Sunday, September 25, 2011

Big Brother Fed / We Fart In Your General Direction

After reading this flabbergasting post (you have to read it to believe it) at the always informative and courageous site, ZeroHedge, titled: 
Here Comes FIATtackWatch: Ben "Big Brother" Bernanke Goes Watergate, Prepares To Eavesdrop On Everything Mentioning The Fed

We here at The Refreshment Center have decided that old McCarthy noodle just won't stick to the wall here.  If you've never seen 'Good Night And Good Luck' you should rent it yesterday.  Edward R. Murrow is a hero of sorts here and we surely believe that he would never bow down to such base and unconstitutional fear-mongering.  But here's the thing - it's not the government really doing the fear-mongering.  It's the Money Masters.

The Money Masters is a MUST WATCH for every American citizen.  And it is more important now than ever before that Americans understand how our monetary system works.  You'll understand why The Fed is so afraid of it's reputation in the eyes of the public when poop is hitting the fan in Europe and countries like Greece are looking at default.

They probably should have started worrying when Ron Paul's book, 'End The Fed' became a top seller.  They are ridiculously late in their concern for knowing what the 'little people' think.

It's a long movie - take breaks throughout but please make time to watch.
Your family, children and grandchildren will thank you for it.

PS: Bernanke, your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.
Now go away or we shall taunt you a second time.
FEATURE:

The Money Masters - Full-Length (3hrs 19m)


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Wall Street ~ Then and Now

Stunned crowds gathered outside the Subtreasury after the crash of 1929.
Awakened crowds crash on Wall Street, 2011.

BURN THE OLIVE TREE, SELL THE LEXUS ~ Free Market History 101

by Greg Palast and Oliver Shykles

[This essay grew out of Palast's remarks in a debate with Thomas Friedman before a World Economic Forum meeting in Cleveland in April, 2001.  Dated?  Yes.  Relevant?  Even more so now.  We must know the destructive history of 'free market' capitalism and bonehead economics in order to reasonably address (and get past) the complete myth of 'growth'.  We have to create a new meme for sustainable, local solutions so they can take root and thrive.  You can't know where you're headed if you don't know where you've been. ~ Gabrielle]

Globalization is really neat. Just ask Thomas Friedman. He has a column in the New York Times and he wrote a big, fat best-selling book, "The Lexus and the Olive Tree" which explains it all to us - the marvels of the New Globalization Order.

Now right there in my Lexus book it says that in this brave new world we will all have internet-enabled cell phones which will allow us to trade Amazon.com stock and, at the very same time, we can talk to Eskimos. The really exciting part is we will all be able to do this from our bedrooms in our pajamas.

When he's not in his pajamas Friedman is in fact one of a gaggle of happy-go-lucky globalizers running around chirruping the virtues of globalization in its current form. He lays out, on a level of detail never seen before, the ability of globalization to democratize three key areas: technology, finance, and information. He argues that everyone in this global New World Order will have access to the all the technology, finance and information they need to live healthy and happy lives.

And so when I finished reading his book I thought to myself, "Wow! This is a future I want to be a part of." Just imagine, every village from the Andes to Shaker Heights will be connected, empowered and enabled and that's one heck of a future. I want this and I want it now. But hold on a minute ... I just picked up the paper and it said that 100,000 people massed in Genoa to protest against the G8: that is the eight largest industrial nations driving forward globalization. And 10 months before 20,000 people had gathered in Prague to demonstrate against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund: two of the key international agencies driving free trade expansion, a guiding force behind globalization.

So what the heck is wrong with these protesters, don't they understand? Haven't they heard about the Eskimos? Don't they understand economics? As the Prime Minister of Britain, Tony Blair, explains, "The protests and people who indulge in the protests are completely misguided. World Trade is good for peoples' jobs and peoples' living standards", "These protests are a complete outrage." But, you have to forgive youth it's lack of sophistication. They obviously haven't read the Gospel of Globalization according to Thomas, nor their daily scripture, the New York Times.

The answers were first became widely known as "Thatcherism" in Britain and "Reaganomics" in the US and then later as "The Washington Consensus". As Friedman puts it, "The Golden Straightjacket first began to be stitched together [...] by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. That Thatcherite coat was soon reinforced by Ronald Reagan."

In fact, it's a very lucky thing that global capitalism happens to be such a good system because as far as Friedman is concerned it's now the only one left. Socialism, communism and fascism have all gone kaput, "The Cold War had the Mao suit, the Nehru jackets, the Russian fur. Globalization has only the Golden Straightjacket." And so all that's left in our closet is Friedman's golden straightjacket but it's okay because, as Friedman puts it, "the tighter you wear it the more gold it produces." So strap yourselves in! Everyone still breathing okay? Then I'll continue.

