Parking meters and prisons: Top six privatization horror stories…


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From DailyKos

[Privatizing government business services means losing local democratic control to corporations and loss of local jobs. We have recently learned that our own Ukiah business licensing has been outsourced to a company in Atlanta. Why? More efficient and cheaper and non-union? Lowering the budget to save overpaid management?... -DS]

Selling public resources to private companies for them to profit off of is a hot trend in cities and states—not all of them controlled by Republicans, either. Privatization deals affecting everything from parking meters to child welfare to public water systems are often negotiated in secret, carried out with little oversight, and subject to massive cost overruns and corruption. The sordid story of Chicago’s parking meters has to be a top entry in any “worst privatization stories” competition. Rick Perlstein laid out the ugly details in The Nation a couple months back:

Mayor Richard M. Daley in 2008 struck a deal with the investment consortium Chicago Parking Meters LLC, or CPM, that included Morgan Stanley, Allianz Capital Partners and, yes, the Sovereign Wealth Fund of Abu Dhabi, to privatize our meters. The price of parking—and the intensity of enforcement—skyrocketed. The terms were negotiated in secret. City Council members got two days to study the billion-dollar, seventy-five-year contract before signing off on it. An early estimate from the Chicago inspector general was that the city had sold off its property for about half of what it was worth.

Transition: The Power of the Powerless…


tFrom The Picket Line

(Why does seemingly every corporate headquarters, hotel, school, and so on in the U.S. have the stars and stripes flying on a big pole not far from the front door? When people visit the U.S. from other countries they often remark how weird it is to see the flag everywhere instead of primarily on certain government buildings. Is this because American corporations, or foreign corporations with offices here, are especially enthusiastic about the flag? Or is it because nobody wants to be the target of some Fox News two-minutes hate about being insufficiently patriotic — that is, insufficiently subservient to the ruling ideology? Why do sporting events open with the national anthem, and what do you think would happen if you stayed seated when it played?)

I recently read Václav Havel’s essay on “The Power of the Powerless.” I thought I was going to be rereading it, but I realized that what I had read before was only excerpts. Today I’m going to summarize and paraphrase and riff on the full essay for a bit. It’s a fascinating and surprising piece of work and I think it has useful lessons for us today.

The context for the essay is Czechoslovakia in 1978. The country had been behind the Iron Curtain for thirty years, and ten years had passed since the brief experiment in political liberalization known as the “Prague Spring” which had been quickly stopped by a Soviet-led invasion.

Havel was a Czech playwright with international renown

Overthrow the Speculators…


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From CHRIS HEDGES
Truthdig

Money, as Karl Marx lamented, plays the largest part in determining the course of history. Once speculators are able to concentrate wealth into their hands they have, throughout history, emasculated government, turned the press into lap dogs and courtiers, corrupted the courts and hollowed out public institutions, including universities, to justify their looting and greed. Today’s speculators have created grotesque financial mechanisms, from usurious interest rates on loans to legalized accounting fraud, to plunge the masses into crippling forms of debt peonage. They steal staggering sums of public funds, such as the $85 billion of mortgage-backed securities and bonds, many of them toxic, that they unload each month on the Federal Reserve in return for cash. And when the public attempts to finance public-works projects they extract billions of dollars through wildly inflated interest rates.

Speculators at megabanks or investment firms such as Goldman Sachs are not, in a strict sense, capitalists. They do not make money from the means of production. Rather, they ignore or rewrite the law—ostensibly put in place to protect the vulnerable from the powerful—to steal from everyone, including their shareholders. They are parasites. They feed off the carcass of industrial capitalism. They produce nothing. They make nothing. They just manipulate money. Speculation in the 17th century was a crime. Speculators were hanged.

William Edelen: The Future Requires Courage


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From WILLIAM EDELEN
The Contrary Minister

We live in an exciting and stimulating period of history. One age is dying… and the new age is not quite born.

We see radical changes in sexual patterns, lifestyles, marriage styles, women’s roles, family structures, education, energy, religion, the Christian church and in almost every conceivable aspect of life. We can withdraw in anxiety, or we can become negative and pessimistic. If we choose either of these paths, we forfeit our chance to participate in the creation of the future.

