Monday, January 30, 2012

Turning America into Pottersville

Exclusive: The Republican presidential race has taken a detour into the “class warfare” that the party supposedly despises, with Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry tagging Mitt Romney as an elitist who got rich by laying off workers. But this spat misses the larger point of what the Right is doing to America, writes Robert Parry.
Robert Parry
January 14, 2012

For many years, it appeared that the Right wanted to take the United States back to the 1950s – when blacks “knew their place,” women were “in the kitchen” and gays stayed “in the closet” – but it turns out that the intended back-in-time-travel was to the 1920s, to an era of a few haves and many have-nots, not only before the Civil Rights Movement but before the Great American Middle-Class.

The Right’s goal has been less to recreate the world of “Father Knows Best” than to establish a national “Pottersville,” like in the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” where the existence of the average man and woman was brutish and unfulfilling, while the 1 percent of that age lived in gilded comfort and held sweeping power.

Actor Jimmy Stewart finding himself in Pottersville in "It's a Wonderful Life"
That is the message ironically coming from the expensive ad wars of the Republican presidential battle, where frontrunner Mitt Romney has emerged as the personification of the 1 percent and has been attacked by rivals who – while supporting similar policies favoring the ultra-rich – have savaged his career as a venture capitalist, or as Texas Gov. Rick Perry puts it, a “vulture capitalist.”

Romney’s response has been telling. The former chief executive of the corporate takeover firm Bain Capital went beyond the Right’s usual lament about “class warfare,” terming the criticism of high-flying financiers who use layoffs to fatten their bottom lines “the bitter politics of envy.”

And, if there remained any doubt about Romney’s status as the nation’s “elitist-in-chief,” he added that it was wrong to have a noisy and open debate about the dangers of growing income inequality. He told Matt Lauer on NBC’s “Today” that “I think it’s fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms, and discussions about tax policy and the like.”

In other words, keep the rabble from protesting their lot; leave these matters to the well-bred and the well-off, in their think tanks and their board rooms.

For decades, the Right has largely concealed this elitist agenda behind appeals to social conservatism and flag-waving patriotism. Many working- and middle-class Americans, especially white males, have sided with the economic free-marketers because the hated “lib-rhuls” supported civil rights for blacks, women and gays – and also questioned America’s military might.

Plus, many Americans have forgotten a basic truth: that the Great American Middle-Class was largely a creation of the federal government and its policies dating back to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. For many Americans in the middle-class, it was more satisfying to think that they or their parents had climbed the social ladder on their own. They didn’t need “guv-mint” help.

But the truth is that it was government policies arising out of the Great Depression and carried forward through the post-World War II years by both Republican and Democratic presidents that created the opportunities for tens of millions of Americans to achieve relative comfort and security.

Those policies ranged from Social Security and labor rights in the 1930s to the GI Bill after World War II to government investments in infrastructure and technological research in the decades that followed. Even in recent years, despite right-wing efforts to choke off this flow of progress, government programs – such as the Internet – brought greater efficiency to markets and wealth to many entrepreneurs.

So, not only is Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren right when she notes that “there is nobody in this country who got rich on his own,” it’s also true that government policies enabled large numbers of Americans to climb out of poverty and into the middle-class.

The Dick Cheney Example

Oddly, one of the best examples of this reality is the life of right-wing icon Dick Cheney, as he revealed in his recent memoir, In My Time. In the book, Cheney recognizes that his personal success was made possible by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and the fact that Cheney’s father managed to land a steady job with the federal government.

“I’ve often reflected on how different was the utterly stable environment he provided for his family and wondered if because of that I have been able to take risks, to change directions, and to leave one career path for another with hardly a second thought,” Cheney wrote.

By contrast, in sketching his family’s history, Cheney depicted the hard-scrabble life of farmers and small businessmen scratching out a living in the American Midwest and suffering financial reversals whenever the titans of Wall Street stumbled into a financial crisis and the bankers cut off credit.

After his forebears would make some modest headway from their hard work, they would find themselves back at square one, again and again, because of some “market” crisis or a negative weather pattern. Whether a financial panic or a sudden drought, everything was lost.

“In 1883, as the country struggled through a long economic depression, the sash and door factory that [Civil War veteran Samuel Fletcher Cheney] co-owned [in Defiance, Ohio] had to be sold to pay its debts,” Cheney wrote. “At the age of fifty-four, Samuel Cheney had to start over,” moving to Nebraska.

There, Samuel Cheney built a sod house and began a farm, enjoying some success until a drought hit, again forcing him to the edge. Despite a solid credit record, he noted that “the banks will not loan to anyone at present” and, in 1896, he had to watch all his possessions auctioned off at the Kearney County Courthouse. Samuel Cheney started another homestead in 1904 and kept working until he died in 1911 at the age of 82.