So there are no dissenters now, we all agree, we're all wearing the same straightjacket. As Friedman explains on page 106 of his book, it was all democratic, we all got to take part in the debate. And I thought about this and I remembered that we did have a choice, Friedman was right. We had our choice of George W. Thatcher, Reagan Clinton Bush or Al Thatcher Reagan Gore. You see, there's no room in the golden straightjacket for anyone who doesn't agree. And as Friedman himself admits, "it is increasingly difficult these days to find any real difference between ruling and opposition parties in those countries that have put on the Golden Straightjacket ... be they led by Democrats or Republicans, Conservatives or Labourites, Christian Democrats or Social Democrats."

So just when I was getting sized up for my own straightjacket, and boy was I excited, I read that there were riots in Ecuador. And I remember thinking to myself, "Oh my, why are they in the streets?" There are people in the streets and there are tanks too. And I thought to myself, "Perhaps the Internet is down, perhaps they're trying to unload their Amazon.com stock which is dropping like crazy. They can't log on. It's all jammed up. I mean, the future's on hold here. Will someone please call AOL."


Right on the front of one of them it said "restricted distribution" and "it may not otherwise be disclosed without World Bank authorization." It was a "confidential", for eyes only, document. I couldn't resist the temptation so pretend you never saw what I'm about to reveal to you - when you've finished, rip out this chapter and eat it right up. So I opened up the document. It was called The Ecuador Interim Country Assistance Strategy. I read this strategy and it included a schedule for raising the price of cooking gas. Now, they used to call these things "Structural Assistance Plans" but oops, they got a bad name, so like all the best PR firms, they did the right thing and changed the name. Now they're known as "Poverty Reduction Strategies ". Nothing like a little whitewash to keep people quiet. But the people of Ecuador weren't keeping quiet, so I read on ...

Along with the forced hike in cooking gas prices the World Bank required the elimination of 26,000 government jobs. Other poverty reduction strategies included a cut in pensions and a cut in real wages nationwide, by half no less, all this through World Bank directed macroeconomic manipulation. Part of the plan included the handing over of a license for a trans-Andes pipeline controlled by British Petroleum. I wasn't sure; perhaps I had become confused. Maybe they meant that the poverty reduction program was a poverty reduction program for British Petroleum.

In all, the World Bank and IMF helpfully "suggested" 167 strategies as part of its loan package. But Ecuador was broke, that's why it had asked for the World Bank's help in the first place. It desperately needed the wampum, so desperately in fact that it had no choice but to accept these strategies. I shall, therefore, refer to these "strategies" as conditions, which is what they are, loan conditions. No ifs, no buts, sign on the line thank-you very much.
Oddly I didn't read about Structural Assistance Plans or the 167 conditionalities for Ecuador in my Lexus nor in the Times. But just hold on a moment, what happened to democratic finance? Thomas Friedman, our new apostle, said that anyone can obtain finance capital now, it's all democratic. Hey, he said, even David Bowie can issue bonds (to the tune of $55 million no less). Maybe Ecuador's problem was that it didn't have a rock star to co-sign with them.

But there's a bigger problem here, these conditions weren't just put together especially for Ecuador. Any country in crisis receiving a loan package from the World Bank gets a neat little set of conditions along with their loans, 111 on average. Now you'd think that if they were doing all these wonderful things to reduce poverty they would want to shout it from the rooftops. Hey, perhaps they're just modest. In fact, talk about modesty - did you know they even found a cure for AIDS? Yes indeed, I kid you not.

But before I tell you how they did it you first have to understand all the conditions, all the little nuggets that can be found in the pockets of our golden straightjackets. So let's enumerate them just as Thomas Friedman does on page 105 of his book. Okay, privatization is number one. Second is deregulation: you've got to get rid of all those dull bureaucrats and their thick rule books, you know they just get in the way of things. Next is free trade: drop the borders between people and all the nice things they want. Four, free up the capital markets, let capital flow in order to generate business and jobs worldwide. Five, support those international agencies which enforce our new international order - the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and let's not forget the good ol' World Trade Organization. In other words don't dye your hair green and go into the streets of Seattle and break the windows in a Starbucks. And finally: you must look for a market-based solution. Remember, that's the one that gives you the "win-win" situation.

Now, I can tell you that it's with the market based solution that they found a cure for AIDS in Tanzania. Now in Tanzania the silly things used to give away health care. Can you believe it? So what World Bank said was, "You've got to stop being so scatterbrained and start charging for medical care", "You've got a health care crisis and you've got to cure it with our market based solution".

In a nation with 1.4 million people with HIV/AIDS that means a lot of visits to the hospital. So when you start charging those people to visit the hospital they stop coming. In Dar Es Salaam the number of hospital visits dropped by 53%. That's quite a cure and I don't think anyone could beat that.

Now, globalization has many other "success" stories. In Britain, Margaret Thatcher took the electricity system and she privatized and deregulated it. Electricity used to cheaper in Britain than in the US but now consumers pay 70% more per unit than their American counterparts. The same process was applied to the gas system and the charges shot up to a level some 60% higher than in the US where some type of regulation still exists. Water in the US is still mostly a publicly owned system but the British, still not satisfied with the privatization and deregulation of the gas and electricity industries, went about the same process with the water industry. Now the happily straightjacketed folks there pay 250% more than we do in the US.

So tickled were they with their clever programs of privatization and deregulation they decided to spread the good news. The system spread, via a World Bank loan condition, to Brazil. There the electricity industry was targeted and the Rio Light Company of Rio de Janeiro was taken out of public hands. The new British, French and American owners came along and said, "Just look, look at this bloated and inefficient company and its huge payroll". So they immediately set to work making it lean and mean. And mean it was: they knocked off 40% of the workforce. But there was a problem; the workers knew where the transformers were. So the lights in Rio de Janeiro started flickering and Rio Light is now know as Rio Dark. But that was not all, for a flickering light system the people of Rio de Janeiro got to pay double what they had paid prior to privatization. But don't panic; it's not all doom and gloom. There was a huge increase in profits.

So after the failed attempt at privatization in Brazil they said, "well, let's try it again, we'll do it right this time. We'll go to India". And that failed, so they went to Pakistan: the attempt there became one of the reasons why they had a military coup. So they went to Chile and that didn't work there either. So they said, "Let's try, one more desperate time. We'll go to a place that understands the future. We'll go to California and they'll get it, they'll be able to deal with deregulation. They'll get the wonderful effects of reductions due to the miracles of the markets. There'll be competition and prices in California, which are too high, will plummet." In fact when the Californian legislature voted to de-regulate the price of electricity, they even changed the law to the effect that prices would fall 20%. Yet, year on year prices rose in the wholesale market in California. Actually in one year they rose 380%. So faced with a terrible problem in California they went to Cleveland instead.

While I was in Cleveland to debate Thomas Friedman I got a letter from my friendly-faced hotelier. It read: "Dear Guest, due to the current energy issue, a surcharge is being applied nightly to all guest accounts'. Well I'll tell you it's not an "energy issue". It's a crisis. And it's not a crisis of energy; it's a crisis of globalization. It's a crisis of a plan that never seems to work.

I used to work as an advisor with the utility commission of Ohio, amongst others, and we were thinking about what to do about the billions spent on nuclear plants and other wasteful projects that went nowhere. That was in the 1980s, in the bad old days before de-regulation, so the answer we came up with was simple: you put a cap on the price. You just put a cap on it. You regulate in the public's interest. But little did I know that we should have looked for the market-based solution. I am now reading Paul Krugman. Now he is the guy that appears in the New York Times with Thomas Friedman. So there it was, Friedman the globalizer and Krugman the globalizer and they agree with each other. Krugman says, "I know the solution to bring down the prices of supplies: what we should do is remove all caps and allow electricity prices to rise." And I said, "Wow!" I didn't think of it; that's really deep. If you want the prices to go down you raise them. And I thought about that. It's like a one hand clapping thing.

I have to confess I didn't understand it at all. I said, "This is beyond me. I had better go to one of the gurus of globalization. I mean one of the inventors of market-based solutions. You know: the top banana." So I went to Cambridge University with my camera crew from BBC. And I sat down, for several hours, with the man himself; the voice of globalization, Professor Joseph Stiglitz. Now Stiglitz was the chief economist of the World Bank. The guy who wrote some of these plans and conditions. The guy who came up with these market based solutions. And so I said, "You've gotta answer this for me. I'm really losing it, Professor Stiglitz. To cut electricity prices you raise the prices. To cure AIDS, you raise the price of medicine. To stop the hemorrhage of capital in Ecuador, you remove capital controls on the export of capital. I don't get it."

And so he explained it to me sort of like this, "You see, in the Middle Ages, they used to put leeches on people's bodies when they were ill and they would get sicker and sicker. And you know what they would say? They would say, "You know what? You know what's wrong? There's still blood." So they would apply more leeches. And that's how the globalisation program works. You just keep applying leeches and if a little deregulation seems to be making the system sick what you need is more deregulation to try to cure the system." And I said, "You know what? You don't sound like you're wearing your straightjacket." And he replied, "Well I'm not, not anymore". Despite the fact that there's supposedly no dissent, he was dissenting; and this is the guy who conceived the system.

So I asked him "What happened here then?", and he said, "Well, you know, economics is a science. It's a dismal science, but it's a science. And you know what the problem with globalization and the program of privatizations, deregulation, liberalisation of capital markets are? They don't work." And he told me to take a look at Latin America in the period 1960 to 1980. In the Dark Ages in which they had all kind of government regulations, controls, quasi-socialist economies and government intervention, Latin America's per capita income grew by 73%. The same went for Africa; its per-capita income grew by 34%. But it was "inefficient" and we thought we could do better with free-market solutions. And so it began in 1980, with the International Monetary Fund and then the World Bank, sending out structural assistance programs with loan conditions. They said, if we're going to give you money, you've got to change your economy.

Then came the economic miracle. Latin America, in the next 20 years in its straightjacket, went from 73% growth per capita income to just about nothing: 6%. Africa, which had grown at a pokey 34% during those 20 years, has since dropped by 23%. The privatization program became what Professor Stiglitz called the "briberization" program. What happened was that privatization became the means to sell off the country to bandits who then had no reason to operate businesses so instead they just sold off the assets. And that's what happened in Russia and there it resulted in a depression. I said to him, "You sound like a bitter man. Did it work for anyone, is it all doom and gloom?" He said, "Oh no, you look at the numbers for Asia; the World Bank always talks about how well Asia did. That's because of China and the tremendous growth it experienced." And I asked him what China's trick was and he replied, "They didn't listen to us!" China said, "We're not privatising; we're not liberalizing. Worry, keep your straightjacket."

I asked him if there were any other good stories. He said, "Yeah, Botswana." "So what did they do?" I asked. He said - no points for guessing - Botswana, it turns out, also said "Forget it." Botswana was the one nation in Africa that refused the International Monetary Fund and World Bank's help.

So it had all gone bad. The protesters were going to be out in the streets this week and there were protests going on in Ecuador. In fact, when we talk about protests we think about Seattle and Genoa and the claims that all these white college kids are just out there because they don't know what to do with themselves, and because they just don't understand economics. But what you didn't hear about was the 400 protests that took place in the Third World in 1999 alone. There they understand exactly what's going on.

But how come we never hear about these demonstrations on our televisions or in our newspapers? Well, it's because Thomas Friedman the globalizer, on the political left, writing in The New York Times, agrees with Milton Friedman the globalizer, on the political right. And the opinion in The Times matches the opinion in the Washington Post, which matches the Financial Times which matches ABC, NBC, BBC and CBC and any other mainstream media outlet you care to mention. And so it would seem that everyone agrees now. That is everyone who is doing quite well, thank you very much, out of globalization and out of the suffering of billions of people. They are not going to tell you about suffering on the streets in the First World and the Third World caused by the undemocratic international agencies and our supposedly democratically elected governments (the idea of democracy is based on a choice - a real choice, not a choice between globalistas and globalistas). They won't tell you that this system is a mess because it is not in their best interests to do so.

Currently the wealth of the world's 475 billionaires is greater than the combined income of the poorest half of humanity. But Friedman still wants to assure us that, "The answer is free-market capitalism. Other systems may be able to distribute and divide income more efficiently and equitably, but none can generate income to distribute as efficiently as free-market capitalism." I'm sure that the poorest half of humanity feels much better now Mr Friedman, thank you.

But there was nothing wrong with the international control of trade when the World Bank - that is the World Bank that John Maynard Keynes devised - came along and rebuilt the nations that had been flattened by World War II. The International Monetary Fund also helped by correcting the imbalance of trade that resulted from changes in commodity prices. But things changed in 1980 when we all climbed into our golden straightjackets with Thatcher, Reagan and Milton Friedman. The agencies were taken over by the Free-Market Believers who had plans for structural adjustment, globalizing and economies free of government.

"So where did we go wrong?" I asked myself. In my pile of confidential papers I found a General Agreement on Trade and Services (GATS) from the secretariat of the World Trade Organization. You're not supposed to see this either, but what the heck. This document contains a discussion of something called the "necessity test" and it tells you the real plan behind the several "democracies" Friedman says are the gift of globalization.

The "Necessity Test' appears within GATS article 6.4. Now I know this has nothing to do with trading stock in your pajamas, but this is what globalisation is really about. This is the plan for the establishment of a panel which will set national laws and regulations. What this innocuous looking article means is that only those regulations of a nation which are "least burdensome" to business for "legitimate policy purposes" are allowed. Legitimate policy purposes? But I thought that's what nations had Congresses and Parliaments for: it is for Congress and Parliament to decide what is legitimate and what is not. A "necessity test" already exists in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA); this will be expanded in the FTAA and this is why there were people in the streets in Quebec in April 2001.

So what happened under NAFTA with this "Necessity Test"? Well, there's an interesting story here: it's the story of the case of Metalclad, a US based company who wanted to build a toxic dump in Mexico. It was one of the new breed of globalizers following the advice of Larry Summers, who said that the Third World is under polluted from an economic point of view. Summers is the guy who was US secretary of the Treasury and Stiglitz's predecessor at the World Bank, so he must know what he's talking about. He was also the guy who demanded that Stiglitz be fired for dissent. (So now there cannot be any dissenting, because we all agree, right? There is no dissent now, because if you dissent your head is cut off and put on a spike on L Street, Washington. But I digress) So Metalclad wanted to put a toxic dump into a central Mexican state, on top of an aquifer, no less. And Mexico said, "You know, we have our rules. You can't put a toxic dump above our water supply." And Metalclad said, "Have you read NAFTA?" And so Metalclad took Mexico to court under the NAFTA "Necessity Test" rules.

But the NAFTA disputes panel is not like the courts as you know them, where things are open. The NAFTA disputes panel is secret, closed to the public. So Metalclad made their case and it turned out that Mexico was being "trade restrictive". So not only did Mexico get a toxic waste dump right on top of their aquifer but they also received a bill for millions of dollars for delaying the toxic dumping.

But it's not just Mexico that has experienced the full force of NAFTA, California now faces a bill for $976 million as punishment for not changing its anti-pollution laws. The trade restrictive hooligans there wanted to stop a Canadian company from selling them their toxic gasoline additive.

But I just couldn't get Ecuador off my mind so I went back to Stiglitz and asked him about how those pesky folks got into financial trouble in the first place. He told me the International Monetary Fund and World Bank years ago forced Ecuador to liberalize its capital markets, remove all restrictions on ownership of bonds on the movement of money across borders. This way, capital can easily flow in and flow out. But the capital flowed out and it flowed out. So the IMF said, my god, you gotta get that money back, start raising interest rates! So Ecuador raised their rates 10 ... 20 . 30 ... 40 ... 50 ... 60 ... 70 ... 80 ... 90%. But that caused the economy to go into the tank. Then the World Bank said "Well you can't raise interest rates anymore, so start selling everything that isn't nailed down." And when that money was used up to pay creditors the bank ordered a price rise on items like cooking gas.

Yet despite the World Bank's success, some people didn't want to put on their golden straightjackets. In 2000 there was a protest in Cochabamba, Bolivia. It was a protest against the privatization and deregulation of the local water company and it was led by the local Archbishop and a union leader named Oscar Olivera. The privatization and deregulation was part of the World Bank's cure because Cochabamba had problems; only 35% of the people there had good drinking water. So of course the World Bank said we have an idea: let's privatize the water company. And so they passed Cochbamba's problems to Bechtel, an American company, and International Water of London because they will know what to do, they will apply a market-based solution. And they did: they raised the price of water. That's why there were people on the streets.

Hugo Banzar, who used to be Bolivia's dictator but who had now become president, sent in the tanks. And then I got this note which told me that two days later a 17 year-old, Hugo Daza, had been killed, shot through the face. A friend of mine, who knows his family, told me that he was just in town to run an errand for his mother. In the protests that ensued four more people were shot dead. Jim Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank, was asked about the incident a couple of days later. He said, "The riots in Bolivia, I am pleased to say, are quieting down'. He then went on to warn the Bolivians that they had better start paying their water bills.

A year later the protesters won, and the price of water dropped. But then it started creeping up again. Then I got another note telling me that Oscar Olivera and the Archbishop, head of the human rights committee, had led another peaceful protest. The authorities had responded by sending in close to 1,000 heavily armed members of the Bolivian security forces to disperse the peaceful marchers with tear gas, beating them and confiscating their personal possessions. Oscar Olivera went missing.

It turned out that he had been detained by the authorities, an action which contravened Bolivian law: Article 7 of the Bolivian constitution guarantees citizens the right to protest and the freedom to meet and associate for legal ends. I understand now why Thomas Friedman, despite talking at length about the democratization of technology, of finance and of information, only once mentions the democratization of democracy and it's right there on page 167 where Friedman proudly explains democracy IMF-style: "It's one dollar, one vote."

I've gotta go now, I gotta get my cell phone, get in my pajamas and tell those Eskimos what's really goin' on.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Suburban Porch Zen / A Rambling Chautauqua

(Originally published 2008)

Humidity hangs heavy like a damp wash rag on my head and the sun is going down.  Though not fast enough for me - the wasps keep coming 'round and buzzing my ears.  Only slightly less annoying is the ice in my cocktail watering down its contents faster than I can drink it.  There is a distant rumble which sounds odd until it becomes familiar at its approach.  It is unmistakable.  Plastic Big Wheel tires on a sidewalk.  The cats don't like it and are rattled and look about wide-eyed.  I find myself unable to keep from smiling at them.  They spend too much time indoors to be fierce predators.  Then I laugh when I think of the neighborhood I remembered that familiar sound echoing through almost every day.  Perhaps it was a Green Machine...I wonder if they still make those?

The sun sets lower now.  The kind of blue sky at dusk before ball field lights come on or the countdown at the drive-in would begin.  At least at a drive-in before daylight savings time.  No sound of traffic here except the honking of geese flying east to the pond over the treeline.  A gold finch lights on the cherry tree, twittering its business but the cats could care less.  I don't believe these felines have ever climbed a tree.  The finch seems to mock them for it - almost as much as the robins and the rabbits who live under the shed less than a yard away.

The lightening bugs have now joined the fray of the garden party.  They arrive fashionably late but it's always good to see them.  I'm hearing Big Wheel tires again but the cicadas and crickets all but drown it out now.  It's funny how they don't complain to each other about the noise their neighbors make.  I catch a glint of shiny railroad track in my vision and my eyes follow it into the trees.  I am reminded of a long walk down similar tracks in my pre-teens to sneak into the drive-in up the road.  The trees seemed lit up like Christmas with so many fireflies.  An otherworldly green led our way home on those nights.  The perfume of clover along the tracks was the smell of hide-and-seek.

I start to think of drinking from garden hoses when a heron passes over head, reminding me where I am and that I need ice for my drink.  Upon my return from antarctic foraging, I find my seat has been stolen by one of the two non-predatory cats.  As if he thought my chair out of the three others was the weaker of the pack to conquer.  Chances are better he's just spoiled.  I don't begrudge him his perch and say, "I snooze, I lose, eh?"  He looks at me with half-closed eyes before blinking annoyingly.  If he could talk, he'd probably ask why I didn't bring him treats since I was up, after all.  I take the seat across from it and prop my feet up on the seat cushion next to him.  He purrs audibly.

The cicadas are still playing their music quite loud.  No school nights or early commutes for them.  I hear a dog barking off in the distance and the wind picks up notably.  I can smell the faintest hint of rain when the breeze tickles my nose just right.  It's going to be cooling down now.  I scan the sky to see darker clouds headed in from the west.  I'll think I will just stay out here until it looks like trouble.

There is a train whistle coming from the city, the same direction as the approaching storm.  The bellies of the clouds are orange and then gray, an altogether different sight than otherworldly green trees.  This is the color of a dying fire, smoldering slow under the ashes just before it goes out.  I wonder if the train will outrun the storm.  They are both leaving the city at the same time but at what speeds?  I think I'll put my money on the train.

A wind gusts abruptly, startling the suburban cats of prey back to the sliding glass door.  That holy gate to sanctuary and treats they don't have to work to catch.  I get up and let them back in to their unnatural habitat.  They seem surprised that I closed the door without following them inside.  They stand looking out at me, pitifully, through the glass.  It's too late, they've shown their mettle.  I turn and walk against the gusts to the middle of the yard, feeling the cool grass on my bare feet.  A glance backward shows the cats have have moved on from pleading at the door.  I smile and note that even suburban cats have pride.  I walk a little further to survey the clouds and they reveal bright orange underbellies now.  They are thickening over the city like smoke.  

I looked down the tracks for signs of the train approaching.  My eye naturally follows the shiny rail to the horizon; the city's orange glow reflected on the tracks.  The city.  I imagine people there the way I used to at the drive-in.  Some come for the show and then there are the players on the big screen.  Observers talk and pick apart stories - the players stories always bigger than life.  Both sides seem to have a fair share of one-dimensional characters.  Those whose dramas seem to unfold over loudspeakers, echoing out into the night for all to hear;  while others are just whispered, like smeared lipstick promises in backseats.  Reality or fantasy, lovers or conquests -- I know the best scenario of them all is the one unscripted, simple and unmasked behind the scenes.  I shake my head, smiling vaguely at the thought of what characters are on the city's marquee tonight.  But I've seen that movie -- put the speaker back on the pole and start the car.  I'd rather go for a drive down a road I've never been on.

The storm is coming.  The train whistle echoes out again and I see his light coming closer.  A few drops of rain fall on my cheek.  I head back toward the house to pick up my pen and paper.  I have work still to get to.  The train blares his approach to the nearest crossing now as I open the door to go inside.  The skies haven't opened up just yet but he's barreling along at a good clip.  For a moment, I picture the engineer as a simple man I thought I knew well.  I believed I would have enjoyed sneaking to the drive-in with him.  But I have to dismiss that silliness.  It turned out he was probably too city for me after all.

No matter where my imaginary train conductor is headed, he's staying dry this time.  I smile because we both won that bet.  I think its best to smile while on your journey, no matter what your destination.  I appreciate a good storm because I've weathered a good amount of them.  You learn to respect the strong ones and then intuitively you find what to be watchful for.  I will risk standing in a good one once and awhile because they make you feel alive and rain makes things grow.
Next time, I think I'll put my money on the skies.  The odds are always against his train remaining dry because storms are guaranteed to come...especially on those one way tracks with no stops in between.

All I can do is wish my conductor the best of luck on his journey.
'Sunset Forgets' canvas print print

Media Culture 10 Years Later / How Much Will It Cost To Buy You Out?

by Gabrielle Price
(Originally published 9/11/2005 | updated, 9/10/2011)


"The last half of the 20th century will seem like a wild party for rich kids, compared to what's coming now. The party's over, folks. . . [Censorship of the news] is a given in wartime, along with massive campaigns of deliberately-planted "Dis-information". That is routine behavior in Wartime - for all countries and all combatants - and it makes life difficult for people who value real news." ~ Hunter S. Thompson / "When War Drums Roll" 2001

The date that lives in everyone's memory and the beginning of a road traveled by many.  Some have seen the signs, taken the detours and some are still blindly on this road.  I traveled down it entirely too long.

