Saturday, March 26, 2011

Illegal immigrants: God's gift to America

You see them all over America, standing in front of big-box hardware stores looking for work or selling oranges on the corner or doing our dishes in the kitchens of fancy restaurants or fixing our roofs or making our beds or raising our children.

Thank God for illegal immigrants!

"But Jane," you might say, "those people are stealing our jobs!" Yeah right. Jobs we don't want. We're talking about diligent workers who are more than willing to perform
the sh*t-work jobs that nobody else wants at a pay rate that no one else in America would ever consider accepting.

I'm currently reading Soledad O'Brien's new book, "The Next Big Story," wherein she states that while researching her documentary on Latinos in America, she asked a fairly broad sample of "legal" Americans if they had ever lost their job to an Illegal immigrant. O'Brien then goes on to say that she had been unable to find even one person who had lost their job to a Latino. Not even one. But I digress.

What I really want to discuss here is not what illegal immigrants take away from Americans but rather what it is that they ADD to the American experience.

We are not only blessed but also downright lucky to have these people living and working here -- no matter how many exaggerated negative stereotypes Lou Dobbs has dreamed up.

The main ingredient that "illegal" immigrants continue to bring to our American table is one of the most valuable assets that this country has. When illegal immigrants cross that southern border, they bring hope along with them. And hope is more than just some political snake oil sold to us during the last presidential election. Hope is the stuff from which we build our future -- and America's "illegal" immigrants add this one chip to the pot that America so sorely wants and needs right now in these current war-torn and depressive times.

"Illegal" immigrants bring hope with them now, just like 'illegal" immigrants always have -- in the back of their covered wagons, stuffed into their cardboard suitcases and knapsacks and sewed into the hems of their skirts.

I myself am a direct descendant of one of the first waves of "illegal" immigrants that first brought hope to America's shores -- the original native Americans who arrived here over 10,000 years ago. And they arrived here illegally, trudging stolidly across the frozen land-bridge that is now the Bering Strait. And these immigrants brought with them two of the greatest sources of hope that we have -- democracy and respect for the land.

My great-great-great-grandfather, Chief Ballard, "illegally" immigrated to the Oklahoma territory -- after surviving a horrific Trail of Tears.

My great-grandmother, Mary Ballard, married the deputy US marshal at Tahlequah, the one who brought in the outlaw Frank James (Frank's brother Jesse busted him out of jail the next day but it's the thought that counts. My grandmother, Alta Purpus, remembered Frank being handcuffed to her parents' brass bedstead overnight when she was a girl).

I am also a direct descendant of another wave of "illegal" immigrants -- the Puritans who founded Massachusetts and Thomas Hooker who founded Connecticut and James Hooker who fought in the American Revolution. I think there is also a Tudor family connection back in there somewhere so perhaps all my daughters and granddaughters actually really ARE princesses!

Through the Thompson side of my family, I am related to the next wave of "illegal" immigrants to come over here -- African slaves who built the American South with their own hands.

I am also a direct descendant or am tied by marriage or blood to many of America's 19th-century "illegal" immigrant groups, the Eastern Europeans (through my favorite great-aunt Dixie Cohen), Danes (my grandmother married a Janssen), Germans (my great-great-grandfather was a Purpus, used to be a forester in Bavaria, had a son who was hung as a horse thief in Missouri), Chinese (the Jo family first arrived in California in 1849 and have been here ever since. Mena Jo Stillwater is a sixth-generation Californian. There aren't many other "legal" Californians who can claim that -- unless they are Mexican!), and Mexicans too (yep, I've got them in my family tree as well -- the Lozano and Hernandez families). But I digress. Again.

"So what's your point here, Jane?" My point is this. All of us Americans used to be "illegals" at one time -- or are descended from illegals. And thank God for that!

And America's latest generation of illegals, like all the other generations before them, brings with it a new sense of renewal -- and of hope.

So enough of this "illegal" crap!

PS: Soledad O'Brien also stated that Mexican-Americans and Mexican immigrants [and also Muslim immigrants and Muslim-Americans too, as far as I can tell] have now taken the place formerly held by African-Americans -- as America's most hated, despised and segregated race. And she's right. That's just pathetic.

All too many Latinos here [and Muslims too] have been spit upon, not allowed to attend schools, denied the right to buy homes and even lynched -- just like in the bad old days of the Klu Klux Klan and Bull Connor. I marched in Montgomery with Dr. King for nothing? It looks like I have.

Someone -- perhaps a Latina Rosa Parks? -- ought to organize a bus boycott here until things change and our newer immigrants, immigrants just like your fathers, get more respect. Or perhaps we can hold a one-day general strike where every Latino [and Muslim] in America refuses to go to work. If that were to happen, America would come to a screeching halt, wanna bet?

Plus it's time for Americans to grow up and stop all this hatin'. Nothing good has ever come from hate. It eats at our souls.

PPS: Where does it say anywhere in our Constitution that it is legal to have an INS? Did George Washington have an INS? Were INS agents there to meet the slave ships in Charleston? What about the Scots who came here after Culladen? Were they met by the INS too? And were INS agents hovering around in Alaska when our first Eskimo ancestors finally made it across the Bering Strait? I think not.

