Article 43


Monday, December 27, 2010

RIP Limbo 12/28/10


LIMBO moved in with with me two years and four months ago.

She was the ultimate lap cat, and PERFECT COMPANION for this older, single person.  She always greeted me happily with her tail stuck up like a flagpole, snuggled on the couch and in bed with her purring head stuck right in my face, loved to rub noses, had the softest fur, mellowest demeanor, and never tried to bite me - even after stepping on her tail twice. Chasing a laser pen was her passion.

For the past year, I’ve been leaving her home alone five days a week because my duties at work have me TRAVELLING ALL THE TIME.

That’s where this sad story starts.

And ends.


Limbo’s fall from good health started unexpectedly about eight months ago - maybe from seperation anxiety.

I got home from another weeklong business trip to find some kind of growth on her right thigh, and vomit all over the house. 

Thank goodness the vet’s opened on Saturday.  Her doctor diagnosed it as an allergic reaction, gave her a shot of VETALOG, and explained that the medicine would slow down her immune system’s over-response to the (alleged) allergy.

For a while I thought the medicine was working.

During Limbo’s yearly exam a couple of months later, the vet found and removed a benign tumor, and assured me she’s in good health.

While home for a weekend, I noticed another uglier looking growth, or maybe the first one got worse.  Thank goodness the vet’s still opened on Saturday. Another shot of Vetalog, and another assurance from her doctor that she’s fine and her body is simply having an allergic reaction.

I asked “An allergic reaction to what?”

The doctor didn’t know, but wasn’t alarmed, and sent us home.

The second shot of Vetalog may have been a mistake.

In a couple of months the mass turned into a horrible blob that looked liked guts hanging outside her body.

“Allergy my ass,” I mumbled to myself.

Not open for a third shot of Vetalog or sent home with more empty assurances of good heath from her regular vet, I took a week vacation from work, then brought Limbo to my favorite holistic vet whose only open weekdays.  Limbo got a penicillin shot, 21 days worth of antibiotics, acupuncture, a new hypoallergenic diet, and instructions and solutions for me to bathe the spot twice a day.

After a few days vacation ended, and I went away on more business trips, leaving Limbo home alone sick, putting my job in front of her wellness.

The horrible looking spot got worse.

The next month I had more vacation time off from work, and able to be home for the holidays. I made a commitment to Limbo and myself to forget flying up north to see my elderly mom for Christmas, and do whatever I can to make up for skirting my responsibility as her caregiver.

We went back to the holistic vet who referred me to another doctor who ordered a bunch of tests that cost a small fortune, found a parasite called CAPILLARIA PLICA, gave Limbo a shot to kill it, more pills to take home, and two laser treatments.

Then the rest of the test results came in.

The news was shattering - melanoma cancer found on all three biopsy samples.

Further laser treatment was abandoned as something that can aggravate the cancer, and the doctor now referred me to an animal hospital for CHEMOTHERAPY. The success rate is small, and treatment expensive ($5k - $10K). Chemo poisons the whole body, killing off everything - including - hopefully - the cancer.

I decided against it.

I brought Limbo back to the holistic vet who read the reports, then referred me to another doctor with a slick hi-tech ANTI-CANCER MACHINE just made for us new agers.

Another small fortune worth of tests, and this latest doctor was anxious to get Limbo on a treatment plan right away.

So was I, before having to abandon her again to go on more business trips away from home.

The guy almost sold me a package of 12 cancer treatments for a couple of thousand dollars using his cancer-killing machine’s GLORIFIED HEATING PAD.  I love the idea of heat therapy and promoting self-healing much better than destructive chemotherapy.  At least until the next doctor comes along and convinces me his bottle of super duper SNAKE OIL will fix the cat right up.

Then I saw the chest x-rays, and shook my head in disbelief.

A fluid called CHYLE filled Limbo’s insides so bad that her whole chest cavity was almost whited out on the film.  How/why was she NOT SHOWING any pain, and not gasping for breath?

Now the vet explained she needs the fluid drained, cancer treatments, has lymph node trouble that may or may not be fixable, a foreign object in her abdomen that needs surgery to get out, and who knows what else.

And he seemed to light up with some other thoughts of things we can try with his anti-cancer machine eating away my wallet, if not the cat’s cancer.  The guy that sold me my last used car couldn’t have given a better sales pitch.

The salesman doctor did a procedure right away that drained the fluid (210ml worth), and sent me home with a bag of stuff to do at home, which necessitates me being around, not away on endless business trips.


Limbo went to her eternal rest about 4PM today.

She was young - about five.

It was MY CHOICE to END HER LIFE now - by lethal injection - and be with her AT THE END - not COME HOME from SOME BUSINESS TRIP to FIND HER DEAD, or spend every cent I got and RISK LOSING MY JOB taking more time off from work to nurse her, and run her to more doctors trying to prolong her life.

When Patches lived and died - things were much easier for both of us.  Besides living to a ripe old age, and having the MOST BEAUTIFUL DEATH one can hope for their pet, I didn’t have a bunch of doctors marketing their particular brand of allergy medicine, laser treatment, heat therapy, or whatever, and forced to discern between them. My boss let me sneak out from work whenever needed to bring her to doctors, and I found it in my heart to do whatever it took - like when she got cancer - to keep her alive and well. Now - like a cold-blooded, stone-hearted, selfish PSYCHOPATH - I’m concerned about how much treatment costs, and WHAT WOULD HAPPEN AT WORK if I asked the boss to cut down my business travel to attend to this personal matter.

For that, I hate myself.

How dare I compare the life of this precious creature with MONEY and a JOB.


