Don’t swallow Social Security propaganda

By Robert Pilkey

As seen in Longmont Ledger

In order to justify benefit cuts, conservative politicians and their followers are deliberately sowing confusion about the relationship between the federal deficit and Social Security, the most popular and effective government program in our nation’s history. The truth is that Social Security has not added one dime to the deficit and claims to the contrary are flat-out false.

Social Security, by law, cannot add to the deficit. The Social Security Act of 1935 requires that funds collected via the Federal Insurance Contributions Act payroll tax, go directly into the Social Security trust fund, to be used solely to pay out benefits. By federal law, general revenue money may not be used to pay Social Security benefits, thus prohibiting Social Security from borrowing.

The Social Security Trust Fund currently runs a $2.5 trillion surplus ( and The Economic Policy Institute estimates the surplus will grow to $4.2 trillion in 2024. With no changes at all, Social Security is projected to pay 100 percent of benefits through 2037.

After 2037, Social Security will be able to pay 75 percent of benefits through 2084. The projected shortfall is the result of slower than expected wage growth, a growing share of income accruing to high-income workers (above the $106,800 contribution cap), and a greater share of employee compensation being paid in the form untaxed benefits, like health insurance (

The projected shortfall, still decades away, is by no means a crisis and can be corrected without cutting benefits. For example, in 1983, 10 percent of all earnings were above the cap of $106,800, and therefore not subject to the Social Security payroll tax. In 2008 however, that share had grown to 16 percent. By eliminating the $106,800 cap, the 2037 shortfall would be fully funded for 75 years (

Another deficit falsehood is lumping Social Security’s projected shortfall with the Medicare and Medicaid debt. Social Security does not face the same dept problems as Medicare and Medicaid, because Social Security payouts are not affected by rising health care costs.

Social Security is a defined pension plan sponsored by the federal government. It belongs to the people who work hard all their lives and contribute, along with their employers, from their very first paycheck to retirement. Half of all households have no retirement savings accounts. Of those who do, 50 percent have less than $45,000 in their accounts ( Social Security will distribute benefits to over 53 million citizens this year and according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, lift 20 million of those out of poverty.

Grandpa and Grandma’s monthly social security checks are not the reason we have a huge deficit. Social Security is under attack because its success runs counter to conservative claims that government can’t do anything good.

Americans must not allow themselves to be tricked by politicians bent on cutting their Social Security retirement benefits. Now is the time to strengthen Social Security, not cut it.

Boehner’s Hypocrisy

by Bruce Lindner

Boehner's votes are costing us trillions!

A little something to think about: John Boehner has had lots of fun lately standing before the cameras and saying;

“We can’t afford it. We’re BROKE!” And he’s right.

But check out his voting record on the three most expensive and LEAST fruitful bills of all time- the Bush tax cuts, the Iraq War, and Medicare part D.

In total, these three bills alone added between $4.5 and $6 TRILLION to the debt, and caused us nothing but problems.

Now he is bitching about deficit spending?

Wisconsin Democrats boycott Thursday vote

From Square State:

Senate Democrats (WI) boycott Thursday vote on Walker’s budget plan
by: tallport

Thu Feb 17, 2011 at 14:07:01 PM MST

(editor’s note: Here’s a beautiful photo of demonstrations going on inside the WI capitol. h/t amolison)
Senate Democrats (WI) boycott Thursday vote on Walker’s budget plan.

I am proud to be a Democrat right now and glad Wisconsin DEMS are taking a firm stand against the party of oligarchy.  Frankly, it makes me sick that the Republicans are basically trashing the bill of rights under the guise of budget problems.  That is not say the recession is not happening, it is, but who has set the stage for our economic shortfalls, the middle and working class public employees or the modern day robber barons?  Stand up for worker’s rights.  We should keep building momentum against this nonsense.

Tell Scott Gessler: Serve Colorado or resign!

Scott Gessler

Scott Gessler - does he need a new day job?

Before his election last November as Secretary of State, Scott Gessler was a partner in one of Colorado’s most politically connected law firms. He represented some of the state’s most controversial right wing political groups and candidates. Some of Gessler’s clients have been disgraced by campaign finance disclosure complaints, allegations of unlawful false statements against their opponents, and other alleged election law violations.

Despite Gessler’s record, he promised on the campaign trail last year that he would set aside his past associations, and serve the state of Colorado without the conflicts of interest that would seem obvious given his history. But today, The Denver Post reports that Gessler wants to remain employed part time by his old law firm while he serves as Secretary of State.

Colorado’s Secretary of State, the state’s chief elections official, moonlighting at a law firm that specializes in elections? This is completely unacceptable. Sign our petition now, demanding that Gessler immediately abandon this absurd plan. And if he can’t, Gessler should immediately resign his position as Secretary of State.

Take action here.

Arrogant Ignorance — Your New Year may not be so happy

By Stephen Pizzo, @ Buzzflash

No more coddling morons!

Ignorance - the new family 'value'?

The last few years have been unnaturally kind to America’s willfully ignorant. Fox News provided aid, comfort, voice and encouragement to America’s once (wisely) silent-moron demographic.

Now the dumb-and-dumbers out there not only believe the unbelievable, the unverifiable and the unreal, they believe it all with prideful swagger and aggressive pushiness. Arrogant ignorance is no longer an oxymoron — it’s a growing political movement.

Thinking Americans have been complicit in this since we don’t like making anyone feel uncomfortable by challenging their cherished beliefs. And the commercial media has taken moron-coddling to a new level. When was the last time you read a story in which the reporter aggressively challenged utter nonsense and provably untrue “facts?”

Instead of challenging these geysers of stupidity, the commercial media treats them as “balanced views.” Since when has stupidity and ignorance amounted to “balance?” The answer is, only recently. Well, not in 2011.

Morons beware. You will be challenged, and challenged publicly. My goal will be to embarrass every willful, strutting moron that makes the mistake of crossing my path, and continue after them until they retreat back to their comfort of their own kind and stay there.

When I’m done with them even our craven, value-vacant politicians will no longer give their kind the time of day.

And forget al Qaeda. If you want to fight terrorists who have already caused more damage to America than bin Laden could dream of, then tackle the terror of politically empowered ignorance that’s alive and well right here at home.

Oregon right-wing terrorists get death sentence

From Say It Ain’t So Already:

Two Right Wing Terrorists Sentenced to Death in Oregon

Gee, you’d think the “liberal media” would be all over this:

Marion County jurors on Wednesday condemned Woodburn bank bombers Bruce and Joshua Turnidge to die by lethal injection for the 2008 murders of two police officers. The decision will send father and son to nearby Oregon State Penitentiary, the only cop killers on death row.


More than 100 witnesses testified at the trials, which stretched from the first days of fall to the beginning of winter. Jurors heard a tale of two sad, dispirited men who were vocal in their contempt of government and police and thought the Obama administration would put increased restrictions on their right to bear arms.

The Turnidges were perpetually strapped for cash, facing yet another business failure as their biodiesel company bled money.

Prosecutors said the pressure they felt was enough to prompt the Turnidges to put in place a long-held bank-robbery fantasy. On Dec. 12, 2008, they planted a bomb in bushes outside the bank. But the plot went awry when police officers, thinking the bomb was a hoax, moved the device inside the bank and tried to take it apart.

The blast tore through the bank, killing Oregon State Police Senior Trooper William Hakim and Woodburn Police Capt. Tom Tennant. The blast critically injured Russell and wounded bank employee Laurie Perkett.

Again, seriously, if the media was so “liberal” it would be jumping up and down about this.  Instead, there has been no cable news coverage as far as I know.

O Little Town of Bethlehem Today

By Ron Forthofer

Photo courtesy of

During Christmas time, the town of Bethlehem in the West Bank, the birthplace of Jesus, comes to mind. I wonder what Jesus would think were he to return to Bethlehem, to Jerusalem and to the rest of the West Bank today. Unfortunately, he would still see a foreign military force occupying the land. Since Jesus had experienced the Roman occupation when he was alive, he might not be too surprised about the occupation. However, Jesus would also see something he had not witnessed under the Romans. The current foreign power, Israel, has now colonized much of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and there are about 500,000 Israeli colonists living in over 200 illegal Jewish-only colonies and outposts on lands taken from the Palestinians.

The website provides some additional details about what Jesus would observe in Bethlehem today.

“Towering walls and militarized fences now encircle Bethlehem, turning the 4,000-year-old city into a virtual prison for its Palestinian Christian and Muslim citizens. Bethlehem has only three gates to the outside world, all tightly controlled by Israeli occupation forces.

Israel has confiscated almost all the agricultural land in the area for illegal settlements, making it impossible for many Palestinian farmers to continue tending their land. Outside the town, the fields where shepherds once watched their flocks are being filled by Israeli housing blocs and roads barred to the descendants of those shepherds.

‘It is unconscionable that Bethlehem should be allowed to die slowly from strangulation,’ says South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Bethlehem’s residents increasingly are fleeing Israel’s confining walls, and soon the city, home to the oldest Christian community in the world, will have little left of its Christian history but the cold stones of empty churches.”

Jesus would observe that Palestinians in the West Bank are prohibited from entering Jerusalem, thus preventing them from worshipping at their holy sites. He would see that travel is also problematic between Palestinian cities and towns due to the presence of hundreds of Israeli roadblocks, military checkpoints and other obstacles. Thus Palestinians find it hard to conduct commerce, leading to increased unemployment and poverty. For Palestinians, it is also difficult to access medical care or to go to schools that may be located in a neighboring community. Palestinians are forced to travel on narrow and often unpaved roads since they are not allowed on the modern Jewish-only highways that Israel built in the West Bank. In addition, travel between Gaza and the West Bank is nearly impossible for Palestinians mainly due to the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

Water shortage represents a crisis for Palestinians in Bethlehem as well as in the rest of the West Bank and Gaza. Amnesty International issued an extensive report in October 2009 on this Israeli-caused disaster. Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s researcher on Israel and the OPT (Occupied Palestinian Territories), said: “Israel allows the Palestinians access to only a fraction of the shared water resources, which lie mostly in the occupied West Bank, while the unlawful Israeli settlements there receive virtually unlimited supplies. In Gaza the Israeli blockade has made an already dire situation worse.”

Amnesty reported that Palestinians’ water consumption in the West Bank barely reaches 70 liters a day per person, well under the World Health Organization’s recommended minimum of 100 liters a day. Israelis consume over 4 times as much water as the Palestinians. The Amnesty Report added: “In some rural communities Palestinians survive on far less than even the average 70 litres, in some cases barely 20 litres per day, the minimum amount recommended by the WHO for emergency situations response. … The stark reality of this inequitable system is that, today, more than 40 years after Israel occupied the West Bank, some 180,000 — 200,000 Palestinians living in rural communities there have no access to running water and even in towns and villages which are connected to the water network, the taps often run dry.”

In an associated news article, Amnesty also pointed out that, in contrast, “Israeli settlers, who live in the West Bank in violation of international law, have intensive-irrigation farms, lush gardens and swimming pools.”

This description covers only a little of what Jesus might see in Bethlehem today. Sadly, this situation doesn’t live up to the ideas of peace on earth and goodwill to men. Neither do the horrific situations in Iraq and Afghanistan and many other places. Clearly much work remains to be done before peace on earth and goodwill to men are a reality.