PPPS: And where did this whole concept of "citizenship" come from anyway? When did citizen requirements ever become "legal"? But if I actually am a "legal" citizen of the United States, then why can't I just appoint others to citizenship as well? Sort of like "Each one teach one" or like spreading a virus around?

Is catching U.S. citizenship something like catching the flu?

But if you are a so-called "illegal" immigrant in America and you are reading this now, then by the power vested in me as a United States citizen and with the love and mercy of God -- who has freely given America a whole tide of hopeful "illegal" immigrants all down through the centuries as His (or Her) own great gift to us -- then I hereby declare and affirm that you too are hereby made LEGAL as well.

Sorry that I don't have any fancy certificates made up for this occasion -- but if any of you new American hopefuls happen to have designed one of your own, I will officially present it to you with great ceremony -- and even give you a big hug. Welcome to America! Amen! Achoo.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Madam Jane predicts: America will never grow a pair

"The American Dream has died," stated Madam Jane this morning over coffee. "This country is doomed to never again amount to more what it is now -- a cheap source of rent-a-cop armies for corporations and an economic blood donor to keep the personhood of Big Business alive and well." But surely it can't be as bad as all that. Can it? "Oh yeah it can," replied Madam Jane -- who claims that her crystal ball never lies.

"As long as corporations continue to receive all the same rights as citizens but are required to pay almost no taxes, I predict that these vampire-like corporatists will continue to feed off of America's body like the evil pin worms that they are until our country dies and becomes just one more pale smelly national corpse being stored in their crypt." Good grief, MJ! This time you are going too far! Evil pin worms? Really? And besides, where is your proof?

"I, like Fox News, don't need no stinking proof," responded Madam J. "It is what it is. Either America grows a pair now or starts preparing to meet its final doom. Madam Jane has spoken." Yikes!

"But American CAN change!" I cried out like some terrified and repentant modern-day Unca Scrooge who had just been confronted with the ghost of Bob Marley. Yet despite all of my entreaties, Madam Jane just shrugged.

"The future never lies," intoned Madam Jane, "because it is based on the past -- and on the present. Just lookie here. Right now you've got America's heroic soldiers fighting rent-a-cop wars for Exxon and BP in Afghanistan, Iraq and now Libya. And you got your courts tied up in knots while trying to bend over far enough to get properly screwed by Monsanto, Wells Fargo, Big Pharma, Rupert Murdoch and AT&T. And you've got your Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury happily opening their veins up to Wall Street. And you've got evil corporatists in charge of most of your state governments and voting machines. Plus you've got your current President trying to act like he was the Bush family's red-headed step child...."

Enough of all this gloom and doom, Madam Jane! "Can't you just predict something happy for a change -- like who's gonna be in the World Series next year or who's going to win a million dollars on Survivor?" Or who will finally stand up to the corporations who now own America and actually get America's oligarchs to stop shoveling us all this "Personhood" crap? Or perhaps you could predict when Americans will actually finally start to grow a pair?

"Sorry. No can do. Not in the cards. I see what I see." Humph. If that's all you see, Madam Jane, then perhaps it's time to go buy yourself a new pair of glasses. This is not the way that the Great American Experiment is supposed to end!

PS: I keep telling my family that I'm not gonna ever write any more political stuff ever again because it has become such a thankless task. Nobody wants to hear me -- or Madam Jane either -- sounding like Cassandra. "I need to just stick to travel writing," I keep telling them. "Nobody wants to read all this negative stuff." But then America's slimy corporatists do something else intolerable once again -- such as pay absolutely NO taxes at all on billions of dollars in profits on the exact same day that I'm putting my own lowly $750 IRS check in the mail -- and I get all enraged once again. And as for travel? Who can afford to do that any more.

Ah but I still have a whole bunch of wonderful travel memories stored up.

PPS: Please don't tell M.J. this, but I also just consulted another fortune teller -- a gypsy palmist in Oakland. And she told me that I needed to get more organized and to meditate more. So I started to set my timer for 15 minutes a day in order to organize my apartment for 15 whole minutes every day. So far so good.

Then I started meditating -- first I meditated on the past, then on the present and then on the future. But all I could remember about my childhood were those summers at Girl Scout camp and that time that my parents bought a green 1946 Studebaker Commander from Uncle Rudy and we had to fly back to New York to pick it up.

This was in 1951.

Our plane was old and propeller-driven, probably left over from World War II, and took us on its milk run through Denver, Chicago, Amarillo, Louisville and Pittsburgh before finally landing in New York. The flight took over 24 hours, most of that time spent throwing up. I will never forget Amarillo because of some horrible scrambled eggs served at the airport diner.

Then we all drove back to California -- my mom, my dad, my sister and I, plus my grandfather who had been living with Uncle Rudy. And Grandfather Eugene PINCHED me every time that I'd squirm. And it hurt! But my parents didn't believe me over him.

