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Editor, The Konformist
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November 26th, 2012
What to make of my father, Dr. Leslie Allen Beldo AKA Pete Beldo who passed on peacefully today at the age of 90 plus years? For starters, he read the entire Webster's Unabridged Dictionary cover to cover, more than once. He could do differential calculus in his head, yet one time I discovered him in the garage trying to mix four stroke oil and gasoline together for the lawn tractor. His capacity for abstraction tended to distance him from the rest of us (I.Q 165) and we could never fully figure out where he was in his mind. Yet, he could dance a mean Polka/Tango/Cha-Cha with my mother and make some sublime tasting Finnish pancakes, bouillabaisse and exotic hors de oeuvres conjured from French cookbooks.
The youngest of thirteen children, he suffered through the Great Depression on a rather bleak and desperate farm in Sebeka, Mn. where life was hard and self sufficiency essential. The experience forever made him a liberal Democrat who greatly admired FDR and his New Deal. Generous to a fault, my dad always put himself last and helped so many struggling people throughout the years for he himself knew what hardship was. People like this are nearly non-existent now, especially in our age of infantile self absorbtion and the cut throat capitalist philosophy of Ayn Rand.
Les should have never been enlisted in the army (WWII) for he had a pre-existing condition of high blood pressure. Experiencing the `theater of war' not only compromised his physical health but made him quite cynical about the military. We could never really get him to open up about it at all. No stranger to the machinations of bureaucracy, he had a kind of superhuman tenacity to work through reams of red tape to get things done- a skill he no doubt acquired during all his years working in market research, long range corporate planning as well as during his time as an enlisted man. He successfully helped a family member receive compensation from an insurance company which initially rejected the claim that was submitted to them. He also once helped an uncle get veteran's benefits after his initial application was rejected. Such perseverance against all odds also has been a great source of inspiration for us.
My father was a bit self deprecating, which is an understatement. His name appeared in the Royal Blue Book of 1969 which had such distinguished persons as Robert F. Kennedy listed in it. Even though he had quite a bit of clout in the advertising world at the time, having written a very influential report on how to advertise beer for the Hamm's Brewing Co. amongst other things, he always downplayed the influence he had in the corporate world. He named the Ford Mustang back in the early 60's, Chanel perfume and even came up with the concept of Hamburger Helper. He was quite skilled in writing, having earned a journalism as well as a psychology degree at the University of Minnesota. His penchant for naming things so notably also extended to a more domestic realm: Marauder the Tabby cat, Daffodil the Sheepdog and Java, an errant mutt we had back in the seventies, being a few of the more outstanding examples of his ability to come up such memorable nomenclature.
My father was very cultured and constantly encouraged us to read, listen to classical music and watch foreign films, which I used to do with him back in the days when such things actually aired on television. Most of all he inspired us to become our own teachers.
"Always get an education." He once told me. "It's the one thing that no one can take from you." These words have stuck with me for my entire life. It was the best advice he could have given for it certainly is true-none of the vultures hovering about have been able to take this from me.
"Rise above the deadly middle." He also advised me and pointed out that the word `mediocrity' has its etymological origin in `halfway up the mountain.' of which he underlined several times in red ink in his well worn copy of the above mentioned dictionary. He once showed me a painting called The Hay Wain by Hieronymous Bosch and all the gluttonous, desperate souls trying to hop aboard this allegorical vehicle for a free ride. He certainly had his share of people trying to do the same on his own personal hay wain and it took a profound toll on him.
"The world is a pretty brutal place for anyone who has a sensitivity to art, music and literature." Is another observation of his that has stuck with me and, based on personal experiences over the last 30 years or so, has rung so very true. He amassed a personal library/fortress with well over 5000 books of which I spent most of my life going through as well as hundreds upon hundreds of classical music, Opera LPs and the like. Yet, he could listen to Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys and Johnny Cash for he had none of the snobbery usually associated with the high hat endeavors listed above. Farm life does that to a person I guess.
He had quite a macabre sense of humor as evidenced by the legions of cartoons he would draw, many of which I'd find in the marginalia of his books, on the back of bank statements, paper napkins, drink coasters, etc. I once found one on the inside cover of Marshall McLuhan's book, The Gutenberg Galaxy, of a man kneeling at a cross on which was inscribed a bar graph indicating a more banal dimension of profit and loss. Sadly, as the cartoon suggests, salvation only can be found at the bottom line for many.