His third son, Thomas, who was nicknamed Bert (and who would become Dick Cheney’s grandfather), tried to build a different life as a cashier and part owner of a Sumner, Kansas, bank, named Farmers and Merchants Bank. But he still suffered when the economy crashed.

“Despite all his plans and success, Bert Cheney found that, like his father, he couldn’t escape the terrible power of nature,” Dick Cheney wrote. “When drought struck in the early 1930s, farmers couldn’t pay their debts, storekeepers had to close their doors, and Farmers and Merchants Bank went under. … My grandparents lost everything except for the house in which they lived.”

Finding Security

Bert Cheney’s son, Richard, ventured off in a different direction, working his way through Kearney State Teachers College and taking the civil service exam. He landed a job as a typist with the Veterans Administration in Lincoln, Nebraska.

“After scraping by for so long, he found the prospect of a $120 monthly salary and the security of a government job too good to turn down,” his son, Dick Cheney, wrote. “Before long he was offered a job with another federal agency, the Soil Conservation Service.

“The SCS taught farmers about crop rotation, terraced planting, contour plowing, and using ‘shelter belts’ of trees as windbreaks – techniques that would prevent the soil from blowing away, as it had in the dust storms of the Great Depression. My dad stayed with the SCS for more than thirty years, doing work of which he was immensely proud.

“He was also proud of the pension that came with federal employment – a pride that I didn’t understand until as an adult I learned about the economic catastrophes that his parents and grandparents had experienced and that had shadowed his own youth.”

Like many Americans, the Cheney family was pulled from the depths of the Great Depression by the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt, cementing the family’s support for the Democratic president and his party. The family celebrated when little Dick was born on FDR’s birthday.

“When I was born [on Jan. 30, 1941] my granddad wanted to send a telegram to the president,” Cheney wrote in his memoir. “Both sides of my family were staunch New Deal Democrats, and Granddad was sure that FDR would want to know about the ‘little stranger’ with whom he now had a birthday in common.”

However, Dick Cheney took a different path. Freed from the insecurity that had afflicted his father and earlier Cheneys – caused by the cruel vicissitudes of laissez-faire capitalism – Dick Cheney enjoyed the relative comfort of middle-class life in post-World War II America. He took advantage of the many opportunities that presented themselves.

Most notably, Cheney attached himself to an ambitious Republican congressman from Illinois named Donald Rumsfeld. When Rumsfeld left Congress for posts in the Nixon administration, he brought Cheney along. Eventually Rumsfeld became White House chief of staff to President Gerald Ford and – when Rumsfeld was tapped to become Defense Secretary in 1975 – he recommended his young aide, Dick Cheney, to succeed him.

Cheney’s career path through the ranks of Republican national politics, with occasional trips through the revolving door into lucrative private-sector jobs, was set. He became a major player within the GOP Establishment, building a reputation as an ardent conservative, a foreign policy hawk – and a fierce opponent of the New Deal.

Demonizing Guv-mint

The Right’s ongoing campaign to dismantle the New Deal also has hinged on the demonization of “guv-mint,” a darkening of attitudes that became more possible when many middle-class Americans lost their memory of how their families had moved into the middle-class.

In the 1960s and 1970s, middle-class white men in particular came to view the government as a force for helping the poor, women and minorities, while putting pressure on white males to change long-established attitudes. Plus, they were told that the government was taking their hard-earned dollars to give to the undeserving.

When these messages – along with a mix of patriotic hoopla and coded appeals to bigotry – were delivered by the personable Ronald Reagan in 1980, middle- and working-class whites rallied to the Right’s banner. It was time, they felt, to dismantle many government programs for the poor and to get tough on foreign adversaries.

But Reagan’s most important policy was slashing taxes, especially those on the rich. Under Reagan’s “supply-side economics,” the top marginal tax rate – that is what the richest Americans pay on their highest tranche of income – was more than halved, from 70 percent to 28 percent.

Yet, since the promised surge in “supply-side” growth didn’t materialize, one result was a dramatic rise in the national debt. Another less obvious change was the incentivizing of greed. Under presidents from Dwight Eisenhower (when the top marginal tax rate was 90 percent) through Jimmy Carter (with a 70 percent top rate), taxes had been a disincentive against greed.

After all, if 70 to 90 percent of your highest tranche of income went to the government to help pay for building the nation, you had little personal incentive to press for that extra $1 million or $2 million. So corporate CEOs – while well-compensated – were happy earning about 25 times as much as their average worker in the 1960s. A few decades later, that ratio on CEO pay was about 200 times what the average worker was making.

As the Washington Post’s Peter Whoriskey framed this historic development in a June 19, 2011, article, U.S. business underwent a cultural transformation from the 1970s when chief executives believed more in sharing the wealth than they do today.

Whoriskey described the findings of researchers with access to economic data from the Internal Revenue Service. The numbers revealed that the big bucks were not flowing primarily to athletes or actors or even stock market speculators; America’s new super-rich were mostly corporate chieftains.

The article cited a U.S. dairy company CEO from the 1970s, Kenneth J. Douglas, who earned the equivalent of about $1 million a year. He lived comfortably but not ostentatiously. Douglas had an office on the second floor of a milk distribution center, and he turned down raises because he felt it would hurt morale at the plant, Whoriskey reported.

However, just a few decades later, Gregg L. Engles, the CEO of the same company, Dean Foods, averaged about 10 times what Douglas made; worked in a glittering high-rise office building in Dallas; owned a vacation estate in Vail, Colorado; belonged to four golf clubs; and traveled in a $10 million corporate jet. He apparently had little concern about what his workers thought.

“The evolution of executive grandeur – from very comfortable to jet-setting – reflects one of the primary reasons that the gap between those with the highest incomes and everyone else is widening,” Whoriskey reported.

“For years, statistics have depicted growing income disparity in the United States, and it has reached levels not seen since the Great Depression. In 2008, the last year for which data are available, for example, the top 0.1 percent of earners took in more than 10 percent of the personal income in the United States, including capital gains, and the top 1 percent took in more than 20 percent.”

The old New-Deal-to-post-World-War-II notion had been that a healthy middle-class contributed to profitable businesses because average people could afford to buy consumer goods, own their own homes and take an annual vacation with the kids. That “middle-class system,” however, had required intervention by the government as the representative of the everyman.

The consequences of several decades of Reaganism and its related ideas (such as shipping many middle-class jobs overseas) are now apparent. Wealth has been concentrated at the top with billionaires living extravagant lives while the middle-class shrinks and struggles. One everyman after another gets shoved down the social ladder into the lower classes and into poverty.

Those real-life consequences are painful. Millions of Americans forego needed medical care because they can’t afford health insurance; young people, burdened by college loans, crowd back in with their parents; trained workers settle for low-paying jobs or are unemployed; families skip vacations and other simple pleasures of life.

Beyond the unfairness, there is the macro-economic problem which comes from massive income disparity. A strong economy is one in which the vast majority people can buy products, which can then be manufactured more cheaply, creating a positive cycle of profits and prosperity.

Instead, Mitt Romney — and even his Republican rivals who criticize his personal business methods — are intent to press ahead down the dark road of Reaganism toward some nightmarish Pottersville. Instead of a vibrant debate about whether this is the right way to go, Romney instructs the masses to keep their mouths shut with the only permitted conversations about the nation’s future restricted to “quiet rooms.”

For more on related topics, see Robert Parry’s Lost History, Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, now available in a three-book set for the discount price of only $29. For details, click here.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.

Dear Andrew Sullivan: Why Focus on Obama's Dumbest Critics?

A major defense of the president exaggerates Obama's accomplishments and misses the point: his scandalous transgressions against rule of law.
Conor Friedersdorf
Jan 17 2012

After reading Andrew Sullivan's Newsweek essay about President Obama, his critics, and his re-election bid, I implore him to ponder just one question. How would you have reacted in 2008 if any Republican ran promising to do the following?

(1) Codify indefinite detention into law; (2) draw up a secret kill list of people, including American citizens, to assassinate without due process; (3) proceed with warrantless spying on American citizens; (4) prosecute Bush-era whistleblowers for violating state secrets; (5) reinterpret the War Powers Resolution such that entering a war of choice without a Congressional declaration is permissible; (6) enter and prosecute such a war; (7) institutionalize naked scanners and intrusive full body pat-downs in major American airports; (8) oversee a planned expansion of TSA so that its agents are already beginning to patrol American highways, train stations, and bus depots; (9) wage an undeclared drone war on numerous Muslim countries that delegates to the CIA the final call about some strikes that put civilians in jeopardy; (10) invoke the state-secrets privilege to dismiss lawsuits brought by civil-liberties organizations on dubious technicalities rather than litigating them on the merits; (11) preside over federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries; (12) attempt to negotiate an extension of American troops in Iraq beyond 2011 (an effort that thankfully failed); (14) reauthorize the Patriot Act; (13) and select an economic team mostly made up of former and future financial executives from Wall Street firms that played major roles in the financial crisis.

I submit that had Palin or Cheney or Rumsfeld or Rice or Jeb Bush or John Bolton or Rudy Giuliani or Mitt Romney proposed doing even half of those things in 2008, you'd have declared them unfit for the presidency and expressed alarm at the prospect of America doubling down on the excesses of the post-September 11 era. You'd have championed an alternative candidate who avowed that America doesn't have to choose between our values and our safety.

Yet President Obama has done all of the aforementioned things.

Pretend that you knew, circa 2008, that President Cheney or Palin or Rice or Rumsfeld or Giuliani would do all those things -- but that, on the bright side, they'd refrain from torturing anyone else, end Don't Ask, Don't Tell, sign a bank bailout, and pass a health-care bill that you regard as improving on the status quo starting in 2014. Would you vote for them on that basis?

I submit that you would not. And if they were elected, and four years later were running for re-election, would you focus on the stupidity of the least persuasive attacks on their tenure? Or would you laud their most incisive critics? I believe that you'd be among their most incisive critics.

Back to the present.

The Newsweek cover headline for Sullivan's piece is "Why Are Obama's Critics So Dumb?" It's entirely defensible to point out that many critiques of Obama are laughably disconnected from reality -- I've done that myself on many occasions -- so it's arguably a fair headline.

But the one I've chosen is fair too: "Why Focus on Obama's Dumbest Critics?"

No, Obama isn't a radical Kenyan anti-colonialist. But he is a lawbreaker and an advocate of radical executive power. What precedent could be more radical than insisting that the executive is empowered to draw up a kill list of American citizens in secret, without telling anyone what names are on it, or the legal justification for it, or even that it exists? What if Newt Gingrich inherits that power?

He may yet.

Over the years, Sullivan has confronted, as few others have, American transgressions abroad, including torture, detainee abuse, and various imperial ambitions. He's long drawn attention to civil-liberties violations at home too, as a solo blogger and as lead editor and writer of a blogazine. When I worked for Sullivan, he not only published but actively encouraged items I found that highlighted civil-liberties abuses by the Obama Administration, and since I parted ways with The Daily Dish, he and the Dish team have continued to air critiques of Obama on these questions.

But his Newsweek essay fits the pattern I've lamented of Obama apologists who tell a narrative of his administration that ignores some of these issues and minimizes the importance of others, as if they're a relatively unimportant matter to be set aside in a sentence or three before proceeding to the more important business of whether the president is being critiqued fairly by obtuse partisans.

Sullivan should reconsider this approach.

During President Bush's first term, Sullivan will recall the most unhinged attacks on him -- the comparisons to Hitler, the puppets burned in effigy, the comparisons to a chimp. There wasn't anything wrong with lamenting those attacks, just as there's nothing wrong with pointing out exaggerated and baseless attacks on Obama, which have spread through most of the Republican Party. But the priority put on rebutting the least persuasive left-wing critiques of Bush, and pre-election 2004 worrying about the flaws of the Democratic field, are part of what postponed the backlash against Bush's ruinous policies. The backlash should've been the priority all along.

The same is now true of Obama. Like President Bush, he is breaking the law, transgressing against civil liberties, and championing a radical view of executive power -- and he is invoking the War on Terror to get away with it. As much as it was in 2003 or 2007, it is vital in 2012 that there be a backlash against these post-9/11 excesses, that liberty-loving citizens push back so that these are anomalies that are reined in, rather than permanent features of a bipartisan consensus that can only end in a catastrophically abusive executive operating in an office stripped by successive presidents and their minions of both constitutional and prudential checks.

Beyond strenuously objecting to the focus of his piece and what it doesn't mention, and agreeing with some of Sullivan's points, I have important disagreements with others. "Where Bush talked tough and acted counter-productively, Obama has simply, quietly, relentlessly decimated our real enemies, while winning the broader propaganda war," Sullivan writes. "Since he took office, al Qaeda's popularity in the Muslim world has plummeted." But it's surely relevant that, according to surveys like this one from James Zogby in 2011, "After improving with the election of Barack Obama in 2008, U.S. favorable ratings across the Arab world have plummeted. In most countries they are lower than at the end of the Bush Administration, and lower than Iran's favorable ratings (except in Saudi Arabia)." And in the areas where Obama's drone strikes are killing innocent civilians, he is trading short-term terrorist deaths for the possibility that our policies will create more terrorists in the long run. It's a tradeoff some people consider prudent; but that's different from saying he is "winning the propaganda war." In fact, the predictable effect of some of his policies is to increase hatred of the U.S.

Says Sullivan, "Obama's foreign policy, like Dwight Eisenhower's or George H.W. Bush's, eschews short-term political hits for long-term strategic advantage." But there are cases when the opposite is true. When the CIA sponsored a fake vaccination campaign in Pakistan as a ruse to get bin Laden's DNA, the Dish cited commentators who argued that it was egregiously shortsighted, and quoted an infectious-disease specialist's fears "that disclosure of the CIA's vaccine ruse actually will turn out to kill more people than bin Laden ever did." The bin Laden raid itself, combined with the steady drone campaign in Pakistan, has done so much to destabilize Pakistan that its generals, fearful of American interference, are more frequently moving its nuclear weapons around the country in lightly guarded trucks, as reported by Jeffrey Goldberg and Marc Ambinder. Surely Sullivan should acknowledge that it is possible that the raid and drone strikes will ultimately turn out to be a case of sacrificing long-term strategic advantages for a short-term hit. (That might not be the case -- the point is that it's premature to give Obama credit. We're still operating in the short run.)

Says Sullivan, "From the start, liberals projected onto Obama absurd notions of what a president can actually do in a polarized country, where anything requires 60 Senate votes even to stand a chance of making it into law. They have described him as a hapless tool of Wall Street, a continuation of Bush in civil liberties, a cloistered elitist unable to grasp the populist moment that is his historic opportunity." Without getting into all the issues contained in that passage, it is in fact true that Obama represents a continuation of Bush policies on civil liberties! And in some respects he has gone even farther than Bush.

"Under Obama, support for marriage equality and marijuana legalization has crested to record levels," Sullivan writes. Yes, but no thanks to Obama, who opposes both marriage equality and marijuana legalization! This is the height of illegitimate Obama apologia: attributing to his credit policies he hasn't advanced because a change in public opinion happens to have coincided with his tenure. By this logic Bush also deserves credit for the increasing support for gay marriage during the aughts.

To Sullivan, this is the big picture story of the Obama Administration: "the president begins by extending a hand to his opponents; when they respond by raising a fist, he demonstrates that they are the source of the problem; then, finally, he moves to his preferred position of moderate liberalism and fights for it without being effectively tarred as an ideologue or a divider." Like the whole of his essay, it takes as its lodestar the two-party system and defines Obama as a centrist within it, as if the most coherent way to judge him is by comparison with other establishment politicians.

But centrism inside a consensus that is steadily eroding civil liberties, doing away with checks and balances, and increasing executive power is nothing to support, never mind something to celebrate. "Yes, Obama has waged a war based on a reading of executive power that many civil libertarians, including myself, oppose. And he has signed into law the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens without trial (even as he pledged never to invoke this tyrannical power himself)," Sullivan states. "But he has done the most important thing of all: excising the cancer of torture from military detention and military justice. If he is not re-elected, that cancer may well return."

That sums it up, doesn't it?

Obama has transgressed against what is arguably Congress' most essential check on executive power -- its status as the decider of when America goes to war -- and he has codified indefinite detention into law, something that hasn't been done since Japanese Americans were detained during World War II. But at least he doesn't torture people! How low we've set the bar.

It isn't that I object to Sullivan backing Obama's reelection if his GOP opponent runs on bringing back torture. Is he the lesser of two evils? Maybe so. But lauding him as a president who has governed "with grace and calm" and "who as yet has not had a single significant scandal to his name"? If indefinite detention, secret kill lists, warrantless spying, a war on whistleblowers, violating the War Powers Resolution, and abuse of the state secrets privilege don't fit one's definition of "scandal," what does? If they're peripheral flaws rather than central, unacceptable transgressions, America is doomed to these radical, illiberal policies for the foreseeable future.

Stoner Cooking 1-30-12

The Darth Vader Burger


“Choose your side of The Force.” To promote the re-release of “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace” in 3D, the France- and Benelux-based fast food chain Quick is launching the Darth Vader Burger on a Sithy black bun. A less frightening looking (read: boring) Yoda Burger will also hit select locations through March 1.


Stoner Cooking Special: Protein'd™ Cheese Sauce


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Pour Protein'd™ Cheese Sauce on potatoes, chips, toast or English muffin, or cooked vegetables. Or use as dip for chips, fresh vegetables, or popcorn. You can even spoon it straight. It's that good!

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Where to eat the heat
Thai, Korean, Chinese and Indian delicacies in L.A., Northridge, San Gabriel, Canoga Park and Inglewood.
January 12, 2012,0,5663762.story

If you're a fiend for the spicy, then you may have attempted to down an entire bowl of the Special 2 ramen at Orochon in Little Tokyo, which earns you a photo on "the wall of bravery." Or you've sought the experience of Jitlada's southern Thai specialties, including Chef Tui's Dynamite Special Challenge, covered in a chile sludge that packs so much heat your ears start to ring. (Thais say southern food is the ultimate of phet, or spiciness.) Where to find more of the burn? Here, from recent Find columns, are several ways to satisfy the capsaicin cravings.