No one messed with Grandfather Eugene. Heck, we didn't even dare call him Grandpa. He was raised in the Oklahoma Territory back in the day and worked as a migrant farm-worker when he was younger, picking apples in Oregon and peaches in Banning, California.

My dad was born in Roswell, New Mexico in 1911, on the family's way out to California, one of six boys. Grandfather Eugene had stopped there to help harvest grain -- and my Uncle Jim got his leg cut off in a threshing machine accident that year. Uncle Jim was only three years old. It devastated my grandfather -- but not Jim. He later grew up to become a big California real estate tycoon.

Meanwhile, my grandmother Alta kept trying for a girl -- and finally gave up and just dressed her youngest, Uncle Ray, in girl's clothing until he was six. And Uncle Ray grew up to become aide-de-camp to General Vandenberg during WWII, lost all his hair to malaria in the Pacific and was gay. Uncle Ray later claimed that he became gay because Uncle Gene used to take him out behind the barn when they were kids -- and not because of General Vandenberg. Uncle Ray went on to be aide-de-camp to Conrad Hilton but quit in a huff when Hilton alleged kept making him fly in Canadian hottie girls for his (Hilton's) pleasure.

And to continue the family saga, Uncle Gene went on to overcome his migrant farm-worker roots, develop a phony British accent and become an English professor at Pomona. Family legend also has it that his first wife died mysteriously in a house fire and that he kept his rich second wife locked in a closet. But you can't prove it by me.

PPPS: The palmist also indicated that I would live a very long life (she said this, however, a week before Fukushima started melting down) and that I was not to be afraid of death.

That statement about death also got me to thinking that perhaps the reason that so many religions are so fond of reincarnation -- or of being raised back up from the dead when the final trumpet blows -- is because this idea of rebirth might make it, psychologically speaking, a hecka lot easier to die.

It might be easier to kick the bucket if you knew that the condition of being dead was only temporary, right? That you will be only passing through the Valley of Death for a few minutes while riding on that Train to Glory. Works for me.

But if I were ever to get reincarnated, I'd like to come back as a Native American -- living in the woods and communing with Nature (but also being able to withstand being cold. I HATE having cold feet.)

PPPPS: Do you think that if enough palmists look at the hands of enough young children (and can actually truly see into the future as well), will they be able to see whether or not the human race will be able to survive all that radiation from Fukushima, combined with the nasty effects of global warming, endless war, pesticide-infested GM crops, diet sodas and all other evil deeds done over the years by greedy corporatists (who, perhaps, are reincarnations of Benito Mussolini).

Or will said palmists instead see a new and better world where nature is protected, Wall Street is shut down, we the people run Washington, art and education are the USA's top gross national products and war is obsolete?

I'm almost afraid to ask Madam Jane what she would say about that!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Antarctica TMI: My penguin toilet-training mission & visit to Port Lockroy

"And what did you learn from your recent trip to Antarctica?" someone asked me the other day. I learned that penguin colonies smell really bad and that penguins have no indoor plumbing. So I dealt with this problem as best I could -- rented a penguin costume, made a toilet-training video for penguins and posted it on YouTube. It was the least I could do.

"And how did that work out? Are penguins now using the potty-chair regularly or at least wearing diapers?" Who knows! And I'm not about to go back down there to find out. It's COLD in Antarctica! After spending time in to Antarctica, I'll never feel cold here in Berkeley again -- no matter how many hail-storms we have and no matter how bad climate change hits the Bay Area.

PS: Here's my penguin toilet-training video. Penguins, listen up!

PPS: Speaking of climate change, apparently the Berkeley Bowl produce market is not selling tomatoes any more -- or at least not very many. You used to be able to walk into the Bowl's vegetable section and find bunches of shelves and bins filled with tomatoes. But not any more. Not since the big freeze of 2010-2011. Now they only gots a few shelves devoted to selling big reds and Romas, and the price of cherry tomatoes from Mexico is now $3.69 a basket.

Between the price of gas now hitting four dollars a gallon, the various ice sheets hitting our tomato supply line and our deficit hitting new highs due to the cost of our new "war" on Libya, it's apparently time to resign ourselves to the price of stuff that we need going up -- and up and up. But who the freak can make spaghetti without tomatoes?

But if America actually really is seriously broke and has as huge a deficit as the governor of Wisconsin and Rush Limbaugh claim that we do, then America could never afford to continue to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan -- let alone up and bomb Libya. Lord knows that bomber fuel ain't cheap!

PPPS: While down in Antarctica I also stopped at Port Lockroy, which used to be a British intelligence-gathering radio outpost during World War II, but is now a museum and gift shop. And I have the bumper-stickers, calendars, post cards, T-shirts and key chains to prove it. Sorry, but they were all out of refrigerator magnets.

Imagine six or eight Brits huddled in a flimsy wood hut for several years, trying to spy on enemy battleships and U-boats that might try to sneak through the Drake Passage -- and you've pretty much got the idea of what Port Lockroy was like. Talk about your last outpost of Empire!

