Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Fighting the vast Right Wing with Pea Shooters, Part One: Books and Bookmakers

We progressive types are working overtime these days marching, rallying, sitting, petitioning.  We place ourselves prominently on Twitter (with our #p2, #OWS, and #CTL hashtags) and on Facebook.  More and more of us have taken to writing political blogs.  Our blogrolls feature other bloggers, other writers who work as hard or harder than we do, trying to sort out the truths behind America's astonishing decline and the Rightward drift that led us here.  Our job is to rout out the bad guys, to expose them and make sure justice take its course.  Some days we actually think we're winning.

Silly us.

This is not David and Goliath, with the little guy getting a chance at saving the day through luck and pluck.  Not anymore.  This is Goliath stomping David into the ground. There's David, bleeding and broken--but look!  He's still breathing!  David's crowd takes that as a sign of victory and moves on. The next time they'll try peashooters.

 In the 21st century--a century only slightly over a decade old and already the leading contender for "modern century most likely to return to the Dark Ages"--we the people are millions of little Davids and Big Business is one huge Goliath. We wee Davids actually thought if we worked hard and built up our troops and used truth as a weapon, we might some day be able to take Goliath down. We thought we might be able to survive and maybe even thrive without too much breakage or damage to our dignity.  We thought we could do it not by might (because we aren't the mighty ones, they are) but by using corny throwbacks like common sense and good will and solidarity.

 Again, who were we kidding? 

I'll give you one small example of Goliath's power and why we don't stand a chance:

Ever been in a Books-a-Million store? I hadn't either until I came south, and I went in innocently enough, as anyone would. It's a bookstore, after all, and I do love bookstores. But I didn't have to spend much time there before I began to see a trend: I am the kind of person they hate. I am the enemy. Me!

 I realize I'm in the south and the south is hostile to avowed liberals, but come on--let me at least get to the humor section before the attacks begin.

 This is what I encountered mere feet inside the door the other day:
At Books-a-Million, Myrtle Beach 1/25/12

This is an end cap in the main aisle. The titles change periodically, but the lean to the right never goes away. (I apologize for the poor photos. I took them with my kindergarten grade cell-phone camera, quickly so nobody would notice, because I was, after all, standing in plain view, because that's where these hostile books can best be seen.)

There is another Books-A-Million outside a huge mall a few miles from this smaller mall. They have an all-rightie-all-the-time end cap in their main aisle, too, so this is not just some Bubba manager's idea of fun, it's store policy. (In case you're wondering, I've looked all over for the liberal end caps.  They're not there.)

So then it came to me that if I buy something in a BAM! store (that's their nickname), I'm aiding the enemy. So I don't. Now I plan my trips to Books-a-Million as one would a reconnaissance mission, a stealth activity: Let's see what rotten propaganda they're pushing now.

Once I get past that ugly end cap, I spend a few refreshing minutes in the "Politics" aisle rearranging books so that the few liberal or even moderate books cover much of that junk. (Pathetic, I know, but it's the best I can do ever since I took that stand against vandalism.)

Then I grab something to read and sit at a table in their Joe Muggs Cafe (My own little sit-in I call it, since I read their books and magazines and never buy anything, but it's not as satisfying as it should be, since, so far. no one seems to notice.) 

I should mention that BAM! publishes a monthly Book Page magazine highlighting their latest books.  Mark R. Levin, a Right Wing radio personality and "the #1 bestselling author of Liberty and Tyranny and regular Fox News contributor"  is on January's cover. (Last month it was Glenn Beck). Levin has a new book out called, "Ameritopia, The Unmaking of America".  Before I saw that cover, I confess I had never heard of Mark R. Levin. (Am I the only one?  I don't know.  I only know that I was much happier before I knew that his new book, "Ameritopia" is at the top, the very tip-top, of this week's New York Times non-fiction bestseller list!   )

So I took a look at the new book by this guy who--my god! NYT Best Seller!--I really should have heard of by now. I turned page after page and, okay, as a new Mark R. Levin reader who is also a liberal, I'm as biased as biased can be.  But even I am shocked at how badly this book stinks!  

Let me tell you, he's no Glenn Beck.

From the Introduction:

In Ameritopia I explain that the heart of the problem is, in fact, utopianism, a term I discuss in great detail throughout the book.  Utopianism is the idealogical and doctrinal foundation for statism. While utopianism or statism or utopian or statist are often used interchangeably, the undertaking here is to probe more dceply into what motivates and animates the tyranny of statism.  Indeed the modern arguments about necessities and virtues of governmental control over the individual are but malign echoes of utopian prescriptions through the ages, which attempted to define subjugation as the most transcendent state of man.
Oh, my gawd. Huh? What?

But, wait...the first lines of the first chapter, "The Tyranny of Utopia":
 Tyranny, broadly defined, is the use of power to dehumanize the individual and delegitimize his nature.  Political utopianism is tyranny disguised as a desirable, workable and even paradisiacal governing ideology.  There are, of course, unlimited utopian constructs, for the mind is capable of infinite fantasies.  But there are common themes.  The fantasies take the form of grand social plans or experiments, the impracticality and impossibility of which, in small ways and large, leads to the individual's subjugation.

And it goes on.  And. . .on.  And. . .on.

This book, I remind you, is NUMBER ONE ON THE NEW YORK TIMES NON-FICTION BEST SELLER LIST.  The book came out on January 17--less than two weeks ago--and already over 1200 people have reviewed it on Amazon, 876 of them giving it Five Stars

It's a runaway best seller and from where I'm sitting (In BAM!s Joe Muggs cafe) I'm concluding that something besides this book is stinking to high heaven.

Consider this:

After the closing of Borders Books in 2011, Books-a-Million became the second largest bookseller in the United States, behind Barnes and Noble.   They operate some 200 stores in the south, the northeast and in the midwest.  They've now taken over dozens of empty Borders stores and opened Books-A-Millions in their space.

