Monday, October 29, 2012

The Six (Yes, Six) Presidential Candidates

Re: "Off the Trail: 'None of the above' appeals to the genuinely undecided," Portland Press Herald, Oct. 29, 2012.

While there is no "None of the Above" box on the Maine ballot, Romney and Obama are not the only options in the presidential race.

There are actually six candidates for president this year. In addition to Obama and Romney, there is Gary Johnson (Libertarian), Virgil Goode (Constitution Party), Rocky Anderson (the newly-created Justice Party) and Green Jill Stein. Stein and Johnson are definitely on the ballot in Maine. (I am not as certain about Anderson and Goode. Either way, you are still dealing with four candidates rather than two.)

My point is, if all candidates from all parties were given equal time in the national and local media (there is, not surprisingly, no mention of any of these third-party candidates in this article), maybe there would not be so many "undecided" voters a week before the election.

I do have to take issue, however, with Mr. Peruffo's assertion that, "It is the duty of the American citizens to support the president." It is...? I'm sorry--kindly point out to me the exact section of the Constitution that contains this authoritarian mandate. This guy reminds me of Britney Spears in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11.

And Now, a Word From Our Sponsors...

I visited my alma mater, Colby-Sawyer College, the other day. I was invited to speak with a class of seniors about life after college in the “real world.” It is always fun to return to college and catch up with some of my undergraduate professors.

I have had a number of different jobs since graduating from college. I have written for some newspapers, I worked in a record store, I was a music critic—I even dabbled in marketing for a while, but I hated it.
Marketers are glorified car-salesmen. Those who work in advertising or public relations use their writing and videography talents to convince consumers to buy things they do not need—hardly a noble profession, if you ask me.
These advertisers play on consumers’ emotions to persuade them their lives will be meaningless unless they drive a Honda, own an iPhone or drink Coca-Cola. Noam Chomsky correctly stated in a 2008 speech shortly after Barack Obama’s election (“What Next? The Election, the Economy and the World,”) “The point of advertising is to delude people… To create uninformed consumers who will make irrational choices.”
Modern day advertising has become so sophisticated in its power of mass persuasion, marketers no longer emphasize the actual product being advertised, focusing instead on the company’s brand. They make us believe, for example, that Nike does not sell mere sneakers, but athleticism, sportsmanship, and the Olympian ideal of the human body.
This focus on brand identity over the product itself creates a stronger, more intimate relationship with the consumer—one that, advertisers ultimately hope, will instill within the buyer a sense of brand loyalty. “With this wave of brand mania has come a new breed of businessman,” journalist Naomi Klein writes in her seminal book, No Logo, “one who will proudly inform you that Brand X is not a product but a way of life, an attitude, a set of values, a look, an idea…”
Consider this current ad for the Honda Accord.
The clip features a montage of seemingly ordinary people engaged in their daily routines. One woman runs with her small dog to her Accord to escape a downpour; a middle-aged man struggles to retrieve his car keys from his young child. At one point, a driver brakes abruptly, narrowly avoiding a collision. He then turns to check on his two children in the backseat and smiles, knowing they are safe.
“We know you,” the announcer states paternally. “We know how hard you have to work….and that you don’t get enough sleep.” All the while, a sentimental piano underscores the intimacy of these images—and the Accord’s vital role in them.
What is curious—though certainly not uncommon--about the commercial is it offers absolutely zero information about the car. All we really need to know, the ad assures us, is that the car was specifically designed for you. It is your car for your life. “The best way to make a car is to know you—the people who use it,” the announcer says. The spot plays entirely on audiences’ emotions and feelings about the car, ignoring the vehicle’s practical uses. This is the essence of brand marketing.
Most graduates of my major (Communication Studies) go into marketing and public relations. That is where the money is. Journalism, filmmaking, media studies, and radio may be fun hobbies, but they will not make anyone rich, so most Communication majors dismiss careers in them. Their parents and business-oriented professors (of which there are more than I think people realize; the stereotype of the radical, anti-capitalist professor is just that) push them into the lucrative, “practical” career paths.
Young people who pursue jobs in marketing, business, public relations or Wall Street are not interested in critiquing or questioning society, let alone capitalism. Indeed, they like capitalism, so long as it can benefit them personally. The moral, legal or environmental ethics of their professions are not concerns for them. Their job is merely to service a tiny, narrow sector of industry. These individuals are what Chris Hedges calls “systems managers,” unable to see beyond the narrow confines of their day-to-day work life. They become, he writes in Empire of Illusion, “products of a moral void.”
As a result, the three Colby-Sawyer alumni that joined me on the panel all work in the corporate sector. They talked to the students about the importance of networking, and “creating personal bonds,” with their customers (see the aforementioned Honda ad above). And they spent the majority of their time before and after the talk on their cellphones, or responding to text-messages from clients.
They are the living embodiment of the modern advertising executive—always connected, constantly on the go, and perpetually engaged in the techno-trend fa├žade known as “multitasking.” This lifestyle of non-stop distraction prevents them from ever reflecting on the utter deceit and immorality of their profession. These advertisers effectively perpetuate the consumer society which, in addition to creating a culture of greed and hedonism, threatens to deplete the ecosystem that supports life on the planet. The self-serving business mindset and the seemingly insatiable thirst for ever greater profits exhibited by the corporations that employee PR agents see everything—including human lives and the environment—as a potential commodity.
“Human life is not commodity, figures, statistics, or make believe!” The Refused loudly proclaim on their masterpiece album, The Shape of Punk to Come.
When I started college, I made a conscious effort not to take any Business courses. I was afraid they would somehow poison and corrupt my young, artistic mind. The more business people I interact with, the more I am convinced I made the right choice. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Case in Point...

