durruti column
Sunday, October 19, 2003
Osama bin laden, the director of George W Bush's re-election campaign, today issued a renewed call for jihad against America and expressed his profound gratitude to the American President.

"The President has been an enormous boon to my recruiting efforts. Ever since his incompetent intelligence services inadvertently allowed me to bomb the country on 9/11, I've been on a roll. My recruiting is off the charts. And every day, the Administration does something that really helps my cause."

In particular, bin laden mentioned the invasion of Iraq. "By knocking out my big opponent, Saddam, and turning the country into a breeding ground for terrorists, he has really made my job easy. Words cannot express my admiration. Perhaps another suicide bombing will do the trick."

Reached in the Far East, where he was on a campaign swing for his war on terror, Bush said he was "deeply honored" by bin laden's words, and expressed his own gratitude for the al-Quada leader.

"Before 9/11, I was really sucking wind in the polls. But those attacks were literally a gift from the sky. I've now got the whole country cowed and the press bamboozled. And, as an extra bonus, we've got Iraq's oil. Osama rocks!"

Bush said he hopes that Osama will launch another terrorist attack soon, in time to get the GOP re-elected in 2004. "It would be really great if it could happen the week of the Republican convention in New York next August. All those explosions will make a nice backdrop to my re-election speech. It'll be just like the Fourth of July!"

The two also announced that they will soon record a duet version of Eminem's "Without Me." All proceeds will be split between the GOP and al-Quada.

"Two trailer park terrorists go round the outside;
round the outside, round the outside
Two trailer park terrorists go round the outside;
round the outside, round the outside
Guess who's back
Back again
Osama's back
Tell a friend

Osama's back, Osama's back, Osama's back......"

As democracy in the United States approaches its endgame, a question arises: how will the compressed rage of the excluded boil over?

Consider: On almost every issue facing the country, the majority of Americans is at odds with the rightist Revolutionary Power (as Paul Krugman calls it) that directs the national government. Although Bush remains popular, and will be easily re-elected, this fact is misleading. The Revolutionary Power rules by diverting popular discontent into military adventures abroad and, at home, by the racial and sexual scapegoating of minorities.

A few facts:

Most Americans favor some sort of national health insurance, and, specifically, a drug benefit for seniors. The Congress, under the tutelage of the insurance industry, is busy constructing a benefit that is not only dauntingly complex and chintzy, but will actually disempower large sectors of the elderly population.

Most Americans are strong supporters of environmental regulation: the White House, in partnership with industry, is cheerfully dismantling such protection.

The country overwhelmingly opposes the media consolidation imposed by Michael Powell's FCC; however, thanks to the machinations of the large media outlets, there will be no Congressional vote overturning these rules.

Perhaps most importantly, a solid public majority is against the $87 billion aid package to Iraq, and has been ambivalent about the war from the beginning. It has been overruled. A fierce minority, meanwhile, to which I belong, opposes the entire venture and regards the U.S. government as illegitimate and oligarchic.

It can't go on forever. At some point, the excluded voices will lash out.

There won't be a "revolution." Nor will there be an outburst of crime and rioting. These are the fantasies and delusions of the far right and the far left. There will, however, be a reaction, unhealthy, possibly violent, and horrific to witness. What will it be? I don't know.
Thursday, October 16, 2003
There's nothing more amusing than watching a right-winger apologize for bloated CEO pay. In the latest example of this hackneyed genre, one Howard Owens oozes forth on Blogcritics (http://blogcritics.org/archives/2003/10/15/223013.php):

"But of course there's a reason CEOs make millions and baggers make mere thousands -- CEOs contribute more to the bottom line than baggers do. Good CEOs are harder to find than good baggers. CEOs need more training and more experience. CEOs deal with greater pressures. And if they do their job well, the $88 million they earn in stock options are a mere pittance compared to what they earn for the entire pool of investors."

Well, anyone who's ever pulled crushed eggs out of his grocery bags at home can attest that good baggers are indeed a rare breed. But more importantly, Mr. Owens has apparently been sleeping the last few years: Enron, Tyco, Arthur Anderson, ad nauseam, all demonstrate the breathtaking criminality and incompetence of the CEO class. Nor are these names exceptions: just in the past 2 weeks alone, Wall Street has been gripped by a wave of scandals over market timing and after-hours trading (i.e., "cheating"). As Alexander Cockburn has remarked, the business schools in this country have bred criminality on a scale that dwarfs the inner city ghettos.

Why do CEOs make so much money? They do so for the same reason Fidel Castro has attained so much power: They can. Business executives sit on each other's boards and belong to each other's country clubs: when it comes to compensation, they are just rewarding their own.