It was interesting to see how the old British spies lived back in the day -- the place was completely preserved right down to its tin bathtub, radio room, bunk beds, boxes of Marmite stored in the pantry and pin-up drawings of Diana Dors on the dorm wall, painted back in the early 1950s. I guess that the spies liked it there so much that they decided to stay on after the war? No accounting for tastes.

Anyway, the hut's major attraction was this huge vintage-1943 radio called The Beastie, which was one of the largest radios in the world at that time. I took lots of photos. Here they all are, in a fabulous new YouTube slide show exclusive:

PPPPS: While at Port Lockroy, I also mailed a post card to my three-year-old granddaughter Mena. However, I've been back home in Berkeley for almost a month now and the freaking post card still hasn't been delivered.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Extraordinary ordinary people: Rosie the Riveter, Wisconsinites & Tokyo firefighters

My daughter Ashley needed a ride out to Richmond (CA) yesterday because of the pouring rain. Oh, okay. But while I was out there, I also went to visit the city's relatively new Rosie the Riveter/Home Front National Park. In the rain. And I also talked with park ranger Betty Soskin while I was there.

"I like the way this park looks," I told Ranger Betty, "but isn't all this talk about how wonderful Rosie the Riveter was just one more way to mythologize and glorify war?"

"That's not true," replied RB. "I'd never ever work here if it was. This park is very important to me -- but not because of its connection with World War II. This park has meaning because it makes a record in time and shows an example of what ordinary people such as you and I can achieve -- just by working together. In the Richmond shipyards here, in the course of just a few years, American workers -- many of them female -- built over 747 vessels in a mere three years and eight months. That is a more massive achievement than the pyramids of Egypt." Or even the Great Wall of China. "And that achievement has meaning."

Ranger Betty stated that the Richmond shipyards' example offers a vision of what people can do if they work together -- ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary things.

"Yes, I think that I see what you mean," I replied. "It's like what the people of Wisconsin did when they stood up in defense of their unions. Or when the young people of the Middle East achieved regime change armed only with their laptops and a burning passion for freedom. And like what the extraordinary ordinary firefighters of Tokyo did when they got into their firetrucks and drove off to Fukushima to try, against all odds of succeeding, to put out the terrible nuclear fires there -- knowing that they might never come back alive," mirroring the heroism of the first responders at the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Ranger Betty seems to believe that people are basically good -- and will eventually do the right thing. "It may take a while, perhaps decades or even centuries, but eventually it happens." And that is the story of how I left the rain-soaked city of Richmond with more hope for the future than I ever had before I arrived. Thanks RB.

And Rosie's important lessons of the 1940s are still pointing us in the right direction even today. "We can do it!" said Rosie back then. And she's still right. Not only that but, by working together in this time of crisis, we extraordinary ordinary people today can take even more steps forward.

We can stop building pyramid schemes for the pharaohs on Wall Street and start building a better world for ourselves and our kids.

We can invent and construct so much solar, wind, thermal and other alternative energy that we'll all look back on our former dependency on oil, coal and nuclear and just chuckle at those past follies -- much in the same way that we now do toward those who thought the world was flat.

"We can do it!"

We can repossess our government too -- take it back from the rich. We can limit campaign contributions, shut down the lobbies and impeach anyone in the executive, legislative and judicial branches who still believes that corporations are persons. We can put our government back to work building infrastructure, funding education, making healthcare work and protecting and serving -- instead of just handing out OUR money to oligarchs and war profiteers. And we can hand-count our own freaking ballots.

We can stop giving tax breaks to huge corporations, billionaires and weapons-peddlers and start giving tax breaks to ourselves. We can take our money out of usurious
banks that lie to us for profit and put it in credit unions that work for us instead. We can shut down banksters "too big to fail," shut down the casinos on Wall Street that happily gamble away our money and shut down those counterfeiters at the Federal Reserve. Let's make our hard-earned money work for US for a change.

"We can do it!"

And we can stop building warships for blood-thirsty, fear-mongering politicians and war profiteers -- and start building plowshares for ourselves.

PS: My father enlisted in the US Navy during World War II (anything to get out of the house!) and was stationed first in the Pacific and later at Yokohama Harbor where he was in charge of the Navy's fleet post office there.

My father's letters home from Occupied Japan (now donated to the Rosie the Riveter/Home Front National Park's archives BTW) were heart-felt and moving. "Today I was one of the very first Americans ever seen by residents of a small town outside of Tokyo. I think that they had been told to expect monsters and were probably surprised that we didn't have horns and tails."

When Pop came back from Japan, the ship he was on -- which was more than likely had been built by the Rosies -- got detained at Coronado and so my mom, who was a VERY determined young woman and who was sick and tired of her husband being gone, rented a rowboat, stuck us two kids in the prow, rowed out to my father's ship and waved to him from our boat.

You shoulda seen it -- hundreds of returning sailors, leaning over the rails, cheering, waving back at us and kidding my poor father. "Hey, Lieutenant Purpus! Look! There's your wife!"

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day + Raymond Davis sets an example

Yelp just posted a list of various places where you could go to celebrate St. Patricks Day in the East Bay, including Fentons ice cream parlor. Fentons?

