No Bull: The Rain in Catalonia Doesn't Fall on Spain

 The weekly Sardana in Barcelona's Old TownDancing for Independence: The weekly Sardana in Barcelona's Old Town

But the new constitution was shot down by Spain’s Constitutional Court three months ago, which declared that the central government alone can legally rule, with no self-rule allowed. A huge demonstration, the biggest in 20 years, followed in Barcelona on July 6th. “Tension is growing daily,” says Guillem, the 22-year-old concierge at our hotel, who resembles a young Paul Newman.

Obama's Rose-Colored Glasses: Growth Has Little or Nothing to Do with Jobs or Reducing Poverty

Faced with the bad, but hardly surprising news, that poverty has increased in the US on his watch, to a record level not seen since before President Lyndon Johnson launched the War on Poverty in 1965, President Obama is declaring that the answer to poverty and joblessness is economic growth.

He’s wrong, but, as they say on NPR’s “Marketplace” program, “But first, the numbers.”

According to new figures from the Census Bureau, the poverty rate in America in 2009 jumped to 15%, up from 13.2% of the population in 2008. That would be one in seven of us, or about 45 million people living below the poverty line of $22,000 for a family of four. Now, obviously, things are pretty tough for people who are earning a lot more than that. It’s not easy getting by with a family of four on $35,000, especially in some parts of the country, so the real poverty rate is probably a whole lot higher than 15%, but let’s not quibble. The point is that we now have the highest rate of poverty that the country has seen since the mid-’60s.

Obama's rosy view of economic growth is at odds with realityObama's rosy view of growth is at odds with reality

Obama is claiming that growing the economy is the answer for these people. As he put it at a White House news conference, “The most important anti-poverty effort is growing the economy and making sure there are enough jobs out there…If we can grow the economy faster and create more jobs, then everybody is swept up into that virtuous cycle.”

The problem with this answer is that economic growth doesn’t guarantee jobs, and it also doesn’t guarantee that any jobs created, or already there, will pay better wages.

Journalists in Rose-Colored Glasses: Economic Cheerleading Instead of Reporting

It’s no surprise that the Obama administration and the Democrats in Congress are trying to claim that the recession (which they blame on Bush and Cheney) is over and that the economy is slowly returning to health thanks to their efforts at economic stimulus. At least those highly dubious claims get challenged by Republicans, who can be relied on to counter with evidence to the contrary, and to claim (with equal self-serving deception) that the economy is in a slump thanks to Democratic policies.

The problem comes when the media, which are supposed to take a skeptical stance, start playing economic cheerleaders, and providing the public with false information and false hopes.

This has come to be pretty much the norm these days. Those who warn that the underpinnings of the US economy are eroded, and that there is really nothing left to drive a recovery, or who warn that there is a serious danger of a slide into an even deeper recession or even a depression, are written off as “doomsayers,” and given little credence or ink, while the slightest sign of something positive gets hailed as evidence that things are on the mend.

The Corruption Conundrum

Corruption is more and more being built up as our greatest problem in Afghanistan. It’s all over the newspapers and the TV. At the epi-center of this corruption, the Kabul Bank we helped create and maintain has run aground and there’s talk in the air of a financial bail-out.

Meanwhile, the $250 million commission created to buy off Taliban fighters is “almost dead,” according to a top Afghan official at the commission. We have no trouble giving US tax dollars to the government and banking system in Afghanistan, but we can’t seem to get the Taliban to take our money.

“In Kabul, politics is all about money,” a prominent Afghan businessman recently told New York Times reporters in a story on the political connections between President Hamid Karzai and the Kabul Bank. It seems the bank gave $14 million for Karzai’s re-election after he agreed to name a bank shareholder’s brother – the fearsome Tajik General Muhammad Fahim — as his vice presidential candidate.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Afghan President Hamid KarzaiUS Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Afghan President Hamid Karzai

Misery of Massive Unemployment Mocks Meaning of Labor Day

The Obama administration and Congressional Democrats deservedly receive criticism for failing to take decisive action on the nation’s deepening crisis of prolonged joblessness – inaction constituting gross negligence.

The defiant intransigent of congressional Republicans painfully aggravates this unemployment crisis.

But give credit where credit is due: Obama and his Capitol Hill critics have been doing a great job in boosting newly created jobs in at least a few areas like sales of anti-Obama paraphernalia plus sales of weapons and ammunition.

Two Tales of Islamophobia: The US and Germany

Dirty Jews and Ragheads:
If Modern America Resembles Weimar, the Tea Party Resembles…

By Betsy Rossinsky

I learned I was Jewish the hard way. Soon after my mother died, her ex-husband (my father) took me away to live with him. I was seven at the time.

“You killed Christ,” a pretty little girl named Peggy told me matter of factily on my first day at the new school. Apparently, Peggy’s mother didn’t like the sound of my name when she heard I was joining the second grade class. (She had called our housekeeper to verify her suspicion.)

“I didn’t kill Christ. The Jews killed Christ,” I replied, sure in my knowledge of innocence. My mother was an Episcopalian, who had sent me to Sunday School at the small church right across our street.

“Well, you’re Jewish,” Peggy retorted and marched away to join her friends.

That night I asked my father, “Am I Jewish?”

“Daddy is Jewish,” he said in a gentle voice. “When you’re grown-up you can decide who you want to be.”

He was wrong.

Looking for a Straight Answer

Last Saturday, I pondered America’s soul.

I was in Portland, Maine, attending the annual Veterans For Peace convention, which featured Chris Hedges as its keynote speaker. Hedges, a Harvard divinity graduate who worked for many years as a war correspondent in El Salvador, Bosnia and other very violent places, gave a take-no-prisoners speech that prophesized the end of America as we know it.

The way Hedges saw it, the forces of militarized capitalism organized a coup in America, and that coup has been successful. The party’s over and things are going to get a lot worse. He spoke of a land fallen into barbarism and a dictatorial state in power.

It’s becoming pretty widely understood that America is in the midst of a major, epochal reckoning that does not seem to be letting up. Few in Portland would have disagreed with this. The issue was in the degree of unpleasantness one could stand as one contemplated the future. Some felt Hedges had come too close to hopelessness.

As Dylan said: “Somethin’s happenin’ here, and you don’t know what it is … do you, Mister Jones.”

Veterans For Peace march through Portland, MaineVeterans For Peace march through Portland, Maine

Investors Are a Wacky Bunch, and the Financial Press is Largely a Shill Game

One of the great mantras of the modern economics profession is that markets know best, and that the collective “wisdom” of investors is generally correct.

I’ve never really believed that, having spent years writing about business and finance. In fact, my interviews with market strategists, Wall Street economists and portfolio managers have convinced me that it’s the rare investor or analyst who has done much serious reading of history, political science or even economics and finance for that matter. Sure, some people can be very good at analyzing the worth and the potential of a specific company, but when it comes to macroeconomic trends, most of the explanations you get are very narrowly focussed and ignorant, showing little concern for or understanding of the great drivers of history, economics or politics.

That said, I’m still left scratching my head at today’s roughly 3% jump in the US equities market, which the investment analyst community is attributing to a report by the relatively obscure Institute for Supply Management, which announced that its index of manufacturing activity in the US had risen a bit to 56.3, instead of dipping slightly, as had been predicted by analysts.

Expat Sees Return of Scary Times

Victor Grossman, an expatriate American journalist now in his 80’s and living in Berlin, sees ominous parallels between America’s anti-Communist outrages during the 1950’s and the conservative ‘Blame-The-Other’ assaults rampant today in America, and in many European countries, including Germany.

Grossman ought to know. It was the Red-bating of the late ‘40s and early ‘50s that drove this Harvard grad to make a life-altering decision and leave America behind.

“It’s the same old trick everywhere and it works so often!” the Ivy Leaguer said, warning “It is also a main concentration point of the fascist element.”

A prime driver of the racial/religious intolerance roiling in America today is the FOX News cable network that employs two luminaries in the Blame-The-Other game: Glenn Beck, the broadcast agitator and Sarah Palin, the political hustler/presidential aspirant.

While FOX hosts and guests regularly rail about ‘threats’ facing America from Communism, a large advertiser on FOX is Wal-Mart, America’s largest importer of goods from China, ironically the world’s largest Communist country.

Driving Lessons on the Big Island: My Hawaii

 
Can a song played at rush hour over the Islands of Hawaii cause car crashes?
Can a song make you suddenly sob and shake and weep and completely lose control of
your automobile while you are driving from Honoka’a to Kona on the Big Island of
Hawaii? Can a song be banned from the radio on the mainland because it is too powerful,
too moving, too compelling? Perhaps. I’m not sure. I’m still trying to find out the facts.

Let me begin at Sam’s Hideway in Kona. It’s a little karaoke place where working
people go after their day’s over. My friend Charles Colman took me there on a Friday
night. It’s in the Kona Marketplace just off 75 – 5725 Ali’I Drive, down the block from
Uncle Billy’s Kona Inn. Charles said we had to go on Friday night, when Kimberly
sings. I’ll give you the number, so you can check the next time you’re in Kona.
It’s 808 326 7267.