And they sell millions of books on their website.  If you go on their site and click on the "Political Science" category, as I did yesterday,  on the very first page you'll find a mess of right wing and conservative books, from the current to the moldy old.  Glenn Beck is prominent, as is that guy, Mark R. Levin.  Laura Ingraham is there; so is Sarah Palin.  So is Bill O'Reilly, not for his most recent book about Lincoln, but for his memoir, published way back in 2008.

Bill Clinton and Zbigniew Brzezinski are there, too, but from what I can tell, they're mere tokens. (Unless maybe they said something bad about Obama. . .)  But I have to wonder why old books by the Righties, some more than three years old, are at the top of their list when so many other, newer  books might better deserve to be there.

Mark R. Levin's "Ameritopia" is his second book for Threshold Publishing, a Simon and Schuster imprint that exclusively publishes conservative books, many of which rise to the top of the NYT best seller list.  Levin's book, "Liberty and Tyranny" (There's that word again) also hit the top of the NYT bestseller list, and now he, along with Glenn Beck, is Threshold's star.  Mary Matalin is its Editor-in-Chief.  (I looked hard for a liberal arm of Simon and Schuster (a CBS company), or any other publishing company, and--no surprise--there are none.)

In a telling article about Threshold in Politico, July 21, 2009, it's clear that any liberal expecting to write a best-seller might better stick to fiction:
Adam Bellow, executive editor at HarperCollins, noted that conservative publishing first took off in the 1990s, with the New York houses initially resistant — until the possible payoff became obvious for books taking shots at liberals. (Bellow edited Jonah Goldberg’s “Liberal Fascism” for Doubleday.) Now, going forward, he notes there are challenges ahead for upstart imprints like Threshold.

“If you’re setting up an imprint, you’re taking on a real financial challenge,” Bellow said. “You have to have screaming commercial best-sellers. You have to keep delivering them year after year. The success at Threshold, which took a while to find its legs, has been largely to do with Glenn Beck and Mark Levin. And the success of those books is that these authors have enormous media platforms.”

Bellow, who’s editing Sarah Palin’s much-anticipated memoir, said he expects that at least through Obama’s presidency, publishing houses will stay committed to churning out conservative books for at least one reason sure to keep publishing executives — whether right, left or in between — pleased. “Feeding that market will continue, because it’s going to be profitable,” he said.
So what's to stop a big bookseller like BAM! from manipulating the market?  (They also own a book distribution company.) What's to stop Threshold?  What's to stop any of the Right Wing top guns--the Koch Brothers, say-- the people with all the money?  What's to stop them from buying up tens or even hundreds of thousands of these books and sitting on them?  (It's been done before on a smaller scale.  Remember the fuss about Newt Gingrich during the congressional hearings just before they gave him a big, fat noogie?  Seems he got some Big Guys to put up $150,000 to promote and/or buy up his book, Window of Opportunity to make it look like people were actually reading it.)  And what's to stop 800+ stooges from churning out magnificent reviews for a book that nobody in their right mind would actually read through to the end?

Does anybody really believe that the average reader is clamoring for more of the same from Mark R. Levin?  (That same Mark R. Levin who gushes his thanks to Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity in his Ameritopia acknowledgements?)  Unless you're hopelessly in love with the words "utopianism", "statism" and "tyranny", there's nothing juicy in there, no matter how hard you look.  It's one endless, dry paragraph after another.

Just as radio and TV stations can promote their own and manipulate their viewership into believing that their way is the way it is, the way it should be, and ever will be, so can book stores, simply by advertising and placement.  But this appears to be beyond simply leading a horse to water.  Somebody is buying up and pushing those books, and it ain't the general public. 

But to be fair, in that same BAM! store I managed to find a slim volume called "What it means to be a Democrat",  written by George McGovern and published this past November by Blue Rider Press, a new imprint from Penguin.

Sen. McGovern's book was one of first on Blue Rider's list to make it to the bookstores.  It's a tribute to publisher David Rosenthal (fired by Simon and Schuster after 13 years), who chose a book so important in its own way, but with virtually no chance at bestsellerdom.  That little book, so honest and true, so meaningful to those of us who work to make the Senator proud by living by his ideals, will never reach the top of the NYT best-seller list.  And what a crying shame that is.
Above all, being a Democrat means having compassion for others.  It means putting government to work to help the people who need it. 

It means using all available tools to provide good health care and education, job opportunities, safe neighborhoods, a healthy environment, a promising future.

It means standing up for people who have been kept down, whether they are native Americans or African Americans, women, immigrants, or the homeless.

It means taking care of the mentally ill, of seniors, of vulnerable children, of veterans--and making sure all people are treated with respect and dignity.

(Introduction to "What it Means to be a Democrat" by George McGovern.) 

Friday, January 27, 2012

FRIDAY FOLLIES: From Orly Taitz to Gabby Giffords: From the Ridiculous to the Sublime

When the whole SOPA/PIPA blackout was going on, most of us, like the sheeple we are, just grabbed something someone else did and closed up shop,  but The Oatmeal, like the creative peeple they are, got creative.  You can see it here.

Carlsberg Beer, like the creative peeple they are, (I didn't know that about Carlsberg, did you?) pulled a stunt involving tattooed bikers in a movie theater.  You can watch it here.

