Wednesday, November 6, 2013

How Rich Do They Need To Be (Or Is It Just More Empowering of the Rich Super Bullies?) Lou Reed Cannot Ever Die

Remember asking yourself the question (in days of yore) "How much more money do millionaires really need to make?"

Seems that it's still unanswered.

I'm not a conspiracy theorist, of course, or anything like that (attention Homeland Security!), but I have wondered from time to time if the real rich in this country (and, heck, maybe in all the world) don't alight immediately on the newly wealthy with lots of schemes to make 100's of millions from mere droplets of tiny millions or else how to explain the unmitigated greed we view today? Mark Zuckerberg's CIA moment comes to mind. Also the Kennedy assassinations and 9/11 (but nevermind).

Another question still not answered is "Where did all that taxpayer money go as the banks/Wall Street got fabulously richer since the schemes of 2008 and the public sphere more and more destitute?" (HINT: Local representatives became the representatives of Wall Street (The Rich) and, no, sorry, it wasn't those obscenely huge retirement payouts to teachers and street cleaners.)

If you're not aware of the multimillionaire rightwing anti-teacher's union takeover of public schools (for their replacement by private charter school corporations offering low-pay nonunionized nonprofessional teaching jobs), you should read the following essay and then vote today if you'd like to make a difference about this in your local elections.

(Please consider making even a small contribution to the Welcome to  Pottersville2 Quarterly Fundraiser happening now ($5.00 is suggested for those on a tight budget) or sending a link to your friends if you think the subjects discussed here are worth publicizing. Thank you for your support. We really appreciate it. Anything you can do will make a huge difference in this blog's ability to survive in these difficult economic times.)

Monday, Nov 4, 2013

Chris Christie’s Demented “You People” Movement: The Right’s School-for-Cash Obsession

New data proves conservatives and moguls are spending huge sums to turn schools into Wall Street profit centers

It is easy to think of the concept of oligarchy as something distant and fantastical – something that involves exotic destinations like Manhattan, Monaco, Macau and Moscow but not the Middle America locales that you’d never see in, say, a glitzy Jason Bourne flick. I guess the assumption at work is that in a place so often derided as Flyover Country, there’s not much that any true oligarch might covet.
Of course, there’s a good case to be made that oligarchy is actually more of a powerful social, political and cultural force out here than anywhere else. From yesteryear’s Copper Kings in Montana to today’s epic land and water grab all over the Midwest and Rocky Mountain region, the heartland has always been the oligarchs’ playground. It is also their laboratory – the place where the ruling class brutally imposes its hare-brained schemes on the population, as if we are guinea pigs.
You can see what this local version of oligarchy looks like most clearly in education. Indeed, in the last few days, the national media momentarily reported on such oligarchy when the GOP’s prospective 2016 presidential candidate, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, publicly berated teachers with the ugly “you people” epithet. The headline-grabbing exchange came after an educator dared to question him about his efforts to turn his state into a laboratory for the destructive ideology of anti-public-school oligarchs. Christie, who has slashed public school funding and worked to divert public education resources into private schools, responded to the question with the oligarch’s let-them-eat-cake attitude, saying of teachers “I’m tired of you people.”

But, then, as shocking as this let-them-eat-cake attitude may seem when it is evinced so brazenly by a national politician, it is the same oligarchic attitude that now dominates local education politics all over the country. Perhaps most illustrative of the trend is my home state of Colorado. This state has unfortunately become the national petri dish of the Education Oligarchs – people like the Walton family, of Wal-Mart fame; Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft; Michael Bloomberg, the anti-union media mogul; and Philip Anschutz, the billionaire sponsor of right-wing Christian causes. These oligarchs and others aim to put everything – including our kids future – up for sale to the highest bidder in the Colorado education system.
One way to see this is to look at how the Walton family and Gates have deployed their wealth to make an opportunity out of this square state’s infamous education finance problems. Leveraging their tax-subsidized foundations, they purport to come to the financial rescue of budget-strapped schools. Yet, they typically tie their seemingly altruistic beneficence to ideological demands.
For example, some foundations make their cash contingent on schools tearing up teachers’ union contracts and putting more unproven technology into the classroom.

Some go further and push specific technologies into classrooms – technologies that, not coincidentally, their corporations stand to profit from. One example: Microsoft chairman Bill Gates has used $100 million from his foundation to ram his company’s corporate partner, inBloom, into the Colorado’s largest school district.

InBloom collects student data to share with technology companies like Gates’ Microsoft, which then develop for-profit education software to sell back to schools. According to the New York Times, parents objecting to the surveillance-like technology feared “officials might be unable to evaluate inBloom objectively, given its backing by the Gates Foundation, a major donor to public schools whose grant money Jeffco was hoping to attract.” The school district ultimately received a coveted $5.2 million grant from the Gates foundation and – not surprisingly – decided to keep using inBloom.
Most recently, some of these billionaires make headlines financing Colorado ballot initiatives that seem altruistic in their ostensible goals of raising revenue for schools. Yet, the oligarchs make sure that the details of those initiatives quietly steer a massive chunk of the new education revenue away from public schools and into the coffers of privately administered charter schools – the ones that on the whole don’t provide better educational outcomes, but do serve those billionaires’ desires to undermine teachers’ unions.
Still another way to see what the local effects of oligarchy look like on a day-to-day basis is to behold the hideous school board politics of my hometown of Denver, where data show years of anti-public-school “reforms” have seriously harmed children. I first learned about this depressing situation a few years ago when my wife ran as a pro-public-school candidate for an unpaid school board position and suddenly faced a $200,000+ campaign against her, including an election-timed appearance from George W. Bush to rally the school privatization movement. It is a hard-to-believe situation – but it is, alas, very real.
As I have previously reported, five years ago, the school system here was turned into a Wall Street profit center and prospective campaign contribution engine by then-school superintendent Michael Bennet. Bennet had zero experience in education policy when he came into the job, but he did have vast business connections from his tenure as a corporate raider for Anschutz, the right-wing billionaire. He put that to work when in 2008 he orchestrated a pension financing deal that made Wall Street banks so much money and cost the school system so much cash it became a national cautionary tale on the front page of the New York Times. Bennet, though, was long gone by the time the destruction was evident. Within a year of the original deal, he was on his way to getting handsomely repaid for his work, with the financial industry that his scheme enriched conveniently serving as one of his top U.S. Senate campaign contributors.
The school budget crisis this scheme exacerbated has empowered billionaires’ foundations to leverage their wealth in the name of corporatist ideology. With Denver schools especially strapped for cash in the wake of Bennet’s scheme, the Waltons, the Gateses and others have in the Denver Public School system a perfect target.

The schools’ budget crisis makes local schools particularly willing to trade education policymaking – say, tearing up a school’s union contract – for the much-needed operating cash that foundations provide.

Under the rule of this oligarchy, Denver has for years now been on a pro-charter-school, anti-union tear. Despite data showing that such ideology has often produced terrible academic results in Denver, the corporate “reforms” have nonetheless been loyally backed by the city’s corruption-plagued school board. Even by modern standards, that oligarchy-serving corruption is breathtaking, as Denver school board members moonlight in jobs that give them personal financial interests in anti-public-school “reforms.”  As I recently reported:

(The school board’s) current president is paid by a private education foundation whose stated goal is to put more public money into privately run charter schools. It’s immediate past president resigned to go work for a private education foundation that does business with the school district. Another of its board members runs a foundation that gets money from the school district.

A previous board member went from the board to a run a group looking to bring more corporate influence into the school system. And now another leading candidate for a board vacancy, the pro-voucher former lieutenant governor Barbara O’Brien, says that even if she wins the board seat, she will ignore concerns about self-dealing and remain the paid executive director of a pro-charter foundation to which the school board gives public money.
All of this has created a political climate where corruption and conflicts of interest are just right out in the open. In this local oligarchy, nobody even tries to hide what’s really going on. There simply is no shame anymore – nor is there any pretense surrounding what education politics is now really all about. To see that in action, consider this year’s school board candidate Michael Johnson.
Like O’Brien and the other slate of anti-public-school candidates, Johnson is campaigning on a promise to take more money out of the public school system and put it into privately run charter schools. But what distinguishes him is his role making huge money off the public school system for his private law firm, Kutak Rock. He did this as one of the key participating private attorneys in the aforementioned Wall Street financing scheme that pulverized the school system’s budget.
According to financial documents obtained by Salon that Bennet allies in the school system have until now kept secret, Denver taxpayers have been forced to cough up more than $3.6 million million to Johnson’s private law firm for bond work in the last decade. One fifth of that sum was generated since just 2008 – specifically for the budget-busting refinancing deal that made Wall Street so much cash. Johnson was one of the Kutak Rock attorneys who worked on that deal. Yes, that’s right – a key player at the law firm that made so much money off the infamous refinancing deal and that has made millions off school board business is running for a decision-making position on the school board.
The potential for self-dealing and conflicts of interest should be obvious if Johnson is elected to a school board that has done so much business with his law firm (no doubt, this is why Kutak Rock employees are scattered throughout his campaign reports – though thanks to Colorado’s pathetic campaign finance disclosure laws, we won’t know if there was more such money financing the outside groups supporting him).

Incredibly, to help him navigate the legal questions surrounding those potential conflicts of interest, Johnson’s campaign was by his own admission provided legal counsel at taxpayer expense by the Denver school administration.

This is grotesque, but not all that surprising. After all, this is the same administration that has been a champion of Johnson’s pro-charter-school platform. It is also the same administration that is so cavalier with taxpayer cash that it is now diverting a huge chunk of resources out of Denver classrooms and into the renovation of a lavish new downtown headquarters for school administration officials.
In a minimally functioning democracy, these facts would doom a candidate in a local school board election.

But this isn’t a functioning democracy – this is an oligarchy. And so these facts have been drowned out by the anti-public-school slate’s huge money advantage – an advantage which allows these “reform” candidates to overwhelm voters with mail and paid canvassing, all while the underfunded opposition doesn’t have matching resources to get inconvenient facts out.
That money advantage, of course, comes from – you guessed it! – the oligarchs. For instance, as Westword reports, Johnson and O’Brien have cashed huge checks from right-wing billionaire Phil Anschutz, who is famous in Colorado for funding anti-gay ballot initiatives and sponsoring conservative Christian political groups like Colorado for Family Values.
They have also cashed similarly large checks from oilman and former Colorado Republican Party chairman Bruce Benson. And they have received huge donations from Kent Thiry and/or Thiry’s wife. Thiry is the CEO of a scandal-plagued health care conglomerate that has made a name for itself as a target of federal criminal and civil investigations.
Thanks to this, the oligarchy-backed slate in this one city is now awash in an unprecedented amount of money that allows the slate to grossly outspend the pro-public education forces. According to the latest campaign finance reports, the slate of four anti-public-school candidates in Denver has collectively raked in almost $600,000. That figure doesn’t even counting the hundreds of thousands of dollars more in “independent expenditures” almost certainly being spent on their behalf by out-of-state education “reform” groups.

One of those we already know about is called “Great Schools Denver”. Its name implies it is a local group, but its $200,000+ slush fund is provided by just 9 Education Oligarchs, the majority of whom aren’t from Denver. Indeed, a third of its money is provided by Bloomberg, and another third is provided by an arm of a D.C.-based front group sponsored by Wall Streeters.
One reaction to all this is to be thankful that we here in Colorado at least still have elections for school boards. After all, in more and more locales, the oligarchs have used their money to buy an end to such elections and vest all school decisions with the mayor. That makes schools easier for those oligarchs to control, because they only have to buy and sell one big political office rather than many small ones that still face some semblance of grassroots accountability.
But while we can be thankful that the patina of democracy still exists here, it is just that: a patina. With the amount of cash oligarchs are pouring into the education politics of this state and with the revolving door spinning so fast between school boards and the corporate oligarchy those boards do business, the elections often turn out to be predetermined affairs. One side has all the cash and thus overwhelms – and confuses – voters with reams of glossy mailers. The other side has earnest folk who knock on thousands of doors – but can rarely break through the noise.
That, of course, is by design. Democracy becomes oligarchy when enough cash is marshaled to effectively cut off a debate. This is especially true in the increasing number of places like Colorado where an ideological Citizen Kane-like monopolist makes sure there’s as little objective coverage of education as possible.

The only hope is that enough voters become aware of what’s going on – and actually do something about it. But that first requires a general awakening – which is exactly what the oligarchs are trying most desperately to prevent.
David Sirota
David Sirota is a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and the best-selling author of the books "Hostile Takeover," "The Uprising" and "Back to Our Future." E-mail him at, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at

Yes. I collected the early Velvets with Lou Reed and Nico and almost all of Lou's solo works. I was thrilled when I heard he and Laurie Anderson hooked up, married and became the first couple of experimental/pop/jazz/blues/rock/punk art expression. Poets of the now. Married. Collaborating!

Lou was such an original that it's hard to describe today how fascinating an artist he was when he first hit the scene. I loved his unusual music, challenging lyrics and incredibly courageous delivery. It's hard to pick a favorite, but I do have a few.

The deceptive legacy of Lou Reed

Lou Reed (Credit: AP/Herbert Knosowski)

Oct 28, 2013

The Deceptive Legacy of Lou Reed

Avatar of avant-garde cool and punk godfather, Lou Reed was a crafty chameleon whose sensibility shaped our age

Yesterday I wrote to the filmmaker Mary Harron, the director of “I Shot Andy Warhol” and “American Psycho,” to ask her about the death of Lou Reed. Before she started making movies, Mary was a pioneering rock journalist in the mid-‘70s New York punk scene, one of the first people to understand that something remarkable was happening in a slimy little bar called CBGB on the Lower East Side.

She wrote to me this morning:

I’m devastated. I always thought he would live forever. Without Lou Reed and the Velvets, would there have been a CBGB’s, a New York punk, any kind of New York underground rock or art scene? Maybe but it would have had a completely different DNA.
He also gave the best answer ever, when asked what he thought about critics: “I think they’re all fabulous.” Now that’s a voice we won’t hear again.
As Mary knows better than I do, what Reed meant by “fabulous” is difficult to categorize. (I can almost hear him saying that, drawing it out and relishing it, in his old-school outer-borough accent.) There’s something in that comment – something beyond sarcasm, something treacherous and unreadable – that is quintessentially Lou Reed. Everything about him was deceptive and impossible to pin down, including the fact that this central figure of the 1960s avant-garde and godfather of the punk movement, this force of disorder, negation and subversion, was in many ways the product of an earlier era.
Reed was a World War II baby, a Brooklyn native who grew up listening to doo-wop and 1950s rock ‘n’ roll. (Those influences came and went in his music, but were never entirely absent.) Although he liked to present himself as an anti-intellectual, street-smart New Yorker (“I guess I’m just dumb/ ‘Cause I know I’m not smart/ But deep down inside/ I got a rock and roll heart”), he had studied with the poet and fiction writer Delmore Schwartz, himself an all-but-forgotten American genius, at Syracuse University. In fact, that was apparently when Reed wrote the lyric that would later become the Velvet Underground song “Heroin.” I have no idea whether Schwartz ever read it or would have understood what it was about, but he would have admired its terseness, its power, its chilling indeterminacy:

Ah, when the heroin is in my blood
And that blood is in my head
Then thank God that I’m as good as dead
Then thank your God that I’m not aware
And thank God that I just don’t care
Before he became an underground rock legend, and embarked on a long relationship with a transgender person called Rachel – whose surname and real identity remain mysterious to this day – Reed had written and sung a 1964 novelty hit called “The Ostrich,” in celebration of an imaginary dance craze.

