The Devil went down to Georgia… ALEC caught on tape wining and dining state legislators on behalf of corporate lobbyists in Savannah

Have you ever wondered how legislation gets written and passed into law at the state level? Did you think, as I once did, that ideas for new laws percolate up from local constituents who contact their elected representatives with legitimate concerns that need to be addressed for the good of society? Well, thanks to a determined television news crew in Georgia, we now know definitively that’s not the case… A good percentage of state legislation these days is written by corporate lobbyists and sponsored by state legislators who have been wined, dined, and paid-off by an organization called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

If all television stations in the United States took their responsibility to serve the public interest as seriously as this station in Georgia, we might not have corporate front groups like ALEC actively subverting democracy by essentially paying our elected officials to sponsor and pass legislation written by industry lobbyists to eradicate environmental protections, roll back worker rights, eliminate taxes on the wealthy and make it more difficult for people to seek legal recourse against corporations.

[For information on how ALEC has worked to pass to legislation in Michigan written by corporate lobbyists, check this outand this.]

Posted in Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The New York Times covers the Beezy’s ZipCap campaign… and I make it into the paper of record on the chest of Bee Roll

In tomorrow’s New York Times, you’ll find a story about my friend Bee “Ypsilantian of the Year” Roll and the work she’s done through the California-based company ZipCap to raise working capital for her restaurant, Beezy’s, by essentially demonstrating to lenders that, while she doesn’t have a lot in the way of hard assets, she does have something that’s worth quite a bit – an extremely loyal customer base… If, after reading the New York Times article, you’d still like to know more about Loyalty Capital™ and how it works, or how it came to be that Beezy’s was the first business to essentially monetize its customer base through the ZipCap system, check out the interview I did not too long ago with ZipCap CEO Malter… Right now, though, I’d just like for you to focus on this screen grab from the on-line version of the New York Times story.

Do you notice anything interesting?

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Here, look closer…

Stare right at Bee’s chest…

It’s OK.

Do you see it now?

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Yup, that’s me. I’ve finally made it to the pages of the New York Times! Thanks, Bee! And sorry for drawing so much attention to your chest… unless, of course, that’s what you were hoping for when you chose to wear this shirt… in which case, you’re welcome.

And thanks also to Ryan Groendyk and Melissa Dettloff for designing one hell of a cool t-shirt for our old Dreamland Tonight talk show. Six years after the fact, it’s still one of favorites, and I suspect it always will be.

But, back to the matter at hand, I’m incredibly happy for Bee and Evan that the ZipCap proof-of-concept trial that was conducted here in Ypsi is getting so much positive national press. As we’ve discussed before, the work Evan is doing is incredibly important, and it’s good to see that people are beginning to recognize that fact. Hopefully this attention in the Times is just what he needs to bring additional investors to the table, and allow him to grow ZipCap into a company with the resources necessary to assist cash-strapped small business owners like Bee all over the country… And how cool is it to see Beezy’s and Ypsilanti getting this kind of positive national attention? Could a cookbook be far behind? A reality show?

Posted in Dreamland Tonight, Local Business, Special Projects, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Joey-X Day… my new favorite holiday

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Today, thanks to Facebook, I discovered that two of the most influential men in my life share the same birthday. Both Malcolm X (born Malcolm Little) and Joey Ramone (born Jeffrey Ross Hyman) started their journeys on May 19, and, in their honor, not only am I drinking a beer right now to their memories, but I’ve marked my calendar to do so every year on this date for the rest of my life. [I suspect we can come up with a better name for the holiday than Joey-X Day, but I figure that it’s good enough to serve as a placeholder for the time being.]

Maybe it’s because I discovered the first Ramones album and The Autobiography of Malcolm X at roughly the same time, when I was about 16, and just beginning to think critically about the world around me, but the two men will always be linked together in my mind… which is kind of weird, but also kind of beautiful in a way.

So, on Facebook this evening, I noticed that some of my friends posted about Malcolm’s birthday, while other posted about Joey’s birthday, but no one, at least as far as I could tell, mentioned the two of them together… which got me wondering whether or not I could start a little campaign to celebrate their birthdays together, and perhaps, in the process, bring a few new people to the each of their work.