I do not wish to take away from the tragedy of that day, or forget those who lost so much (and made me realize what I had).  I also do not wish to turn this into a 9/11 Truth discussion.  There are many things that happened that do not make much sense to me and an independent investigation is warranted, in my opinion.  But this isn't what this post is about.  This is about buying into the fear that was sold at every turn by an administration and the media after this tragic day.

This was a life altering event...an event that brought out the best of us as citizens; the best in people all over the globe when we were experiencing the unimaginable.  What is more unimaginable to me is how people have behaved toward each other since; as if that day never occurred.  There is a time to grieve and move on, yes.  For the families, it is their time to remember in their own way, heal in their own time.  I don't think there is any harm in having public ceremonies but I'm not sure that they need national coverage now.  I think we should all remember in our own way.  It is as much part of your history as this country's history as it is etched in the history of humanity.  Like asking your parents or grandparents where they were the day Kennedy was shot...it changed things for them.  It changed a nation.  This day is the same, on a global stage...and the history books may not tell the story the way you will ultimately remember it.  (At least, American history books...)

My story begins with a trip in the way-back machine.  Many events had occurred in my life before that historic Tuesday morning and in many ways, were still unfolding in small increments.  Each day was a new challenge and I was trying my best to believe that each day was a gift.  Many of life's changes are painful - when you're in them, they can seem excruciating.  You can't stop them from coming - but the pain eventually is forgotten and the lessons learned are carried forward into the next inevitable change.

It is the only constant - so you learn to realize you have two choices.  Crawl in a hole and quit or stand up and meet them.  [Often, the biggest challenge is to meet them gracefully.]

My best and dearest friend passed away in 1997 from suicide and dealing with that in itself took its toll over subsequent years, especially with life changes to come.  The betrayal of a husband, once a friend who then became a stranger to me and others who knew him.  This separation directly effected my plan to take care of my grandmother and I had to move out of her house...in so doing, losing the opportunity to buy the house (the family home), the house she wished us to have.  I could not have accomplished this purchase on my own, so I had to leave that dream behind.  This broke my heart more than the spouse ever did.  My grandmother passed soon after I moved out on my own...starting again as a single mom at 33.

Needless to say, I had a lot on my plate and it was a challenge to keep ahead of the curve and keep sanity at the same time.  Friends helped as much as they could; family as well.  Still, when you are dealing with so much, you tend to lay low and lick your wounds to recoup for another day...or for the next chapter of your life to begin.  Without my best friend and my significant other lost to me, recouping was a daunting task.  I cried many tears on many nights...

Initially, living on my own with my daughter was doable on my 'part time/close to full time as you can get' hours at a nonprofit.  We didn't spend a lot on frivolities but we managed to entertain ourselves on a budget.  There was always food on the table and bills were met every month, for a time.  We had our reading nights, video game nights and my piecemeal PC, as nickel and dime as it was, kept us entertained.  And of course, ultimately, we had each other.  Television consisted of maybe 5 channels, the bunny ears leaving arched scratches on the walls for the span of our 6 year stay there.  It offered very few choices.

No high speed internet (remember dial-up? *shudder*) and no cable.  It took me a few years to break down and get a DVD player because I dragged heels on paying to repurchase on DVD, movies that I already owned on VHS.  The only other toy in our sanctuary was my first digital camera and scanner, a gift from my parents for my birthday - which rekindled my affair with photography.  Back then, it nourished my soul when it was most needed...and it gave me a voice I'd forgotten I had.

Time passed slowly and wounds healed at the same pace.  I found that I had opportunities to travel after a year of saving a little aside and I gave myself permission to go to places that I'd always wanted to see.  I went to DC for the first time in the summer of 2001...  

I can't tell you how inspired I was to be in such a place.  I was spellbound by the history seeping out of the buildings and parks on the mall to the alleys of Georgetown.  I was overwhelmed when I visited the Library of Congress and fell in love at the National Gallery.  So much so that I spent two of my four days within its walls.

I was drunk and dizzy with visions of Monet and Rembrandt.  I was stunned to be allowed so close to these works, as much as a nose length away so that I could see the brushstrokes.  Every room I went into, I saw another painting that I had only known from a photo in a book.  Monet's Lilies, big as life in front of me and I was awestruck.  Out another passage and down the hall and there she was...

'Flaming June' Frederic Leighton c.1895 Oil on canvas
Flaming June, one of my favorite paintings by Frederic Leighton.  She was visiting the National Gallery at the same time.  You literally could have mopped me off the floor...I couldn't stop the tears welling up, I was so moved.  A female security guard walking past me asked, "Your first time here?"  All I could do was smile and nod.