His skills as a photographer also were very apparent-esp. in his 35mm photos taken with natural light. Gifted in the art of composition, he could catch the true essence of whatever subject matter he chose to depict. His pictures often betrayed the rather cold and remote persona he projected upon the world-revealing that he was quite a sensitive, vulnerable and caring soul indeed.
It is through this all too brief tableaux of portraitures described here that I choose to remember my dear father, on this sad and painful day.
Are you a zombie? This flowchart, from TheDoghouseDiaries.com, should help you answer the question...
Palestinians win upgraded UN status by wide margin
29 November 2012
The UN General Assembly has voted to grant the Palestinians non-member observer state status - a move strongly opposed by Israel and the US.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the assembly the vote was the "last chance to save the two-state solution" with Israel.
Israel's envoy to the UN said the bid pushed peace process "backwards", while the US said the move was "unfortunate".
The assembly voted 138-9 in favour, with 41 nations abstaining.
Hundreds of Palestinians celebrated on the streets of Ramallah, in the West Bank, after the result was announced.
"Sixty-five years ago on this day, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 181, which partitioned the land of historic Palestine into two states and became the birth certificate for Israel," Mr Abbas said shortly before the vote in New York.
"The General Assembly is called upon today to issue a birth certificate of the reality of the State of Palestine," he said.
The Israeli ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, said "the only way to reach peace is through agreements" between the parties, not at the UN.
"No decision by the UN can break the 4,000-year-old bond between the people of Israel and the land of Israel," he said.
Opponents of the bid say a Palestinian state should emerge only out of bilateral negotiations, as set out in the 1993 Oslo peace accords under which the Palestinian Authority was established.
Speaking after the vote, the US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, urged the Palestinians and Israel to resume direct peace talks and warned against unilateral actions.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the vote "unfortunate and counter-productive", saying it put more obstacles on the path to peace.
"By going to the UN , the Palestinians have violated the agreements with Israel and Israel will act accordingly," said the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Twitter.
The UK abstained from the vote, as did Germany. The Czech Republic, the Marshall Islands and Panama were among the nations voting with the US and Israel.
In the West Bank, crowds celebrated the vote by waving flags and chanting "God is great!"
"For the first time, there will be a state called Palestine, with the recognition of the entire world," Amir Hamdan was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.
"Today the world will hear our voice," he added.
The Palestinians are seeking UN recognition of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, the lands Israel captured in 1967.
While the move is seen as a symbolic milestone in Palestinian ambitions for statehood, the "Yes" vote will also have a practical diplomatic effect, says the BBC's Barbara Plett, at the UN.
It would allow the Palestinians to participate in debates at the UN and improve their chances of joining UN agencies and bodies like the International Criminal Court.
Last year, Mr Abbas asked the UN Security Council to admit the Palestinians as a member state, but that was opposed by the US.
Mr Abbas was much criticised by many Palestinians for remaining on the sidelines of the conflict earlier this month in Gaza and efforts to achieve a ceasefire with Israel.
His Fatah movement, based in the West Bank, is deeply split from the militant Hamas movement which governs Gaza.
Gaza's Prime Minister Ismael Haniyeh said in a statement sent to the BBC that Hamas' "support for the UN bid is based on the 'rule of non-recognition of the occupier'... and the right of Palestinians to return to their homeland".
Goldman's multi-billion dollar bailout queen CEO insists on Social Security, Medicare cuts
11/20/2012 by Chris in Paris
Of course, another super rich white guy, who is set for life, wants to gut Social Security and Medicare because "we can't afford it."
Why is it that the people howling the most about ripping apart the social system, who complain the loudest about us being unable to afford Social Security and Medicare, are those who profited so heavily from the public's largesse?
Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein is an extreme example since his own firm (like the rest of Wall Street) required billions of taxpayer money to stay alive, but let's not forget about the destructive duo, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles.
Alan Simpson spent his life working as a politician, followed by going on the speaking circuit or whatever it is that he does when he talks about butchering Social Security and Medicare while promoting tax cuts. It must be nice knowing that he's set for life with the best health care plan, and a retirement plan unknown to most working Americans. And our friend, fellow "Democrat" Erskine Bowles also did well working in finance followed by the White House, then a large state university followed by his own speaking circuit gigs.
One does wonder how much they intend to give up from their own fat government benefits, as part of our "common sacrifice."
Many of us have completely had it with rich, white guys like this proudly speaking to the media about how much gutting and shredding they think is necessary to "save the system," while refusing to budge on their own massive tax cuts. They've all lived high on the hog at our expense, and now we're giving them an easy forum for promoting this rich-guy assault on the system.
When is enough enough for these people? Much like sending a bill to Texas as the cost of seceding, let's send a bill to these pampered fat cats for everything we've given them, and tell them all to shove off. They've cost us enough quite literally trillions and now they want to cost us more, by ripping apart the social fabric of America.
BLANKFEIN: You're going to have to undoubtedly do something to lower people's expectations the entitlements and what people think that they're going to get, because it's not going to they're not going to get it.
PELLEY: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid?
BLANKFEIN: You can look at history of these things, and Social Security wasn't devised to be a system that supported you for a 30-year retirement after a 25-year career. So there will be things that, you know, the retirement age has to be changed, maybe some of the benefits have to be affected, maybe some of the inflation adjustments have to be revised. But in general, entitlements have to be slowed down and contained.
PELLEY: Because we can't afford them going forward?
BLANKFEIN: Because we can't afford them.
Someone please help me refresh my memory, but how did we afford to give away trillions of dollars to Wall Street, to save their lifestyle, so they could continue giving themselves huge bonuses while the rest of us lost our business and our homes?
I don't recall any complaints back in 2008 and 2009 about the middle class not being able to afford the bail out of people like Blankfein, do you? Or any talk during the Bush years of the entire country not being able to afford his massive tax cuts that broke the budget?
Carly Fiorina Wants Stuff
Failed CEO Carly Fiorina, with $40m retirement package, says union pensions too high
11/26/2012 by Chris in Paris
The other day it was the CEO of a bailed out bank demanding cuts to Social Security.
But nobody whines about the fake "fiscal cliff" better than failed GOP candidate and "19th Worst CEO of All Time" CEO Carly Fiorina.
You might remember Fiorina from the days when she worked at HP, and was sent packing in 2005 with a whopping $40 million severance benefits package. Was that "fair," Carly?
Fiorina is widely considered one of the worst CEOs in recent years, though that didn't stop her from receiving millions in cash, stock, benefits and pension when she was fired. It rarely does.
Carly Fiorina Says You Can't Want Stuff Too
But no, in her entitled little world, the problem is not the fat cats like her, but the unions.
"It is not fair that public employee union pensions and benefits are so rich now that cities and states are going bankrupt, and college tuition is going up 20 and 30% There is a lot that isn't fair right now."
Failed investments and drastic tax cuts by governments have nothing to do with the problem. Imagine that. As Think Progress noted, Fiorina whined on TV that she "only" received a $21 million severance, though she somehow overlooked the rest of the redundancy plan. But to be fair to Fiorina, what Republican candidate hasn't overlooked another $20 million plus?
She starts at about 2 minutes into the video below. More from me after the video.Other than being an expert on living off of a platinum parachute and failing as a political candidate, it's not clear what special expertise Fiorina has to offer for NBC News or any other media outlet. She's certainly not even considered to be a corporate jobs creator, the way Jack Welch is (wrongly) considered by the media. She has a pretty good agent though if she can get TV spots despite her awful record.
So tell me who is really part of the moocher class that corporate CEOs and 1%-ers keep talking about? Are they the people asking for basic healthcare or the people who have enough money to build moats and personal golf courses around their mansions? Another tip off sign of a moocher is that no matter how much they have, it's not enough and they want more of your money.
Damn if these Republicans don't always want stuff.
The other sign of who belongs to the moocher class is to listen to who actually believes in the so-called fiscal cliff. Anyone who believes it's for real is probably a moocher, but a moocher who grabs a lot more money than anyone who actually needs Social Security or Medicare.