Only a year or so later, Reed and the Velvet Underground had become the main attraction in the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, Andy Warhol’s floating party/happening/multimedia spectacle. Not merely did the Velvets combine the simplicity of garage rock with the minimalism of 20th-century classical music in an entirely novel way, they openly celebrated unbounded sexuality, 20 years or more before anybody used the word “queer” in a non-derogatory way. From then on, Reed had all those things at work in his music and his public persona: sock-hop entertainer, black-clad artist, handsome pervert.
Ben Ratliff’s fine obituary in the New York Times told me something I hadn’t known about Reed, which suggests that he thought his musical career might be over after the Velvets broke up in 1970. Although the band had achieved significant countercultural notoriety – and recorded at least one future classic-rock-radio staple, “Sweet Jane” – they hadn’t made a nickel, and were viewed by the mainstream music industry as a bizarre and radioactive disaster. No one, including Reed and his feuding bandmates, had any idea how influential they would become. So Reed left New York City for the Long Island suburbs where he’d been raised, and went to work for his dad’s accounting firm for two years. He recorded one tepid solo album that didn’t sell, and that might well have been it: Lewis Allan Reed, CPA.
But as numerous rock histories have documented, a chance meeting at Max’s Kansas City late in 1971 led to a strategic alliance with David Bowie and Iggy Pop, two other underground rock heroes whose moment (difficult as this is to believe in retrospect) seemed to have passed. Bowie brought Reed to London to record the 1972 album “Transformer,” which remains – across his often brilliant, sometimes leaden and never predictable later career, from the unlistenable experiment “Metal Machine Music” to “Songs for Drella” to the brief Velvets reunion circa 1994 to his critically savaged Metallica collaboration – the distillation of his peculiar blend of vulnerability and hardness.
I will concede the obvious fact that none of Reed’s solo work carries the historical and cultural impact of the first two Velvet Underground albums. But as a kid in the 1970s, arriving by way of AM radio and then the Beatles and Stones, I could find no way into those records. They seemed to me, at the time, to have been recorded on another planet, by beings of another species, whereas “Transformer” was identifiably a pop album, seductively built around hooks and choruses. (Of course it contained “Walk on the Wild Side,” Reed’s only top-40 single.) I felt invited to the party, and only after I was inside and the door was closed did I grasp that the party would go on all night, and involved all the things I thought I knew about girls and boys and drugs and sex being called into question or simply thrown out the window. And so of course I was corrupted.
At any rate, by the time Mary Harron first met Lou Reed in CBGB, sometime in 1975, he had already been a poet and a songwriter and a star and a nobody and then a star again. He was famously mean to her and her friends Legs McNeil and John Holmstrom, who were launching a self-published magazine they called Punk. Recalling the event in his 1996 oral history “Please Kill Me” (written with Gillian McCain), McNeil remembered Reed as “old, and snotty, and like somebody’s cranky old drunken father.” (For the record, Reed would have been 33 at the time.)
I don’t mean to abrogate the convention about speaking ill of the dead, but it does Reed’s legacy no favors to overlook the fact that he was often a prickly and difficult personality. When considering Harron’s comment about the DNA Reed imparted to the New York underground scene, it’s useful to remember that he often said he had been greatly influenced by Bob Dylan. Reed absorbed Dylan’s “Dont Look Back”-era lessons in celebrity cool, fused them with Andy Warhol’s turtleneck blankness and raised them to an exponential power, blazing new frontiers in totally not giving a shit.
Anyway, the point of the anecdote is that Reed’s apparent cruelty was (at least sometimes) an aspect of his genius, and that perhaps without meaning to he gave these aspiring journalists exactly what they needed. In “Please Kill Me” Mary Harron remembers the group interview with Reed (and his companion Rachel) as rude, sour and hostile: “I thought he was quite devastating really.” Later that night, she finished writing an article about the Ramones – who had just played their first gig at CBGB – and walked it clear across Manhattan, from the East Village to the Punk “office,” a storefront under the railroad tracks on 10th Avenue. When she finally got there, Holmstrom showed her the confrontational interview with Reed, rendered as a comic strip.
“Everything that was humiliating, embarrassing and stupid had been turned to an advantage,” Harron remembered. “And that’s when I knew that Punk was going to work.” That cartoon interview became the cover story for the first issue of Holmstrom and McNeil’s magazine, which captured the attention of a few hundred people on the downtown scene and launched a word, a movement, a style and an attitude that would shift popular culture in unimaginable directions. Just one of the deceptive, incalculable gifts left us by Lou Reed.

Friday, Nov 1, 2013

Lou Reed’s widow writes touching obituary

Laurie Anderson celebrates the time she shared with her husband, the rock icon

By Prachi Gupta
Laurie Anderson, widow of the late Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Lou Reed, has written an obituary in The East Hampton Star remembering her husband and their life in Long Island:

To our neighbors:
What a beautiful fall! Everything shimmering and golden and all that incredible soft light. Water surrounding us.

Lou and I have spent a lot of time here in the past few years, and even though we’re city people this is our spiritual home.

Last week I promised Lou to get him out of the hospital and come home to Springs. And we made it!

Lou was a tai chi master and spent his last days here being happy and dazzled by the beauty and power and softness of nature. He died on Sunday morning looking at the trees and doing the famous 21 form of tai chi with just his musician hands moving through the air.

Lou was a prince and a fighter and I know his songs of the pain and beauty in the world will fill many people with the incredible joy he felt for life. Long live the beauty that comes down and through and onto all of us.
— Laurie Anderson
his loving wife and eternal friend

5 groups with major stakes in Washington state’s $29 million GMO battle 

By Lindsay Abrams

Washington could become the first state to require labeling of genetically engineered foods

5 ways the super rich are betraying America

By Paul Buchheit

This small group of takers is giving up on the country that made it possible for them to build huge fortunes

1 comment:

TONY said...

Nice obit by Laurie. I always liked Reed. Thought of him more as a great pioneer/innovator than a creative genius. A giant though.