“There is no refuge from memory and remorse in this world. The spirits of our foolish deeds haunt us, with or without repentance.”
- Gilbert Parker

“True compassion is not just an emotional response but a firm commitment founded on reason. Because of this firm foundation, a truly compassionate attitude toward others does not change even if they behave negatively. Genuine compassion is based not on our own projections and expectations, but rather on the needs of the other: irrespective of whether another person is a close friend or an enemy, as long as that person wishes for peace and happiness and wishes to overcome suffering, then on that basis we develop genuine concern for their problem. This is genuine compassion. For a Buddhist practitioner, the goal is to develop this genuine compassion, this genuine wish for the well-being of another, in fact for every living being throughout the universe.”
- Dalai Lama, The Compassionate Life

Posted by Elvis on 12/27/10 •
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Wednesday, December 22, 2010


WHY IS IT the banks that treat me the LOUSIEST are the one’s I’ve been a loyal customer of for over 20 years?

A few months ago the GTE FEDERAL CREDIT UNION decided to charge for monthly statements. 

When I complained, the customer service rep told me either like it lump it.

I started my first bank account forty years ago with $5 as a kid, and watched it earn interest.  There was no paying for the priveledge, and that cute little bank book helped encouraged saving.

Now I’m better off sticking the money under the bed, since it’s earning less interest than the price of the statement.

Good bye GTEFCU.

Hello mattress.

Posted by Elvis on 12/22/10 •
Section General Reading
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Class Warfare 2


Recession brings rise in number of low-income families

By Zachary Roth
December 21, 2010

During the economic downturn, the plight of the unemployed—including the long-term unemployed—has deservedly received attention. But what’s gotten LESS NOTICE is that even many Americans who do have JOBS are having a hard time making ends meet.

A new REPORT (pdf) from the Working Poor Families Project finds that “[n]early 1 in 3 working families in the United States, despite their hard work, are struggling to meet basic needs.” Between 2008 and 2009, the number of low-income working families went up by 1.7 million to 45 million.

The news jibes with other studies that show a growth in LOW-WAGE JOBS, and a DECLINE in MIDDLE_WAGE JOBS.

There’s also a racial component. Last year, 43 percent of working families with at least one MINORITY parent were low income. That’s nearly twice the proportion for white working families.

And things could get worse. With small-government Republicans set to take over the House next year, and a serious budget crunch, we’re likely to see cuts to programs that offer support to the working poor.



Class Warfare

By Susan Crawford
December 21, 2010

Another common rhetorical move these days from the same people who brought us the “government takeover of healthcare,” “government policy caused the financial meltdown,” and “government takeover of the Internet” slogans in 2010: “You’re just trying to foment class warfare.”

There are many EXAMPLES - here are just THREE.  This idea of “class warfare” pops up all over the place in BLOG COMMENTS and speeches.  Its a useful way to make people instinctively call to mind bloody rallies in the streets and unsettling violence.

More than a quarter of the tax savings in the recent tax cut extension effort go to THE RICHEST 1% OF AMERICANS.  The divide between that top 1% and everyone else is greater than it has been since the Roaring Twenties.  THE BOTTOM 50% HOLD ONLY 2.5% OF WEALTH.  America spreads its wealth far less than other developed nations.

Did you know that wealthy people can put money into perpetual trusts?  You may have thought that there were rules against perpetuities.  Particularly if you went to law school.  But now, if you set things up right, estate taxes will never come due.  Jane Bryant Quinn explained this in a recent column.  The states that offer these perpetual trusts are doing well in the competition for trust assets - they’ve attracted more than $100 billion.

According to a July 2010 article by Lawrence Waggoner, Potentially, the perpetual or near-perpetual trust movement could, over time, lead to large concentrations of wealth within a relatively small number of family dynasties and financial institutions, contrary to longstanding federal tax policy.  Waggoners plea to Congress to block this loophole is here.  They didn’t.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with earning money.  The problem is the vicious cycle we’re in:  over several decades, vast inequality has been encouraged by many mechanics of policy (perpetual trusts, declining taxes), which makes it easier for the very rich officers of the very richest corporations to now get even more of the kind of policy they want, from courts as well as regulators and Congress.

This means that basic democratic understandings about the role of government in ensuring that citizens have the tools they need for dignified lives - things like high-quality education, basic communications (eg, open high-speed Internet access at a reasonable price), and clean air and water - become, steadily, unthinkable.  Even though having these things would make our country, as a whole, more successful.

So the next time someone uses class warfare as a rhetorical move, look carefully at whats going on.  Somewhere behind that voice is a well-organized effort (remember Jane Mayer’s recent article in the New Yorker?) to ensure that this New Gilded Age were in continues.



The Gilded Age, past and present
The titans of Wall Street have failed us like never before. So why does no one care?

By Steve Fraser
April 28. 2008

Google “second Gilded Age” and you will get ferried to 7,000 possible sites where you can learn more about what you already instinctively know. That we are living through a gilded age has become a journalistic commonplace. The unmistakable drift of all the talk about it is a Yogi Berra-ism: Its a matter of deja vu all over again. But is it? Is turn-of-the-century America a replica of the world Mark Twain first christened “gilded” in his debut bestseller back in the 1870s?

Certainly, Twain would feel right at home today. Crony capitalism, the main object of his satirical wit in “The Gilded Age,” is thriving. Incestuous plots as outsize as the one in which the Union Pacific Railroads chief investors conspired with a wagon-load of government officials, including Ulysses S. Grant’s vice president, to loot the federal Treasury once again lubricate the machinery of public policymaking. A cronyism that would have been familiar to Twain has made the wheels go round in these terminal years of the Bush administration. Even the invasion and decimation of Iraq were conceived and carried out as an exercise in grand strategic cronyism; call it cronyism with a vengeance. All of this has been going on since Ronald Reagan brought back morning to America.

Reagan’s America was gilded by design. In 1981, when the new rich and the new right paraded in their sumptuous threads in Washington to celebrate at the new presidents’ inaugural ball, it was called a “bacchanalia” of the haves. Diana Vreeland, style guru (as well as Nancy Reagan confidante), was stylishly blunt: “Everything is power and money and how to use them both.  We mustn’t be afraid of snobbism and luxury.”

That’s when the division of wealth and income began polarizing so that, by every measure, the country has now exceeded the extremes of inequality achieved during the first Gilded Age; nor are our elites any more embarrassed by their mammon worship than were members of the “leisure class” excoriated a century ago by that take-no-prisoners social critic of American capitalism Thorstein Veblen.

Back then, it was about masquerading as European nobility at lavish balls in elegant hotels like New York’s Waldorf-Astoria, locked down to forestall any unpleasantness from the street (where ordinary folk were in a surly mood trying to survive the savage depression of the 1890s). Today’s “leisure class” is holed up in gated communities or houseoleums as gargantuan as the imported castles of their Gilded Age forerunners, ready to fly off - should the natives grow restless - to private islands aboard their private jets.

At the height of the first Gilded Age, William Graham Sumner, a Yale sociologist and the most famous exponent of Herbert Spencer’s theory of dog-eat-dog social Darwinism, asked a good question: What do the social classes owe each other? “Virtually nothing” was the professor’s answer.

As in those days, there is today no end to ideological justifications for an inequality so pervasive that no one can really ignore it entirely. In 1890, reformer Jacob Riis published his book “How the Other Half Lives.” Some were moved by his vivid descriptions of destitution. In the late 19th century, however, the preferred way of dismissing that discomfiting reality was to put the blame on a culture of dependency supposedly prevalent among the “lower orders,” particularly, of course, among those of certain complexions and ethnic origins; and the logical way to cure that dependency, so the claim went, was to eliminate publicly funded outdoor relief.

How reminiscent of the “welfare to work” policies cooked up by the Clinton administration, an exchange of one form of dependency - welfare - for another - low-wage labor. Poverty, once turned into the cultural and moral problem of the impoverished, exculpated Gilded Age economics in both the 19th and the 21st centuries (and proved profitable besides).

Even now, there remains a trace of the old social Darwinian rationale - that the ascendancy of the “fittest” benefits the whole species and the accompanying innuendo that those consigned to the bottom of the heap are fated by nature to end up there. To that must be added a reinvigorated belief in the free market as the fairest (not to mention the most efficient) way to allocate wealth. Then, season it all with a bravura elevation of risk taking to the status of spiritual, as well as economic, tonic. What you end up with is an intellectual elixir as self-congratulatory as the conscience-cleansing purgative that made professor Sumner so sure in his coldbloodedness.

Then, as now, hypocrisy and self-delusion were the final ingredients in this ideological brew. When it came to practical matters, neither the business elites of the first Gilded Age nor our own liquidators, terminators, and merger and acquisition Machiavellians ever really believed in the free market or the enterprising individual. Then, as now, when push came to shove (and often way earlier), they relied on the government: for political favors, for contracts, for tax advantages, for franchises, for tariffs and subsidies, for public grants of land and natural resources, for financial bailouts when times were tough (see Bear Stearns) and for muscular protection, including the use of armed force, against all those who might interfere with the rights of private property.

So, too, while industrial and financial tycoons liked to imagine themselves as stand-alone heroes, daring cowboys on the urban-industrial-financial frontier, as a matter of fact the first Gilded Age gave birth to the modern, bureaucratic corporation - and did so at the expense of the lone entrepreneur. To this day, that big-business behemoth remains the defining institution of commercial life. The reigning melodrama may still be about the free market and the audacious individual, but backstage, directing the players, stands the state and the corporation.

Crony capitalism, inequality, extravagance, social Darwinian self-justification, blame-the-victim callousness, free-market hypocrisy: Thus it was, thus it is again!

At the end of the Reagan years, public intellectuals Kevin Phillips and Gary Wills prophesied that this state of affairs was insupportable and would soon end. Phillips, in particular, anticipated a populist rising. It did not happen. Instead, nearly 20 years later, the second Gilded Age is alive, if not so well. Why such longevity? The answer tells us something about how these two epochs, for all their striking similarities, are also profoundly unalike.

As a title, “Apocalypse Now” could easily have been applied to a movie made about late 19th century America. Whichever side you happened to be on, there was an overwhelming dread that the nation was dividing in two and verging on a second civil war, that a final confrontation between the haves and have-nots was unavoidable.

Irate farmers mobilized in cooperative alliances and in the Populist Party. Farmer-labor parties in states and cities from coast to coast challenged the dominion of the two-party system. Rolling waves of strikes, captained by warriors from the Knights of Labor, enveloped whole communities as new allegiances extended across previously unbridgeable barriers of craft, ethnicity, even race and gender.

Legions of small-business men, trade unionists, urban consumers and local politicians raged against monopoly and the trusts. Armed workers militias paraded in the streets of many American cities. Business and political elites built massive urban fortresses, public armories equipped with Gatling guns (the machine guns of their day), preparing to crush the insurrections they saw headed their way.

Even today the names of Haymarket (the square in Chicago where, in 1886, a bombing at a rally of rebellious workers led to the legal lynching of anarchist leaders at the most infamous trial of the 19th century), Homestead (where, in 1892, the Monongahela River ran red with the blood of Pinkerton thugs sent by Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick to crush the strike of their steelmaking employees) and Pullman (the company town in Illinois where, in 1894, President Grover Cleveland ordered federal troops to put down the strike of the American Railway Union against the Pullman Palace Car Co.) evoke memories of a whole society living on the edge.

The first Gilded Age was a moment of great fears, but also of great expectations - a period infatuated with a literature of utopias as well as dystopias. The two most successful novels of the 19th century, after “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” were Edward Bellamy’s utopian “Looking Backwards” and the horrific dystopia “Caesar’s Column” by Populist tribune Ignatius Donnelly. The latter reached its denouement when Donnelly’s fictional proletarian underground movement, the “Brotherhood of Destruction,” marked its “triumph” with the erection of a giant pyramid composed of a quarter-million corpses of its enemy, the “Oligarchy” and its minions, cemented together and laced with explosives so that no one would dare risk removing them and destroying this permanent memorial to the barbarism of American industrial capitalism.