When I returned home from that trip, I was different.  I felt renewed, inspired and humbled.  It was a giant exhalation and release of old for new.  I had taken over 300 pictures in 4 days and I found myself researching DC every time I was online.  I knew I would go back and didn't want to wait too long to return.  I also found myself watching more news.  I was an 'election result' junkie before then and watched the nightly news on a regular basis.  I enjoyed catching glimpses of the monuments and the lights on the reflecting pool.  In my mind, this place belonged to me, just as it belongs to all of us.  Perhaps that sounds naive and in hindsight, I know there was a level of innocence there.  Not all of that has been lost...it's just different.

"Never turn your back on fear.  It should always be in front of you, like a thing that might have to be killed." ~ Hunter S. Thompson

I remember September 11th, 2001, a Tuesday morning; like it was yesterday. 

I was off work and my then boyfriend had stayed over.  We were having coffee and doing the crossword while watching the Today show.  Early reports about the first plane; possible pilot heart attack, small aircraft...all speculative.  I returned from the kitchen after starting another pot of coffee and saw the second plane hit.  Matt Lauer spoke what was in my thought bubble, "That was intentional."

I forgot everything in that moment.  I forgot the coffee, the crossword, the bills, the plans I'd made that day.  I was hardly aware that my boyfriend was sitting next to me.  I forgot that I was pissed off about not getting my 'child tax credit', I forgot that I was angry that Bush was elected.  I forgot everything unimportant in the moments following when I witnessed the horror of the first tower falling.  What I did remember was everything that was most important to me...and I remember sobbing uncontrollably.

After I regained composure, I called my daughter's school to find out what was happening there.  She was the only person on the planet that I wanted to see and to be with in that moment.  The school was on lock down and they were waiting to see what plan, if any, would be put in action to get the students home.  I was not able to pick her up and I was imagining the panic of the other parents at home, and at work, wondering the same thing.  I called as many people as I could think to call, just to hear their voices and know they were okay.  I didn't leave the television or that front room for the majority of that day.  (It is quite possible that I didn't leave the apartment much that week unless it was for work or necessity.)

That day, I told my boyfriend I loved him.  It came out naturally.  It did not occur to me that anything I said that day would be considered inappropriate...it just mattered to me that he knew.  It didn't matter whether he said it in return or not, I wanted to say what I felt because for the second time in my life, since my best friend had passed, I realized with a jolt - life really is too fucking short not to say what you feel.

It is hard for me to look back on that day now without being angry.  I have to admit a thought that entered my mind then, that if anyone should be in charge of this country at this moment in time, I was glad it was George W.  I remember thinking, naively, he would take care of who did this...he would take care of business.  Little did I know at the time - that was all he would take care of.  In the year following this tragedy, more stories unfolded about the people who lost their lives, the people who saved lives and those who survived.  Unfortunately, there were other 'stories' that I bought into...a lot of us did.  

I wasted precious time in my life being afraid because I bought the fear the government was selling and the media was distributing.  I was vulnerable before that day...and after being gripped by tragedy beyond my own...I again became vulnerable to the machine of fear.  

A machine that was just ramping up and getting started...its sights set on bulldozing ideas and reason.

Update: 

10 years later.  I thought I would see a day where I would no longer be haunted by that fear.  It has morphed into an urgency - one that can only be managed by writing and sharing information.  My concerns now are not what they tell us we should be concerned about, but the things they do not tell us and should.  What has been seen cannot be unseen.

I don't recognize my country anymore than I used to recognize journalism and hold it in high regard.  Perhaps it was naive to think I recognized either.  Over these 10 years, I have coveted Hunter S. Thompson's work and have been told on more than one occasion that my style of political writing was comparable.  Which humbles (and tickles) me because his humor was a powerful salve throughout the Bush years...and still is today.

I often wonder what Hunter S. Thompson would have to say if he were with us but I've come to understand why he is not here.  In my mind, he did not die a coward's death - he bravely gave us his best during the worst moments in political history this country had ever witnessed.

Worst until now.

It was better to see Doc go out like a samurai rather than die of a broken heart.  But there is a part of me that imagined him taking some of the greedheads along in a final blaze of inebriated glory.  Then again, those who know his work (on both sides of the political aisle) know that he had more class than that - even at his worst, he was better than politics and journalism now touts as it's best.

"Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism." - Hunter S. Thompson

The Doc was right.  But after ten years, that's about the only tide I'm beginning to see turn for the better.  The ship of professional journalism is being scuttled alongside the Titanic failure of government.  For many witnessing it, there's nothing left but to build grassroots media and political movements or sink quietly into the watery grave of fascism.  

In honor of the good Colonel Thompson, I say let's build and man the lifeboats...with Jolly Rogers flying...and let the good times roll.

Tell the establishment to keep their 'change'.
BE the change.