As we get closer to the end of the year, expect the moocher class to be in your face a lot more, explaining how the situation is dire and the world will end if we don't address the "fiscal cliff" but cutting everything we hold dear while leaving the GOP tax and war machine firmly in place to kill the budget yet again another day.
Ignore them and remember, it's not a fiscal cliff, it's an austerity bomb.
US Power Grid Vulnerable to Just About Everything
Jen Alic of Oilprice.com
As Washington hunts ill-defined al-Qaeda groups in the Middle East and Africa, and concerns itself with Iran's eventual nuclear potential, it has a much more pressing problem at home: Its energy grid is vulnerable to anyone with basic weapons and know-how.
Forget about cyber warfare and highly organized terrorist attacks, a lack of basic physical security on the US power grid means that anyone with a gunlike disgruntled Michigan Militia types, for instance--could do serious damage.
For the past two months, the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has been tasked with creating a security strategy for the electric grid and hydrocarbon facilities through its newly created Office of Energy Infrastructure Security. So far, it's not good news.
"There are ways that a very few number of actors with very rudimentary equipment could take down large portions of our grid," warns FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff. This, he says, "is an equal if not greater issue" than cyber security.
FERC's gloom-and-doom risk assessment comes on the heels of the recent declassification of a 2007 report by the National Academy of Sciences.
The National Academy of Sciences on 14 November warned that a terrorist attack on the US power grid could wreak more damage than Hurricane Sandy. It could cause massive blackouts for weeks or months at a time. But this would only be the beginning, the Academy warns, spelling out an "end of days" scenario in which blackouts lead to widespread fear, panic and instability.
What they are hinting at is revolutionand it wouldn't take much.
So what is being done to mitigate risk? According to FERC, utility companies aren't doing enough. Unfortunately, FERC does not have the power to order utilities to act in the name of protecting the country's energy infrastructure. Security is expensive, and more than 90% of the country's grid is privately owned and regulated by state governments. Private utilities are not likely to feel responsible for footing the bill for security, and states may not be able to afford it.
One key problem is theoretically a simple one to resolve: a lack of spare parts. According to the National Academy of Sciences, the grid is particularly vulnerable because it is spread out across hundreds of miles with key equipment not sufficiently guarded or antiquated and unable to prevent outages from cascading.
We are talking about some 170,000 miles of voltage transmission line miles fed by 2,100 high-voltage transformers delivering power to 125 million households.
"We could easily be without power across a multistate region for many weeks or months, because we don't have many spare transformers," according to the Academy.
High-voltage transformers are vulnerable both from within and from outside the substations in which they are housed. Complicating matters, these transformers are huge and difficult to remove. They are also difficult to replace, as they are custom built primarily outside the US. So what is the solution? Perhaps, says the Academy, to design smaller portable transformers that could be used temporarily in an emergency situation.
Why was the Academy's 2007 report only just declassified? Well, its authors were worried that it would be tantamount to providing terrorists with a detailed recipe for attacking and destabilizing America, or perhaps for starting a revolution.
The military at least is preparing to protect its own power supplies. Recently, the US Army Corps of Engineers awarded a $7 million contract for research that demonstrates the integration of electric vehicles, generators and solar arrays to supply emergency power for Fort Carson, Colorado. This is the SPIDERS (Smart Power Infrastructure Demonstration for Energy Reliability and Security), and the Army hopes it will be the answer to more efficient and secure energy.
Back in the civilian world, however, things are moving rather slowly, and the focus remains on the sexier idea of an energy-crippling cyberattack.
Last week, Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) urged House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) to pass a billthe GRID Act--which would secure the grid against cyberattacks.
"As the widespread and, in some cases, still ongoing power outages from Superstorm Sandy have shown us, our electric grid is too fragile and its disruption is too devastating for us to fail to act," Markey wrote. "Given this urgency, it is critical that the House act immediately in a bipartisan manner to ensure our electrical infrastructure is secure."
This bill was passed by the House, but has failed to gain any traction in the Senate.
FERC, of course, is all for the bill, which would give it the authority to issue orders and regulations to boost the security of the electric grid's computer systems from a cyberattack.
But it's only a small piece of the security puzzle, and FERC remains concerned that authorities are overlooking the myriad simpler threats to the electricity grid. These don't make for the easy headlines, especially since they are not necessarily foreign in nature.