Sunday, September 23, 2012

Those Who Simply Do Not Want To Know

One thing about the economic problems overtaking America, is the reality that most people out there are taking the news for granted, so instead of looking around them and seeing the abandoned store fronts, they believe Obama when he tells them the economy is improving. Endless pundits tell us the economy is improving over and over. What world do they live in? Then Romney does even the same, basically insulting half of America, blaming them for dependence on the government.

Romney Calls Half of Americans Hopeless Losers

What are we all supposed to do go in the street and starve? No one questions how much everything costs, but supposedly without jobs, we are all supposed to be "self reliant", how does that one manage that off the land without benefitting from the full fruits of one's labors when one can be laid off on a whim? In the old days, disabled people could be taken care of with one income coming into the household, the bills were paid, food and medical care was affordable, and so was life. One could start a small business and make it, and also more people had communities, close by families where there was mutual help and support. So what is Romney's solution? "Go die!, poor people!" And if you think Obama cares about the poor, he doesn't, he just keeps lying about the economy improving to make himself look better. They've been cooking the numbers for years.

So the condemnation comes full force, and perhaps Romney was seeking to win over all those "blame the poor" types who turn a blind eye to the endless trillions given to the banks and wars. Hey even Obama promised more cash for Indonesia. What was that 1 billion? 2 billion? Ah they will just print more money! While America goes broke, Obama has been passing our money out like he is on a Friday night bender.

See of them complaining about QE3 which is basically more bail-outs for bankers and more cash in their pockets? I sure don't. It's easier to blame the poor. Also all the nonsense about personal responsibility, sure there are poor people who have substance abuse problems  but they use this to paper over the failing economy, basically saying "Let them eat cake" and "It's your fault"  to every person who is poor.

Sometimes I wonder if Romney is throwing the election to Obama on purpose, you know another John McCain, or John Kerry, The Reckoner may not agree with me on this, but I believe they already got their man chosen before the two party dance show is put on stage.

One historical fact I would LOVE to find out, is when the first depression was going on, did people admit it? Could the poor speak openly of what was happening or where they silenced by those around them? Sometimes when frogs get cooked in pots on low, the process is so gradual, they can lead people to believe that things were always like this, but there seems to be a process going on way beyond that.

I was on a social website group, talking about an old town I lived in and one guy admitted that the abandoned and foreclosed house rate was astronomical. The rate was something like 30% county-wide! He got this rate off a mainstream government website. While living in that town 6 years ago, I once counted multiple empty houses in my own neck of the woods, and I did not live on the "bad side of town".  It was strange seeing those houses with shuttered windows and more falling into disrepair and depressing as well.  Many people got angry, that conversation was shut down. They were horrified that such thing would even be discussed. As the conversation went on, a very brainwashed woman came on and told us, that no president should be criticized, Obama or Romney should he win, and she included Bush. Those are the types that led us down this road to begin with. She also should be given an retroactive "F" in government class for failing the once cherished standards of American citizenship. She added "Nothing is wrong with the economy in ______, we are doing just fine ourselves!"

With those kind of attitudes, well truth and reality are being pushed aside quite easily by the powers that be. They have succeeded in getting Americans to embrace their own demise, so when Medicare, welfare and unions are no more, and we have people starving in the streets, or living on 2 dollars an hour, after all welfare amounts to modern soup lines, then things will get very interesting. It probably won't stop them from handing more billions of dollars overseas countries that hate us, or more wars--Obama has led most of the liberals of today to love war, see any war protesting lately? or stopping the cash flow to the bankers.

If I recall even in that old small town, there was even one editor who was fired for saying, "hey there are serious economic problems".Sure one doesn't want a place to get a bad reputation, it was a very nice small town but what happens to a place when the powers that be or those who still have money in their pockets are invested in the whole NOTHING TO SEE HERE mantra. It makes you wonder when that happens to an entire country.They do want to make you voiceless, inconsequential and they want to advance the plan to strip all the safety nets but for all the talk of personal responsibility they are coming up with, they desire to strip away as much freedom as possible as well. Sure maybe things were better before everyone became dependent, the IDEAL definitely would be otherwise, but something inside me almost tells me it's like they put the carrots on the stick, ripped down the system and are ripping it all away by plan, what else explains the lust for outsourcing?  If there are no jobs, no growing your own food, no jobs, no money, how do they expect people to survive? My conclusion they don't care. And in this whole picture, they don't want you to care either, and the ones who are awake will be silenced with cries of "You are wrong!", "How dare you!", "How dare you criticize politician #1 and #2" or the simply the now dominant.... "It's not happening!" and the hatred of the poor which has served the elite so well, will be advanced, while they clean the till out.