To live in this age, or any age, requires an enormous amount of courage, faith and willingness to take risks. But to participate in the forming of a future is to create. And courage, risk-taking, creativity and faith are the attributes that have continually reformed the structure of civilization.

What is creative courage? It is the willingness to pursue new forms, new symbols and new patterns of truth. The alternative is stagnation.

Every profession — technology, diplomacy, business, arts, medicine, law — requires those who possess a creative courage. Certainly that is true in teaching and the ministry.

At the end of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce has his young hero write these words in his diary: “Welcome O Life… I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”

Todd Walton: Father Christmas


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From TODD WALTON
Under The Table
Mendocino

“It is a wise father that knows his own child.” William Shakespeare

My father was extremely neurotic. A psychiatrist by profession, one of his more pronounced neuroses was the inability to complete anything, which made psychiatry the perfect profession for him. Our house and yard were minefields of my father’s unfinished projects, some of which became entangled with other unfinished projects, so that large areas of the domestic terrain were rendered useless except as depositories for the stuff of projects he would never complete.

When I was twelve, my father gave me the task of clearing away a great mass of blackberry brambles that was smothering our one and only apricot tree and made accessing the delectable fruit impossible. After many hours of hacking and cutting and carrying loads of brambles to the burn pile, I discovered that my father had pruned the apricot tree some years before, left the pruned branches lying around the tree, and in a subsequent year positioned a wooden ladder amidst the pruned branches in order to prune the tree again, left the newly pruned branches atop the older pruned branches, and then left the ladder surrounded by those multiple layers of pruned branches. Blackberry bushes then sprouted in the fertile soil and employed the framework of dead branches and wooden ladder as armature for their rampant growth.

When I was sixteen, my father and I attended an auction of government property

Gene Logsdon: He Is Just So Happy


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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

My loveliest Christmas gift this year was the outpouring of recollections about the little things in farm life that so many of you wrote about last week [on The Contrary Farmer blogsite here]. I am trying hard not to utter grandiose statements about how you are turning this blogsite into something profoundly wonderful, but I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say that you are an extra special bunch of really great human beings. It is just so much fun interrelating with all of you.

Another lovely Christmas present came from my sister, Marilyn: a bushel of wheat for our chickens. I gave her four ears of my open pollinated corn wrapped in a red ribbon, extra delicious for making corn bread. When we tell other people about our gift exchange, we get strange looks. But all of you reading this blog will just nod and say “of course.”  What could be more fitting? The interesting aside about getting a bushel of wheat is that, despite the fact that the elevator uptown has tons of wheat in storage, it is no longer able to extract just one bushel out of the huge storage bins. And the neighbors and relatives from whom I used to get a little wheat no longer raise it. But the people at our elevator are mighty nice guys, and when Marilyn put on her best poor-old-helpless-kinfolk-neighbor-farm woman look and smiled benignly at them, they somehow figured out a way to do it. It’s one of the blessing of living in a small community, Marilyn says.

Jesus was a radical nonviolent revolutionary…


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William Edelen: Christmas Myth, Legend and Folklore…


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From WILLIAM EDELEN
The Contrary Minister
[Repost]

We are buried this time of year in mythology, legend and folklore. It’s good to get it all in perspective by rediscovering a few historical facts.

I have lost count of the thousands of time that we have been told that Christmas celebrates the origin of Christianity — which, of course, is false. Christmas was around for eons before Jesus was born.

The winter solstice comes from two ancient words, sol, the name of a sun god, and stice, meaning still, or the day that the sun stands still, the shortest day of the year.

Since all cultures have been so dependent upon the seasons, the four major festivals centered on the summer and winter solstices and the spring the autumn equinoxes. An equinox — equi, meaning equal, and nox, meaning nights, or equal nights — occurs midway between the winter and summer solstice, when days and nights are equal in length.

Those are the four corners of the celestial year. But with the return of the sun to once again warm the earth and bring forth a resurrection of life, the winter solstice became the greatest of all the festivals.