This end-of-days foreboding and the thirst for utopian release were not, moreover, confined to the ranks of agrarian or industrial troublemakers. Before “Pullman” became a word for industrial serfdom and the federal governments bloody-mindedness, it was built by its owner, George Pullman, as a model industrial city, a kind of capitalist utopia of paternal benevolence and confected social harmony.

Everyone was seeking a way out, something wholly new to replace the rancor and incipient violence of Gilded Age capitalism. The Knights of Labor, the Populist Party, the antitrust movement, the cooperative movements of town and country, the nationwide eight-hour day uprisings of 1886 that culminated in the infamy of the Haymarket hangings, all expressed a deep yearning to abolish the prevailing industrial order.

Such groups weren’t just angry; they weren’t merely resentful - although they were that, too. They were disturbed enough, naive enough, desperate enough, inventive enough, desiring enough, deluded enough - some still drawing cultural nourishment from the fading homesteads and workshops of preindustrial America - to believe that out of all this could come a new way of life, a cooperative commonwealth. No one really knew what exactly that might be. Still, the great expectation of a future no longer subservient to the calculus of the marketplace and the capitalist workshop lent the first Gilded Age its special fission, its high (tragic) drama.

Fast-forward to our second Gilded Age and the stage seems bare indeed. No great fears, no great expectations, no looming social apocalypses, no utopias or dystopias - just a kind of flat-line sense of the end of history. Where are all the roiling insurgencies, the breakaway political parties, the waves of strikes and boycotts, the infectious communal upheavals, the chronic sense of enough is enough? Where are the earnest efforts to invoke a new order that, no matter how sketchy and full of unanswered questions, now seem as minutely detailed as the blueprints for a Boeing 747 compared with “yes we can?”

What’s left of mainstream populism exists on life support in some attic of the Democratic Party. Even the language of our second Gilded Age is hollowed out. In a society saturated in Christian sanctimony, would anyone today describe mankind crucified on a “cross of gold” as William Jennings Bryan once did, or let loose against “mammon worship,” condemn aristocratic “parasites” or excommunicate vampire “speculators” and the “devilfish” of Wall Street? If 19th century evangelical preachers once pronounced anathema on capitalist greed, 21st century televangelists deify it. Tempers have cooled, leaving God, like many Americans, with only part-time employment.

I exaggerate, of course. Movements do exist today to confront the inequities and iniquities of our own Gilded Age. Wall Street bandits are, once in a while, arrested by a sheriff. Some ministers, even born-again ones, do still preach the social Gospel. But all this seems a pale shadow of what was. Something fundamental about the metabolism of capitalism has changed.

Perhaps the answer is simple and basic: The first Gilded Age rested on industrialization; the second, on deindustrialization. In our time, a new system of disaccumulation looted American industry, liquidating its assets to reward speculation in “fictitious capital.” After all, the rate of investment in new plants, technology, and research and development all declined during the 1980s. For a quarter-century, the fastest-growing part of the economy has been the finance, insurance and real estate (FIRE) sector.

Deindustrialization has set off an avalanche whose impact is still being felt in the economy, in the country’s political culture and in everyday life. It laid the industrial working class and the labor movement low, killing it twice over. This, more than anything else, may account for the great silence of the second Gilded Age when measured, at least, against the raucous noise of the first. Labor was mortally wounded by direct assault, beginning with President Reagan’s decision in 1981 to fire all the striking air traffic controllers. His draconian act licensed American business to launch its own all-out attack on the right to organize, which continues to this day.

In itself, however, resorting to coercion to deal with the opposition hardly distinguishes our own gilded elite from the first one. If anything, we live in less savage times, at least here at home. More fatal by far was the arrival of a new mode of capital accumulation, starkly different from the one that had prevailed a century ago. It eviscerated towns, cities, regions and whole ways of life. It demoralized people, hollowed out popular institutions that had once offered resistance, and stoked the fires of resentment, racism and national revanchism. Here was the raw material for mean-spirited division, not solidarity.

Disaccumulation transformed the working class into a disaggregated pool of contingent labor, contract labor, temporary labor and part-time labor, all in the interests of a new flexible capitalism. Ideologues gussied up this floating workforce by anointing it free agent labor, a euphemism designed to flatter the free-market homunculus in each of us and, for a time, it worked. But the resulting reality has proved a bitter pill to swallow. To be a “free agent” today is to be free of healthcare, pensions, secure jobs, security in every sense. In our gilded era, downward mobility, lasting a quarter-century and still counting, has marked the social trajectory of millions of people living in the American heartland.

Disaccumulating capitalism also undermined the political gravitas of poverty. In the first Gilded Age, poverty was a function of exploitation; in the second, of exclusion or marginalization. When we think about poverty, what come to mind are welfare and race. The first Gilded Age visualized instead coal miners, child labor, tenement workshops and the shantytowns that clustered around the steel mills of Aliquippa and Homestead.

Poverty arising out of exploitation ignited widespread moral revulsion and a robust political assault on the power of the exploiters. The perpetrators of the poverty of exclusion of our own time have been trickier to identify. In his 1962 book, “The Other America,” Michael Harrington noted the invisibility of poverty. That was half a century ago and misery still lives in the shadows. Helped along by an ingrained racism, poverty in the second Gilded Age was “politically neutered” - or worse.

Decline, dispossession and marginalization: a grim scenario. Yet the new political economy of finance-based disaccumulation also announced itself as the second coming of democratic capitalism. And in the realm of the collective imagination, if not in reality, it convinced millions.