Oh one thing, Romney is a liar, even the poorest person in the land, everytime they buy food, gas or anything else, pays SOME TAXES. --The Squawker

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Peter Tosh: A Lifetime Of Trick Language

Twenty-five years ago today, Peter Tosh (born Winston Hubert McIntosh, on October 19, 1944) died in mysterious circumstances, after enduring hours of brutal extortion and torture at the hands of three armed men. Depending on which account you read, Tosh's murder was either a robbery attempt that went horribly wrong, or a conspiracy orchestrated at higher levels (stemming from his intention to bid for control of Jamaica's national radio broadcasting network, an angle explored in the documentary Stepping Razor: Red X).

Frequently forgotten, amid all this morbid speculation, is Tosh's keen lyrical wit, and satirical inversions of the English tongue, which he often called “trick language.” I first came across his sensibility in the summer of '81, at a used record store, on the Ball State University campus (Muncie, IN). I was in town for three weeks of journalism and forensic speaking camps, and had a fair bitt of free time on my hands – which meant seeking out the fellow record collectors that I met in my workshops, and making the pilgrimage with them, in quest of those obscure, untamed sounds.

And there, in this hole-in-the-wall shop, is where I picked up Equal Rights (1977), which most commentators have saluted for its re-working of the Wailers' standard, “Get Up, Stand Up” – the only one  to be recorded separately by the group's featured vocalists, Tosh, Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer – and “Stepping Razor.”

However, being an aspiring lyricist myself, I picked up on “Downpressor Man” – versus what you'd normally expect, “Oppressor Man” (“DOWN-pressor” versus “UP”-pressor, right?), and the title track, which is one of Tosh's most enduring anthems (“I don't want no peace/I want equal rights, and justice”). That's an important distinction: what's the point of pacifism, I hear him saying, if you can't speak freely, and get the same treatment as everybody else?

Having discovered reggae that summer – and, honestly, driving my parents, classmates and anybody else in shouting distance crazy, by playing LPs like Babylon By Bus for countless hours – Equal Rights spent a lot of serious needle time on my turntable, as I tried to decode those squiggly rhythms on this horrible cheap bass guitar and amp that I'd only just bought, inspired by the likes of Paul Simonon, Jah Wobble, and the Wailers' Aston made for a lot of frustrating afternoons and evenings, as I asked myself, just how DO they make those sounds, anyhow? Having a soundtrack like Equal Rights didn't seem like a bad start, in my eyes.

Snce Tosh's death, writers have tended to focus on the bad boy image – an easy option, given the photos of this towering dreadlocked rebel, who often played a guitar shaped like an M-16 rifle. It's not hard to easy why any discussion of Tosh's music often seems to begin – and end – with “Legalize It,” his pro-marijuana anthem, or the urban bad boy declarations of “Steppin' Razor” (“If you wanna live, you better treat me good”).

However, there's a wealth of material to be uncovered, for those who want to dig a little deeper – such as on “The Day The Dollar Die,” which finds Tosh at his most impassioned, and eloquent: “I see Johnny with his head hanging down/Wondering how many shillings left in that pound/Cost of living is rising so high/Dollar see that, had a heart attack and die/Bills and budgets awaiting/Finance Minister is anticipating/Unemployment is rising/And I hear my people, they're crying”). Another of my personal favorites -- and one that hardly anybody mentions these days -- is "Fools Die," which is making the Youtube rounds as we speak:

That's only one example, and that's before we get to Tosh's interviews, which were always a feast for Trick Language Aficionados everywhere – whether in referring to “Boo York Shitty” (New York City), “Chris Whitteworse” (Island Records supremo Chris Blackwell, whom Tosh saw as too eager to promoting Bob Marley as Wailer-in-charge), “Christopher Come-Rob-Us” (Christopher Columbus), “Crime Ministers” (prime ministers), “Damagers” (managers), “Lucifer Son Of Devil” (LSD, not a favored drug in Rasta circles, then or now) “Reducers” (producers), “Shitstem” (system), and many, many more – all evidence of a vivid creative imagination, one that reviewers often (wrongly) dismissed as strident, or overwrought.

Then again, if people didn't get the message, that's understandable. Unlike many of his cohorts, Tosh was unwilling to back off – a posture that nearly cost him his life in 1978, at the hands of a beating from Jamaican police. Compromise adds zeroes to paychecks, especially in the music business, though Tosh's signing to Rolling Stones Records apparently did little to help him reach quite the same superstar heights as Bob Marley.