Nor do executives hold themselves to the rigorous performance standards they demand of others. When stock prices fall, options are conveniently "reset" so they don't lose their value. CEOs dismissed for "failure" reap abundant compensation packages. As one who toils in corporate America, I can confirm that most companies succeed despite, not because of, their CEOs.

Mr. Owens also weighs in with the view that CEO pay is not that excessive because, stretched out over a company's many thousands of employees, it wouldn't amount to much. This is irrelevant. What is sickening about executive pay is the stomach turning hypocrisy it embodies: CEOs who face no real penalty for failure lecture everyone else about "pay for performance." Executives who have never struggled with a healthcare deductible for their children, or watched a chintzy 401(a) decline in value, destroy the livelihoods of the deli clerks and store managers who do the actual work.

Like so many other institutions in American life, such as the Catholic Church and the Congress and the White House, the American corporate class is rife with cronyism and self-dealing. A reckoning is way overdue.

I say hail the striking grocery workers in California and their noble struggle. Like most movements of the dispossessed, they are most likely doomed. But even the chance they might succeed is an inspiring thought.
Monday, October 13, 2003
The opportunities for bad puns are endless (http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,1060697,00.html):

"The news that the former Baywatch star is to create two novels, titled Above the Waist and Below the Belt, might surprise some. Anderson's ex-husband, Tommy Lee, helped instigate the signing by introducing her to Ms Curr with his recommendation. Lee is a published author too: he has written an autobiography called An Illustrated Man (the Motley Crue drummer is heavily tattooed).

"Ms Curr reported "enormous curiosity" at the fair about her new signing. "It'll have to be a bodice-ripper, surely?" asked one publisher."

But can she write?

"It is largely irrelevant. Anderson will have a ghost-writer, following the precedent set by the supermodel Naomi Campbell in 1994 with "her" novel Swan, which was actually written by Caroline Upcher. Anderson will supply plot, characters, and her "voice"."
Prowars like to console themselves that the insurgency in Iraq springs only from Saddam loyalists and terrorist wannabes. The facts tell a different story.

Zaki Chehab, a reporter for Lebanon's al-Hayat-LBC, recently spent time among the guerillas fighting the U.S. occupation. His findings are strikingly similar to those of Western reporters who have tracked the insurgency, like Pepe Escobar of the Asia Times, Patrick Cockburn of the Independent, and Hannah Allam of Knight Ridder:

1) The resistance is indigenous. Despite all the talk of foreign fighters flooding the country, most of the resisters are native Iraqis incensed at the occupation of their country by a foreign power. "We do not want to see our country occupied by forces clearly pursuing their own interests” one fighter said.

2) The resistance is multi-faceted. It comprises Baathists, militant Islamists, old-fashioned nationalists, members of street gangs, and ordinary people whose relatives have been killed or abused by U.S. forces. Stories of boys who joined up after watching family members shot at civilian checkpoints are particularly common.

3) It will survive Saddam’s capture. Remember, the killing of Saddam’s sons did nothing to quell the insurgency. Even those sympathetic to Saddam express outrage at the way he cut and ran in the face of invasion. His demise will very likely encourage many of his enemies to join the resistance because they will no longer fear guilt by association.

4) It will only grow. The heavy-handed tactics of the U.S. military dictatorship, along with the staggering ignorance of Iraqi society among the leadership of the Coalition Provisional Authority, guarantee that more Iraqis will feel compelled to join the armed opposition. Recently, Patrick Cockburn reported that U.S. troops have been destroying the crops of farmers who refuse to divulge information about guerilla activities. This is folly, right out of the Israeli playbook in the occupied territories.

Let Pepe Escobar, a more eloquent writer, have the last word:

“So not only soldiers are legitimate targets. Corporate employees of Kellogg Brown and Co (a subsidiary of Halliburton) or any other corporation likely to make a killing out of Iraq's resources are legitimate targets. UN employees are legitimate targets. The IMF and the World Bank are legitimate targets. The Pentagon's response is predictable. It will send more troops. Not regular troops, but most of its 29,000 specialists in repression of urban guerrilla and terrorist groups with military training. They may kill thousands more Iraqis, but they won't kill a national liberation movement, operated by people who lived for years in a militarized society awash with weapons. And the message of this national liberation movement to those who concocted and want to profit from the invasion of their country is stark: welcome to hell.”

Saturday, October 11, 2003
The Chicago Board of Trade has set up a market in Conservative Meltdown futures. Traders can bet on which conservative "journalist" will go down in flames next, a la Rush Limbaugh and, in process, Bill O'Reilly.