"At Fentons," Yelp wrote, "Lynsey T falls for the sweetness of her Celtic crush, the Black and Tan." WHAT! Doesn't Yelp realize that the dread Black and Tan slaughtered huge numbers of Irish-Catholic protesters in Belfast and Crossmaglen -- not to mention the ones that they murdered in Dublin, Kerry, Cork and Tipperary during the 20th-century Irish battles for independence. Yikes! Yelp, wash your mouth out with soap.

Oops, my bad. Local musician Mugg Muggles just informed me that "Black and Tan" is also the name given to a mixture of pale ale and Guinness stout. My bad. Yelp, you are forgiven after all.

But speaking of murders, let's talk about Raymond Davis, the American CIA agent in Pakistan who was caught in the act of murdering people, and was just recently set free by the high court in Lahore. Why? Because apparently there's a law in Pakistan that says if you kill someone you can buy your freedom by paying your victim's family enough "blood money" to satisfy them. Well, apparently Davis (or the CIA or, more likely, American taxpayers) just forked over two million dollars to the families of the two men who he killed -- and Davis is now a free man.

Hey, maybe we should consider doing something like that over here in America too. At the rate of one million dollars per man, then perhaps Bush and Obama could buy their way out of having caused the unnecessary deaths of approximately 5,900 American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan -- by offering up "blood money" to the families of the soldiers they killed in these two trumped-up wars. Then Bush and Obama's get-out-of-jail-free cards would only cost them, er.... Sorry, I'm bad with numbers. You do the math.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Civil war in Libya: Is America next?

American right-wing radio talk-show hosts have been spewing hate into our airwaves for over 20 years now. First came the attacks on "FemiNazis". And now it's all about attacking liberals, Social Security, trade unions, Democrats, Muslims, Mexican-Americans, homosexuals, women's reproductive rights, African-Americans, government services, anyone who thinks that banks, Wall Street and semi-automatic weapons should be regulated, poor people, old people, sick people, children, teachers, etc.

Good grief!

Is there anyone at all left in the American middle and working classes that haters on talk-radio haven't attacked recently? Probably not.

However, please be aware that generating so much hate can be like opening a very deadly Pandora's box -- and that we all need to watch out. Look what just happened in Libya when the Pandora's box of hate was opened up there. Libyans began slaughtering Libyans right and left. How much hate needs to be generated in order to turn countryman against countryman like that? A lot.

I'm not saying that Americans now hate other Americans as much as Libyans hate other Libyans. But we are currently driving in that direction far too fast. Perhaps it is time to put on the brakes before we too speed over that same cliff.

Right now, Libya is a bloody mess due to hate -- just like what happened in Yugoslavia and Iraq, and also what happened during the American Civil War of 1860-1865. Yet despite these in-your-face examples, Americans still don't seem to realize that flirting with hate is like playing with fire. Hate can be just as destructive as the recent devastating tsunami in Japan -- only it is a deadly emotional tsunami instead, turning neighbor against neighbor, brother against brother, friend against friend, just like it did at Bull Run, Manassas, Shiloh, New Orleans, Murfreesboro, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Vicksburg, Knoxville, The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Atlanta, Savannah, Richmond, Washington and Appomattox.

A bloody and hateful civil war has happened in America before -- and it could happen here again if we keep allowing ourselves the gluttonous indulgence of hate. And if another civil war does happen here, will it be as bloody as the ones in Kosovo or Baghdad or Tripoli -- or Gettysburg?

Do we really want civil war to break out in America again like it did at Ft. Sumter? No! But if it does happen again here, what exactly would this second American civil war be called? How about "The great bloody Limbaugh Beck Palin Fox-News Arizona Wisconsin anti-working-class anti-homosexual anti-Muslim anti-Mexican anti-Black anti-union anti-liberal anti-female pro-corporatist pro-oligarch Civil War"? Nah. Too many words. How about simply "The Fools' and Bigots' Civil War sponsored by Rich People." Yeah that sounds better.

PS: Peace Pilgrim is still my idol -- remember her? She was an elderly lady who walked over 25,000 miles on foot all across America in the 1950s, advocating peace wherever she went. I've always wanted to do that too -- except that I have bad knees and can't walk more than a few blocks at a time without pain. But maybe I could still do it anyway, perhaps in a golf cart? Would that count?

PPS: I gotta confess that even I have been doing a lot of hatin' lately -- hatin' on America's greedy and selfish big-box banks Why anyone in their right mind would invest their money (and their trust) in greedy mega-banks that are "too big to fail" (yet that feel no remorse when they cause US to fail) is way beyond me -- when there are so many healthy and honest local credit unions out there to bank with instead.

So. Let's all take our money out of CitiBank, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Chase and all those other player banks who inflicted us with the great American housing disaster, and deposit our money in Berkeley's wonderful Cooperative Center Federal Credit Union instead

Friday, March 11, 2011

Wells Fargo's new "overdraft fee" racket: Fraud still going on?

Last week the Berkeley branch of Wells Fargo bank started going all ballistic on a friend of mine's telephone. Night and day, robo-dialers attacked her phone, reminding her over and over again that her account with Wells Fargo was now in collection, that she now owed Wells Fargo a whole bunch of money and that if she didn't pay up, then her credit would be totally ruined. "Totally ruined!"

How did things come to such a sorry pass? I'm not sure, but I think it may have involved Wells Fargo breaking both local and federal laws -- again.

My friend's telephone nightmare all started when T-Mobile claimed (probably erroneously because she had disconnected her service with T-M months ago) that my friend owed it hundreds of dollars. And as a result, T-Mobile quietly tiptoed into my friend's Wells Fargo bank account and basically gutted it for everything that was in there -- and more. The local branch of Wells Fargo basically handed T-Mobile the farm.

"Here, take everything that this person has in her account and just to make sure that you're completely happy, we'll throw in a few hundred dollars more that isn't even IN her account," Wells Fargo apparently told its buddies at T-Mobile.


Wells Fargo is now giving away its own money? But why? Why wasn't the bank following its normal procedure, blocking my friend's account and telling T-Moblie to get stuffed? As far as I can figure out, it's because Wells Fargo bank makes a huge amount of their profits from charging overdraft fees.

However, there's a catch here. If there are no overdrafts in people's bank accounts, then Wells Fargo can't charge any overdraft fees, right? So apparently it has been standard practice at Wells Fargo, despite a whole ship-load of computer software designed to prevent it, to "accidentally" let a whole bunch of these so-called "overdrafts" just happen. Oops.

"But Jane," you might say, "that's illegal and Wells Fargo has already been sued and forced to pay back over two million dollars to the customers that it ripped off by using this fraudulent practice. Wells Fargo KNOWS that this business practice is illegal. They have already been told by a federal court to cease and desist."

Yeah, well. Tell that to the robo-dialers who are now hounding my friend night and day.

And why else would Wells Fargo make a "shadow line of credit" loan to my friend, thus giving their own money away? Nothing else makes sense.

PS: Wanna know more about the above-mentioned lawsuit against Wells Fargo? Wanna know just exactly how low this banking operation is willing to stoop to get its greedy hands on your money? Here's the 411 regarding
California class-action lawsuit No. C 07-05923 WHA, Gutierrez vs. Wells Fargo, August 2010:

And just in case you don't have time to read the whole thing, here are a few choice quotes from the judge's orders in this matter:

"THE SHADOW LINE: The last step in the three-step plan was executed in May 2002. Wells Fargo implemented a practice involving a secret bank program called 'the shadow line.' Before, the bank declined debit-card purchases when the account’s available balance was insufficient to cover the purchase amount. After, the bank authorized transactions into overdrafts, but did so with no warning that an overdraft was in progress.

"Specifically, this was done without any notification to the customer standing at the checkout stand that the charge would be an overdraft and result in an overdraft fee. Thus, a customer purchasing a two-dollar coffee would unwittingly incur a $30-plus overdraft fee. (This very scenario happened to plaintiff Walker.)

"Internally, Wells Fargo called this its 'shadow line,' as in shadow 'line of credit.' The amount of the credit ceiling per customer was and still is kept secret. Again, customers were not even alerted when shadow-line extensions were made to them — until it was too late and many overdraft fees were racked up.

"In this program, the bank correctly expected that it would make more money in overdraft fees than it would ever lose due to 'uncollectibles' (i.e., overdrafts that were never paid back).

"Bad Faith and the Shadow Line: The third initiative was 'overdraft via POS' — the extension of the shadow line to debit-card purchases in May 2002. As a result of this change, Wells Fargo began authorizing debit-card purchases even though the account was already overspent.

"Before, if an account holder had insufficient available funds to cover a debit-card purchase, the bank would decline the transaction, thereby protecting the customer from further unintended overdrafts. After, the bank authorized the transaction without informing anyone that an overdraft was in progress. Profiteering was the sole motive behind this revenue initiative."

PPS: If something like this has happened to you too, here's a link to an application that you can fill out in order to become part of a class-action lawsuit against Wells Fargo yourself:

And Wells Fargo isn't the only bank that is doing this either. Apparently, many more national bank chains are also happily cleaning out their customers' accounts. That's bank robbery! That's pathetic.

How come Republicans are going to such extreme lengths to bust our unions but are not laying a finger on their friends in the banks?

PPPS: When my friend went in to Wells Fargo today and asked a bank officer about all the many fees that it is now charging her, she was told, "These new fee charges are different from the ones in the lawsuit." And what big difference is that? Apparently these new fees are being called "overdraft protection" fees instead of just fees at the point-of-service. Yeah, but the result is the same -- Wells Fargo is still raking in hundreds of dollars in completely unreasonable fee charges, just from this one account.

If Wells Fargo is charging hundreds of dollars in unreasonable "overdraft fees" to just one of its customers, imagine how much money it is raking in from all the rest of its victims/customers!