Aristocrats don’t exist anymore, but it is remarkable how long they lasted as major actors in the country’s political dramaturgy. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was still denouncing economic “royalists” and “Tories of industry” at the height of the New Deal. The struggle against the counterrevolutionary aristocrat, seen to be subverting the institutions of democratic life, piling up unearned riches, supplied the energy powering American reform for generations. In real life, the robber baron industrialists and financiers of Wall Street were no more aristocrats than my grandma from the shtetl. They were parvenus.

For their own good reasons, however, they actively conspired in this popular misperception by playing the aristocratic role for all it was worth. In hindsight, what looks like one of the silliest utopias of the first Gilded Age was enacted by these nouveaux riches, performing in tableaux vivants at gala balls dressed in aristocratic drag, or cavorting in the castles and villas they had transported stone by stone from France and Italy, or showing off at the weddings of their daughters to the offspring of bankrupt European nobility, or parading to New York’s Metropolitan Opera in coaches driven by liveried servants and embossed with their family’s “coat of arms,” complete with hijacked insignia and faked genealogies that concealed their owners homelier origins.

We may laugh at all this now. Back then, for millions, these aristocratic pretensions confirmed an ancient Jeffersonian suspicion: Capitalists were nothing more or less than camouflaged aristocrats. And mobilizing to rescue the republic and democracy from such a danger was practically an indigenous instinct. However, pushing beyond this horizon of political democracy in the direction of social democracy is a different matter entirely, arousing anxiety about threatening the understructure of private property that is, after all, also part of the American dream. Having an aristocracy to kick around, even an ersatz one, can be politically empowering.

Minus the oddball exception or two, the new tycoonery of the second Gilded Age does not fancy itself an aristocracy. It does not dress up like one or marry off its daughters to fortune-hunting European dukes and earls. On the contrary, its major figures regularly dress down in bluejeans and cowboy hats, affecting a down-home populism or nerdy dishevelment. However addicted to the paraphernalia of flamboyant excess they may be, the new capitalist elite does not pretend these are the insignia of ruling-class entitlement.

Once upon a gilded time, the lower orders aped the fashions and manners of their putative betters; today it’s the other way around. Indeed, it is no longer even apt to talk of a “leisure class,” since our moguls of the moment are workaholics, Olympians of the merger-and-acquisition all-nighter.

Although the economic and political throw-weight of our gilded elite is at least as great as that of its predecessors in the days of J.P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller, an American fear of a moneyed aristocracy has subsided accordingly. Instead, from the Reagan era on, Americans have been captivated by businessmen who took on the rebel role against a sclerotic corporate order and an ossified government bureaucracy that, together, were said to be blocking access to a democracy of the bold.

Often men from the middling classes, lacking in social pedigree, the overnight elevation of people like Michael Milken, Carl Ichan or “greed is healthy” Ivan Boesky, flattered and confirmed a popular faith in the American dream. These irreverent new “revolutionaries,” intent on overthrowing capitalism in the interests of capitalism, made fun of the men in pinstriped suits.

When the captains of industry and finance lorded it over the country in the late 19th century, no one dreamed of calling them rebels against an overweening government bureaucracy or an entrenched set of interests. There was then no government bureaucracy, and tycoons like Russell Sage and Jay Gould were the interests. They worried about being overthrown, not overthrowing someone else.

Our corporate elite are much more adept than their Gilded Age predecessors were at playing the democracy game. The old “leisure class” was distinctly averse to politics. If they needed a tariff or tax break, they called up their kept senator. When mortally challenged by the Populists and William Jennings Bryan in 1896, they did get involved; but, by and large, they didn’t muck about in mass party politics, which they saw as too full of uncontrollable ethnic machines, angry farmers and the like. They relied instead on the federal judiciary, business-friendly presidents, constitutional lawyers and public and private militias to protect their interests.

Beginning in the 1970s, our age’s business elite became acutely politically minded and impressively well organized, penetrating deeply all the pores of party and electoral democracy. They’ve gone so far as to craft strategic alliances with elements of what their 19th century predecessors - who might have blanched at the prospect would have termed the hoi polloi. <b>Calls to dismantle the federal bureaucracy now carry a certain populist panache, while huffing and puffing about family values has - so far - proved a cheap date for a gilded elite that otherwise generally couldnגt care less.</b>

Moreover, the ascendancy of our faux revolutionaries has been accompanied by media hosannas to the stock market as an Everymans Oz. America’s long infatuation with its own democratic-egalitarian ethos lent traction to this illusion.

Horace Greeley’s inspirational admonition to “go West, young man” echoed through all the channels of popular culture in the 1990s - from cable TV shows and mass circulation magazines to baseball stadium scoreboards and Internet chat rooms. Only now Greeley’s frontier of limitless opportunity had migrated back East to the stock exchange and into the ether of virtual or dot-com reality. The culture of money released from all ancient inhibitions enveloped the commons.

“Shareholder democracy” and the “ownership society” are admittedly more public relations slogans than anything tangible. Nonetheless, you can’t ignore the fact that, during the second Gilded Age, half of all American families became investors in the stock market. Dentists and engineers, midlevel bureaucrats and college professors, storekeepers and medical technicians people, that is, from the broad spectrum of middle-class life who once would have viewed the New York Stock Exchange with a mixture of awe, trepidation and genuine distaste, and warily kept their distance - now jumped head first into the marketplace carrying with them all their febrile hopes for social elevation.

As Wall Street suddenly seemed more welcoming, fears about strangulating monopolies died. Dwindling middle-class resistance to big business accounts for the withering away of the old antitrust movement, a telling development in the evolution of our ages particular form of “big-box capitalism.” Once, that movement had expressed the frustrated ambitions not only of smaller businessmen but of all those who felt victimized by monopoly power. It embodied not just the idea of breaking up the trusts, but of competing with or replacing them with public enterprises.