I’m not sure how this will manifest itself going forward… Maybe, next year, I’ll just sit in an empty storefront on Michigan Avenue, alternating tracks by both men, and welcoming in people from the street to join me. Or maybe we could play their work concurrently, on two opposite sides of a room, and encourage people to drift back and forth, or just plant themselves right in the middle. I know it’s a lot to ask, but it would be great if other communities picked it up and celebrated the holiday in their own way, putting their own unique spin on it. One community could encourage artists to paint portraits of the two men together. Another could encourage bands to cover Ramones songs with lyrics taken from Malcolm’s speeches.

Anyway, I could go on and on about what the two men meant to me as a kid growing up in New Jersey farm country, just beginning to get a sense of the world outside, but it’s probably best to just let them speak for themselves. Here are a few of my favorite recordings of both men. Enjoy… And be sure to join me for the festivities next year.

[Malcolm would have been 90 today, and Joey would have been 64, had they not been brought down by bullets and cancer respectively.]

Posted in Art and Culture, Ideas, Mark's Life, Special Projects | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

“Do they not have dive bars and strip clubs in Waco?”

I know that it’s terrible that nine people lost their lives yesterday, and there are probably any number of serious topics that we could discuss related to the prevalence gang violence and the like, but, looking at the photos coming in from Waco last night, all I could think about was how odd that it was that 200 or more bikers were shooting, stabbing and beating one another to death with clubs in the shadow of a Jo-Ann Fabrics store.

I mean, I get that the Twin Peaks chain, where the melee started, employs large-breasted, scantily clad women, and that they apparently use fresher ingredients than Hooters, and, as such, i’s probably an attractive destination for road-weary bikers… but I’ve got to think that there are places more conducive to gang warfare than the parking lot of a corporate breastaurant situated between a Jo-Ann Fabrics outpost and an Office Max.

But, who knows… maybe that’s all that’s left in Texas. Maybe there are no more roadhouses, or seedy dive bars with blood-soaked gravel parking lots. Maybe the authenticity of experience sought after by members of outlaw motorcycle gangs is no longer attainable… I mean, sure, there’s still the murder, the sex and the meth dealing, but maybe, aside from that, it’s all Olive Gardens and corporate breasaurants.

I’ve always envisioned a Mad Max-like future, in which society breaks down, and war lords step in to assume power. And I think maybe that’s what we’re seeing play out right now in Texas, which the rise of these criminal biker gangs. I just never envisioned it happening within the context of corporate chains. But I guess it kind of makes sense that the two could coexist. If I’d gone on to get my PhD in American Studies, maybe I’d write a book about it. As I didn’t, though, I guess a blog post will have to suffice.

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Oh, and nothing says “badass” like fighting in the parking lot of a Jo-Ann Fabrics because you didn’t like the patch on another man’s denim vest.

For what it’s worth, the owners of the Twin Peaks franchise in Waco had been warned by law enforcement that such an altercation between rival biker gangs was likely to take place, but refused to cancel the event. The following is from the ABC affiliate in Northern Texas.

…Sgt. Patrick Swanton said Waco police knew before Sunday that there would be trouble at the restaurant and had 18 local police officers plus four DPS troopers at the scene before the fighting began. Waco police had attempted to work with management at the local Twin Peaks before, but the restaurant refused.

Police also contacted the restaurant chain’s national office about their concerns.

Twin Peaks spokesman Rick Van Warner told News 8 the company then contacted the franchise owner and warned him. However, because the franchisee is the actual owner of the restaurant, they could not force him to do anything specific.

Twin Peaks national office confirmed Monday that they immediately revoked the franchise agreement with the owner of the Waco location…

update: According to some accounts, all nine of the men who died were killed by members of the Waco SWAT team, who had been surrounding the restaurant, waiting for something like this to happen. The following unsubstantiated report comes from a site called The Aging Rebel. It could, of course, just be yet another conspiracy. If true, though, it puts things in a different light.

