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…


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(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.

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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: