it because they could "afford" the monthly payment.

Loans for homes have for decades been subject to two general rules: (1) you cannot borrow more than 3 times your gross income; and (2) you cannot borrow more than 80% of the fair market value of the home you are buying.

At the end of the Clinton era, Bob Rubin (later to go on to collect $100 million leading Citicorp into insolvency) working with Bill Clinton (himself later the recipient of hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from the major financial institutions in this country who benefited from this policy change) decided that the best way to "regulate" the financial system in the U.S. was to just fire all the cops and let the inmates run wild. Which they then did.

So without restrictions or regulations, and with the artificially low interest rates promoted by Greenspan, we ended up with a housing bubble. Let's say interest had been held to 6%, a fairly normal level over many decades of our country's existence. And let's say the regulations had remained in place. Your average family makes $55,000. They could borrow 3 times gross, or $165,000. That is about 80% of $200,000, which means the average family could have purchased a home for the total price of $200,000, which would require them to have a down payment of $35,000.00. Their monthly payment at around 6% wound have been around $1,000/month on the mortgage. Which most people can afford.

By Greenspan holding down interest rates to ridiculously low levels, like 2% (now it's less than 1%), by Clinton and Rubin eliminating the restriction that people could only borrow 80% of the value of the home they were buying, by eliminating the restriction that people could only borrow three times their yearly gross income, all hell broke loose. All of a sudden the same family found that the nice little home that was for sale for $200,000 in 1992 had zoomed up to $400,000, or $500,000. But the banks loaned them that amount of money -- just on funny terms, such as an adjustable mortgage starting at 2%, then after 3 years going way up. Instead of paying $200,000 for a house they could afford, people had to pay $500,000 for the same home. And they could not, in the long run, afford a loan of $500,000, which is why there have been so many defaults and foreclosures.

Here's the good news: when Greenspan's most recent balloon burst, the value of real estate plummeted. Those same houses now have a "real" fair market value of $200,000 again, which a normal family could afford. (Or maybe less -- remains to be seen). But the banks and the government are engaged in a massive consumer fraud to try to "pretend" -- let's "pretend" that this was not a balloon, let's pretend these houses really are worth $500,000.

One thing the banks are doing to try to prop up the temporary value of the homes is foreclosing on homes, then hiding them away, not re-selling them, not putting them on the market. If they listed all the foreclosed properties for sale, prices would drop even further. Or some of the lenders have been holding off altogether on the foreclosures, waiting for another government hand-out to rescue their corrupt asses. See Mike Whitney, "Housing Bust Comes Roaring Back - Worse Than Ever."

Most people in foreclosure would be better off walking away, deeding the property back to the lender. This is not legal advice, no one should rely on this statement, and people should hire an attorney to assist them before deciding how to proceed. But this will often be their best bet. Walk away from the $500,000 property. Get the lender to release them from any further claims, such as a deficiency if available in their state. Go rent. Save your money. In a few years when things hopefully settle down, they can go back and buy the same or a similar home for $200,000. It does not make sense to "fight" for people to stay in a home, using every penny they earn to pay a $500,000 mortgage on a house that, in truth, is only worth $200,000.

One of the issues being debated in Congress is called a "cramdown" provision. The people who are supporting this provision in Congress want the law to say that a bankruptcy judge has the authority to change the terms of a mortgage if the homeowner files for bankruptcy because they can't pay their mortgage. So, let's say a $500,000 loan at 6 % for 30 years, the judge could decide to make that a $400,000 loan at 5% for 40 years. For example.

I don't think that's a good idea. I think it is just another way to try to prop up the real estate market temporarily and save the banks from further losses. If the house in question is only worth $300,000, or $200,000, then it's not really doing the homeowners a favor to "help" them by sticking them with a $400,000 loan to be paid for the next 40 years, on a house that's only worth $200,000.

In general, if a loan is secured by an interest in real estate (such as a note and deed of trust, or a mortgage) the bankruptcy court cannot give the homeowner any relief. The lender can get almost an automatic relief from the general stay of bankruptcy, and proceed to take back the home. Let them.