 I'm always looking for writing gigs (paid writing gigs--hint-hint) but this isn't exactly what I had in mind:
 Magazine Editor, Yorkshire - WEC International
Submitted: 10/01/12 ; Closing Date: Open
Editorial of WEC magazine (Worldwide) and other publications. Involves planning, commissioning and editing articles, within Media and Communications team.
A part-time role, perhaps from home, or at Leeds centre with other editorial/journalistic tasks (compare: Journalist/Press Officer vacancy).
Skills required: planning, organisation and gifted with words. An English qualification preferred.
This post is unsalaried as all WEC workers trust God to meet their personal needs. 
 There's a state senator in Oklahoma I think Newt Gingrich might like to meet.  Newt may think he's the king of zany ideas, but this guy Ralph Shortey could just give him a run for the money:

Oklahoma GOP State Senator Ralph Shortey is on a mission to finally put an end to his state’s allegedly rampant cannibalism problem. Alarmed after his own research, which consisted of reading a nameless report stating that companies have used stem cells in the production of food, Shortey introduced a bill that would prohibit the manufacturing and sale of food “which contains aborted human fetuses.”
Shortey explained his reasoning to local radio station News Talk Radio KRMG in Tulsa:
There is a potential that there are companies that are using aborted human babies in their research and development of basically enhancing flavor for artificial flavors.
Shortey was unable to provide any specific examples of the problem he’s trying to curb, and admits that it’s possible there aren’t any human fetuses in Oklahoma’s food.

I don't know what's in the water in Newt's Georgia, but a judge there ordered Barack Obama to court to defend himself against more birther allegations.  He didn't show and neither did his lawyers, but guess who did?  Right!  Orly Taitz!
On Thursday, lawyers raised two arguments for why Obama should not be on the ballot. One contended an 1875 Supreme Court opinion says only a “natural born citizen” -- someone born in the U.S. and whose parents were U.S. citizens -- can be president. (Obama’s father, who was from Kenya, was not a U.S. citizen.) The other alleged Obama’s birth, social security and passport records are forgeries.

California lawyer Orly Taitz, a leading proponent of challenges to Obama’s candidacy, made the latter argument. She turned and faced the gallery -- and the TV cameras -- during her opening statement, prompting Malihi to tell her: “Counsel, please address the court.”

During closing arguments, as Taitz began referring to documents that were not in evidence, Malihi pointedly asked, “Counsel, are you testifying?”

Taitz abruptly halted her arguments, took the witness stand and began testifying. Malihi soon cut her off.

Those Moments Sublime:
Free Press photo
Jim Fitzgerald, one of Detroit's best and favorite columnists ever,  died on January 11.  He was the writer I most emulated and tried so hard to imitate when I was writing columns in Detroit area papers in the 1980s. What a foolish nut I was! But I blame Jim for what I did.  He made it look so easy breezy.

Elmore Leonard wrote in an introduction to Jim's book, "If it Fitz":

"The thing that amazes me about Jim Fitzgerald's columns is they can veer off in unexpected directions, appear to be topic-hopping, observe llamas and Lee Iacocca in the same piece, but always manage to get back in time to arrive at a perfectly logical conclusion. Within this sometimes astonishing structure is an essay composed of clear, expository sentences."

Yes, all of that, but he could be screamingly funny, too.  He was quite a guy.  I hope he knew that.

I found an interview where Jim talked about his writing and how he does it.  The interview took place in 1987, when I was writing in Detroit, but I've never seen it before.  I don't know why it surprises me, considering how dutifully I studied his style, but my working methods are very similar to his.  Sort of here and there and everywhere until it all comes together.
Now if I only had his talent. . .

This was the week when Gabrielle Giffords stepped down from her place in the House.  This is what a politician who loves her country more than herself looks like:

And this is how the house expressed to her how we all feel about her:


Cartoon of the week:

Bruce Plante - Tulsa World

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Out with the Good and In with the Bad: It's Just So Yesterday.

Here it is nearing the end of January and at long last, after 17 Republican debates--count 'em, 17!--we're down to two actual contenders and a couple of valiant bench-warmers. While Ron Paul and Rick Santorum work hard to make some headway, it looks like it's Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, neck and neck, fighting it out for a chance to clobber the current White House occupant and show this country what a real president looks like.

Brian Blanco/European Press Photo Agency
 Mitt the Peacemaker, the soft-spoken everyotherman, knows going in he'll never be able to out-mean Newt.  Newt the Hysterian has perfected condescending bulldoggedness until it's a veritable political art form. Nobody does it better.  His opponents drool at the scope of his talents, awestruck by his ability to use those tools to sidestep any attempt at a messy question.  Bad Newt!  Bad Newt!  And (sigh. . .) the crowds love him.

Mitt Poor Mitt stammers, stutters, fast-talks until he's blue in the face, ripping into Newt with all he's got, and nobody cares.  So the decision has been made:  No more Mr. Nice Guy!  He goes for the jugular in the Tampa debate but barely strikes a nerve.  It's anybody's guess where he'll need to go from here.  It won't be pretty--a thought that goes against gentle Mitt's Bain--um, grain, but it's not as if he hasn't had to take people out before.

So there goes Good, off to fend for itself while the candidates get their Bad mojo going so they can become crowd-pleasers, too.  Rick Santorum tried it the other day when a woman in his audience went off on President Obama's legitimacy.  She wouldn't call him "President" because he shouldn't be there.  “He is an avowed Muslim," she said, "and my question is, why isn't something being done to get him out of our government?”

Santorum could have done what candidate John McCain rightly if reluctantly did in 2008 when a woman in his audience repeated that same "Obama is a muslim" mantra.  To McCain's everlasting credit, he stopped the woman dead, saying, "No ma'am, that's not true."  But Santorum side-stepped it, feeding the woman's fears with, “Believe me … I’m doing everything I can to get him out of the government.”

When the press called him on it later, he Gingriched it, huffing and bluffing, “It’s not my responsibility as a candidate to correct everybody who makes a statement that I disagree with. There are lots of people who get up and say stuff in a town hall meeting and say things that I don’t agree with, but I don’t think it’s my obligation, nor should it be your feeling that it’s my obligation to correct somebody who says something that I don’t agree with.”  (And he's appalled that they would even suggest such a thing.  Appalled!  Wait--frankly appalled!)