…When the restaurant refused to ban the Confederation of Clubs, police stationed at least 22 cops including ten Swat officers from the Waco P.D. and the Texas Department of Public Safety in the parking lot outside the restaurant. They did not station either uniformed or plain clothes officers in the restaurant.

The shove in the bathroom became a scuffle in the restaurant. When about 30 Bandidos, Cossacks, Scimitars and other bikers spilled into the parking between the Twin peaks and the Don Carlos Mexican restaurant next door, the police were waiting for them. The scuffle became a knife fight and several men were stabbed. When one of the combatants produced a gun the Swat team opened fire with automatic weapons. Multiple sources have told The Aging Rebel that all of the dead were killed by police.

Swanton said the fusillade “saved lives in keeping this from spilling into a very busy Sunday morning. Thank goodness the officers were here and took the action that they needed to take to save numerous lives.”

The investigation into the massacre is being supervised by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Since the massacre, police have announced that there is “credible information about threats toward law enforcement.” Waco police issued a bulletin at 10:13 Sunday night that announced: “Our agency has recieved (sic) information that the Cosaks (sic) and Banditos (sic) have issued an order to kill anyone in uniform.”

Posted in Observations, Other | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

I’m officially joining the Bernie Sanders “political revolution”

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Back in 2013, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, when asked if he’d consider making a run for President, said that he might have to, if, during the campaign, “the collapse of the middle class, growing wealth and income inequality, growth in poverty, (and) global warming” were not being discussed in any significant way. Well, Bernie apparently came to the conclusion last week that these topics weren’t likely to get the attention that they deserved in a primary in which Hillary Clinton runs unopposed, and he threw his hat into the ring. (According to some, he tried to convince Elizabeth Warren to run, as he thought that she might actually have a chance of defeating Hillary, and winning the nomination, but, when it became clear she wasn’t going to do it, he decided to run himself.)

I know some will say that he doesn’t have a chance of winning, given that he identifies as a Democratic Socialist, and a significant number Americans would sooner take up arms than see a Socialist sworn in as Comander-in-Chief, but it’s hard to look at his platform and not see how it might have wide appeal with a majority of eligible voters, given the state of our country today… Here’s his platform.

Here’s what this campaign is going to talk about:

Income and wealth inequality: In the United States today we have the most unequal wealth and income distribution of any major country on earth — worse than at any time since the 1920s. This is an economy that must be changed in fundamental ways.

Jobs and income: In my view, we need a massive federal jobs program which puts millions of our people back to work. We must end our disastrous trade policies. We need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. And we have to fight for pay equity for women.

Campaign finance reform: As a result of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, American democracy is being undermined by the ability of the Koch brothers and other billionaire families. These wealthy contributors can literally buy politicians and elections by spending hundreds of millions of dollars in support of the candidates of their choice. We need to overturn Citizens United and move toward public funding of elections so that all candidates can run for office without being beholden to the wealthy and powerful.

Climate change: Climate change is real, caused by human activity and already devastating our nation and planet. The United States must lead the world in combating climate change and transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels and toward energy efficiency and sustainability.

College affordability: Every person in this country who has the desire and ability should be able to get all the education they need regardless of the income of their family. This is not a radical idea. In Germany, Scandinavia and many other countries, higher education is either free or very inexpensive. We must do the same.

Health care: Shamefully, the United States remains the only major country on earth that does not guarantee health care to all people. The United States must move toward a Medicare-for-all single-payer system. Health care is a right, not a privilege.

Poverty: The United States has more people living in poverty than at almost any time in the modern history of our country. I believe that in a democratic, civilized society none of our people should be hungry or living in desperation. We need to expand Social Security, not cut it. We need to increase funding for nutrition programs, not cut them.

Tax reform: We need real tax reform which makes the rich and profitable corporations begin to pay their fair share of taxes. We need a tax system which is fair and progressive. Children should not go hungry in this country while profitable corporations and the wealthy avoid their tax responsibilities by stashing their money in the Cayman Islands.

“And these are just some of the issues that we will be dealing with,” says Sanders.