I'm putting my money on Ann Coulter. I read somewhere on the Blog that she's a coke fiend. It's an unfounded rumor, so I think I'll spread it. Anyone who's watched her on TV can certainly attest that she has the manic speech, the jittery paranoia, and the frail thin figure typical of cocaine addicts. (That's a ridiculous overgeneralization, so I think I'll indulge it.)

I say it's only a matter of time before she gets busted in the ladies room by an undercover cop, or is mailed a Fed Ex package courtesy of DEA. She'll then announce on Greta and Friends that she's "taking a break" to go into rehab, but that "she'll be back." I will at that point admit that there is indeed a God, although I will promptly call on Him to forgive her.

So I'm selling short Ann's currently over-inflated market price on the exchange, and expect to make quite a killing. Anyone care to take a position on the other side? Or throw another name in the ring? The exchange is open 9:30-4:00 every business day, although after-hours trading is also available.

Friday, October 10, 2003
Bill Moyers offers a trenchant illustration of why this country's drift towards oligarchy is irreversible:


"The flimflam-ery goes on. In 33 other cities, stations that are supposed to be competitors have found clever ways to undermine the existing rules, mergers and takeovers. For example: Remember when Viacom married CBS and Rupert Murdoch's News Corp ponied up for the television stations owned by Chris-Craft? Those deals put both conglomerates in violation of the rule that no one company can control stations that reach more than thirty five percent of the total audience. But so what?....... A little time passed and this summer the FCC raised the limit to give the big guys what they wanted, anyway."

Of course, the people rose up in anger, and the Congress is now poised to reverse these rules, right? Uh, no:

"...General Electric, owner of NBC; News Corp, owner of Fox; Viacom, owner of CBS; and Walt Disney, owner of ABC, brought on the hired guns ... the lobbyists ... to wage a Trojan War on Congress. A passel of former insiders moved through the revolving door, rolodex in tow, trading their influence for cash -- top aides of the Senate Majority Leader, the House Majority Whip and of John Ashcroft himself.

"Now the most powerful Republican in Congress, Tom Delay, the House Majority Leader, won't let a vote happen. The effort to reverse the FCC is dead in the water, sinking the democratic process with it."

Most Americans, including many Blogcritics, have a hard time accepting that democracy in the United States is on its last legs. But time and again, policy makers have circumvented or simply ignored overwhelming popular opposition to specific government policies like managed care, environmental deregulation, and, of course, media consolidation--to the point where this behavior is now routine. Paul Krugman refers to the policy makers in Washington as "a revolutionary power" that has successfully seized the machinery of state, and has no intention of releasing its grip. Nor is there any institutional force capable of making it do so.

The question isn’t what can save American democracy but what type of malignancy is about to replace it. The historical precedents are not encouraging.

Too bad, really. It used to be a nice country.

Sunday, October 05, 2003
The sad demise of "Radio 104," a McClear Channel modern rock station up the street from me in Hartford, exemplifies the pathetic state of rock radio and rock music these days. A year and a half ago, there were three rock stations in the area: WMRQ (aka “Radio 104”), WHCN, a hard classic rock station (also owned by Clear Channel), and WCCC, an "active rock" station owned by Marlin, a small radio chain. Now all that's left is CCC.

I remember how delighted I was when Radio 104 burst on the scene in late 1994. I was actually lying around one night listening to its soft rock predecessor when suddenly Tori Amos's acoustic version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" came on, followed by Nirvana's; and then we were off, into the land of Pearl Jam and the Butthole Surfers and Portishead. At first the station swept away everything in its path, its billboards springing up everywhere and proclaiming “a modern rock revolution!" The area, a classic rock redoubt, had long been starved for such a station, and 104 enjoyed sky-high ratings.

But almost immediately, the station lapsed into a cookie-cutter format, and within a few years, its main competitor, WCCC, had landed Howard Stern, brought in a program manager with a long history in the area, and blown past 104 in the ratings. The station tried all sorts of tactics in response, most notably bringing in Dee Snyder of Twisted Sister to compete against Stern in the mornings and settling into a hard alternative, nu metal format. In a final act of desperation, it fired Snyder (who actually had respectable ratings), brought in Bubba the Love Sponge, a syndicated buffoon from Florida, and leaned emo. Ratings continued to disintegrate, and in September, 2003, Clear Channel finally put Radio 104 out of its misery, replacing it with hip hop.

Apart from serving as yet another illustration of how stupid Clear Channel is, Radio 104’s demise demonstrates that rock music really is in terminal decline. There are only so many of the 18-25 year old males these stations covet, while young women have fled to other formats. Probably metro areas like Hartford can support only one active or alternative station, along with a classic rocker. The kids may be alright, but they prefer rap.

I bristle when people say rock is dead, and I try to tell them about Thursday and Lacuna Coil and Queens of the Stone Age. But the airwaves tell a different story.

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