In my last article I wrote, "[L] not really care about issues. Their one and only prerogative is to prevent the Republican from winning..."

(For the record, I do not believe conservatives care about issues either, though both sides will tell you they do. Americans on both sides of the political spectrum vote for personalities and perennial "wedge" issues like abortion, gay rights, immigration, Supreme Court nominations, etc. Anyone who doubts this needs to read Joe McGinniss' 1968 book, The Selling of the President.)

For further evidence of this claim, I offer Esther B. Clenott's letter to the editor in today's Portland Press Herald ("Readers compare senate qualifications of Dill, King," 10/23/2012).

She writes, "...the overriding necessity in this election is that we Democrats re-elect President Obama and that we defeat Charlie Summers."

To be clear, I have no desire to see Summers become Maine's next senator. But I am not going to vote for Angus King simply because he is perceived as having the best chance of winning, or as Clenott puts it, because "we can trust him." (Yeah--trust him keep unjustified tax-cuts for the rich while refusing to raise the pathetic minimum wage for the rest of us.)

I vote for the candidate that best represents my positions on the issues. In this case, that happens to be the Democrat. If Summers ends up winning because I had the audacity to actually vote for the candidate I like best (heaven forbid!), then so be it. The same goes for the presidential election in which I will be supporting Jill Stein.

Incidentally, Dill is absolutely correct that there are too many old, rich, white men in both the Senate and the House. I always find it ironic when self-described "feminists" inform me that anyone who truly cares about women's issues needs to vote for Obama. As if Obama knows more about what it's like to be female than Stein--who is both a doctor and a woman.

For more about why I refuse to vote for Angus King, click here.

And for more about why I reject liberals' fear of voting for what they want, click here.

Finally, if you like what you read here on Guerrilla Press, become a "Follower." If there is an article you particularly liked, please share it with a friend. And comments or constructive criticism are always welcome.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

King ME: Spoiler be Damned--I'm Voting for Dill

Angus King: Ready to rumble.
Baring some massive effort by Maine Republicans at suppressing the vote on Nov. 6, Angus King is all but assured to become Maine’s next U.S. Senator.

Indeed, the only scenario in which I can envision a different outcome to this race is if King and Maine State Senator, Cynthia Dill split the progressive vote, and inadvertently end up boosting Secretary of State Charlie Summers to victory, a la LePage’s 2010 win. However, Maine liberals and the national Democratic Party are so scared of this outcome they collectively threw their support behind King months ago.
(Incidentally, this so-called “spoiler” effect would be easily avoided if we instituted instant run-off voting for all state races. Maine’s Democrats, however, refuse to touch the issue.)  

Case in point, the section on Maine at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s (DSCC) website does not mention Dill until the “Key Facts,” section at the very bottom. The main paragraph instead talks about “Obama supporter” Angus King. And while there are indeed many Maine voters who will be elated about the former governor replacing outgoing “moderate” Senator Olympia Snowe, I am not one of them.