Ron Paul says the housing mess is "all government manufactured.  The best thing you can do is get out of the way."  This from a man who wants to be president. Of the United States.  Because the last thing we need is some huge honcho giving us advice. Or telling us what to do.  So if you elect him, rest assured that he will not do his job.

But then, not 24 hours after that last debate in Tampa, Barack Obama gives his State of the Union address.  It's an elegant, impassioned plea for fairness, a love song to the people, a nudge back to sanity.  It's more than a promise to get things done, it's an outline of how it will happen. The scorched earth is greening up.  Hope is on the horizon. And Gabby Gifford's smile lights up the universe.

AP photo/Saul Loeb
  Krauthammer concedes that "Obama has set the right tone."  Daniels rebuts with faint praise.  The Twitterverse goes wild!  Good is off the mat and on its feet, ready for another round.

And Four Horsemen can be seen riding off, their banshee howls echoing, then fading, then gone.

Friday, January 20, 2012

It's Our Anniversary, Barack's and Mine. I Hope it's not our Last

 January 20, 2012.  Today marks the beginning of Barack Obama's fourth year as president.  Three years ago today he stood out in the cold and said, "Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the work of remaking America."  He promised "an open government" and "a new beginning."   I've been around for many televised inaugurations, starting with JFK's when I was but a mere child/adult and, for me,  this one equaled or might have even surpassed that one for good, old-fashioned stirring moments.

In most circles this has probably gone unnoticed, but today is my anniversary, too.  Three years ago, on this exact day, because Barack Obama stirred my soul and gave me hope, I began writing this blog.  I didn't even think about actually doing it until around mid-morning, when it suddenly came to me that this was one of those portentous days that I shouldn't let go by unnoticed.

I was heady with joy but understandably reluctant to go whole hog predicting the end to all our troubles.  We were not anointing a savior, even though eight years of hell seemed finally to be at an end.  I was trying to remain calm; trying to keep in mind all of the promises made by politicians over the years that had never been kept, either because there had never been any intention or because they didn't know what the hell they were getting themselves into.

I started it this way:
Today is January 20, 2009. Inauguration day for Barack Obama, and it can't have come soon enough. It's true that he's been de facto president since November, 2008, when George W. Bush unofficially, without fanfare or hesitation, turned the job over to him, but today it became official. What a day it's been! They're estimating the crowds at 2 million strong, a sight unseen on any Presidential First Day in modern history.
And ended it like this:
I have no grand illusions about a rapid return to health for this country, just as I have no illusions about the impact my words will make in the overall scheme of things.  I'll admit that I'm  overwhelmed right now with the events of the day.  I'm feeling more than a little inarticulate and possibly even shy about expressing how it feels to have our country back.   It may not be the best day to start a blog after all.  But start it I have, and now I'll give this day over to the Inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama, America's new president.  The bands are playing, the sun is setting and all's right with the world.   For now.
On January 20, 2010, in the blog marking our mutual first anniversary, I wrote this about last year's blog:
Oh, the joy in my heart as I wrote those words.  Take THAT, you lousy, bloated, insufferable faux-Capitalists.  The Sheriff's saddling up and the posse's not far behind.  We're off to save the ranches!  Widows and orphans, help is on the way!

But lest you think I was totally naive, I also wrote:  'I have no grand illusions about a rapid return to health for this country.'   No, I had no grand illusions, but I did have dreams...[Ed: About the repetition of those words "grand illusions":  I didn't even notice until now that I had repeated them in two blogs a year apart. I must have seriously meant it.]   

...I keep reminding myself that the Good Man took on what amounted to a national nightmare.  There were no easy fixes, and nobody pretended there would be.  But I would have slept better this past year if only I had been able to see the president as a 'people person'.   Was he ever that?  I don't know.  We might have made him into our own images, taking much needed comfort in an illusion of our own making.  Maybe he is what he is.  But what is he?  After a full year of hosting him in The People's House we're no closer to knowing where he stands, or, more importantly, where he's going.
Last year, on January 20, 2011, I wrote this:
I knew this anniversary day was coming and that I would want to write about it, but what would I say as I stood beside Obama saying farewell to Year Two, heading into Year Three?  That all of my wishes came true?  That all of my fears were justified?  That nothing much has changed?  That I now know what kind of man my president is?

I can't say any of those things.   I am at times proud of my president, disappointed in him, enraged by his actions or inaction, fearful of the direction he is taking us.

I'm impatient and feeling increasingly impotent as I'm forced to watch more and more jobless citizens give up, more and more home-owners become homeless, more and more of the sick and dying having to give over their lives to insurance company paper-pushers.  I want the wars to end.  I want the corporate giants to finally understand the consequences and do something about their destructive practices.  I want the GOP and certain members of the Democratic Party to fulfill their obligations to the citizenry--the entire citizenry--in a time of unparalleled crisis, and act like a responsible governing body.  I want our president to be a leader of the people.
Are you sensing a trend here?  Are you thinking that my enthusiasm is taking a downhill slide and that this year should be the one where I finally admit I was wrong about the whole thing?  Well, think again.  After watching the clown shows passing for the GOP debates over the past few months, I'm more determined than ever to help make this current president the next president of the United States.

My God, did you see that mess last night?  Have you been watching the remaining Four Horsemen in action?  Is there a serious contender among them?  Would you really, sincerely want any one of them leading this country?  (If you can answer "yes" with a light heart and a straight face, I think you're in the wrong place.  I would point you to the right place, but I don't think there is one.)

I'm still disappointed.  I'm still impatient.  The slow pace of change is maddening.  But there is no denying there is change in the air, either because of President Obama, in spite of him, or because of forces having nothing to do with him--take your pick--and I'm hanging in there for the long haul.  Finally, the people are awakening.  Our people.  We're on the move and we're not turning back.

I'm with my party and my president and if I have to slap them upside the head once in a while to get their attention, there's a far better chance at success with them than with that other bunch.  (You know that bunch is trouble when the moderates in their party are ostracized and/or banished for thinking even slightly good thoughts; when the ones that remain feel the need to make it clear they're only going after the job as leader of this fair land to make it easier for the marauders to take over completely.)

So that's where I am on this, our third anniversary.  Sure, I was hoping the honeymoon would never end and the gifts would keep on coming, but there it is.  Reality strikes.  It hasn't been all roses, but it hasn't been all thorns, either.  Progress has been made.  I'm looking forward to the year ahead, and I'm going to work hard to get Barack Obama re-elected.

That's where I'm headed. Just so you know.

In other news:  FactCheck looks at the truthiness of the GOP debate last night.  It's here.

And I found this on their sidebar:
Q: Does Obama plan to deny emergency brain surgery for patients over 70?
A: No. A man claiming on a radio talk show to be a brain surgeon lied about that, and about a meeting of two associations of neurological surgeons, those associations say.
 See what we're up against? 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Boston-based Bain Capital LLC more than doubled its money on GS Industries Inc. – the former parent company of Georgetown Steel – under Mitt Romney’s leadership in the 1990s, even as the steel manufacturer went on to cut more than 1,750 jobs, shuttered a division that had been around for 100 years and eventually sank into bankruptcy.
Bain Capital spent $24.5 million to acquire GS Industries in 1993, according to an investment prospectus for the company that was obtained by the Los Angeles Times and reviewed by The Sun News. By the end of that decade, Bain Capital estimated its partners had made $58.4 million off its investment in GS Industries, according to the prospectus.
Bain Capital’s partners also earned multi-million dollar dividends from GS Industries and annual management fees of about $900,000. But by the time GS Industries filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001, it owed $553.9 million in debts against assets valued at $395.2 million. 
(David Wren, Myrtle Beach Sun News, 1/14/12)

Read more here: http://www.myrtlebeachonline.com/2012/01/13/2599863/romneys-bain-capital-made-millions.html#storylink=cpy

Georgetown, South Carolina is a mill town; one of the few left in the United States where goods are actually produced and not just assembled.  It is the home of International Paper and ArcelorMittal Steel, and the sounds and smells generating from the sites are an actual comfort, not just to the townspeople but to anyone who detests the thought of factory shutdowns and an idle workforce.

Harbor - Georgetown, SC
  At first glance, Georgetown looks like almost any other town across the country--a main drag dotted with fast foods and box stores and gas stations, neighborhoods rich and poor and somewhere in between (The happy surprise in Georgetown, if you venture off the highway, is its carefully preserved historic district  and beautiful harbor)--but since Mitt Romney's run for the presidency and the revelations of the destructive, worker-eating practices of Bain Capital, the company he once headed, you might see Georgetown in a different light.  You might see it as yet another poster child showing the effects of bullying outside influences with voracious appetites fed largely by avarice and greed.

ArcelorMittal Steel Mill, Georgetown, SC
 The Georgetown steel mill, it turns out, was one of Bain Capital's many victims.  Who knew?  Not middle managers. Not the union leaders. Not the laid-off workers.  Not even, apparently, anyone who reported the stories of bankruptcies and shutdowns throughout the years, essentially blaming the problems on the Chinese and the tumult of the times.

During the upheaval of American labor over the past few decades, Georgetown's mill took several direct hits.  China was, in fact, producing cheaper (albeit lower quality) steel.  Jobs were, in fact, being sent by ruthless Americans to cheaper markets overseas.  Domestic car sales had declined and so had the need for the particular steel products coming out of Georgetown. No one saw the need to dig further to find a deeper, underlying reason for the failures.  On the surface, there were plenty.

This isn't the first time the press has descended on Georgetown.  I went to the union headquarters yesterday and met with the Steelworkers local president, James Sanderson.
Sanderson said when the Democrats came to nearby Myrtle Beach for a debate in 2008, the candidates got wind of a shutdown at the mill. They all rushed to Georgetown so they could each stand in front of the forlorn, shuttered factory and make promises to the hundreds of unemployed potential voters there was never a chance in hell they would be able to keep.

Nobody knew then what role Bain Capital had played in the inevitable failure of Georgetown Steel.  They bought it and gutted it and profited from their own piracy and nobody knew it had even happened that way until Mitt Romney decided to run for president and the digging began.

As David Wren reports in the Sun-News article:

Less than a year after taking a controlling interest in the Georgetown plant, Bain Capital cut the employees’ profit-sharing plan twice – lowering the plan’s hourly rate from $5.60 an hour to $1.25 per hour. Most of the workers didn’t learn about the cuts until they received their paychecks. The profit-sharing checks eventually disappeared altogether.

Sanderson, in a September 2000 report in The Sun News, called Bain Capital anti-labor and said “they’ve forced a labor dispute at every location” during contract negotiations.  Sanderson agrees that China’s cheap steel imports on the American marketplace hurt the Georgetown mill’s production and profitability.

“But if they [Bain Capital] had only invested in the mill instead of taking everything from it, we would have been able to sustain that [dumping] like we had in the past,” he said.

John Ethridge, a retired Georgetown Steel worker, said Bain Capital “treated us like dirt.”

“They brought a bunch of people in here who thought they knew how to do our job, but they had no idea what they were doing,” Ethridge said, adding that needed equipment and plant upgrades were often delayed or ignored.

Ethridge, who worked at the Georgetown mill for 35 years, said Bain Capital was more interested in how much money it could take from the plant rather than investing anything into it.

By the time GS Industries filed for bankruptcy protection, the number of employees worldwide had been cut by more than half.