— Linda Burum, Miles Clements, Betty Hallock and C. Thi Nguyen

Jangchung-Dong Wong Jokbal

Alongside the jokbal — braised pork shank — at this Koreatown restaurant, a fiery, salty, shrimp-based dipping sauce gives every piece added zing. You eat slices with sauce or wrapped in the accompanying lettuce with a chunk of raw garlic clove and a jalapeño slice. An even spicier celebration of porkiness, mae-un jokbal bokkeum, listed on the English dinner menu as pan-fried spicy pork hock, involves a trencherman's portion of jokbal. The slices are tossed with thick glossy garlic chunks, jalapeño and red-tinged perilla leaves, whose slight bitterness accents the meat the way Angostura bitters enhance a Manhattan cocktail.

425 S. Western Ave., Suite E, Los Angeles, (213) 386-3535.

Red Chili Restaurant

Put nehari down on your 500-things-to-eat-before-you-die list. This stewed beef, the color of red earth with sauce powered by a staggering quantity of ground chile and seasonings, is as popular for breakfast in Pakistan as Cheerios are here. Its garnish of chopped fresh ginger adds a brilliant punch of fresh sweet heat. It is with this dish and the house specialty, the saucy tomato-based chicken karahi, that you realize this cooking is more about the sauces. They're luscious and beg to be soaked up with rice or spongy nan.

18108 Parthenia St. (in Parthenia Center), Northridge, (818) 775-0733.

Taste of Chong Qing

You'll get your tongue seared with the strange electricity of ma la. But you'll also experience the delicacy of subtle fish dishes and fresh vegetables. And you'll get the burn and the elegance all at once, an experience so paradoxical to the senses that you might stagger out of the restaurant a little food-drunk. One of the best dishes here is the Sichuan-style fish with peppers: fillets of white fish floating in aromatic broth and covered with a bright, gorgeously green layer of chopped ... something. The something turns out to be a sort of culinary joke: a mixture of almost indistinguishable cooling green scallions, perky pickled peppers and searingly hot green chiles. Tip: The hot stuff is the heaviest, and if you cautiously turn a piece of fish on its side and give it a gentle tap, most of the serious burn will fall off.

172 E. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel, (626) 288-1357.

Valley India Cafe

The menu favors the spice-laden specialties of the Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu regions of southeastern India: Coconut milk, fresh, pungent curry leaves and a healthy helping of chiles distinguish many curries. The crisp golden dosas here rival the best in Little India. The smaller, thicker set dosa are the size of a dinner plate with a soft, porous texture that makes a great sponge for sopping up voluptuous sauces, especially vegetable kurma, a creamy curry with green chile, cashew and coconut. Subdue the heat with the mild kothu parota, a street food of chopped, flaky griddle bread scrambled with egg and shredded chicken.

7257 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Canoga Park, (818) 340-7500,

Front Page Jamaican Grille

In every dish here, such as jerk chicken, goat curry and oxtails, the amped-up seasoning embraces the meat but doesn't trounce the flavor. But if all that flavor isn't enough for you, ask for the house-made hot sauce, a gorgeously blistering concoction of habaneros and herbs, blended and cooked into fiery perfection. To finish, try one of the drinks. The simplicity of the sorrel drink will soothe your tongue after all that heat, and pineapple ginger beer will give you a pleasant kick of fresh ginger behind some pineapple fizz. But if you like being taken to the edge of the precipice of gustatory possibility, order some of the restaurant's mega-hot reggae wings, and then top them off with the unadulterated ginger beer. That combination will knock you to the ground and then punch you in the face again. In a good way.

1117 W. Manchester Blvd., No. C, Inglewood, (310) 216-9521,


Cup O' Pizza

Welcome Pizza Enthusiasts!

If you've been searching for that perfect cup of pizza recipe, well then, look no further. What began as a dream inspired by "The Jerk," is now a reality! Subscribe and stay up-to-date on all the tasty developments. Stay cheesy, Pizza Fiends!

Love, Steve & Dave.

Cup O' Pizza Walkthrough

OK Gang, it's time we got around to showing how it's done.

We've spent many hours in our laboratory perfecting the hottest, tastiest, cup of pizza.

This Cup O' Pizza recipe is the quick and easy version, using store-bought ingredients.

Here's what you'll need (makes 4 cups o' pizza):

4 oven friendly coffee mugs

1 tube of pre-made pizza crust (we've been using the 13.8 oz Pillsbury Classic)
1 jar of pizza sauce
1 package of deli-style pepperoni
1 bag of mozzarella or pizza cheese
Olive oil and basting brush

STEP 1: Pop open the delicious tube ofctriple-bleached goo, to which we owe our robust physiques!

STEP 2: Cut the dough roll into 4 equal sections. 1 section for each cup. Then cut each section down even further intoc3 sections, which will become the basis for our patented Flavor Layer Technology (TM).

STEP 3: Get that cat outta here!!

STEP 4: Coat your cups (or dough slices) with olive oil

STEP 5: Begin building your first Flavor Layer by dropping a section of dough into the bottom of the cup. Very good!

STEP 6: Add a large spoonful of sauce, a slice of pepperoni, some cheese, and a sprinkle of oregano and you've got your first layer. (This tutorial is the kid version, so experimenting with other classic ingredients is certainly encouraged.)

STEP 7: Repeat process on remaining dough layers. 3 layers per cup.

Mmm, now you're ready to load 'em into the oven.

STEP 8: Depending on your oven, you may need to tweak the following settings. Keep a close eye on your mugs the first time out, so you can make temperature adjustments accordingly. Here's what has worked for us.

Set your oven timer for 30 minutes and your oven at 425 degrees. In order to minimize the possibility of the mugs cracking due to a sudden change in temperature, we put the Cups O' Pizza in the oven during the preheat process, so they gradually warm up.

STEP 9: Seriously dude, get that cat out of here.

STEP 10: After 30 minutes, take a look at your cups...


Because you've created what amounts to 4 big chunks of energy efficient pizza insulation, please allow them to cool down for at least 10 minutes before handing them off to a child or really hungry child-like friend.




Yield: 8 to 10 servings


3 to 4 pound tripe (be sure to include 1 piece of honeycomb)
6 garlic cloves, bruised but not peeled
1 tablespoon peppercorns
2 sprigs thyme
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 28ounce can white hominy
1 bunch cilantro, leaves chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped
12 tomatillos, diced


Rinse tripe under cold running water and cut large pieces into 1inch squares.

Place the garlic, peppercorns, thyme, and bay leaves into a square of cheesecloth. Tie into a bundle. This is your bouquet garni.

Place the tripe in a large stock pot with 4 quarts of hot water, the bouquet garni, and salt. Bring to a boil and skim foam if necessary. Reduce the heat and cook at a simmer for 2 to 3 hours or until tripe is tender.

Add the canned hominy, liquid and all. Cook 15 minutes longer. About 10 minutes before serving, add the cilantro, green onions, and tomatillos. Remove the bouquet garni.

Garnishes may include mild red chile sauce, ground chile powder, oregano leaves, chopped onions, or lime wedges, or sliced radishes.


Junk Food Makeover: Tater Tots
Bon Appétit

In our column, Junk Food Makeover, we challenge culinary nutritionist Tricia Williams to recreate iconic snacks with more wholesome, better-for-you recipes.

The Challenge

Tater tots: the ultimate kid food. We'll take 'em straight out of the freezer bag, heat them up, and pair them with anything from gooey grilled cheese to creamy tomato soup. Or, we'll just dip them in ketchup and call it a day. But Thanksgiving and holiday parties have wreaked havoc on our waistlines, so we called up nutritionist Tricia Williams to transform Napoleon Dynamite's favorite snack into a wholesome side dish.

"I wanted to focus on two different textures to get the tater tot right: crunchy exterior, soft interior," Tricia said. "Crunchy was definitely the bigger challenge. Lately, quinoa flakes have become a staple for crispy texture in our kitchen--we use them like a traditional kitchen would use panko. We add golden flax meal to give it extra nutrition. All these healthy ingredients make these tots an anti-inflammatory (read: less aches and pains) mock-fried food. To ensure this snack would go over well, we kid-tested them on a bunch of 6-year-olds. What a hit!" Let's see what happens when we Bon Appetit-test them.

The Result

Although Tricia didn't nail the exact tater tot shape (more of a cylindrical, golden fritter), our tasters were mostly satisfied with the healthier version of the (usually) greasy snack. The texture was great--as Tricia said, crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside. Sure, it was lacking the flavor hit from fat and salt, but we didn't miss it too much, thanks to a healthy dose of smoked paprika. All in all, while these little potato balls weren't quite the real thing, their bite-sized popability and yummy flavor made them work well as a substitute. With some ketchup and a pinch more salt, we'd be happy with these as a snack. (Or, let's face it, accompanying that kids' menu item that still holds a place in our hearts, chicken tenders, it could be dinner.)

Makes about 50

1 cup quinoa flakes (you can find them at
1/4 cup golden flax meal (you can find them at
Nonstick cooking spray
1/3 cup finely chopped small onion (from 1/2 small onion)
4 sweet potatoes or russet potatoes, peeled
1 Tbsp. kosher or sea salt, plus more
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
Freshly ground black pepper


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine quinoa flakes and flax meal in a bowl; set aside. Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Spray generously with nonstick spray. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 8 minutes. Transfer onion to a bowl; set aside. Wipe out and reserve skillet.

Using the small holes of a box grater, finely grate potatoes to make 4 cups. Transfer to a colander and sprinkle with 1 Tbsp. salt. Massage salt into potatoes and squeeze out the excess liquid. Transfer potatoes to a medium bowl; add egg and mix well. Add reserved onion, cayenne, paprika, and garlic powder; season lightly with salt and pepper. The mixture should resemble a potato pancake mix but be on the dry side. Using your hands, form potato mixture into 1" balls.