I am voting for Cynthia Dill. She is not a Green, but she is the closest thing to one. Dill is an unapologetic progressive with strong views on labor and the environment. She is also antiwar, which is a major factor in my decision to support her. In fact, I suspect Dill’s progressive views are the real reason her own party has abandoned her. The Democratic Party has a long history of throwing its own members under the bus. Just look at what happened to Dennis Kucinich who was essentially re-districted out of his own House seat.

I have been quite vocal on this site about my dislike of Angus King. In casual conversation, however, people still seem perplexed about why I am not supporting him. So let me try to clear things up.

I think the biggest misperception about King is that he is a progressive. He is not. And contrary to the assertion of Portland Press Herald columnist Alan Caron, the issues on which King and Dill part ways are hardly, “minor policy differences” (“D.C. money crowd keeps spending on a lost cause,” 10/18/2012).

For instance, Dill supports creating a single-payer health care system. King stands by the Affordable Care Act, but does not support single-payer. (A call to King’s Portland campaign office confirms his preference for maintaining the pay-or-die, for-profit health care system.)

Likewise, Angus King, who casts himself as an environmentalist, supports the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline. While President Obama denied the Canadian oil company, TransCanada the permit for the proposed pipeline which would pump dirty, unrefined Canadian tar-sands oil into the U.S., the company has since reapplied for the permit. Leading climate-change scientist James Hansen warns the pipeline would be a “carbon bomb,” accelerating the effects of global-warming exponentially. The NASA scientist goes so far as to tell The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer (11/28/2011) the XL Pipeline, if built, would be “game over for the climate.”

Additionally, King supports “fracking” (or hydraulic fracturing, a controversial natural gas drilling procedure) and increased domestic oil-drilling. And while it is certainly encouraging that the former governor understands and acknowledges the science of global-warming (unlike Summers who believes it’s caused by volcanos), it makes his support for the aforementioned policies all the more baffling. The fact is King is a businessman first, environmentalist second.

On the economic front, King would maintain the Bush tax-cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Like Summers and austerity-pushing Republicans, King remains fixated on the federal deficit, rather than infusing the weak economy with additional stimulus spending in order to generate growth and get people back to work. (I’m with Keynes and Paul Krugman: The way out of a recession is more government spending—not less.)

As governor, King infamously vetoed increases to Maine’s minimum wage on multiple occasions. At the time he adopted GOP talking points, claiming such wage increases would “scare businesses away” from Maine. Get real. If businesses want to be successful they should be willing to pay their employees what they are worth. Minimum wage is currently $7.50 an hour. Nobody can make a living on that. But, once again, Angus King has shown where his true allegiance lies—and it’s not with Maine’s workers.

The one issue where I will cut King some slack is on foreign policy. He supports a (gradual) withdrawal from Afghanistan and notes, on his campaign website, “clearly, our policy is not working…” Well, that much we can both agree on. Unfortunately, he goes on to state, “One threat we currently face is the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, which is a threat to our ally Israel, the U.S. and the world.” Sigh…

Finally, beyond the man himself, I take issue with what Angus King claims to represents. King’s entire reason for running is because Congress is “broken” due to constant partisan bickering. According to this narrative—which has been repeated ad nauseam by the mainstream media—“both parties” have become too ideologically “extreme.” As a result, only politically “moderate” centrists (like King) can break the “gridlock” in Washington.

Except that there is nothing “moderate” about King. He is basically GOP-lite. He supports the vast majority of conservative, pro-corporate policies. Sure, he likes gays and supports abortion. But those are two positive positions among the preceding five paragraph’s worth of right-wing agenda items.

Furthermore, the accusation that “both parties” are to blame for the Washington gridlock is nonsense, more a product of misplaced, “blame-both-sides” journalism than objective reality. The truth is there is one party of far-right obstructionists calling most of the shots, and another of timid, spineless sell-outs too craven to stand up to the other. What is needed then, are not more “moderates,” but more progressives willing to stand up to the radical right. (And, of course, more Greens.)

Alas, I fear this last-minute argument will fall on deaf ears. As I stated at the beginning of this post, this race was essentially over before it ever started. Besides which, liberals who are all signing up for “Team Angus” do not really care about issues. Their one and only prerogative is to prevent the Republican from winning—even if they have to elect a center-right, pro-corporate, anti-taxes elite to do so.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Little Earthquakes

In honor of Tuesday night's 30-second earthquake felt throughout most of southern Maine.