Read more here: http://www.myrtlebeachonline.com/2012/01/13/2599863/romneys-bain-capital-made-millions.html#storylink=cpy

After decades of  uncertainty, of lay-offs and down-sizing, of bankruptcies and shut-downs, of revolving-door ownerships, the American company formerly known as Georgetown Steel is now foreign owned and called ArcelorMittal.  It's up and running again, on a much smaller scale, but running nonetheless.

ArcelorMittal scrapyard - Georgetown
 The union is still in place and James Sanderson is still union president.  Their four-year contract, equitable by any labor standards, is up in September.  It's anybody's guess about where they'll be heading, in light of the stepped-up efforts by South Carolina's Governor Nikki Haley to make sure South Carolina remains a Right-to-Work state. (Precipitated by the actions of the National Labor Relations Board when it went after Washington state-based Boeing for moving one of their units to South Carolina, allegedly to get out from under unions. The action was dropped in December, but I'm guessing Gov. Haley isn't going to forget it.)

In South Carolina the sun shines bright on Romney and Bain Capital these days and I know at least a few people who are basking in it, trying to make the most of it (James Sanderson, for one; his boss Leo Gerard for another,  his activist son Jamie for another; and me).  But from afar comes Robert Reich, talking not about Georgetown but about the troubles at Steel Dynamics, an Indiana steel mill taken over and victimized by Bain Capital.

He explains in pure Reich-style what Bain Capitalism really is:

Bain Capitalism is not product capitalism, it's financial capitalism.  It's moving money.  It's getting as much money from the public sector as possible.

Financial capitalism is not real capitalism.  It doesn't create new jobs, it doesn't put people to work, it actually ends up reducing the number of jobs.  it displaces people, it puts risks on average working people, it lowers wages.  Financial capitalism is what we've had in this country for the last two or three decades and it's all centered on Wall Street.  It's not about making good jobs with good wages and making things.
Last night during the Republican debate in Myrtle Beach, Gov. Nikki Haley was seen smiling and nodding vigorously when Rick Perry jawed on about "South Carolina's war with the federal government", as if it was 1865 all over again.  How does Rick the Wretched think we got to this place?  Wasn't he the one who coined the term, "vulture capitalism"?  Can you run for president or governor without understanding the necessary symbiosis between the Fed and the states in order to combat and destroy the Bains of the world and save your cities, your states, your country?

Well, yes, you can run but should you win?  In a sane world, you shouldn't.  In a sane world you couldn't.  (Quick reminder: Mitt Romney, the founder of Bain Capital, is about to be anointed top nominee for president by the Republicans.)  That's our national nightmare these days, that total disregard by our leaders of a pervasive evil forced on us via the private sector despite absolute, indisputable proof that Bain Capital is just one among hundreds of companies whose only reason for existing is to destroy the fabric of America for profit .  That malignant neglect is the reason the fight goes on and the bad guys keep getting away.

In a free market economy as defined by this new bunch of "patriots", the only bad guys are the good guys.  Apparently that's us and we're toast.

Shack and water tower in the shadow of the mill - Georgetown, SC

Friday, January 13, 2012

FRIDAY FOLLIES: Books on the move, Fallon's Bowie moment, and the return of Aslan

Yes, it's FRIDAY FOLLIES!  I know, it's been a while, and I keep getting requests to bring it back so here it is.   (Two requests so far, one of them a relative, but still. . .)   I have no explanation for why I've neglected it for so long.  I could say I just wasn't feeling it but that's so unprofessional.   My only regret is that I let so many good FF candidates slip by over the weeks.  But remember, it doesn't have to be Friday for things to get really oddball.  Check out my blog on the lesser-known candidate's debate in New Hampshire last week.  It's Here. That one's good for at least three or four FFs.

But today is Friday the 13th and I just felt I had to participate.  From Wikipedia: "The fear of Friday the 13th is called friggatriskaidekaphobia (Frigga being the name of the Norse goddess for whom "Friday" is named and triskaidekaphobia meaning fear of the number thirteen)."  It's that kind of day but it's really not as bad as you think.  On MSNBC this morning someone from CNBC actually looked up how many times the stock market closed higher on all of the Friday the 13ths since the stock market opened its doors and it turns out that it closed higher 56.7% of the time! (What a relief, huh?)

Closer to home, it's just eerie that yesterday (the day before Friday the 13th) I discovered that the building I was in had no 13th floor.  It was unnerving, to say the least.  I don't enter tall buildings very often anymore so I was shocked that I was that surprised, if even for a moment.  Of course!  I should have remembered that every self-respecting building in the world pretends the floor above the 12th is the 14th floor, cunningly avoiding the prospect of zombies lurking in the hallway preparing to murder any person foolish enough to agree to take a room on that frigging floor.

On things politic, this little video from Our Peeps is pretty clever (The acting stinks, but I imagine they'll be working on that.):

Well, it's cute all right, but I'm not sure it's the best way to get the message out.  As hard as this is to hear, we might want to take lessons from the. . .the. . .the Chinese.  Yesterday, when an anxious Beijing crowd heard that their local Apple store wasn't going to be selling the new iPhone 4S as promised, they attacked the store with raw eggs, causing a riot and a dispatch from Reuters, and now you're reading it here.  That's how "viral" works.

Read the rest of the story here

Or you could dress up like David Bowie, I suppose, and do a pretty good imitation while skewering a certain football star who must really be feeling like a certain martyr by now:

(I had a video clip here but it has expired. Sorry. Click on link above.)

Those moments sublime:  There is a bookstore in Toronto called "Type".  It's one of those great independent bookstores that make you long for the old days when bookstores were cozy and the owners really liked having you there and if you didn't buy anything, that was okay, but if you did you had a good feeling knowing you were helping those lovely people keep the doors open.