That being said, Tosh's strange death coincided with one of those mysterious comeback cycles that the Music Biz Gods love to serve up – his final effort, No Nuclear War, would win a Grammy for Best Reggae Album of 1987. If he was watching from a cloudbank somewhere, Tosh would surely have enjoyed the irony – especially after reworking the Chuck Berry standard, “Johnny B. Goode,” to gain airplay for Mama Africa (1983), the last album to appear during his lifetime.

And what would he make of the same Jamaican government that he often roundly condemned as deaf to poor peoples' concerns making plans to award him its Order of Merit?  Time has also apparently caught up with the critics, as well, following the re-issue of Equal Rights and his first solo album, Legalize It (1975), in special deluxe Columbia Records editions. Also in the pipeline is a Tosh bio-pic, directed by his friend, Lee Jaffe, and Oscar-winning director Kevin MacDaniel.

All these developments appear to confirm the wisdom of Tosh's most oft-quoted remarks about songwriting: “Words are not things that should be taken the way they are pronounced, so be careful of the words that you use. Try to define them spiritually within yourself before you use them.” In a time when pop musicians seem to have less and less to say, does this mean that we'll see a new generation of “Intelligent Diplomats,” brandishing an equally militant sensibility? Time will tell. – The Reckoner

Jamaica Observer: Young Tosh Reflects On Father's Work

Jamaica Observer: Finding Tosh's M-16

Peter Tosh Dictionary

This Piece of History (M16 Guitar) Should Be In A Museum - Copeland Forbes

Sunday, September 9, 2012

CTA Kicks Workers To The Curb With Rules Crackdown

Remember high school, when just being five minutes late for class earned a black mark from the teacher?  Evidently, there must be a lot of angry former teachers running the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), which is cracking down on absenteeism and lateness...even if it's only five minutes past the appointed hour, as the Chicago Tribune reports.

According to the Tribune's September 3 report, CTA President Forrest Claypool has begun a "zero-tolerance" policy on rules violations, such as those for absenteeism and tardiness. The flipside is that managers no longer have discretion in how to discipline workers.

Sixty-three bus and rail workers have been fired for repeated lateness, as of August 20, versus nine for all of 2011. Twenty-two bus and rail workers have also been let go for excessive absences during the same period. According to the newspaper, the latter figure amounted to about three discharges per month, versus one per month during 2011.

Naturally, Mr. Claypool claims only the most benevolent motives. In the Tribune article, he throws around buzzwords like "consistency" and "fairness," saying that the agency lost too many grievances from rules that weren't applied across the board:

"The consequences of employees not showing up for work or reporting late has a cascading effect on the quality of our service in terms of buses bunching up, schedules being out of whack and millions of dollars wasted on inefficiencies."

So far, however, this newfound consistency seems to be yielding a lot of skewed results, as part-time driver Paris Cooper told the Tribune: "I had no accidents on my record, I was a good employee, but I was like five minutes late for work." 

Cooper -- who plans to challenge his dismissal -- was fired on June 30, after showing up late a fourth time.  He stated that his tardiness related to being diagnosed with diabetes, and suffering from low blood sugar attacks in the morning. 

Other drivers voice fears about being disciplined for things that aren't their fault, such as bumping against a cab driver who happens to open his door while the bus rolls up to its stop: "In the past, you weren't charged for that, because how could you have avoided it?"

In classic "oh, by the way" style, the Tribune notes these acceelerated firings coincide with a drive to get by with part-timers and temps!  As of Auust 13, the CTA hired 147 part-time temporary bus employees, versus none in the past two years, the Tribune stated.

On the rail side, the CTA has hired 138 full-time temporary workers, about the same number as in 2011 (146) and 2010 (136). The agency has also hosted job fairs to add about 400 part-time bus operators. This link from Alderman Jason C. Ervin's Facebook page should give a fair idea of that particular drift:

So how do these elements add up in the big picture?  On one hand, it sounds like a case of union-busting: the old contract expired in December, and negotations toward a new one are apparently going slow. When you face an estimated $277 million shortfall, using part-timers and temps sounds pretty appealing. Why else would you change -- virtually overnight, with little or no warning -- the ground rules for how everybody's expected to operate? 

Even if the clampdown isn't a union-busting maneuver, its long-term effect remains to be seen. On the surface, it's hard to see anything positive coming out of the deal. Where you had some measure of discretion, you'll now have a Third World-style management culture, based on control, fear and paranoia -- and one that will hardly make the case for recruiters, if (and when) the economy ever turns around.