(Little known fact: I'm actually a really big fan of Tori Amos, which I think people find strange for some reason... I think there is this idea that Amos' music only appeals to bitter single women and lesbians, which, even if true, is childish. She is an innovative musician and an impressive singer. As it is, her productivity seems to have really dropped in the last twenty years or so. Her early stuff is still best.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Stein and Honkala arrested for protesting their exclusion from tonight's presidential debate

This is, apparently, what U.S. democracy looks like. Not only are Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala not allowed to participate in the debate at Hofstra University, but they are also prohibited from exercising their First Amendment right to protest their exclusion. Ridiculous. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Why I Hate Liberals

He's a cute, but altogether lazy little fella.

OK, so maybe "hate" is too strong a word.

Let's just say the timidity and overall lack of conviction of modern day liberals annoys the hell out of me. (For the record, while I consider my own political ideology "progressive," I reject both that label and the word "liberal" when identifying my politics. I am a democratic-socialist.)

Last week I wrote about liberals' insistence on working within the "political reality." Here is a prime, real-life example of what I am referring to.

Yesterday, I was canvassing for my friend and Maine state senate candidate, Asher Platts. I handed his campaign card, which contains his platform, to a middle-aged man at his apartment. For those unfamiliar with Asher or have not yet received his campaign literature, the front side outlines his five main issues. They are:

- Money out of politics.
- Universal college education.
- Single-payer health care.
- Create a state bank.
- Tax the rich.

The man proceeded to read, out-loud, all five issues in the following manner: "Money out of politics? That will never happen! Universal college education? That will never happen! Single-payer health care? That will never happen..."

He then handed the palm-card back to me (which is typically an indication of the person's refusal to support the candidate; most people will keep campaign literature even if only to throw it out as soon as the canvasser has left) and said, "I agree with all of these. But they are impossible."

And before I could even attempt to counter his insistence of the impossibility of these political goals (all of which, mind you, have been successfully implemented in other states or countries), he shut the door and was gone.

This negative, deterministic attitude of "This is impossible, so it's not even worth trying," would not bother me so much if I did not hear it from middle-aged, Democratic-loyalist liberals all the time.

This self-defeating mentality essentially amounts to Homer Simpson's advice to Bart that, "If something is too hard, just don't do it!" It is the same attitude that leads liberals to refuse to vote for a third-party candidate because she will "never win." Yet, the people who routinely make such remarks seem oblivious to their own complicity in preventing such a third-party win through their refusal to go against the grain and vote their values. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Liberals have zero political convictions and that is why the Democratic Party is viewed as weak and "spineless." They will not fight for the society they want, hiding instead behind cop-out excuses that such a society is simply unachievable. Say what you want about the Republicans, but at least they have ideals they are willing to fight for.

I am not suggesting that obtaining single-payer health care, or other such progressive gains will be easy. Far from it. It will take considerable work, effort and possibly a great deal of sacrifice on the part of proponents. But nothing that is worth achieving is ever easy. Liberals want to just vote for Democrats and then sit back for the next four years and wait for them to deliver. Alas, democracy does not function that away. It requires work. Recall Frederick Douglass's famous words:

"If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters... Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."

Consider there was once a time in this country when equal rights for black Americans was considered "impossible," if not utterly absurd. Likewise, voting rights for women was deemed "impossible." In fact, every single progressive effort toward social advancement has originally run counter to the "political reality" of the time.

It's like Minor Threat's classic hardcore-punk anthem, "In My Eyes." "You tell me I'll make no difference," singer Ian MacKaye bellows. "At least I'm fucking trying!/What the fuck have you done?"

Perhaps more liberals should start listening to Minor Threat.


P.S. Vote for Asher Platts for State Senate, District #8 (Portland) on Nov. 6.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Century of the Self: Why Hollywood Just Doesn't Make 'em like They Used To

If you are like me and regularly make your movie selections based on film reviews, then you should believe the critical hype surrounding The Master. The newest offering from director Paul Thomas Anderson, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix is easily the best film I have seen all year. And, in a year filled with unoriginal superhero movies, dumb comedies and recycled ideas in the form of prequels, sequels and remakes, The Master stands out as an original, sophisticated piece of filmmaking.

The film centers on the strange, pseudo-sexual relationship between Phoenix’s Freddie Quell and Hoffman’s Lancaster Dodd during the early 1950s. Dodd is an enigmatic writer and philosopher who leads a new age, quasi-religious group called The Cause. After his first psycho-analytic session with Dodd, Freddie falls under The Cause’s hypnotic spell.

The film mines thorny, complex issues such as the allure of cults, the power of mass persuasion, and our almost primal need to place our faith in charismatic demigods.

Like Anderson’s previous films—There Will Be Blood, Punch-Drunk Love, Boogie NightsThe Master is deep, complex and downright stubborn in its refusal to spell everything out for audiences. It utilizes an eerie film score (courtesy of Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood), and uncomfortably prolonged close-up shots bound to frustrate viewers that are used to more conventional fare. Scott Tobias, writing for the A.V. Club, calls The Master, “a feisty, contentious, deliberately misshapen film, designed to challenge and frustrate audiences looking for a clean resolution” (09/13/2012).

Much as I love going to the movies, it has admittedly been a long time since a film has captivated and resonated with me as much as The Master. Most contemporary Hollywood films are mass-produced concoctions designed solely to please and pacify viewers. Rare is the movie that entertains and enlightens.
This is, of course, nothing new. Hollywood has long been first and foremost about profits, relegating innovative, intelligent films to independent studios and niche markets. Perhaps that is why this year’s Oscar-dominator, The Artist created such a critical stir. Its clever use of silent-film nostalgia and clear allusions to Charlie Chaplin reminded us of the cinematic joys of going to the movies in the first place.

I personally blame George Lucas—and, to a lesser extent, Steven Spielberg—for ruining the movies. Star Wars all but created the modern summer blockbuster, an effects-laden, sensational “event” film that is, in the words of New York critic David Edelstein, “infinitely merchandisable.”
Thanks to Star Wars, nearly every movie is now evaluated on how many millions of dollars it grosses in its opening weekend, rather than its cinematic qualities. Once the market became the ultimate barometer for cinematic success, all artistic considerations became after-thoughts. (I now brace myself for the flood of angry emails from Lucas worshipping nerds worldwide.)

All of popular-culture—the movies we see, the music we listen to, and the television shows we watch—is produced, distributed and marketed by corporations. These forms of entertainment exist entirely to make a profit or, in the case of TV, to expose us to commercial advertisements. Art in the form of theater, film, music and literature has become another commodity.
What many Americans do not realize, is that cultural critics, academics and those on the left did not always embrace what is now known as “pop-culture” as readily as they do today. In fact, during the post-WWII years, many on the left were highly disturbed by what they saw as the formation of a permanent consumer industry.
This fear is best captured in Frankfurt school scholars, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s 1944 essay, The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception. As part of a group of expatriate academics who had fled to America from Nazi Germany, the so-called “Frankfurt” professors were dismayed to find the very same forms of political and cultural repression they had just escaped already manifesting themselves in the U.S.  
The then-nascent elements of mass culture (radio, film, magazines and by 1950, television) according to Adorno and Horkheimer, serve to manipulate and distract citizens from pertinent social matters. Furthermore, the authors feared the standardized genres of movies, pop-music and the like dissuaded critical thinking, erased individuality, and ensured citizens were fully acculturated into capitalist ideology.

“Culture has always contributed to the subduing of revolutionary as well as of barbaric instincts,” the authors write.

Industrial culture does something more. It inculcates the conditions on which implacable life is allowed to be lived at all. Individuals must use their general satiety as a motive for abandoning themselves to the collective power of which they are sated.
They add, “Existence in late capitalism is a permanent rite of initiation. Everyone must show that they identify wholeheartedly with the power which beats them.”

Fast-forward to the twenty-first century, a time when Americans are more likely to know the names of the most recent American Idol contestants than their state’s congressional representatives. A recent survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania found that only about 57percent of Americans can name Paul Ryan as the Republican vice-presidential candidate.

Like Freddie Quell, we have become enraptured in the cult of the self. And all of our forms of entertainment further reinforce our solitary role as perpetual consumers. Like Quell, we want to believe there is more to life. We need something or someone to follow.

My advice is to see The Master and attempt to decode its mysteries yourself. And then lament that Hollywood so rarely makes more movies like it.

Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lancaster Dodd in The Master.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

A Conversation with a Hateful Idiot

On Saturday afternoon a man was standing in Congress Square with a sign that read, "No on 1," meaning "Question 1," on the election ballot which would legalize gay-marriage in the state of Maine.