The reason the banks have stopped foreclosing is because they were hoping President Obama would give all our taxmoney to the lenders to help them prop up and salvage all their fraudulent loans. I say let them foreclose and take the losses.

If you want to help the people who are in foreclosure, then pass a law saying that they are not liable for the difference between the loan and the value of the home after foreclosure (other than in the case of waste), they will not be taxed on the forgiveness of debt, and force the public-trough-feeding banks to loan money to these people on conservative terms (80%, 3x gross) to buy new homes at $200,000, or the actual new value. If they perform without substantial default, in 5 years their flawed credit record should be ordered erased. Now that would be real help for the homeowners.

The real estate developers have overbuilt the mcmansion type of homes, and local communities' planning commissions routinely turn down applications to build apartments or rental units because they don't want the poor folks moving into their town. We really need a nationwide commitment to building rental units. Not everyone needs to own a home, and a lot of people cannot afford to. There would be no shame in renting if we had decent rental units available. And eliminate the tax write-off for mortgage interest. Why should home buyers get a break when they, presumably, have more money than renters do? It's just another disguised give-away to real estate developers and lenders who can charge more money because the homebuyers know they can "write off" a portion of their monthly payment. The mortgage interest write-off should be phased out. It's the renters who need the tax break.

We also have serious questions about whether the single family residence model is ecologically so destructive that we need a national commitment to a return to multi-unit housing. Which could start with decent rentals and rent control. Certainly single people, young people, single parents, and seniors could all live comfortably in decent rental housing if it was affordable and available. Many would prefer it to the expense of home maintenance.

Maybe this is the right time to begin making radical changes in our national housing arrangements. It does not make any sense to claim that every 4-person family has some need or "right" to own 2500 grossly overpriced square feet of stucco and tile, within which to store their 4 TVs and 3 computers, and a 3-car garage to house their gas guzzlers. There may be bigger issues involved than propping up a housing system developed around cars, freeways, isolation, and 50% of take-home going to pay for shelter. It doesn't make sense, and this is the time to change it.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The "Other" South American Immigrants: The Wild Parrots of Brooklyn.

There is a very funny story about how, sometime in the 1960s, some parrots from Argentina were shipped to a New York City airport, probably headed for a petstore, but somehow the crate got opened and they escaped.

Eventually the parrots ended up in Brooklyn, where they stayed, wild, reproduced, and now have taken over entire neighborhoods.

They must've liked the pizza. And the people.

If this was a book, we could call it "A Parrot Grows In Brooklyn."

The parrots have a wonderful community housing project, much better than we humans manage. Every once in awhile, the owners of structures in which the parrots have built their nests will clean them out, tear them down, leaving these poor parrots homeless, but they immediately begin rebuilding. Wouldn't it be nice if humans worked together to make sure we all have shelter? I wonder if that's why they call them Quaker Parrots -- nonviolent, cooperative.

Green-Wood Cemetery Spire. Parrot nests were removed for cleaning.

Here are some photos from a Brooklyn Parrots web-site. They show the Green-Wood Cemetery spire which was covered with parrot nests. The cemetery owners wanted to remove the nests, and examine and repair the spire if there was any damage. So they cleaned the nests out, found the spire was not damaged, restored it, and now the parrots are re-building. But the funny thing is that before the cemetery began removing the nests, they built a substitute nest area for the parrots -- a mesh box on top of a tall metal pole -- so the parrots would have someplace to live while the spire was being removated. Now why don't we do that for people?

This temporary platform (on the metal pole to the right of the structure) was put up so the Parrots could relocate there while the cemetery spire was being cleaned. Really.

Parrots hard at work with nest reconstruction on the cemetery spire

Cemetery spire after cleaning: They're Baaack! Pretty good-sized nest on the left.

Construction materials being delivered.

Construction well-underway for new Parrot nests.

The people of New York City are very protective of their Wild Parrots. Here's a video of the removal of some baby parrots for the clearing out of some public lights in the Bronx: