August 2012

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Rags and Bones

by Jonathan Wallace

A vice presidential thought

There are a lot of qualified women out there. Every vice presidential candidate should be female until the country has had a woman president.

Hospitals without insurance

Some hospitals in New York serving impoverished areas are running without malpractice insurance, a terrible risk in these litigious times. Just one more indication of a failed business sector, health care, crying out for government intervention while the Republicans piously and hypocritically promise to defend us against "socialized medicine" by preserving the epic fail which is the status quo.

North Korea, Pakistan, Israel

North Korea, Pakistan, and, dare I say, Israel, are all a prediction halfway true, a debt waiting to be paid: the idea that the bomb would proliferate to countries with strictly local and even insane views of their own interest. Like the man who must walk with a water glass on his head without spilling a drop forever, it seems improbable we can get through the rest of human history without any nation with a bomb again detonating it in anger.

Bankrupt cities

American cities are beginning to go bankrupt with some regularity. The trigger usually seems to be some gargantuan, failed bond issue, to finance a sewer system or something. Should it really be a given that political entities should receive financing from private banks and investment banks, if these have the ability to pull the plug later? Why did we have a system that allowed cities to make commitments--to assume all risk, to pay the bondholders in the event the project failed--they would predictably be completely unable to carry? Imagine if your real estate taxes, and in fact your pension, were appropriated to pay the people best able to bear the risk, instead of financing essential services like the police and the fire department. Also, why are states allowing cities to fail instead of stepping in to run them? In the Republican/Tea Party/libertarian view of the future, are we really sanguine about permitting large zones of our country to resemble the dystopian future of "Mad Max"?

Air France

I have written about the Air France crash before, but it was in the news again. A plane's sensors began functioning erratically, and the pilots were so busy staring at the gauges instead of looking out the window they failed to detect its actual altitude and attitude, and allowed it to stall and crash, killing them and everyone on board. Its a case study on technology rendering us dependent and helpless and killing us, because we fail to remember that it extends our senses, but does not substitute for them.


I would like to see everyone being foreclosed chain themselves to the door on the way out. All of their neighbors come over and block the sheriff. Millions of Americans who were sold a crock of shit by Bank of America and others, who were made victims so that mortgage backed securities could be created and sold, are going gently and meekly into that good night when they should be raising a ruckus; they have nothing to lose. They should remind a democracy that something is wrong when it permits millions of its citizens to be placed in such desperate straits.

Fascism in Greece

When I wandered around Greece in 1978, and fell in love with the country, it was a stable, conservative but not ideological environment with a very low crime rate and a stable culture based on community and family. Now a neofascist party with a swastika-like symbol has captured twenty percent of Parliament and is rampaging through immigrant neighborhoods, breaking glass and threatening lives in a re-enactment of Kristallnacht. The legacy of greedy bankers and their captive politicians is extensive, traumatic, heartbreaking.

George Zimmerman

I never thought I would be defending George Zimmerman, the man who shot Trayvon Martin, a teenage African American neighbor trying to get home. The news story, obviously leaked by Florida prosecutors, that Zimmerman is accused by a woman friend of having molested her since childhood, is (assuming its true), irrelevant and prejudicial and obviously an attempt to smear Zimmerman and make sure he goes down. I recently commented on the leak of an ambiguous comment during interrogation of a suspect (later cleared) in the Etan Patz investigation. My impression: law enforcement is becoming ever more scurrilous in its efforts to pile on and pre-determine guilt of suspects. This fits in with another known strategy, of bullying even the innocent into taking pleas, as more cases are pled out than ever and fewer are tried. It used to be that the government had to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; now they use the media, innuendo and schoolyard bully tactics to frighten the accused into trading their rights away.


When I was first coming up as an attorney, arbitration was regarded as a less expensive solution to litigation, ssomething attainable for individuals, the self employed, and small business. Today, the fees are thousands of dollars even for a small American Arbitration Association proceeding, transforming arbitration into a less expensive way for members of the 1% to fight one another, while the rest of us are further out in the cold than ever.

Climate change

I was stunned by a map of the United States which showed how much of the country is locked in drought. At Renaissance Weekend last fall, where I thought everyone would believe humans were the cause of climate change, a skeptical woman from Texas pointed out that there was also a bad drought there in the '50's. What we are facing today now seems to be officially much worse. I believe the history of our species, if there is anyone to write it in a few hundred years (a new Gibbon writing a new "Decline and Fall") will be quite simple: our technological capabilities vastly exceeded our maturity and particularly our moral growth, so that by bad choices we were easily able to destroy our own civilization. People with spears can make a lot of bad choices without endangering anything at the global level, but people with modern technology can do a whole lot worse. The most terrible villains of the piece: people like the Koch Brothers and Rush Limbaugh, who are not stupid men, whom in their inmost souls I believe know the truth, are not really ideological but use ideology and ideologues as mere tools. If I am right about this, these are people who heartily do not give a shit what the planet will look like after their own lifetimes. Just as mortgage defaults and homelessness are a tax the rest of the population is now paying to support the billionaires, so are hurricane and tornado deaths and the destruction of property and drought-induced starvation.

Voter ID

A Republican politician in Pennsylvania, where a new law requiring picture ID will disenfranchise 750,000 voters, bragged that the state was as a result secured for Mitt Romney (Obama's margin last time was less than that). This is cropping up in every Republican-owned state: laws disenfranchising poor voters, African Americans, and other citizens who don't happen to have a state-issued picture ID. All ostensibly to combat a type of fraud which barely exists, people presenting at the polls in person with fake ID. How unsurprising that the Republican M.O., in addition to lying and pushing legislation which will harm most of us, includes trying to end democracy in this country. There is a through line from "Citizen's United"--anonymous billionaire money buying elections--to picture ID's to threatening poll police like Mayor Bloomberg has deployed to gerrymandering. American society always teetered towards the oligarchic and we are now standing on the edge of the cliff (most of the people I talk to at Occupy demonstrations would say we have long since fallen off).

A homelessness decision

A New York appellate case from 2008, TOA Construction Co., Inc v. Tsitsires, shocked my conscience. I don't remember newspaper reports about it at the time. A mentally ill man was frightened to sleep in his rent-controlled apartment, so he spent most nights on the street, but continued to pay rent and utilities and receive mail. The judges allowed his eviction on the grounds it was no longer his primary residence. They defensively noted that it wasn't their job to take account of the fact that the landlord was a notorious slumlord, accused of illegally trying to clear the building; their job as they conceived it was to apply the law with blinders on and without any sense of the equities of the situation. I personally litigated a case once where the tenants really lived in Connecticut and were using the apartment as a pied a terre; the actress Faye Dunaway lost a New York apartment last year because she really lived in L.A. Its a far cry from that to strip a New Yorker of his apartment because he spends most nights on a park bench. Should an EMT lose his apartment because he works the night shift, or an insomniac because he hangs out in diners? Its the most awful piece of jurisprudence I have stumbled across in some years, right up there with "Citizen's United" as a disgraceful promotion of the interests of the billionaires and wannabes. A court decision which actually promotes homelessness, which can be used as a precedent to put more people on the street.

The Colorado shooting

A graduate student in Colorado with no criminal record bought a lot of guns and ammunition perfectly legally, including a semi-automatic with a magazine that would allow him to fire 100 rounds in under a minute. Took them into a movie theater and shot twelve people dead and wounded scores more. Colorado is a must-issue state for concealed carry permits (fill out the paperwork right, the authorities must issue the license). The movie theater had a sign posted it didn't want you to bring your concealed gun, as it was also allowed to do. So the theory of the NRA types is that this prohibition, not the easy availability of powerful semiautomatic weapons and ammunition, is the proximate cause of the disaster. In NRA universe, if every citizen had a concealed weapon, they all could have pulled them out and started shooting back at the killer (without hitting each other or any children, of course, because in NRA world everyone shoots with precision).

The interesting thing about this is that mass shooting incidents are starting to happen in concealed carry states with some regularity, and where are the stories of triumphant concealed carriers saving dozens of lives? The only pertinent story I know is the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, where the man who wrested the gun away from the killer (after he had already killed six people) was emboldened by his own concealed weapon--which he had very sensibly decided not to draw.

Mass shooters will always have an advantage, of surprise and superior fire power, to the person with one concealed handgun. And as we start seeing self defense scenarios, sure as the day is long we will see two kinds of things happen: people drawing concealed carry weapons will shoot the wrong person in the fog of war, and/or will be shot by the cops, unable to distinguish between good and bad gunmen. So the NRA justification is complete bullshit. As always, I revert to something an NRA official said a long time ago, a bit incautiously: the victims of gunfire are just "the price we pay for liberty".

A related thought

Now set the shooting against the backdrop of the health care debate and the bankruptcy of cities. Some large number of people who get shot in these incidents have no insurance but must be treated anyway. We are losing hospitals because they are forced to treat trauma victims and are not getting paid (St. Vincents' in downtown NYC was a major one which closed for that reason). The same people who want maximum guns in the environment don't want our health care delivery problems solved--they are fine with the terribly broken status quo. Bankrupt cities (which the libertarians also don't want the federal government to assist) can't pay cops, so there will be more untrained armed citizens policing their own neighborhoods. They will get together in groups and these groups will be gangs and after a short while, it will be nigh impossible to tell the good guys from the bad guys--it will be Crips vs. Bloods.

If we keep going down this road, the American future looks a lot more like Somalia than it does like a paradisical 1810 Massachussetts of good farmer neighbors and militia. The libertarian paradise is a crock.

One more

Guns are the only area of commerce where the manufacturers successfully insist that everyone else bear the expense when the product creates public damage. When a company spills oil or spreads dioxin, it bears the cost of the clean-up, but when a semi-automatic rifle with a 100 round magazine is used to kill and injure scores of people, society at large bears the cost. You can hardly say that the destruction from a 100 round magazine is less foreseeable than that from a leaky barrel of toxic waste; it is not enough to say such magazines are mainly used in America by enthusiasts at ranges. They were designed as weapons of mass killing and nobody should be shocked when they are used in that way. So, in the end, the last remaining argument that the manufacturer should not bear the expense--law enforcement, medical, everything else that must be deployed after a mass shooting--is the Second Amendment, warped so far out of shape that it has become a shield for great violence and selfishness. Even the Tea Party and Libertarian hero, Hayek, acknowledged in the Road to Serfdom that there are environmental costs which should be borne by the entity which caused the problem, and not by the public; he saw nothing inconsistent with his general, much revered theory of otherwise utterly free markets. So the Murder Lobby--which I should really call the Mass Murder Lobby--has to fly in the face of the conservative's own culture hero as well.

An afterthought

Its rather shameful that the President came to "console" the bereaved in Aurora when he has declined to stand up to the gun interests and has nothing real to offer, except an unfettered Mass Murder Lobby and more mass murder.

The NRA and its captive politicians, by the way, just doomed a UN initiative on the international arm trade on the theory it might somehow infringe on American rights, so people in Somalia and elsewhere can continue to fill mass graves in order to protect American liberties.

The Israeli coalition

Kadima has left the government, which wasn't able to put together a plan to draft the Orthodox. Netanyahu is looking a bit foolish, but is coasting on the perception that nobody else can govern. The elephant in the Israeli room: how can you claim to be a secular democratic state with opportunity for everyone, while maintaining an official religion and special privilege for the devout? Especially when the Arabs and the Orthodox have much higher birthrates than the secular Jews. The whole thing will splinter in our lifetimes (maybe not mine, but yours, young reader, anyway).

A find

One of the pleasures of used books is the things you find in them: letters from the 1960's about making one's way alone in a distant city; a college recommendation for a young woman who a Google search confirmed attended and graduated the school; and many handwritten dedications and notes. In the back of a paperback compilation from year 2000 of essays and stories by the science fiction author James Tiptree Jr. (who was really Alice Sheldon) I just found the following in ink:


Loss of faith/rabid faith by others.
Smaller big weapons.
Mutant madness.
Lack of leadership.
Corporate control.
Military excess.
Rich or poor.
Race conflicts.
More crime.
Less science.
Less outer space.
Fake food.
Police state.
Loss of liberty.
Intellectuals/liberals shunned.
Language diminished.
Entertainment is all.

Wow--sounds like two years of topics for the Spectacle. I would like to know the author and what she was planning and if she ever wrote it...


I just got a bill from New York State for about $2000 in taxes and $1400 in interest for...wait for it....1997. The statute of limitations in New York for taxes is three years (unless you failed to file a return or committed fraud). My first paranoid thought was that perhaps New York is looking at everyone arrested at Occupy demonstrations (stranger things have happened). A Google search established this is happening to other New Yorkers who don't seem political....its probably just a rather despicable effort by a financially strapped state to raise money. Levy people on very old returns and some of them will just pay....most others won't be able to defend because they don't even have copies of their returns, receipts and other paperwork from fifteen years ago. More radioactive fallout for the rest of us while the 1% get richer.

Banking and credit

We own our house outright and have no debt whatever. A couple weeks ago, we applied for a small homeowner's loan, about 2% of the value of our house, to pay for some painting and repairs, and we were declined. The reason: not bad credit but no credit history. I have no credit cards, my wife has only Amex, so we don't owe enough money to be entitled to borrow any money.

These are strange times. A few years ago, the banks were avidly making "liar's loans", extending money to people solely on the strength of their usually false assurances that they made magabucks as entrepreneurs. Now I can't get a small loan though I must be the best possible risk going. The banks appear to be thrashing around, writhing from one irrational extreme to the other.


China's one child policy is under attack; it has resulted in great cruelties, local officials forcing women to have third trimester abortions. But something in the coverage made me really take notice: the idea being bruited that population control is bad for China's growing economy.

In the United States, we are already dealing with a situation China will face later: a graying population, as births decline and there are fewer workers paying into the system to support the elderly. If you think about it though, this is not a disastrous culmination, a car crash ending Social Security as Republicans would have you believe, but a transition between a larger and smaller population. When the people struggling to supporting the baby boomers themselves grow old, things will be back in balance, and their children will support a more reasonable percentage of elderly than they themselves did.