I was feeling rather bold I guess, because I approached the man (who was standing where the Christian fundamentalist "Preacher"  and his clan usually chant every evening) and politely asked him if he was married. He told me he was. I then asked how same-sex couples getting married would personally affect his heterosexual marriage. He responded with a litany of falsehoods, inaccuracies and outright illogical arguments.

First, he told me that allowing same-sex marriage is a legal issue because such a law would be in direct defiance of the law prohibiting same-sex marriage. Except that the state of Maine currently has no such law.

While same-sex marriage is not, as of this moment, legal in Maine, the state has not amended its constitution--as many other states have--explicitly banning marriages of gay couples. (North Carolina passed such an amendment to its state constitution earlier this year.) In other words, the way our state constitution currently stands, even if "Question 1" fails at the polls this November, same-sex marriage supporters could still make another bid for equal rights in the future.

Next he told me that the Constitution is the "law of God" and was inspired by Christian gospel. This is, of course, nonsense. In fact, the only mention of "religion" anywhere in the U.S. Constitution is in the First Amendment which states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

Finally, the man told me if gay-marriage is allowed, then other "extreme" (his exact word) acts would follow, like public nudity becoming acceptable (his actual example). "I don't want my kids to walk down the street seeing men and women naked," he told me. He then went on to blame homosexuality for the spread of AIDS and broken marriages.

But wait--it gets better.

This person also told me that he once was gay himself, but "found God" and realized the error of his "sins." So this fool is actually just a gay man in denial which, honestly, almost makes me feel bad for him. (Almost.)

I continued to argue with him, remaining calm and respectful the entire time. But, as you can see, nothing this man said was grounded in anything resembling reality. He argued the Bible is "fact," to which I countered, "No. Gravity is a fact. The Bible is a book." He remained unpersuaded.

I eventually abandoned the conversation--not that I harbored any notion I could change this man or at least offer some critical counter arguments to his message. I did not. I merely wanted to try to get a better understanding of why bigots such as this individual think the way they do. All I came away with, however, was that this person is extremely ignorant, uneducated and misinformed. As I was leaving some haggard looking man walked over to the sign-holder and said, "Yeah! I agree!" Then he asked, "What's '1'?" (This guy was, in retrospect, probably drunk.)

When the sign-holder told him it's about "same-sex marriage," the other man asked (again, his exact words), "What's that? Is it like having sex without a rubber?"

If people wonder why I am often so resentful of the overall lack of education in this country, it is because such ignorance leads directly to hateful speech such as this.

Here's hoping Mainers do the right thing and pass "Question 1" next month if only to stick-it to intolerant hatemongers such as this moron.

Portland Green, Tom MacMillan, a candidate for Maine House of Representatives, District #118
at a recent rally in support of gay marriage.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Real News Network on the First Presidential Debate

The Real News Network's Paul Jay talks with Black Agenda Report's Managing Editor, Bruce Dixon about Wednesday's presidential debate. Dixon pretty much sums up my views when he calls the debate "boring." Likewise, on the issue of third-party candidates, Dixon urges viewers to, "vote what your real voice is, no matter what the outcome is."

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

For the Last Time: Lower Taxes Do Not Create Jobs!!!

After watching tonight's first presidential debate I A) need an aspirin, B) am reminded why I can't stand Jim Lehrer, and C) feel the need to clarify basic economic theory for the American people.

Throughout the debate--which focused on the economy--both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama drew correlations between business tax rates and unemployment. Romney, in particular, argued that higher tax rates on small businesses would force employers to lay workers off. (In keeping with the banal, childish rhetoric of these forums in which candidates speak in thought-terminating soundbites, he called such a policy a "job killer.")

This alleged correlation between taxes and unemployment is entirely false. There is no correlation between the two. Nada. Zero. Zilch. The idea that higher taxes will hurt employment or cause businesses to lay people off is a right-wing, free-market myth with absolutely no grounding in basic capitalist economics.

I wrote about this very issue back in June, but my everyday conversations suggest people still remain confused about the concept. Let me lay it out for you as simply as possible.

Let's say I own a small business. I sell comic-books. I have ten full-time employees. Suddenly, Maine Legislative Bill X, which raises the tax rates for all small businesses that employ ten staff members or more, becomes law. So the taxes on my comic-book shop will be going up.