Sing out, Louise: “It’s beginning to look a lot like oligarchy”

As seen on Huffington Post by Leo Gerard

[As sung to “It’s Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas, Meredith Wilson, 1951]

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Ev’rywhere you go;
Take a look in Tiffany’s store, glistening once again
With Wall Street bonus trinkets all aglow.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Art flies from Christie’s.
But the amazing sight to see is the tax cut guarantee
For the most wealthy.

Hedge funders content, still paying 15 percent
Is the wish of Boehner and Mitch.
Help these hurt least by financial crises
Is the Chamber of Commerce pitch.
And the GOP and Tea Party can’t wait for Congress’ new session.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Ev’rywhere you go.
There’s treats in the tax break deal for all the very well-heeled:
Estate tax gifts for billionaires, you know?
It’s beginning to look like oligarchy
Secret campaign gifts
Give scions power in Congress halls to force jumps to all their calls,
Always good and swift.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
If you’re doing drugs.
Look at unemployed stats; foreclosures still roaring fast,
‘merican dreams and life savings both mugged.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas:
Food bank grocery lists.
The only break the unemployed see is 13-month’s reprieve
jobless benefits.

Aid and career counselors for jobless 99ers
Was the wish of Bernie and friends;
Help through COLAs for veterans and grandmas;
Was the hope of liberal House Dems;
Both crushed, progressives now all dread Congress’ new session.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Ev’rywhere you go.
There is a poisonous pill slipped into the tax cut deal:
Robbing Social Security, oh no!
It’s beginning to look like oligarchy.
Soon budget cuts will start
And the thing that will make them sting is the knowledge that you bring
Of the pain they’ll impart.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Everywhere you go.
Take a look in Congress Hall, middle class badly mauled,
By demands from Republicans, you know?
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas;
Debts are racking up;
To help jobless 15 million, the bill’s $900 billion
— With the wealthy’s cut.

A steady job with good pay, health benefits to stay
Is the wish of the middle class.
A good economy; hope, security
Are the goals of the working class.
But they know Congress handles their concerns very last.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Ev’rywhere you go;
No money for construction or local government bond funds.
The stimulus will be much too low, so
It’s beginning to look like oligarchy;
Shake hard workers down
And give to the wealthy few, untrue to the red, white and blue,
Their greed has no bounds.

Solutions to the nation’s Greed Crisis

By Ron Forthofer, as published in the Longmont Ledger, December 12, 2010

Image courtesy of the Sunlight Foundation

During the recent financial crisis, the primarily privately controlled Federal Reserve led an effort that guaranteed almost $13 trillion of taxpayer money to bail out the financial sector.

It was this same sector that, through its crimes and speculation, had almost caused the collapse the world’s financial system. Yet many of these wealthy gamblers were bailed out while the needs of the public were mostly ignored. The interests of the wealthy on Wall Street took precedence over the interests of Main Street. Warren Buffet stated it well in a November 26, 2006, New York Times article: “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

When most of the Wall Street bailout occurred,there was nary a word about the consequences for the deficit or long-term debt. However, since then, there has been a steady drumbeat about the debt, with particular concern raised about Social Security and Medicare, two programs that greatly benefit the public.

On Feb. 18, President Obama joined the debt effort when he created a commission to make recommendations on reducing the budget deficit and long-term debt. The commission co-chairmen presented their personal proposals just last week, a few weeks before the full commission’s results are due. As expected, the commission co-chairmen laid out a proposal that mostly, but not completely, targeted programs benefiting the public.

I am personally all for being fiscally responsible, but it needs to be done in a way that protects the public’s interest. For example, instead of the path they took, the co-chairmen could have presented ideas such as:

~ Reinstating the progressive tax levels from the Eisenhower era, thus requiring that those who greatly profited from the financial crimes and speculations of this decade share in the sacrifices demanded of “we the people”;

~ Placing fees on speculative financial trades/activities that would raise large sums while simultaneously decreasing the risk of another financial disaster;

~ Ending corporate welfare;

~ Re-regulating the nation’s utilities to prevent price gouging and to provide better service;

~ Eliminating the endemic fraud and incredible waste in military contracting;

~ Reversing the wasteful privatization of the military effort and other public work;

~ Greatly reducing the military budget, which is almost equal to the rest of the world’s military spending combined; we need a military for defense, not for running an empire;

~ Ending our occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and paying reparations for the devastation we’ve caused;

~ And enacting single-payer health-care reform.

The co-chairmen clearly could have taken on the greed, fraud and waste inherent in our corporate-dominated system that benefits the few at the top, but they didn’t. Unfortunately their proposals were not surprising. In “The Wealth of Nations” Adam Smith warned us about a similar situation: “The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.”

How much longer will we tolerate the transfer of wealth to the top while we are made poorer and poorer? Almost a century ago Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis warned, “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” Which do you want, democracy or oligarchy?

Ron Forthofer was the 2002 Green Party candidate for Colorado Governor. He lives in Longmont.

Inconvenient Questions

An excerpt from The Anti-Empire Report by William Blum at – first seen at Fightin’ Cock Flyer

December 3rd, 2010

Some questions to ask our quaint little Teaparty friends

Would you like some tea with your hypocrisy?

The Teaparty folks never tire of calling for “smaller government”. How sweet. Most other Republicans repeat the same mantra ad nauseam as well, as do many liberals (not to be confused with progressives). So for all these individuals I have some questions:

  • When there’s a plane crash the government sends investigators to the crash site to try to determine the cause of the accident; this is information that can be used to make air travel safer. But it’s really BIG GOVERNMENT, forcing the airlines to fully cooperate, provide all relevant information, secrecy is not permitted, and make changes or face severe penalties. Do you think the government should stop doing this?
  • Following this year’s BP oil spill do you think the government was right to bully and threaten the company for an explanation and solution for the catastrophe, or should it have been “hands off” for the sake of small government?
  • Following a major earthquake there’s usually a cry from many quarters: Stores should not be raising prices for basic necessities like water, generators, batteries, tree-removal services, diapers, etc. More grievances soon arise because landlords raise rents on vacant apartments after many dwellings in the city have been rendered uninhabitable. How dare they do that? people wail. Following the 1994 earthquake in Los Angeles the California Assembly proceeded to make it a crime for merchants to increase prices for vital goods and services by more than ten percent after a natural disaster.11 Following the destruction caused by Hurricane Isabel in September 2003, the governor and attorney general of Virginia called on the legislature to pass the state’s first anti-price-gouging law after receiving about 100 complaints from residents. North Carolina had enacted an anti-gouging law just shortly before.12 Does such blatant big-government interference in our God-given Supply-and-Demand system bother you? Do you think that our legislators should simply allow “the magic of the marketplace” to do its magic?
  • Do you think that the government should continue waging war against what they call “terrorists” abroad, since there’s no bigger or more expensive big-government action than this?
  • Do you think the government should continue with its electronic strip searches and body feel-ups at airports or should we allow the risk of bombs being brought on board airplanes? (Or — as an alternative to either — do you think the government should cease its bombing, invading, occupying, overthrowing, killing and torturing around the world so as to put an end to its creating anti-American terrorists?)
  • If your bank fails — and hundreds have done so in recent years — are you willing to accept the loss of your life’s savings? Or are you thankful that big, big government steps in, takes over the bank, and protects every penny of your savings?
  • Do you think that big government — federal, state or local — should stop haranguing the citizenry about the environment: recycling, air pollution, water pollution, soil runoff, etc., etc., or that people should simply be allowed to do what is most convenient for them, their families, and their businesses?
  • Do you think that manufacturers should have the right to run their factories à la a sweatshop in a Bangkok alley 50 years ago or that big government should throw its weight around to assure modern working conditions, with worker health and safety standards?
  • When a prescription drug starts to kill or harm more and more people, who should decide when to pull it off the market: Big Government or the drug’s manufacturer?
  • Are you glad that food packages list the details of ingredients and nutrition? Who do you think is responsible for that?
  • A huge number of Americans would be facing serious hunger if not for their food stamps; more than 40 million receive them. Where do you think food stamps come from? No, not from Sarah Palin.
  • And where, pray tell, do you think unemployment insurance, housing subsidies, and Medicare come from? (There were of course, lord help us, the Teaparty signs: “Keep your government hands off my Medicare,”13 while simultaneously ridiculing Obama’s push for “socialized medicine”.) Some of you would probably rather see widespread hunger, poverty, homelessness, and illness in America than have people dependent upon the BigGovernmentMonster.
  • Do you think that big government is no match for the private sector in efficiently getting large and important projects done? Big government in the United States has created great dams, marvelous national parks, an interstate highway system, the peace corps, social security, the National Institutes of Health, and the Smithsonian Institution; it’s also landed men on the moon, wiped out polio, and built up an incredible military machine (ignoring for the moment what it’s used for), and much more.
  • Do you know that twice in recent years the federal government undertook major studies of many thousands of federal jobs to determine whether they could be done more efficiently by private contractors? On one occasion the federal employees won more than 80% of the time; on the other occasion 91%. Both studies took place under the Bush administration, which was hoping for different results. 14

We have to remind the American people of what they once knew but seem to have forgotten: that they don’t want BIG government, or SMALL government; they don’t want MORE government, or LESS government; they want government ON THEIR SIDE.

I think the Teapartyers are motivated primarily by two factors: 1) they don’t have the intellectual competence or ideological independence to place the blame for the sick economy where it belongs: the recklessness and greed of Wall Street, the banks, and other financial corporations; and so they blame the president and his “socialist” policies; 2) the president is black.

Mark Brzezinski, son of Zbigniew, was a post-Cold War Fulbright Scholar in Poland: “I asked my students to define democracy. Expecting a discussion on individual liberties and authentically elected institutions, I was surprised to hear my students respond that to them, democracy means a government obligation to maintain a certain standard of living and to provide health care, education and housing for all. In other words, socialism.” 15


  1. 2010 Arab Public Opinion Poll
  2. William Blum, Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, chapter 1, “Why do terrorists keep picking on the United States?”; this chapter ends in 2005; there are many more later examples, including the ones below in this report.
  3. White House press briefing, January 7, 2010
  4. ABC News, January 25, 2010
  5. Associated Press, January 7, 2010
  6. Washington Post, January 1, 2010
  7. Thanks to writer Gary Corseri for this last line.
  8. Vorin Whan, ed. “A Soldier Speaks: Public Papers and Speeches of General of the Army Douglas MacArthur” (1965)
  9. Associated Press, December 28, 2009
  10. New York Times, January 18, 2010
  11. Los Angeles Times, January 2, 1995
  12. Washington Post, September 24, 2003
  13. New York Times, November 3, 2010
  14. Washington Post, June 8, 2005 and March 23, 2006
  15. Los Angeles Times, September 2, 1994

William Blum is the author of:

  • Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War 2
  • Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower
  • West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir
  • Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire

Portions of the books can be read, and signed copies purchased, at

Previous Anti-Empire Reports can be read at this website.

To add yourself to this mailing list simply send an email to bblum6 [at] with “add” in the subject line. I’d like your name and city in the message, but that’s optional. I ask for your city only in case I’ll be speaking in your area.

(Or put “remove” in the subject line to do the opposite.)

Any part of this report may be disseminated without permission. I’d appreciate it if the website were mentioned.

Middle class staggers while Wall Street swaggers

Party like it’s 1929
Posted November 27th, 2010 by Prometheus 6 in

Winning the Class War

The class war that no one wants to talk about continues unabated.

Even as millions of out-of-work and otherwise struggling Americans are tightening their belts for the holidays, the nation’s elite are lacing up their dancing shoes and partying like royalty as the millions and billions keep rolling in.

Recessions are for the little people, not for the corporate chiefs and the titans of Wall Street who are at the heart of the American aristocracy. They have waged economic warfare against everybody else and are winning big time.

The ranks of the poor may be swelling and families forced out of their foreclosed homes may be enduring a nightmarish holiday season, but American companies have just experienced their most profitable quarter ever. As The Times reported this week, U.S. firms earned profits at an annual rate of $1.659 trillion in the third quarter — the highest total since the government began keeping track more than six decades ago.

The corporate fat cats are becoming alarmingly rotund. Their profits have surged over the past seven quarters at a pace that is among the fastest ever seen, and they can barely contain their glee. On the same day that The Times ran its article about the third-quarter surge in profits, it ran a piece on the front page that carried the headline: “With a Swagger, Wallets Out, Wall Street Dares to Celebrate.”

Is Christmas Imploding?

The mighty American marketing machine known as Christmas put on a brave front this weekend. Stores across the country opened up earlier than ever – some as early as 2:00 a.m. on Friday morning – and shoppers responded. Some consumers gave up their Thanksgiving Thursday altogether by using that day to stake their position on a sidewalk outside Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Target, or Sears. The rewards were high – those who were first in the store on Black Friday had the best shot at buying at deep, deep discounts. Flat screen HDTVs, which were otherwise priced at $1,000 minimum, were on sale for $300, but only on Black Friday and only to the earliest few into the store.

It’s a sign of the desperation of American retailers that they even have to market something called “Black Friday.” This used to be an obscure term used by retailers to identify the day after Thanksgiving, when shoppers came to the malls in droves to begin their Christmas shopping, thus guaranteeing retailers would be “in the black” (profitable) for the rest of the year. Most Americans don’t even know this, and are right to think there is something sinister about Black Friday, coming so soon as it does after another great American marketing campaign – Halloween. For every person shopping on Black Friday, two or three consumers stayed home, intimidated by the crowds, or disgusted with the commercial boosterism that has now overwhelmed Christmas. How, they wonder, did things get so out of hand?

Read the rest at The Agonist

Inside Job. Don’t Miss this Film!

Inside Job is a very clear documentary on the financial crisis, currently playing at Boulder’s Century Theater in the 29th St. Mall. Charles Ferguson, who produced and directed this film, previously made No End in Sight.  This new film is much better film-making, with Matt Damon as a compelling narrator.

The film begins with the demise of Iceland’s economy.  No technical knowledge is needed to follow the plot and understand how the economy of Iceland imploded.  Because Iceland is a small country, one does not get lost in counting trillions of dollars to try to figure out what happened or just how bad it was.

This film makes clear, as others have not, that the public wound up with the bill for the irresponsible speculations of the major banks in their country.  The public’s debt was 3 times the size of the entire national economy.  The public, not the banks, was stuck with the debt because financial speculators manipulated the politicians to make the public the guarantors of the banks’ debt before the implosion occurred.

The film displays the international stage of repeated financial speculation and exploitation, but keeps its ultimate focus on Wall Street’s control of the U.S. government. Obamaholics may not like this film, but perhaps it may reach them.  A sequence of photographs, in which Obama literally takes Bush’s place in the same rogue line-up, makes the message of continuity unmistakably clear.  Well, to most of us, anyway.

The film concludes with a unique exposé of American economics professors who wrote the policy books legitimating the outrageous plunder of the world’s economy.  Watch the experts squirm and whine on camera when confronted by the payoffs they took.  This alone is worth the price of admission.

Marilyn Smith

Union for life

I graduated high school in 1970.  I grew up in a blue collar factory town where unions were a way of life.  My dad was a union brick/stone mason.  He was quite the artisan with a trowel, he did beautiful work, and my brothers and I often “carried hod” for him.  I can still see him in khaki shirt, dark blue ball hat with “mud” smeared all over him, cigarette dangling from his mouth.  My God he worked hard, also drank hard too.