Long before the Reagan counterrevolution defanged the whole regulatory apparatus, however, the “antitrust” movement was over and done with. Its absence from the political landscape during the second Gilded Age marks the demise of an older middle-class world of local producers, merchants and their customers who were once bound together by the ties of commerce and the folk truths of small-town Protestantism.

Big-box capitalism, the capitalism of Wal-Mart, still incites local uproars that carry a hint of that antitrust past, but oppositional forces are divided. The capitalism of which Wal-Mart is emblematic generates a dissonant universe of political and cultural desires. It appeals, first of all, to instincts of individual and family material well-being that may run up against calls for a wider social solidarity. Moreover, in its own everyday way consumer culture - more far-reaching than anything imaginable a century ago channels desire into forms of expressive self-liberation. Grand narratives that tell a story of collective destiny ח redemption, enlightenment and progress, the cooperative commonwealth, proletarian revolution don’t play well in this refashioned political theater.

However, the wheel turns. The capitalism of the second Gilded Age now faces a systemic crisis and, under the pressure of impending disaster, may be headed back to the future. Old-fashioned poverty is making a comeback. Arguably, the global economy, including its American branch, is increasingly a sweatshop economy. There is no denying that brute fact in Thailand, China, Vietnam, Central America, Bangladesh and dozens of other countries and regions that serve as platforms for primitive accumulation. Hundreds of millions of peasants have become proletarians virtually overnight.

Here at home, something analogous has been happening, but with an ironic difference and bearing within it a new historic opportunity. One might call it the unhorsing of the middle class.

During the first Gilded Age, the sweatshop seemed a noxious aberration. It lawlessly offered irregular employment at substandard wages for interminable hours. It was ordinarily housed helter-skelter in a makeshift workshop that would be here today, gone tomorrow. It was an underground enterprise that regularly absconded with its workers paychecks and made chiseling them out of their due into an art form.

Today, what once seemed abnormal no longer does. The planet’s peak corporations depend on this system. They have thrived on it. True enough, it has also encouraged the proliferation of petty enterprises subcontractors, consulting firms, domestic service companies - fertilizing the soil in which our age of democratic capitalism is rooted. But the ubiquity of the sweated economy promises to alter the nations political chemistry.

Many of the newly flexible proletarians working for Wal-Mart, for auto parts or construction company subcontractors, on the phones at direct-mail call centers, behind the counters at mass-market retailers, earn a dwindling percentage of what they used to. Even new hires AT THE BIG THREE automobile manufacturers will now make a smaller hourly wage than their grandfathers did in 1948. So, too, the relative job security such employees once enjoyed is gone, leaving them vulnerable to the ғlean and mean dictates of the new capitalism: double or triple workloads; or, even worse, part-time work, work always shadowed by indignity and fear; or, worse yet, no work at all.

Meanwhile, the white-collar Tomorrowland of “free agent” techies, software engineers and the like - not to mention a whole endangered species of middle management - lives a precarious existence, under intense stress, chronically anticipating the next round of layoffs. Yet many of them were once upon a time members in good standing of the “middle class.” Now, they find themselves on the down escalator, descending into a despised state no one could mistake for middle-class life.

“Flexible accumulation” joins this dispossession of the middle class to the super-exploitation of millions who never laid claim to that status. Many of these sweated workers are women, laboring away as home healthcare aides, in the food services industry, in meat-processing plants, at hotels and restaurants and hospitals, because the arithmetic of “flexible accumulation” demands two workers to add up to the livable family wage not so long ago brought home by a single wage earner.

Millions more are immigrants, legal as well as undocumented, from all over the world. They live, virtually defenseless, in a twilight underworld of illegality and prejudice. Thanks to all this, the category of the “working poor” has reentered our public vocabulary. Once again, as during the first Gilded Age, poverty seems a function of exploitation at work, not only the lot of those excluded from work.

Might these developments augur the end of our second Gilded Age or, rather, the end of the age of acquiescence? No one can know. Yet anger and resentment over insecurity, downward mobility, exploitation, second-class citizenship and the ill-gotten gains of our Gilded Age mercenaries and their political enablers already rippled the political waters during the midterm elections of 2006. This primary season has witnessed a discernible leftward shift of the center of gravity within even the cowed leadership ranks of the Democratic Party, a shift driven in large measure by the subprime mortgage collapse and the ominous rumblings of severe recession.

Anger and resentment, however, do not by themselves comprise a visionary alternative. Nor is the Democratic Party, however restive, a likely vehicle of social democratic aspirations. Much more will have to happen outside the precincts of electoral politics by way of mass movement building to translate these smoke signals of resistance into something more muscular and enduring. Moreover, nasty competition over diminishing economic opportunities can just as easily inflame simmering racial and ethnic antagonisms.

Nonetheless, the current breakdown of the financial system is portentous. It threatens a general economic implosion more serious than anyone has witnessed for many decades. Depression, if that is what it turns out to be, together with the agonies of a misbegotten and lost war no one believes in any longer, could undermine whatever is left of the threadbare credibility of our Gilded Age elite.

Legitimacy is a precious possession; once lost it’s not easily retrieved. Today, the myth of the “ownership society” confronts the reality of the “foreclosure society.” The great silence of the second Gilded Age may give way to the great noise of the first.


Posted by Elvis on 12/22/10 •
Section Dying America
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The Mother of All Privacy Battles Part 22 - Betrayed


I’ve been reading Matt Taibbi’s book, GRIFTOPIA, and having worked in finance for about 10 years, I’m coming to realize more and more that the powers that be—corporations, CEOs, and everybody that’s basically not *you* are the people who are going to run the US for the coming future. A leaked MEMO FROM CITIGROUP has already declared the US a Plutocracy (rule by the wealthy).

This is just another shot in the arm against a citizenry whose arms are already falling off from the shots before. The FCC coming up with a plan to (surprise surprise) support the PLUTOCRACY that we’ve already been labelled by Wall Street is not even a stretch any more. And while the Tea Party clamors about how government is trying to socialize everything, they miss that problem that the government has been co-opted in stealing America as a whole from the citizens themselves, and they are happy to have the folks in the Tea Party carry their banner without realizing what damage they are doing.

I AM A BIT DEMORALIZED nowadays about all this—and I’d love to take action but I don’t know how. So while we as nerds who normally argue, bitch, and complain can actually stand up and figure a way to do something about this (short of something 4chan would do), then I’d be all for it. Let’s strategize. Let’s plan. And let’s execute in the perfect ways I know that we can do thousands of lines of code, deploying hundreds of servers, or anything else “IT” that we do.

I’m here to start the call to arms, I just don’t know what to do after that.
HerculesMO - Slashdot, Decdember 21, 2010


Obama FCC Caves on Net Neutrality—Tuesday Betrayal Assured

By Tomothy Karr
Huffungton post
December 21, 2010

Late Monday, a majority of the FCC’s commissioners indicated that they’re going to vote with Chairman Julius Genachowski for a toothless Net Neutrality rule.

According to all reports, the rule, which will be voted on during tomorrow’s FCC meeting, falls drastically short of earlier pledges by President Obama and the FCC Chairman to protect the free and open Internet.

The rule is so riddled with loopholes that it’s become clear that this FCC chairman crafted it with the sole purpose of winning the endorsement of AT&T and cable lobbyists, and not defending the interests of the tens of millions of Internet users.

Welcome to AT&T’s Internet

For the first time in history of telecommunications law the FCC has given its stamp of approval to online discrimination.

Instead of a rule to protect Internet users’ freedom to choose, the Commission has opened the door for broadband payola - letting phone and cable companies charge steep tolls to favor the content and services of a select group of corporate partners, relegating everyone else to the cyber-equivalent of a winding dirt road.

Instead of protecting openness on wireless Internet devices like the iPhone and Droid, the Commission has exempted the mobile Internet from Net Neutrality protections. This move enshrines Verizon and AT&T as gatekeepers to the expanding world of mobile Internet access, allowing them to favor their own applications while blocking, degrading or de-prioritizing others.

Instead of re-establishing the FCC’s authority to act as a consumer watchdog over the Internet, it places the agency’s authority on a shaky and indefensible legal footing—giving ultimate control over the Internet to a small handful of carriers.

Obama’s “Mission Accomplished”

Internet users deserve far better, and we thought we were going to get it from a president who promised to “take a backseat to no one in my commitment to Net Neutrality.” Watch now as he and his FCC chairman try to spin tomorrow’s betrayal as another “mission accomplished.”

Don’t believe it. This bogus victory has become all too familiar to those watching the Obama administration and its appointees squander opportunities for real change. The reality is that reform is just a rhetorical front for industry compromises that reward the biggest players and K-Street lobbyists while giving the public nothing.

It’s not the FCC chairman’s job to seek consensus among the corporations that he was put into office to regulate. His duty is to protect Internet users.

More than two million people have taken action on behalf of Net Neutrality. Tomorrow, we’ll all get the carpet yanked from beneath our feet.

Net Neutrality is the freedom of speech, freedom of choice issue of the 21st century. It’s the guarantee of a more open and democratic media system that was baked into the Internet at its founding.


FCC Net Neutrality Vote Is Just The Beginning

By Alexia Tsotsis
December 22, 2010

In a 3-2 vote split down party lines the FCC approved the first enforceable net neutrality regulations this morning. These rules face opposition from all sides, with some holding that FCC has overstepped its boundaries and others saying that the still unpublished framework does not offer enough protection.

Given the importance of an open Internet to our economic futureӅit is essential that the FCC fulfill its historic role as a cop on the beat to ensure the vitality of our communications networks and to empower and protect consumers of those networks, FCC commissioner Julian Genachowski said at the meeting.

The idea of the FCC as an Internet traffic cop does not sit well with many. FCC commissioner Robert McDowell, who voted against the rules, emphasized the divisiveness of about Genachowski’s proposition,We agree that the Internet should remain open and freedom-enhancingBeyond that, we disagree. The contrast between our perspectives could not be sharper.

What was actually voted on today has still yet to be published, but according to reports it lays out two different frameworks for fixed broadband and mobile broadband traffic. In both cases carriers like Comcast or Verizon will need to provide transparency to customers and will be prohibited from blocking competing services such Google Voice or Skype.

The discrepancy between the way the two different services are handled and the precise meaning of reasonable network management practices is what has the opposition in a huff. Initial reports of the regulations describe them as explicitly forbidding providers to accept pay for unreasonable traffic prioritization in the case of broadband and offering no such protections in the case of mobile broadband.

If today’s vote has succeeded in anything it is in creating debate as to whether or not the FCC has ultimate authority to regulate Internet practices. Republicans have already started to make noise about blocking the regulations when a more Republican Congress takes over in January. McDowell has also hinted at potential blocks from courts the F.C.C. has provocatively chartered a collision course with the legislative branch.

This is not without precedent: A federal appeals court ruling against the FCC in April quashed the FCCs authority as it attempted to enforce net neutrality principles against Comcast for discriminating against file sharing.

Verizon’s official reaction to todays vote also underscored the fact that the FCC has an ongoing struggle on their hands, “This assertion of authority without solid statutory underpinnings will yield continued uncertainty for industry, innovators, and investors. In the long run, that is harmful to consumers and the nation.”


Posted by Elvis on 12/22/10 •
Section Privacy And Rights • Section Broadband Privacy
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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Mother of All Privacy Battles Part 21 - FCC Votes On Net Neutraility


The Most Important Free Speech Issue of Our Time

By Al Franken
Huffington Post
December 20, 2010

This Tuesday is an important day in the fight to save the Internet.