Does this mean I will be forced to fire some of my employees in order to "cover" these higher taxes? No. It does not.

Here's why: First off, taxes have absolutely nothing to do with determining how many employees I need. That is determined by consumer demand. Now, here in Portland, comic-book shops are quite popular, so let's say I have very high demand. Thus, my needing ten full-time employees. This number ten was not some randomly determined number. It is based on the amount of business my store does.

Secondly, taxes are based on the amount of taxable income my business has after subtracting my costs from my revenue. Any profits I have made after covering my business's costs are considered "taxable income." And you only pay taxes if your business is making a profit in the first place. In other words, if my comic-book shop is dead most of the day and my employees are bored out of their minds throughout their shifts because there is nothing to do but read comics all day, then I as the store owner have far bigger concerns than my taxes.

And even if I did fire some people in order to "cover" my taxes, it would be completely counterproductive because doing so would lower my costs, thus increasing my profit and, as a result, my amount of taxable income.

The two things--business tax rates and unemployment--are not related. Anyone who believes otherwise needs to enroll in Economics 101.

Update: Portland resident and small business owner, Stretch Tuemmler, says the same thing in his letter to the editor in today's Portland Press Herald ("Ending tax cuts for the rich would aid small business," 10/05/2012). He writes, "As a small business owner, I hire when the demand is there. Really has nothing to do with tax rate."

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Dead Prez, "Politricks"


One of the most radical rap groups of all time.

Lewiston: A Case Study in How Ignorance Leads to Hate

Re: "Lewiston Mayor asked to resign after comments," Portland Press Herald, 10/02/2012.

Unfortunately, I fear Lewiston Mayor Robert MacDonald's racist views are not exclusive to him. Having worked in the Lewiston-Auburn area, I have experienced firsthand the pervasive attitudes of racism, sexism and homophobia. (This is certainly not to suggest that everyone in Lewiston-Auburn is racist/sexist/homophobic, etc. But there does seem to be a greater degree of acceptance of such intolerant views in the area than in the southern half of the state.)

This is what happens in economically deprived cities like Lewiston-Auburn. Like Biddeford, "L.A." was once a thriving mill-town. But when the factories all closed due to outsourcing, residents in the twin cities found they had no other work opportunities.

When I taught at Central Maine Community College in Auburn, many of my students were middle-aged displaced workers who, once the mills closed, found they had no other occupational skills to fall back on. These individuals were frequently angry and bitter, sometimes even refusing to participate in various homework assignments. I can vividly recall one such student telling me, right in front of the rest of the class, "You suck as a teacher!" I calmly suggested the student leave the class if he felt that way, reminding him that nobody was forcing him to be there, but he refused to do so.

Needless to say, working with such hostile individuals is no easy task. Many of them work through vocational rehabilitation programs that require them to enroll at community college, and it is quite evident they do not want to be there. I found such students to be antagonistic, closed-minded and virulently anti-intellectual.

Yet, at the same time, I sympathize with them. These are the people society and the globalized economy have swept under the rug. They have been denied--either through upbringing, poverty, lack of opportunity, or circumstance--the intellectual, emotional, psychological and moral tools to become accepting, compassionate members of society. As a result, they lash out at those they perceive to be "The Other." Members of the Somali community make easy scapegoats for white, lower-class, uneducated Americans who lack more constructive ways of dealing with their anger.

Sad to say, but I do not think this is the case of one "bad apple." If anything, Mayor MacDonald's ignorant, hateful comments further highlight the urgent need for Maine to invest in quality jobs and education.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Rejecting the "Practical" (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Vote My Conscience)

Jill Stein at Occupy Wall Street's One Year Anniversary in New York.
On November 6 I will vote for Jill Stein for president.

Yes, I know she will not win the election. She will come away with a mere two percent of the vote, at best. But that is not my fault. It is the fault of the dozens of so-called “progressives” I encounter on a regular basis who tell me they agree with “everything Stein stands for,” but refuse to take that ideological agreement to its next logical step and cast a vote for her. They are scared to death doing so could cost Obama the election.
I did not vote for Obama in 2008 and have no intention of doing so this time.

Don’t get me wrong: Obama is an intelligent, informed politician, and his efforts to carefully review all of the options in order to make an informed decision are a welcome change from the arrogant, “I’m the Decider!” bullishness of his predecessor. At the very least, it is refreshing to have an eloquent, oratorically sophisticated president who can correctly pronounce the word “nuclear.”
But while contemporary political discourse often confuses the two, public persona and personality characteristics are not the same as policy and legislative proposals. To that end, Obama may be, to paraphrase Neil Young, a kinder, gentler machine-gun president, but a machine-gun president, nonetheless.
Barack Obama has continued the most grievous aspects of George W. Bush’s militaristic foreign policy. He has expanded the war in Afghanistan, a conflict that, by all accounts, cannot be won.
Along with our troop presence in Libya, Yemen and Syria, we still maintain some 30,000 “noncombat” forces, including private contractors in Iraq. And Obama has further eroded the nation’s beleaguered relationship with Pakistan through the use of unmanned military drone attacks. Contrary to White House statements, these so-called precision drone strikes routinely kill innocent Pakistani bystanders, including women and children. In fact, the Obama administration’s official policy, as reported earlier this year in The New York Times, is to consider every military-age male within the general vicinity of a drone-strike to be a terrorist.
Worse and most troubling is the president’s use of a terrorist “kill list,” which includes American citizens who have joined al-Qaeda. (The U.S.-born cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki was one such casualty of Obama’s kill list.) As the Times reported back in May (5/29/2012), the files contain the names of individuals designated for “capture or kill,” in which the “capture part is mostly theoretical.”

Here at home, Obama signed into law the draconian National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which grants him the power to detain anyone designated a terrorist, including American citizens, indefinitely without warrant, evidence or trial. A federal judge recently deemed the law unconstitutional, but the Obama administration is now fighting to appeal the ruling. And let’s not forget the Patriot Act, and FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act), holdovers from the Bush-era which Obama has refused to repeal. Finally, despite claims to the contrary, Obama has not abandoned the practice of torture and extraordinary rendition, which justifiably caused so much uproar during the Bush administration.   

Beyond the tired, “lesser evil” rationale, liberals who stand behind Obama argue they are making the “practical” choice. They say we Greens are “too idealistic,” and, as a result, unable to accept the “political reality” of our country. They are right: We do not accept it. Given that the “political reality” (read: “power structure”) primarily benefits corporate power, greedy Wall Street bankers, and outrageously wealthy oligarchs, why the hell should we?
“I can’t join the practical,” journalist Chris Hedges wrote four years ago in an article titled, “Only Nader is Right on the Issues” (, 11/03/2008).

I spent two decades of my life witnessing the suffering of those on the receiving end of American power. I have stood over the rows of bodies, including women and children, butchered by Ronald Reagan’s Contra forces in Nicaragua. I have inspected the mutilated corpses dumped in pits outside San Salvador by the death squads. I have crouched in a concrete hovel as American-made F-16 fighter jets, piloted by Israelis, dropped 500- and 1000-pound iron-fragmentation bombs on Gaza City.

He adds, “Practical men and women do not stand up against injustice. The practical remain silent.”
Or, as a friend and fellow Green puts it, “Liberals make it their mission to save the Democratic Party. But Greens’ mission is to save the world.”
The Left today is epitomized by establishment professionals like Eric Alterman, who serve as perpetual apologists for President Obama and the Democrats. In the Ralph Nader documentary film, An Unreasonable Man, no other interviewee spews more venom and pure hatred at the former Green's alleged role in skewing the 2000 election results than Alterman. (His anger, incidentally, is completely misdirected. The Supreme Court stole the election from Al Gore—not Nader.)
In one scene of the film, Alterman calls Nader supporters “stupid,” insisting they “do not know anything about politics.” As a distinguished college professor, one would think Alterman would be capable of expressing himself in a more mature, sophisticated manner. But then his juvenile name-calling is often the extent of liberals’ anti-third-party argument. Here in Maine, the Democratic Party sued Nader back in 2004 in order to keep him off the state’s presidential ballot. And here you thought only the Republicans engage in such cravenly anti-democratic behavior.
“Cast your whole vote,” Henry David Thoreau wrote in Civil Disobedience, “not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence. A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority… but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight.”
It is bad enough about 60 percent of eligible American voters will not even bother to go to the polls on Election Day. But in some ways I find the timidity of liberals to actually vote for the platform they want, rather than hedging their bets on the one they believe will cause the least amount of harm, even worse.