From AlterNet: Awesome: Wisconsin Firefighters Shut Down Bank That Funded Walker: Everybody knows the GOP's biggest weakness is money, so why not hit 'em in the sweet spot? That's what many amazing Wisconsin firefighters did yesterday when they collectively began withdrawing their funds from Madison's M&I Bank -- whose executives and board members were among the highest donors to Governor Scott Walker's campaign.

Heeding a call by Firefighters Local 311 President Joe Conway to 'Move your money,' union members withdrew over $100,000 from the bank, with some reports stating that number is as high as $192,000. Either way, it was a hefty enough chunk of change that M&I shut its doors and closed for the day at 3PM.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Total access: Using the other 90% of our brains

For years, scientists such as Albert Einstein and William James have been telling us that we human beings only use 10% of our brain capacity. Wouldn't it be marvelous if we could use the other 90%? Can you imagine all the great ideas that we might be able to come up with?

Great literature -- we'd all become Shakespeares!

Great art -- I wanna be Michelangelo!

Great science -- Einsteins on every corner, they'd run out of Nobel Prizes!

Great music -- your child would truly be baby Mozart.

Great humanitarians -- would you rather be Buddha or Jesus?

Or perhaps the opposite might happen and we'd end up with more Hitlers, Stalins, Atilla the Huns and Dick Cheneys. Oh crap.

But how do you go about accessing the other 90% of your brain? Meditation? Dreaming? Hitting the books? LSD? Peyote?

At one point in time way back in the 1960s, I ate some mescaline down at Big Sur -- and it was immediately revealed to me that NATURE is the most important thing in the world. According to Mescalito, living within the context of trees and grass and mountain vistas and fresh air offers the most meaning to the human brain that there is. As the day wore on, however, both Mescalito and I began to think that perhaps pancakes were the most important thing.

But taking mescaline didn't make me a genius either. Don't try it at home.

"Go to college! That will make you smarter!" my mother always told me -- back during a time when women were just supposed to stay home and play-act at being June Cleaver. So I went off to college. Got a masters degree too. But did that make me a genius? I wish. And it didn't make any of those Yale and Harvard graduates who run the Federal Reserve into geniuses either. It just made them better crooks and liars and helped them to figure out new and better ways to keep their butts out of jail.

In these crucial times, it is so very important for the human race to use more of its brain capacity and to evolve. We have been basically thinking like cavemen for all too long. For instance, take the situation in Libya. When confronted with a desire on the part of his people to obtain more democratic institutions, Muammar
Gaddafi responded exactly like the most primitive caveman might have. He started killing people, his people.

And what has been America's answer to problems in Afghanistan, Tripoli. Washington, Wall Street and Wisconsin? Pissing contests that involve violence and threats. That's not evolution or wisdom. That's Neanderthal.

But perhaps the next generation will do better than our generation has done. To paraphrase one of my favorite bumper stickers which now reads, "Imagine a world where EVERY child is wanted, nurtured, protected and loved: World Peace in one generation!" -- maybe if we want and nurture and protect and love the next generation instead of just stealing its future, perhaps we can also get more geniuses as well as just more whirled peas.

Jill Bolte Taylor is a brain scientist who was given a rather strange research opportunity: She had a massive stroke, and watched as her brain functions -- motion, speech, self-awareness -- all shut down one by one. Then she worked really hard to get all of her brain functions back. Maybe we can learn something from what happened to her and build on her experiences as well.

I've also heard that art, music and other forms of creativity can also expand our brains -- and make us better at math too. According to an article in the Harvard Educational Review by Eric Jensen, “Research from the studies discussed in [Arts With the Brain in Mind] and the experience of countless classroom educators support the view that visual arts have strong positive cognitive, emotional, social, collaborative, and neurological effects.”

And, given all this well-researched information, what are the powers-that-be in America doing with it right now? They're making major cuts to funding for our art museums, school music programs and literature grants in order to have more Moolah to invest in their bloody, useless, uncivilized and paleolithic wars. Good thinking? Hardly.

Eating healthy stuff is supposed to be good for your brain too. Nothing processed. No sugar. No artificial sweeteners. Breast-feed your kids. That kind of stuff.

And while looking for ways to get a spacecraft to the moon,
one NASA scientist used to deliberately work himself to exhaustion, fall asleep, dream about the answers to his problems, wake up suddenly, and have his wife hurriedly write down what he had learned from his dream before the solutions were forgotten.

But I don't have a wife -- so no deep thinking or going to the moon for me. I'm screwed.

PS: Speaking of music, I just starred -- well, sort of -- in a new punk-rock music video!

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Rewarding non-violence in Palestine: Send pizza to the West Bank as well as Wisconsin

Yeah well, talking about injustice in Palestine is always a thankless task. But we still gotta do it because Palestine is still a big thorn in the foot of the Middle East and if the Middle East ain't happy, then ain't nobody happy -- at least nobody who likes to drive cars.

If you want Middle Eastern gas in your tank without having to spend a bunch of trillions of dollars more on war toys in order to steal it at gunpoint, then you are gonna have to come to terms with ending the illegal Palestine occupation.