As a source of innovation, an engine of our economy, and a forum for our political discourse, the Internet can only work if it’s a truly level playing field. Small businesses should have the same ability to reach customers as powerful corporations. A blogger should have the same ability to find an audience as a media conglomerate.

This principle is called “net neutrality”—and it’s under attack. Internet service giants like Comcast and Verizon want to offer premium and privileged access to the Internet for corporations who can afford to pay for it.

The good news is that the Federal Communications Commission has the power to issue regulations that protect net neutrality. The bad news is that draft regulations written by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski don’t do that at all. They’re worse than nothing.

That’s why Tuesday is such an important day. The FCC will be meeting to discuss those regulations, and we must make sure that its members understand that allowing corporations to control the Internet is simply unacceptable.

Although Chairman Genachowski’s draft Order has not been made public, early reports make clear that it falls far short of protecting net neutrality.

For many Americans—particularly those who live in rural areas—the future of the Internet lies in mobile services. But the draft Order would effectively permit Internet providers to block lawful content, applications, and devices on mobile Internet connections.

Mobile networks like AT&T and Verizon Wireless would be able to shut off your access to content or applications for any reason. For instance, Verizon could prevent you from accessing Google Maps on your phone, forcing you to use their own mapping program, Verizon Navigator, even if it costs money to use and isn’t nearly as good. Or a mobile provider with a political agenda could prevent you from downloading an app that connects you with the Obama campaign (or, for that matter, a Tea Party group in your area).

It gets worse. The FCC has never before explicitly allowed discrimination on the Internet—but the draft Order takes a step backwards, merely stating that so-called “paid prioritization” (the creation of a “fast lane” for big corporations who can afford to pay for it) is cause for concern.

It sure is—but that’s exactly why the FCC should ban it. Instead, the draft Order would have the effect of actually relaxing restrictions on this kind of discrimination.

What’s more, even the protections that are established in the draft Order would be weak because it defines “broadband Internet access service” too narrowly, making it easy for powerful corporations to get around the rules.

Here’s what’s most troubling of all. Chairman Genachowski and President Obama—who nominated him—have argued convincingly that they support net neutrality.

But grassroots supporters of net neutrality are beginning to wonder if we’ve been had. Instead of proposing regulations that would truly protect net neutrality, reports indicate that Chairman Genachowski has been calling the CEOs of major Internet corporations seeking their public endorsement of this draft proposal, which would destroy it.

No chairman should be soliciting sign-off from the corporations that his agency is supposed to regulate—and no true advocate of a free and open Internet should be seeking the permission of large media conglomerates before issuing new rules.

After all, just look at Comcast—this Internet monolith has reportedly imposed a new, recurring fee on Level 3 Communications, the company slated to be the primary online delivery provider for Netflix. That’s the same Netflix that represents Comcast’s biggest competition in video services.

Imagine if Comcast customers couldn’t watch Netflix, but were limited only to Comcast’s Video On Demand service. Imagine if a cable news network could get its website to load faster on your computer than your favorite local political blog. Imagine if big corporations with their own agenda could decide who wins or loses online. The Internet as we know it would cease to exist.

That’s why net neutrality is the most important free speech issue of our time. And that’s why, this Tuesday, when the FCC meets to discuss this badly flawed proposal, I’ll be watching. If they approve it as is, I’ll be outraged. And you should be, too.



Tell FCC Commissioner Copps via our free fax service: Be a hero and save the Internet

December 20, 2010

Big telecom is about to win a huge battle in the fight to destroy our open Internet. FCC Commissioner Michael Copps can be a hero and stop this stealth attack on net neutrality.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, an Obama administration appointee, has announced plans to issue weak, industry-friendly regulations when the FCC meets on Dec. 21st. And in a cynical ploy Genachowski is calling the regulations “net neutrality,” when they’re nothing of the sort. It’s fake net neutrality, and what’s more his proposal has been praised by the telecom industry.

No one at the FCC has been a bigger champion for real net neutrality than Commissioner Michael Copps. When the time comes for a vote on Chairman Genachowski’s fake net neutrality, Copps’ vote will be the deciding one.

Tell FCC Commissioner Copps: Be a hero for the Internet. Vote no on Chairman Genachowski’s fake net neutrality plan.

No acceptable proposal can permit paid prioritization; can exempt wireless broadband from the protections offered for wireline; nor can it move forward without reclassifying broadband, providing the legal footing required by the courts for implementation. Just as importantly, the rule must have clear, inexpensive, and rapid procedures, and meaningful penalties, so that innovators and citizens can effectively seek redress and legal clarity.

However, in his relentless search for the path of least resistance, Chairman Genachowski has proposed a set of rules that, if adopted, would normalize ISPs’ ability to discriminate between sources and types of content. The Chairman’s proposal appears to be a collection of safe-harbors requested by the largest carriers, rather than rule to benefit average citizens. And by eschewing reclassification under Title II, the Chairman all but guarantees the courts will strike down the regulations.

There is a powerful public mandate from organizations and everyday people reflecting all of America’s diversity of race, class, and political opinion who want meaningful, enforceable net neutrality protections.

If Commissioner Copps refuses to support Genachowski’s cynical ploy to placate the telecoms, he can force the Chairman’s hand. Without Copps’ support, the Chairman will not have enough votes to pass his fake net neutrality plan which has been praised by the telecom companies.

There is only one Internet, and consumers should be allowed to access any legal website, service or application on any device of their choosing (whether they’re accessing the Internet wirelessly or not) without interference from big telecom.

Chairman Genachowski won’t stand up for a free and open Internet. But Commissioner Copps can be a hero. Urge him to do what’s right and vote no on December 21.


Posted by Elvis on 12/21/10 •
Section Privacy And Rights • Section Broadband Privacy
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