For a better snapshot of how the troops on the ground feel, I'll turn it over to this (excerpted) posting from a gentleman on WTTW's message board:

"How come he [Claypool] never states how much money is being saved on part time bus operators? No paid holidays, no paid vacation, no dental insurance, no time off with pay ever!!! A lot of us have been part time for five or more years! That should have put a dent in The budget deficit by now!!

Suffice to say, Mr. Claypool will probably be a no-show for the CTA union's Christmas party this year...and it's doubtful that either side will be swapping cards, even if they finally strike that elusive new contract. --The Reckoner

UPDATE (10/14/14): Evidently, things havn't gotten much better at the Claypool Corral, judging by this article from the Chicago Tribune ("CTA Employee Dismissals Soar Under Claypool's Watch," 10/13/14) seems to suggest:

In true punk rock Socratic tradition, we won't regurgitate the entire contents for you. From your humble narrator's standpoint, however, the most interesting portion concern the fate of the CTA's Customer Service Assistants, who are supposed to answer questions, help riders with disabilities, and report equipment breakdowns and failures. 

Apparently, the body count under the Claypool regime is notably higher (percentage-wise) than the so-called regular employees: 

"The CTA hired 700 of these CSAs last year, but fired 90 from January 2013 through June 2014.
"'It's a low-paying job. You get all sorts of candidates,' said one CTA official.
"The highest rate of firings was in entry-level rail car servicer apprentice positions, which are designed to offer a second chance to felons. The work entails picking up trash and debris in rail cars, mopping floors and scrubbing seats, and it pays $9.50 an hour. It does not come with benefits." 
In other words...depending where you're perched on the CTA totem pole, your ride could place you on the fast track to the No-Wage, No-Benefits Ghetto...and leave you there stuck forever.  Is it any wonder that the underground economy continues to grow leap and bounds? --The Reckoner

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Ramen Noodle Nation Presents: The Cognitive Dissonance Hall Of Fame

Greetings, one and all, this is The Reckoner speaking.  Today's subject is one that my friend, The Squawker, has periodically addressed: cognitive dissonance, a term that psychologists coined during the 1950s to describe people who hold conflicting opinions that make them uncomfortable. This is the opposite of doublethink, George Orwell's famous term for the ability to accept contradictory opinions as mutually correct.

Psychologists suggest that people try to reduce their own levels of dissonance by changing existing beliefs, ideas, or values; adding new thoughts to create a consistent belief sysstem; or reducing one of the dissonant items, in importance. As an example, Wikipedia's entry cites the smoker who feels torn between enjoying their habit, and awareness of its health consequences.

To compensate, smokers may "change their feelings about the odds that they will actually suffer the consequences," or decide that the short-term enjoyment outweighs the long-term harm. (Now you see why the psychedelic era's promises didn't quite pan out: "I won't break your euphoria, maaan, if you won't break mine..."). 

Even then, the believer isn't home free, as Wikipedia's entry observes: "The need to avoid cognitive dissonance may bias one towards a certain decision even though other factors favour an alternative." With so many wonderful examples to choose from, Ramen Noodle Nation presents its first nominees for the Cognitive Dissonance Hall Of Fame, in no particular order...brown paper bags are optional.

1. Paul Ryan
He comes straight out of Washington Central Casting: a young, telegenic Republican whose favorite bands are Nirvana, and Rage Against The Machine...even though he can't wait to turn Medicare into a glorified voucher program, and has no problem giving those bloody 1 percenters a $200,000-plus tax cut, versus a $1,700-plus increase for the bottom 80 percent of American wage least, if his proposd federal budget had seen the light of day.

Small wonder that Rage's guitarist, Tom Morello, doesn't feel like returning the love, as he made clear in a special Rolling Stone op-ed piece rcently: "Ryan claims that he likes Rage's sound, but not the lyrics. Well, I don't care for Paul Ryan's sound or his lyrics. He can like whatever bands he wants, but his guiding vision of shifting revenue more radically to the one percent is antithetical to the message of Rage."

It's easy to imagine a twentysomething Ryan cheerfully moshing away to Rage's churning rap-metal riddims, giddily oblivious to the lyrics of songs like "Take The Power Back" ("Bam! Here's the plan/Motherfuck Uncle Sam/Step back, I know who I am"), or "Bulls On Parade" ("Weapons, not food, not homes, not shoes, not need, just feed the war cannibal animal")...did he vow under his breath, "Just you wait, kids...I'm gonna be running the government some day"? 

Still, there's probably at least one perverse upside for Republicans: getting tagged as the Party Of Peter Buck beats the hell out of getting tagged as The Party Of Pat Boone...too bad that growing pains are such a bitch.

2. Julian Assange (WikiLeaks Supremo)
3. Rafael Correa (Ecuadoran President): TIE
Rod Serling couldn't have scripted this one better if he tried: the irony of a man who's hung his hat on leaking diplomatic cables seeking refuge in a country known for its bareknuckled repression of press freedom, and basic expression, needs no flogging here. We recognize that beggars can't be choosers in these situations, since Assange hasn't had much luck persauding the Swedish legal machine that he shouldn't get a one-way ticket back to Stockholm.

Still, if Julian Assange is serious about upping sticks to Quito, he'll have to overlook an awful lot.  Like many South American autocrats, President Rafael Correa takes exception to the Fourth Estate cramping his style. He may not constantly lecture the nation Jim Jones-style, as his Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chavez, loves to do on his "Alo Presidente" TV program...but he's no less shy about doing whatever it takes to silence his critics into submission.

Tactics like using defamation lawsuits to bankrupt newspapers are standard operating procedure for Correa, who won a $40 million US judgment against the El Universo newspaper. According to details posted by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the verdict followed a column that referrd to the president as a "dictator." You can read about the goings-on here:

Three executives and the op-ed piece's author, Emilio Palacio, also receivd three-year prison terms --only to be pardond by Correa, in typical expansive megalomaniacal style...presumably having made his point.  (Palacio eventually fled to the US; hopefully, he got the same asylum privilges that Ecuador extended to Assange.) 

Given his conspicuous silence about the subjct, we can only just imagine how Assange might conduct himself at a state press conference: "El Presidente, can you share one of your most closely guarded secrets with us?  Tell me, Your Excellency -- what is your favorite color?"

Cut to a shot of Correa at the podium, stroking his chin with great solemnity: "Why, it is blue, Mr. Assange -- blue as the sky that shins above all of us Ecuadorans. Thanks for the question!"

4. Todd Akin (Missouri Republican Senate Candidate)

Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin seemed to be having a field day against hapless Demcoratic incumbent Claire McCaskill, who planned on skipping her party's national convention -- just one of many ways that she's been straining to prove her conservative bona fides in the Show Me State. Akin was undoubtedly having fun contemplating the size and color of the drapes for his new office...

...until he sounded off to KTVI-TV about why rape victims needed no access to legal abortions, and all hell broke loose: "First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy after rape] is really rare," Akin said. "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."  And if a rape victim did get pregnant?  Akin offered this helpful nugget: "I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child."

Akin, of course, has rushed to backtrack after the resulting firestorm blew up in his face. Pehaps his campaign manager has suggsted that such sentiments are political box office poison, though Akin has contented himslf with claiming that he "misspoke," and leaving it there. But something darker and uglier is probably at work.

As critics have since pointed out, in January 2012, Akin and Paul Ryan -- the Republican in the mosh pit, remember? -- co-sponsored a bill stating that only "forcible rape" would allow a woman to get an abortion.

The language eventually got droppd, but Akin might do well to contemplate how "Saturday Night Live"'s first star, Chevy Chase, got called out by co-star Jane Curtin for not mentioning castmates' names during interviews. After claiming that he'd gotten "misquoted," Curtin yelled: "You don't get misquoted twice!"

5. The Texas Department Of Criminal Justice
America is a nation that feeds on paradoxes, and nowhere does this seem more obvious than in the Lone Star State: the place that gave us Joe Ely, Roky Erickson and Kinky Friedman remains notorious for its assembly line pace of executions -- which peaked at 40 in 2000, and has since zigzagged up and down the scale (with 24, 17 and 13 inmates being put to death, respectively, for 2009-11). This year's pace seems equally brisk, with seven offenders executed by lethal injection through August 7, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

However, a fast food pace also leads to fast food justice. The latest inmate to die, Marvin Lee Wilson, was the focus of a debate over his mental capacity (an IQ of 61), which seemed to fall well below the state's minimum threshold (70)...the same one that the U.S. Supreme Court carved out in 2002, in banning the execution of mentally retarded persons.  To read how the state got around that prohibition, visit this link from

Nine inmates have a date with the needle coming up between September 20 and December 12 of this year. Assuming that all these dates stick, the men with the gurney will stay reasonably busy...because  even during a terrible economy, the prison industrial complex never stops humming.  --The Reckoner