"But Palestinians send rockets into Israel! And they have suicide bombers! We have to support the occupation because Palestinians are violent!" you might say. But are they? Violent? Not really. Not any more. That's just old-skool thinking.

For approximately the last ten years, more and more Palestinians have become non-violent in the tactics they have used to protest against being illegally occupied by
one of the largest and most combat-ready armies in the world. But are Palestinians getting any kind of recognition, kudos or rewards at all for having gone all non-violent? No. Hell no. Nothing, zip, nada.

For over fifty years, Palestinians had already tried the old "Red Dawn" armed-resistance scenario and it hadn't been working.
And so in approximately the last ten years they have noticeably changed their tactics and given non-violent protests a try instead. But so far the only results that have resulted from Palestinians' non-violent protests have been to get shot at -- and shot at and shot at -- by one of the largest and most combat-ready armies in the world.


So. If Americans truly want peace in the Middle East and cheap gas in their tanks, perhaps instead of continuing to give billions of dollars in military aid to
one of the largest and most combat-ready armies in the world as it illegally occupies Palestine, perhaps we should try something else and actually start REWARDING Palestinians for their efforts to be non-violent -- while still trying to express their deep frustration with being constantly under the thumb of a violent and illegal occupation force.

And if we truly want to reward and encourage Palestinians for trying to be the next Gandhis, then what can we do?

"Order Pizza!"

Hey, it worked in Wisconsin.

I have friends in the small Palestinian town of Ni'lin and every Friday for the last several years, they have bravely gone out and non-violently protested the seizure of their small quiet town by one of the largest and most combat-ready armies in the world -- and these ordinary towns-people are getting gassed, shot at and killed one by one. However, non-violence, while heroic as hell and very New Testament and all that, isn't really working for them so far because one of the largest and most combat-ready armies in the world clearly doesn't give a rat's behind about Palestinians.

So I am suggesting that you do to my friends in Ni'lin the same thing that the people of Egypt did for the people of Wisconsin. "Order Pizza."

Is there a pizza place in Ni'lin that takes credit cards? If so, give me its e-mail address and, instead of waiting patiently for Hillary Clinton to do it, I'll reward these non-violent protesters myself -- and order them pizza.

And imagine if everyone else in the world who could afford to spare a few dollars also barraged
one of the largest and most combat-ready armies in the world with pizzas as well? Problem solved. Cheap gas for all.

And then what if we also barraged Wall Street, K Street, the Federal Reserve and even the Taliban with pizzas? It's the volume that counts.

PS: Everyone's always talking about ending America's huge deficit. Hey that's easy to do. Just make major cuts in our out-of-control military spending, duh. And then let's replace all those pricey Bradley tanks and luxurious F16s with pizzas.

Let's build a huge wall of pizza (deep-dish Chicago-style with anchovies and olives) all around our shores and forget about the rest of America's "empire". And then let's turn America back into a country that is self-sufficient in manufacturing again. And let's start by manufacturing pizzas.

"But Jane, that's just crazy!" Not as crazy as wasting our country's resources and patrimony on manufacturing weapons -- cold merciless steel weapons designed only to kill, maim and hurt.

PPS: In his recent article on US polices toward Israel, Israeli peace activist Jeff Halper stated that, "Israel is the number-two supplier of arms [in the world]."

And of course we all know who is the Number One supplier of arms.

So why is everyone relying on the United States and Israel to be in charge of keeping the peace -- both in the Occupied Territories and in the rest of the world?

Isn't that a bit like expecting two very hungry bears to be in charge of guarding a honey tree?

PPPS: Even Thomas Friedman of the New York Times has a few unkind words to say about Israel, believe it or not: "Israel’s previous prime minister, Ehud Olmert, had to resign because he was accused of illicitly taking envelopes stuffed with money from a Jewish-American backer. An Israeli court recently convicted Israel’s former president Moshe Katsav on two counts of rape, based on accusations by former employees. And just a few weeks ago, Israel, at the last second, rescinded the appointment of Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant as the army’s new chief of staff after Israeli environmentalists spurred a government investigation that concluded General Galant had seized public land near his home. (You can see his house on Google Maps!)"

Perhaps we should be sending the Israelis some pizza too.

PPPPS: What if all of us little people from all over the world who are sick and tired of being bossed around by military thugs, bullies and sadists for the sole reason that their, er, guns are bigger than our guns -- what if we all got together and refused? Refused to be soldiers, refused to make weapons, refused to murder, refused to...just refused. Then what would happen?

Ultimately it's all in the numbers.

For every one of the bullies, sadists and thugs that hide behind
the largest and most combat-ready armies in the world, there are at least 99 more of us who are sick of all this bloodshed.

Tunisia, India, Egypt, South Africa, Jesus and the American South have all shown us that non-violent tactics really do bring about peace -- if you have the numbers. In fact, Tunisia and Egypt apparently even consciously took a leaf from Ni'lin's non-violent playbook. So. Let's put all of the world's largest and most combat-ready armies on notice. "Chill out now -- or else risk ending up like Mubarak, Bull Connor, apartheid and the British Raj."

We're armed and dangerous too -- we've got pizza!