The ancient festival in Rome was known as the Saturnalia. The emperor Aurelian established an official holiday called “Sol Invecti,” meaning “unconquered sun” in honor of the sun god, Sol. It was held Dec. 24 and 25 and established Dec. 25 as the official solstice. All the other religions that worshiped sun gods also took Dec. 25 as their fixed date for their festivals. 

Fukushima: Wave of Radiation Will Be 10 Times Bigger than All of the Radiation from Nuclear Tests Combined…


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From Washingtonsblog

Putting Fukushima In Perspective

There was no background radioactive cesium before above-ground nuclear testing and nuclear accidents started.

Wikipedia provides some details on the distribution of cesium-137 due to human activities:

Small amounts of caesium-134 and caesium-137 were released into the environment during nearly all nuclear weapon tests and some nuclear accidents, most notably the Chernobyl disaster.

***

Caesium-137 is unique in that it is totally anthropogenic. Unlike most other radioisotopes, caesium-137 is not produced from its non-radioactive isotope, but from uranium. It did not occur in nature before nuclear weapons testing began. By observing the characteristic gamma rays emitted by this isotope, it is possible to determine whether the contents of a given sealed container were made before or after the advent of atomic bomb explosions. This procedure has been used by researchers to check the authenticity of certain rare wines, most notably the purported “Jefferson bottles”.

As the EPA notes:

Todd Walton: The Amazon Paradox


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From TODD WALTON
Under The Table
Mendocino

“Surrealism to me is reality.” John Lennon

My books are for sale on Amazon. New and used. So are my music CDs. My books and music are downloadable from Amazon, and that includes audio books of my work narrated by yours truly. Do I feel like a rat and an enemy of local bookstores and local music stores? No, because with the exception of a few extremely local bookstores where I am personally known to the proprietors, my books are not available in any local bookstores in America or even in the few remaining chain bookstores, and that is also true of my music. This is also true for the vast majority of writers and musicians (those who produce books and albums) in this country. Without Amazon and a few other online sites, most writers and musicians would have nowhere, practically speaking, to sell their work.

Ironically, local independent bookstores with their extremely limited shelf space carry almost entirely mainstream corporate product (i.e. imitative junk) because that is what most people buy. Amazon, on the other hand, has unlimited shelf space and carries everybody’s books and music, including works by the most esoteric poets and writers and musicians in the world, works no one else will carry.

Mendo Slaughterhouse: Animal Cruelty Is The Price We Pay For Cheap Meat…


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From Rolling Stone

Sarah – let’s call her that for this story, though it’s neither the name her parents gave her nor the one she currently uses undercover – is a tall, fair woman in her midtwenties who’s pretty in a stock, anonymous way, as if she’d purposely scrubbed her face and frame of distinguishing characteristics. Like anyone who’s spent much time working farms, she’s functionally built through the thighs and trunk, herding pregnant hogs who weigh triple what she does into chutes to birth their litters and hefting buckets of dead piglets down quarter-mile alleys to where they’re later processed. It’s backbreaking labor, nine-hour days in stifling barns in Wyoming, and no training could prepare her for the sensory assault of 10,000 pigs in close quarters: the stench of their shit, piled three feet high in the slanted trenches below; the blood on sows’ snouts cut by cages so tight they can’t turn around or lie sideways; the racking cries of broken-legged pigs, hauled into alleys by dead-eyed workers and left there to die of exposure. It’s the worst job she or anyone else has had, but Sarah isn’t grousing about the conditions. She’s too busy waging war on the hogs’ behalf.

We’re sitting across the couch from a second undercover, a former military serviceman we’ll call Juan, in the open-plan parlor of an A-frame cottage just north of the Vermont-New York border. The house belongs to their boss, Mary Beth Sweetland, who is the investigative director

Former Top NSA Official: “We Are Now In A Police State”…


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From WashingtonsBlog
Thanks to Chris Hardaker

32-year NSA Veteran Who Created Mass Surveillance System Says Government Use of Data Gathered Through Spying “Is a Totalitarian Process”

Bill Binney is the high-level NSA executive who created the agency’s mass surveillance program for digital information. A 32-year NSA veteran widely regarded as a “legend” within the agency, Binney was the senior technical director within the agency and managed thousands of NSA employees.