 When I first saw the video gone viral called "The Joy of Books", a magical Fantasia-like happening in their store, I worried about the owners.  As great as that store looks, I wondered how it was that they had so much time on their hands they could do what they did here.  (Because time on your hands is what it would take to pull off this amazing video.)  But it turns out it was a project by local art director Sean Ohlenkamp, who had done this same thing on a much smaller scale with his own bookshelves at home.  Here's the backstory, if you want to know how it was done.  And here is Type's brilliant webpage, where you can watch it again in more comfortable surroundings.

(Confession:  I got a Kindle for Christmas and I love it for what it is.  What it isn't is a real live book.  I'm not at home so I can't tell my books how much I love them, but if they should happen to get wind of the new addition (not anything like an edition), I want to assure them they will always come first in my heart.)

Those moments sublime #2:

Watch the video as a little girl stares down a lion at New Zealand's Wellington Zoo.  In the comments there were those of course who were outraged that a parent would keep on filming when their child is obviously being threatened by a giant lion, but others saw it differently (I'm with BB):

Dee in New Zealand wrote:  "What an annoying life, kids knocking on your windows and people staring into your lounge."

But BB in Hampshire totally got it:  "Doesn't she know the story? its Aslan needing help in Narnia again."

Cartoon of the Week:

Rick McKee - The Augusta Chronicle

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Another First for the Great State of New Hampshire: The Great Debate of the Lesser-Knowns

Yesterday morning,  after watching "Up with Chris Hayes" (My never-miss-if-I-can-help-it, hands-down favorite political show on TV maybe ever -- except for "The West Wing" and Rachel Maddow), I was aimlessly flipping channels, looking for something equally smart and fun (as IF!) when I got to what I thought should be C-Span but realized it couldn't be because I thought I saw a wizard.

But I did!  I did see a wizard!  This particular wizard (on C-Span) looked like a bearded Harry Shearer and talked suspiciously like Harry Shearer would talk if he were playing a bearded wizard pretending he was running for president in the foremost state of New Hampshire.

This wizard was wearing a wide-shouldered mustard-colored, oddly flecked jacket and a very very very tall black wizard's hat with what looked like a boot sticking out of the top of it.  He was seated on a dais along with five other white guys who claimed to be Democrats and who all had managed to get their names on the primary ballot in that all-important-if-you-want-to-be-president state of New Hampshire.

(NOTE:  It doesn't take much to file for POTUS candidacy in the Granite state.  You have to be 35 years old and have lived in the U.S for 14 years.  You have to be able to put up a $1,000 fee, unless you're indigent and can prove it, in which case the fee is waived. And you have to be able to convince two other people to serve as your delegate and alternate at the convention.)

This wizard's name is Vermin Supreme and let me tell you, he's no Harry Potter.  Not unless you think Randall Terry is Voldemort and he deserved what he got at the end of this vital forum, so important for all those white guys, Republicans and Democrats alike, who can't get on the debate stage with the Big White Guys in order to tell the country why they should be president.  Of the United States.

But I'll get to that.

So. What I had caught on C-Span three days before Tuesday's first primary election in the entire country  was the last few minutes of a re-broadcast of a two-hour program called "Lesser-Known Candidates in New Hampshire Presidential Primaries".  There are 44 candidates for president on the 2012 ballot in the crucial state of New Hampshire and in order to be fair to all of them, 32 of the least known (those who were not a part of a national debate) were invited to hold forth in the auditorium of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College in Manchester on December 19, 2011.

 The Republicans held the first hour and the Democrats the second.  (A smart move on the part of the planners who no doubt remembered Vermin Supreme from when he ran before, in 2008, in the exquisitely positioned state of New Hampshire.   Who wouldn't want to make sure he was the last thing anyone would see before the cameras turned off, hoping against hope that everyone will have left by then, anyway?)

There were 10 Republican presidential candidates on the stage, pristine in their whitebreadness and raring to go.  The first, Bear Betzler, started things off by announcing that he's "not that into politics", but he did believe that the most important thing this country needs to do -- the very most important thing -- is balance the budget.

Timothy Brewer is running on the "Afterlife is possible, everyone lives forever, you can't be destroyed" platform.  Mr. Brewer announced that something big is going to happen on December 21, 2012 and if you elect him president he'll be in a position to fix it.

Dr. Hugh Cort is a famous counter-terrorism researcher and his message to the people is that Iran is planning a nuclear attack in the near future--16 months or less--and if you want to know more about it you can Google "Hugh Cort American Hiroshima".  The end.

Randy Crow posted over 600 articles on his website before he himself brought it down. . .
. . .planes were flown into the World Trade Center by remote-control bombs. . . something, something.

John Davis told the audience that a couple of years ago God spoke to his heart to run for president.  He (John) wanted to do something nobody had ever done before so he decided to visit every county in the United States.  So far he has visit 1712 of them and the message he's getting from the people he's been speaking to is that people aren't happy.  He's "pro-God, pro-family and country, pro-second amendment, pro-doing the right thing."  Oh, and "We can't have God's blessing when we kill a million babies and take prayer out of schools."

Christopher Hill was next and talk about a duck out of water!  He's working for "people in the middle class that are watching it disappear and homeless people that need our help."  In a broken voice he said, "We're called the lesser-known candidates.  Well, tonight we stand for the lesser-known Americans", and my heart went out to him.  Someone needs to tell this good man that if he wants to be president and a Republican both, he's going to have to stifle that kind of talk.

Jeff Lawman (aptly named, as he will tell you) says he follows the "traditional Republican platform" which, to him, means "the role of the capable is to assist the needy."  He's running a zero-dollar grass roots campaign.  (Oh, Jeff.  Jeff, Jeff, Jeff.  See last sentence in above paragraph.)