If this resonates with you, consider endorsing Bernie’s platform. Or, if you have the money, join me in making a small contribution, in order to help ensure that Bernie’s message gets heard in an environment where the wealthy can spend unlimited amounts of money in order to determine which candidates will be heard, and what these campaigns will be about… Bernie, by the way, will not be launching a Super PAC, and won’t be asking billionaires to bankroll his campaign. And, for what it’s worth, a lot of people are making an effort to help him. As of today, over 100,000 donors have contributed a total of $4,000,000 to the Sanders campaign.

Here, for those of you who would like to hear Senator Sandors stating in his own words why he’s running, is footage from his formal announcement.

Personally, I don’t think it really matters, but I should probably add that Sanders is under no illusion that he might win the Democratic nomination… As the Washington Post reported last week, “What Sanders’ candidacy is really about is influencing the debate within the Democratic party in the quadrennial pinchpoint of a presidential election. Sanders wants to drag Clinton (and everyone else in the field) to the left on issues like trade (he opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership), campaign finance reform and income inequality.

I know some disagree with the strategy. If you’re curious as to why, I’d suggest reading the recent feature at SocialistWorker.org, which does a pretty good job of summing up the case against Sanders’ participation in the Democratic primary. Here’s a clip.

…(I)n running for the Democratic presidential nomination as the liberal outsider with almost no chance of winning, Sanders isn’t very “bold”–no more so than the fizzled campaigns of Dennis Kucinich in past presidential election years. And by steering liberal and left supporters into a Democratic Party whose policies and politics he claims to disagree with, Sanders–no matter how critical he might be of Hillary Clinton–is acting as the opposite of an “alternative.”

…THE DEMOCRATIC establishment can breathe a collective sigh of relief. It doesn’t, in fact, fear liberal Democrats like Kucinich or Sanders, but third-party challenges like Nader’s that have the prospect of breaking their stranglehold on votes from workers and the oppressed, as several local and statewide campaigns have shown over the last few years…

For what it’s worth, I understand that point of view. And I wouldn’t criticize people for ascribing to it. As someone who supported Ralph Nader’s third-party bid for the presidency, I ascribed to it once myself. I felt as though the system was broken, and I voted for an alternative. Rightly or wrongly, I’ve come to the conclusion over the past several years, however, that there is a real, fundamental difference between our two political parties, and, given that, I cannot imagine voting for a third-party candidate again, if doing so would give an advantage to the Republican in the race. Yes, there are things about the Democratic party that I do not like… like the power corporate money holds over the it… but I’m not willing to say that “they’re both the same” and just walk away in disgust. There’s just too much hanging in the balance. So, as much as I might want to support a third party candidate, I can’t see myself voting in such a way as to help a Republican President get into office, where he or she would likely have the opportunity to appoint our next Supreme Court justice. And that’s basically what it comes down to for me. When I’m voting for the President, regardless of who the candidates are, I’m really voting on the Supreme Court… I’m essentially voting between Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia. So, given that, I like that Sanders is running in the Democratic Primary, where he won’t necessarily be taking votes away from Clinton during the general election. And I know it’s unlikely, but I can’t help but think there might be a shot that Sanders could win the whole thing. Stranger things have happened… We, after all, sent a delusional reindeer farmer to Congress from Michigan… If you’re in the race, you never know what might happen.

And I just like the fact that someone came forward to run against Clinton. I can appreciate the fact that people in the party don’t want to run against her, as they know she’ll need her resources for what will likely be an incredibly bloody general election. And I get that folks feel as though she deserves a shot, having somewhat gracefully stepped aside when it became clear that Obama would have an edge in 2008. But, with that said, I don’t like to see people run unopposed. And I love that Bernie will nipping at her heels, and forcing her to talk about issues that matter.

Lastly, I’d like to leave you with this quote from Sanders, which comes from a recent interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week program. “We need a political revolution in this country,” Sanders said, “involving millions of people who are prepared to stand up and say ‘Enough is enough,’ and I want to help lead that effort.”

Posted in Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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