Binney has been interviewed by virtually all of the mainstream media, including CBSABC,CNNNew York TimesUSA TodayFox NewsPBS and many others.

Last year, Binney held his thumb and forefinger close together, and said:

We are, like, that far from a turnkey totalitarian state.

But today, Binney told Washington’s Blog that the U.S. has already become a police state.

By way of background, the government is spying on virtually everything we do.

All of the information gained by the NSA through spying is then shared with federal, state and local agencies, and they are using that information to prosecute petty crimes such as drugs and taxes. The agencies are instructed

Gene Logsdon: Tiny Details About Farm Life


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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

Responding to the recollections a few of us made recently about milking cows in days gone by, Berny remembered how the cats would eat milk-soaked strainer pads after they were discarded and, to use her words, what came out the other end of the cat as a result. I don’t know that I would have remembered that on my own although, being reminded, I certainly do recall it. There are details about life on the farm I would rather forget. But let us all concentrate now and see who can come up with the most esoteric “little thing that counts” about farm life and thus get the honor of being the most genuine farmer of us all.

In keeping with the Christmas season (happy holidays, everyone), several years ago when we cut our Christmas tree, a volunteer in our red cedar fence line, we found a real bird’s nest in it when we got it back to the house. It made a great ornament with three Jordan almonds nestled inside.

Because I have often had to find ways to do farm work without spending money, one of my favorite tiny details of chore time is knowing that animals will eat snow, at least for a few days, if there is no water available. I had a chance to put that nugget of knowledge into practice just recently. Really cold weather came on us so fast that I found my rain barrels at the barn frozen over (no water piped to my barn as well as no electric in the barn, also examples of farming without money). I could have made an extra trip to the house to bring water to the seven hens

Sara Grusky: Pricing the Priceless — Willits Bypass and the Willits Wetlands…


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From SARA GRUSKY
Green Uprising Farm
Willits

Caltrans says that Mr.  Will Parrish owes them about a half  million dollars ($481,588 to be exact) to cover the “direct and indirect costs” of the delays in the construction of the Willits Hwy 101 freeway bypass.   These costs were incurred, according to Caltrans, during Will Parrish’s 11 day occupation of the contractor’s wick drain machine in his attempt to stop the largest wetlands fill operation in northern California in half a century.  Caltrans seeks to bill Mr. Parrish for this half million dollars.  They have informed the District Attorney’s office that they wish to include these claims for “restitution” in connection with Mr. Parrish’s prosecution for unlawful entry onto Caltrans’ project site in the case of  People v. Parrish.  Mr. Parrish’s case is currently scheduled to be heard in Mendocino Superior Court onJanuary 27, 2014 at 8:30 am.  Please attend this important event.

I requested a copy of Caltrans’ half a million dollar itemized budget through the California Public Records Act and received it a couple of days ago.  It is quite an extraordinary piece of accounting by the entity that is now the landowner of one-third of Little Lake Valley.  On behalf of

Fukushima Epidemic is Just Beginning — [Videos] Evacuee: “We are in fact dying in Fukushima; What happened to us will soon affect all Japanese people”…


From ENENEWS

What the state announces is different from the reality. […] As I just told you what the media says and the facts are entirely different.  […] What happened to Fukushima residents will soon affect all Japanese people […] While some say the radiation has dispersed, we are now safe people are in fact dying in Fukushima. One day a nephew of my friend died of Leukemia. The next day her husband also died. […] There are people living in Fuksuhima, now, they all say: “We’re guinea pigs after all […] many people are dying, huh? There’s nothing we can do, it’s useless, so why bother? I’d rather focus on happy things” and continue with their decontamination. […] People refuse to face the fact that these will eventually come back to haunt them.

~

Comments:

Miko in Kitakyushu -
I listened to your entire speech. It was the most incredible speech anyone has made since March 2011. I feel total sympathy for you. You made the best decision you could under the circumstances. You were surrounded by idiots in Fukushima who believed the lies, even your relatives, but you found the courage to move by yourself to Kitakyushu with your children. But then after that, Kitakyushu allowed the burning of extremely dangerous radioactive waste to endanger you again.