Benjamin Linn:  "The reason why I'm running is because America is in a big mess right now."  He's pro-life and pro-family and pro-marriage between a man and a woman because "marriage between a man and a man or a woman and a woman is not normal."

Michael Meehan: "I am not a politician, I'm a real estate broker and there's no work so, uh, let's go into politics, right?"  He's been traveling the country and what he's finding is that "yes, people are scared but I'll let you in on a little secret.  People are nervous."  He asks questions, and, "They don't answer me stupid.  They think about it before they say it."

And then there's Joe Story:  "The 10 Commandments served as the basis of our common law when America was born as a nation.  Christian principals defined our existence.  The supreme court affirmed that we're a Christian nation with liberty of conscience to all man, yet today America is in trouble.  We've failed to hold our elected officials accountable and we've become spoiled by the benefits that a government with unlimited funds have provided to us.  We have to take control and pray."

And that, wrong-headed as it may have been, was the closest anyone on the stage came to remembering why they were on the ballot in the Number One State of New Hampshire.

So then came the second hour and it was the Democrats' turn.

Ed Cowan (edcowan2012.com) is a writer-thinker who has been published on three continents.  Go to his website to see what he stands for.

Bob Greene:  "I have a Ph.D in Physics.  I have some very good news for you.  I'm here to tell you about thorium, an overlooked energy alternative.  A lifetime supply for a single person is about the size of a golf ball.  Go to greeneforoffice.org to learn all about it."

John Haywood, Durham, NC, is for replacing for-profit health care with a public plan modeled on the British health care system.  Their system is run on about 42% of our cost and what we would be looking at is a savings of over a trillion dollars a year.  John is totally sincere, and I'm with John, of course.  Really nice meeting you, John.  John??

Edward O'Donnell followed John and I was finally beginning to think there was something real going on here.  Ed said, "We need love, kindness, tolerance, friendliness, forgiveness, second chances, and old-fashioned kindness."  Ed is so passionate about this he says no guns, ever, anywhere.  Not even for hunting.  And while we're at it, how about a non-violent foreign policy?   That was sweet and so refreshing.  So long, Ed.

So now we come to Vermin Supreme, the bearded guy with that impossible wizard's hat. His opening statement started like this:  "Gingivitis has been eroding the gum line of this great nation long enough and must be stopped.  For too long this country has been suffering a moral and oral decay in spirit and incisors.  Our country's future depends on its ability to bite back.  We can no longer be a nation indentured.  Our very salivation is at stake.  Together we must brace ourselves as we cross over the bridgework to the 23rd century." (For full Vermin coverage, see video here.)

Vermin happened to be seated next to conservative Right Wing "Democrat", Randall Terry, who warmed up the audience even more by saying, "I just want to know what did I do wrong, God, that I have to be on after that!" and then went on to attempt to answer his own question:  "Barack Hussein Obama may well go down as the worst president we have ever had.  The worst.  He is at war with life, liberty and justice. . . (something here about an unelected oligarchy). . .We've come to the insane place as a nation where we have killed over 52 million of our own children by abortion and that blood, like the blood of the slave, is crying out to God for judgment.  We will nevverrr restore the greatness of this nation while we are killing our own offspring."

Poor John Wolfe (Chattanooga, TN) came next and I admit I was still dazzled by those other two and didn't pay much attention.  I did catch that he believes our policies "are favorable to Wall Street and not to Main Street", and "We need a progressive."  Well, yes we do, John, and more power to you for getting it.  Too bad about the wizard and the wacko and your placement on the stage.  It's the luck of the draw.  It's how it goes.

And so it went.  Until we came to the Grand Finale, where Vermin the Wizard glitter-bombed Randall Terry after singing a campaign song to the tune of The Chicken Dance, thereby proving once and for all (or until 2016, whichever comes first)  just how very important  these First-In-The-Nation New Hampshire primaries really are.

(Oh, by the way, I don't want to have to watch that two-hour debate again, so if you happen to watch it in its entirety could you count the times anybody mentioned the word "jobs"?  The closest I could come to a count was when the real estate guy said he was out of one.)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

It's 2012 and the nuts just keep on coming.

Good morning and Happy New Year!  (The exclamation point is always required after "Happy New Year", if I'm remembering my Strunk and White correctly.  Also, "Happy New Years" is incorrect.  So is "Happy New Year's.")

I'm writing this from North Carolina this morning, getting ready to be on the road in about an hour, heading for our Snow Bird digs in South Carolina.  So before I get into this, let me be clear -- there are a lot of very nice people in the Carolinas.  A lot of them -- smart ones, too.  But the ratio of normal to nuts seems to be narrower in these parts and after many years of making this journey I tend to prepare myself early for the looniness ahead.   (Remember the Jesus "There's Hell to Pay" billboard?  That was near Myrtle Beach.  There's a companion billboard somewhere in my picture files.  I'll dig it out one of these days.)

So I turned on my laptop this morning and it was as if some grand instructor in the art of insane hilarity (or hilarious insanity) was saying "Ha!  Top this if you can down there in the land of cotton!"   Right.  Even the Iowa caucuses will seem tame ever after.  Here's what stopped everything this morning and made me sit at my laptop for one quick post:

In the 1980s a young Barack Obama -- AKA Barry Soetoro -- was part of a group of students who had been teleported to Mars via something called a "jump room."   He was seen at least twice on Mars, and it's pretty certain that his DARPA appointee, Regina Dugan, was there, too.

So here's Joshua Holland's piece in Alternet, and here's the full story.  Enjoy.  And remember that it's the dawn of a new year and this is just the beginning.  (Maybe you saw this already.  I've been traveling and missed a lot, but don't you just love it?)

I really do love starting the new year off like this.  It'll go downhill from here, I just know it, but for now it's a hearty hoot and a cup of good cheer. 

See you soon.