I’ve been working at something since I was twelve years old.  I was stocking shelves when I graduated from high school.  My life plans were to get married, find a job in one of the many factories in town, make union scale, buy a home, raise a family, retire when I got to 65 and so on…all of this at age 17, I had my entire life all figured out.  I had been paying into Social Security since I was sixteen.

After graduation, I quit my job at the grocery store and was hired on as an apprentice iron worker at one of two local foundries (both vacant lots now) and at union scale, I believe $5.25 an hour.  It was during the Viet Nam War and I really thought I was going to be drafted….but my number was so high that I wasn’t called to serve after all.  I had several friends who did, two whose names adorn the memorial wall in DC.  Instead, I went into a different man’s world.  I was photographed, given a security card with my photo on it along with my employee number.  A guard would check our card upon entry at the gate every day.  I was also issued a steel hard hat.

I was pretty scrawny and going into work with all of these older, hardened “hard hats” was an experience I still remember.  I was assigned to an older vet named Tyrone who was to teach me the intricacies of standing on a moving conveyor belt while pouring molten steel into hardened sand molds.  The molds were fashioned into crank shafts for army vehicles.  We also made the casings for 60 mm mortar shells that were then sent to the Rock Island Arsenal to be loaded with high explosives and then sent to the grunts on the front lines in Viet Nam.

It was hard, tedious, hot and sometime dangerous work.  The building was cavernous, big fans blowing in hot air to a building that was already hot.  Decatur, Illinois boasted 100+ degrees in the summer with 98% humidity.  In August, you ate salt tablets and drank great draughts of ice cold water.  You were surrounded by hot sweating men in an atmosphere that Dante would cringe at.  I was a strong, young, innocent man who was determined that against all odds, I would become a union iron worker.

I stood on that conveyor belt, large ladle in canvas sheathed gloves pouring molten steel into mold after black mold.  When I ran out of liquid steel, I jumped off the belt, ran my bucket down the line to the fork lift driver bringing more of the fluid, war making stuff to pour into my “bucket.”  Once in a while, my relief man would be too drunk to come in and I would pull a double shift.  When I was finally off work I was hungry enough to eat a cow and thirsty enough to consume a Niagara.

I would head to the showers to try and wash off the black foundry sand that clogged my pores.  My eyes and forehead were white from my protective goggles and hard hat, but the black sand always managed too make it through my khaki work clothing.  Scrub as I might, I could never get it all off.  I think my sand encrusted clothing helped to destroy my mother’s washing machine.

After my shower, the older guys would take me across the street to an open field dominated by a shack with a large horse trough out in front.  The trough was filled with ice water and dozens of bottles of Miller High Life and Budweiser.  This was long before the advent of the microbrew.  I wasn’t old enough to legally drink yet, but no one carded me, and I swear, in that hot stiffening air, I could feel as though I was drinking the nectar of the gods.  I can’t stand those liquids now, much preferring the micro beers that are now so much in abundance.  My Lord it was almost surreal!

The older men would make snide, good natured comments about my lack of sexual prowess (yes it was a man’s world)  Most of them bragging about conquests that at the time seemed too good to be true and as I now know, were.  I attended the monthly union meetings where the talk of strikes and getting even with “Johnnie Wagner” the millionaire owner of Warner Castings seemed to be raking in even more dough at the expense of his workers.  One man was actually fried to death when he lost control of his fork lift and his tub of hot steel sloshed on him.  Trying to hurry but lost his life in doing so.  I heard his death scream and smelled his burning flesh.

I paid my dues, paid into Social Security and still get pissed when I hear someone say that the unions ruined this country.  We worked like dogs and were paid decent wages only because we forced the companies to pay them.  Those days are now long gone.  Now they want us to back off of Social security too?  I’m not sure I understand why there is not more of an outcry about the rich bastards in Washington wanting to take it away.