Fukushima: ‘Unprecedented’ — China bans all imports of shellfish from U.S. West Coast — Official: “They’ve never done anything like that that I’ve ever seen” — Includes Washington, Oregon, Alaska and N. California — Gov’t says it will continue indefinitely…


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From ENENEWS

KUOW, Dec. 13, 2013: China Imposes First-Ever West Coast Shellfish Ban[...] China has suspended imports of shellfish from the west coast of the United States — an unprecedented move [...] China said it decided to impose the ban after recent shipments of geoduck clams from Northwest waters were found by its own government inspectors to have high levels of arsenic and a toxin that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning. The restriction took effect last week and China’s government says it will continue indefinitely. It applies to clams, oysters and all other two-shelled bivalves harvested from the waters of Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Northern California. [...] “It’s had an incredible impact,” said George Hill, the geoduck harvest coordinator for Puget Sound’s Suquamish Tribe. “A couple thousand divers out of work right now.” [...] Officials say the investigation is ongoing but the closure could last for months.

Northwest Public Radio, Dec. 13, 2013: China has closed its doors to all imports of West coast shellfish. Chinese officials tested samples of geoduck clams and found elevated levels of arsenic and a toxin that causes Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning. [...]

The NSA Is Coming To Town…



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10 Huge Lessons We’ve Learned From Solar Power Success In Germany…


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From CleanTechnica

1. Feed-in tariffs (aka CLEAN Contracts in the US) can drive solar power growth like nothing else.

2. A more mature solar power market sells solar power for a much lower price.

3. More streamlined permitting works.

4. Feed-in tariffs democratize the electric grid.

5. Democratizing the grid gets residents informed and motivated about energy.

6. The grid will not fall apart at 5% solar penetration… or 10%… or 15%… or 20%.

7. Solar power brings down the price of wholesale electricity.

8. Even very grey places can generate a lot of solar power.

9. Even once solar power capacity is equal to 50% of electricity demand, utility execs, fossil fuel execs, their buddies in government, and their buddies in the media won’t stop fighting it.

10. People love the sun — they love clean, solar energy — and they always will.

Complete article with graphs here
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Transition: How I Became an Ex-Liberal…


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From ERIK LINDBERG
Resilience

In 2010 Scott Walker was elected Governor of my home state of Wisconsin.  Although he ran on the typical Republican program of cutting spending and providing “tax relief” to the wealthy in order to boost the economy, most of us were surprised when Walker unveiled his more draconian plan of ending the rights of government employees to engage in collective bargaining.  Walker argued that he was only trying to provide more flexibility to local municipalities struggling to balance their budgets, but it didn’t take long for critics to become aware of his larger agenda of pitting a wealthy ownership class and a low income white voters against government employees.  Crushing workers’ unions, it soon became apparent, was also one of Walker’s goals, a goal shared by billionaire funders like the ultra-conservative Koch brothers.  Labor Unions were one of the last liberal strongholds able to compete with funding bonanza that was now flowing into conservative “Super Pacs,” and conservatives believed they could achieve a permanent electoral advantage by destroying unions once and for all.

Because Walker openly used phrases like “divide and conquer” and “crush” when referring to his political opponents, it was obvious he was prepared for a fight.  But he was likely taken off-guard by the sudden groundswell of liberal and Democratic energy.  Attempting to postpone a crucial vote on Walker’s bill, the State Senate’s Democratic minority fled to Illinois  where they holed-up in a motel waiting for public opinion to realize what was at stake; meanwhile tens of thousands of protestors descended on Madison, occupying the Capital Building with round-the clock drumming, chanting, and singing, while growing crowds swelled on the adjacent streets as the throngs of protestor reached a count of close to one hundred thousand, despite the windy and cold February and March days.

On a cold, rainy, and particularly windy Sunday in early March, my wife and I bussed in from Milwaukee and joined the protests with some of our friends.

William Edelen: A Christmas Party… For Jesus


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From WILLIAM EDELEN
The Contrary Minister

Once again, we are about to have a birthday party for a person named Jesus. As we approach the date, December 25, the same thoughts return to haunt me, thoughts that have played across my mind for years.

Babies are sweet and inoffensive. If we can just keep Jesus in a crib, which we do, there will be no problem. But if we celebrate the birthday of a man, there is a real problem, a problem that has to do with honesty, with truthfulness. If Jesus the man, who became a “great offense” (Mark 6) gave a birthday party in Palm Springs, or any other city in America, the simple truth is that not one of us would go. Jesus would be left alone.

The clergy would certainly not attend the party for this wild, harsh and brazen man, with his scathing words for them: “The tax collectors and the prostitutes will go into the Kingdom of Heaven before you.” (Matthew: 21)

He would cut through the legalistic Christian doctrines of today, saying once again “in vain do you worship me, teaching as doctrines the traditions and rules of men, you have a fine way of rejecting God in order to keep your traditions.” (Mark 7) The clergy wuld not be at the party.

The hawks and the military mentalities would not be there. They would call him a cowardly dove and pacifist, because he said to them “resist not evil.” What a fool, our hawks say, “has he never heard of that ‘evil empire?'” But Jesus continues: “turn the other cheek… He who lives by the sword will die by the sword… and love your enemies.”

The business people, stockbrokers and Wall Street yuppies already would have scratched him off as a real nut for saying, “take no thought for tomorrow, what you shall eat or drink, or what you shall wear.” My gawd, whats with this nut? Thinking about what to eat and drink and what to wear is what keeps Christmas going.

Home lovers and counselors would not attend the party. Ask them why

Religion: Who Ruined Christmas?


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From Atheist Revolution

For a slight majority of people living in the U.S., Christmas is a religious holiday. And yet, those who celebrate Christmas here are more likely to participate in secular traditions than religious ones. So while a majority report believing that Christmas is a religious holiday, the manner in which they choose to celebrate the holiday suggests that the secular aspects of the holiday may be even more important.

Assuming that you are a “bible-believing Christian” who thinks that Jesus – and not axial tilt – is the reason for the season, who is to blame for the extent to which Christmas has been secularized? It had to be those evil secularists and their “war on Christmas” who eventually succeeded in turning Christmas into something far different from a celebration of Jesus, right? I mean, they are the ones who complain when you erect nativity scenes in government buildings. It must be their fault. They are the ones seeking to ban “merry Christmas” and prevent you from putting that plastic Jesus on your yard. Many people have accepted this narrative without realizing that those who push it are raking in the money for doing so. It is little more than lucrative propaganda.

Perhaps this false narrative about secularists sounds more appealing than one which may be far closer to the truth, the one pointing out how Christians have been complicit in the secularization of their own holiday. One of the primary ways Christians have participated in the secularization of Christmas is through their willingness to embrace consumerism run amok. As Austin Cline noted,

Christmas in modern America has far more to do with materialism and consumerism than anything else — and it’s a situation which has been a noticed and discussed problem long before Christian Nationalists created their trumped-up War on Christmas complaints.

He’s right. Complaints about the secularization of Christmas predate Fox “News” by decades.

The Great American Class War: Plutocracy vs. Democracy…


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From BILL MOYERS
Truthout

I met Supreme Court Justice William Brennan in 1987 when I was creating a series for public television called In Search of the Constitution, celebrating the bicentennial of our founding document.  By then, he had served on the court longer than any of his colleagues and had written close to 500 majority opinions, many of them addressing fundamental questions of equality, voting rights, school segregation, and — in New York Times v. Sullivan in particular — the defense of a free press.

Those decisions brought a storm of protest from across the country.  He claimed that he never took personally the resentment and anger directed at him.  He did, however, subsequently reveal that his own mother told him she had always liked his opinions when he was on the New Jersey court, but wondered now that he was on the Supreme Court, “Why can’t you do it the same way?” His answer: “We have to discharge our responsibility to enforce the rights in favor of minorities, whatever the majority reaction may be.”

Although a liberal, he worried about the looming size of government. When he mentioned that modern science might be creating “a Frankenstein,” I asked, “How so?”  He looked around his chambers and replied, “The very conversation we’re now having can be overheard. Science has done things that, as I understand it, makes it possible through these drapes and those windows to get something in here that takes down what we’re talking about.”

That was long before the era of cyberspace and the maximum surveillance state that grows topsy-turvy with every administration.  How I wish he were here now — and still on the Court!

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