However, when you really unpack the statement about the Chinese economy, it contains a hidden truth about capitalism: the system depends on constant population growth. Almost nobody bases their dream of riches on the idea of selling higher quality products into a small niche. Multinationals want to ramp up from selling soda or widgets to 300 million Americans to 3 billion Chinese; every capitalist mass market dream depends on the idea that markets are infinitely expandible. The problem is that nobody really understands the carrying capacity of the planet, which is certainly not infinitely to be expanded. So capitalism demands that we all fall off a cliff together one day, while denying that can possibly happen.


I have been reading a forgotten nineteenth century book, which I downloaded for free, called "A Short History of Anglo-Saxon Freedom". The most interesting moments in reading history are when events parallel or hold a lesson for our times; there are few new mistakes; humans tend to make the same ones over and over. In the reign of James I, an increasingly autocratic king worked around the British constitution by establishing his own parallel set of legal and tax mechanisms which he claimed did not require Parliament's approval: a tax called "ship money", which despite its name could be used for any purpose; and a "Star Chamber" for secret extra-legal disposition of adversaries, by way of torture and execution. Recently we have had Guantanamo, drone strikes, water-boarding and extraordinary rendition; the CIA for decades has been financed via a black budget not visible to most of our legislators; Iran Contra was a means for Reagan to get money which could be used to finance a secret war without asking Congress for it.

California Republicans

I was fascinated to find out that in a few years the Republican party has fallen so far from favor in California that it is now third in importance--there are fewer Republicans than independents, and the party holds no statewide offices. The California personality, at least for the moment, little tolerates the Tea Party streak in the state party. For many years, the demographics have been against Republicans elsewhere as well, especially the cruel social conservatives and opponents of every form of Government aid to the poor. The Republican problem for twenty or thirty years has been to get the lower middle class to oppose their own health care, education, homes and jobs. Then, when you count the growing importance of immigrants, particularly Latinos, the conservative Republicans have also had to stay in control despite their own notorious prejudice against newcomers. Looked at this way, "Citizens' United", voter ID's, gerrymandering, the gross lies and accusations against Democrats of every stripe, and constant ways of turning the voters against each other, all amount to acts of desperation, ways to hold on to power, virtually a coup d'etat.

The Supreme Court and human life

As a result of the majority disarming the Medicaid expansion aspect of the health care law, three million fewer Americans will have health insurance--that is three million individuals who will suffer worse, and some of whom will die, without adequate health care, or who will go broke, lose their houses, and spend their children's college money on health emergencies. The Supreme Court is so powerful that with a few words, it can condemn millions of people to terrible consequences. If, in taking such a position--every court decision gores someone's ox--the conservative majority at least had the balls to admit it had done so, I would feel more respect. The morally bankrupt position of the far right, including the justices at that end of the spectrum, is that these people don't exist, or won't suffer, or we are somehow protecting their freedoms when we condemn them to suffering.


Texas is such a big, complicated place that all of the social emergencies the Tea party types, including its governor, pretend do not exist, are rampant there. Human-induced climate change is not happening--but the state is increasingly getting hammered by drought, hurricanes and tornados. Government financed health care hurts our liberties--but the state has millions of uninsured and its hospitals are stretched to the breaking point. The Second Amendment trumps all other rights--but the state has rates of gun homicide that are astounding and is also a major supplier of guns used in mass murder south of the border. Add in immigration legal and illegal, a rising Latino population, and, of course, the ubiquitousness of oil and oil companies, and you have a state which is a Petri dish for all kinds of social dysfunction and unrest, being run by people with blinders on, marching in ideological lockstep, whose only response to every problem is "No problem".

A thought

I was running on the edge of a rural road. As usual, I noticed how every oncoming car swung much further out to avoid me than was necessary, when along came a pick up truck that deviated not one inch and forced me to leap into the tick-infested grass to avoid being struck by his side mirror. The driver had a mean face and empty eyes and I thought: there is the perfect lower middle class Republican, the guy who votes against health care, education, mortgages and jobs because he has never had anything and doesn't want anyone else to have anything either.

Internet bubble #2

Now that the real estate bubble is over, the bankers have brought us.....Internet bubble the second! They are partying like its 1999, throwing shit out there that has no obvious road to profitability and hoping our greed will guide us til they've gotten their money out. Its proof that a sucker is born every minute, that you can fool all the people all the time, that our weakened executive fails to protect us in oh so many ways....Most importantly, it confirms an insight I had some time ago, that there is no normal beat on Wall Street. Just alternating bubbles and slumps.