Roll potato balls in quinoa flake mixture. Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Spray lightly with nonstick spray. Working in batches, cook balls, turning occasionally, until golden brown, about 2 minutes on each side. Transfer tots to a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until cooked through, about 10 minutes.


Lamb tagine with layered onions,0,854342.story

Total time: About 3 hours, plus cooling times

Servings: 6

Note: Adapted from "The Food of Morocco" by Paula Wolfert. She writes, "This is the Fes version of a famous layered onion tagine called qamamma. I love the way the onions are cooked down to a melting unctuous sauce then combined with tomatoes or raisins and/or honey. With my recipe you do most of the work 1 or 2 days in advance. Then on the day you serve it, you assemble and bake the dish, then switch the oven to broil, dribble over some olive oil, and cook until the onions turn crusty and lightly charred." Cubeb pepper is available online; additional white and/or black pepper can be substituted.

"The Foods of Morocco" by Paula Wolfert, Ecco Press, $45

La Kama spice mixture

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cubeb pepper (optional)

A good pinch of grated nutmeg

Mix the ground spices. Sift through a fine sieve and store in a closed jar in a cool, dark place. This makes a generous tablespoon of the spice mixture.

Saffron water

1/2 teaspoon crumbled saffron strands

1 cup hot water

In a warm (not hot) skillet, dry the saffron strands. Crush again, then soak in the hot water and store in a small jar in the refrigerator. This will keep for up to a week.

For longer storage (my favorite method), quadruple the recipe quantities above: pour the saffron water into a plastic ice cube tray and freeze into cubes. Once they are frozen, shake out the cubes and store in a freezer bag. Each cube will be equivalent to 2 tablespoons saffron water or a good pinch of dried saffron threads.

Tagine and assembly

3 pounds thick lamb shoulder arm chops, bone-in, cut into 9 or 10 pieces

Coarse salt

1 tablespoon La Kama Spice Mixture

2 tablespoons Saffron Water

1 tablespoon liquid honey, preferably a floral honey such as orange blossom, lavender or acacia

1 medium red onion, coarsely grated (1/2 cup)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

2 cups water

2 tablespoons clarified butter, divided

3 pounds onions, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices

1 (2-inch) cinnamon stick

Freshly ground black pepper

3/4 cup golden raisins, soaked in warm water for 15 minutes and drained

2 tablespoons turbinado or other raw sugar

1 teaspoon ground Ceylon cinnamon

3 pita or Indian naan breads

1 tablespoon chopped parsley for garnish

1. One or 2 days before you plan to serve, trim the lamb of excess fat. Place the meat in a medium flameproof casserole and add 1 teaspoon salt, the spice mixture, saffron water, honey, grated onion and 1 tablespoon of the oil. Stir over low heat until the aroma of the spices is released, about 5 minutes: Do not brown the meat. Add the water, bring to a boil, and reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 2 1/2 hours, or until the meat is almost falling off the bone.

2. Separate the cooking juices and the meat. When the meat is cool enough to handle, pull out and discard the bones and trim off any fat or gristle. Cut the meat into 1-inch chunks and transfer to a storage bowl; you should have about 4 cups of meat. Degrease the cooking juices. Return the cooking juices to the casserole and boil down to a glaze. Add one-half teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon of the butter, the sliced onions and cinnamon stick; cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and golden, about 45 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the onions to a storage dish. Discard the cinnamon stick. Boil down the liquid in the casserole to about three-fourths cup. Season with salt and pepper and remove from the heat, then add the liquid to the meat. Up to this point the recipe can be prepared up to 2 days in advance. Cool, cover and refrigerate the meat and onions.

3. About an hour before serving, set an oven rack on the middle shelf of the oven. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

4. Grease an ovenproof tagine or shallow baking serving dish with remaining butter. Spread the meat on the bottom and cover with the cooked onions and raisins. Scatter the sugar and ground cinnamon on top. Place in the oven and bake, uncovered, for 40 minutes. Switch the oven heat to broil, dribble over the remaining tablespoon of oil, and cook until crusty and lightly charred, about 5 minutes.

5. Reheat the bread in the oven for a few minutes. Split in half, then tear each half into 2 or 3 pieces. Spread about one third over a large serving platter. Spoon about half of the contents of the tagine on top. Repeat with another third of the bread and the remaining contents of the tagine. Top with the last pieces of the bread and a sprinkling of parsley and serve at once.

Each serving: 705 calories; 40 grams protein; 60 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams fiber; 34 grams fat; 14 grams saturated fat; 138 mg cholesterol; 27 grams sugar; 860 mg sodium.


Two recipes from forwarded to me from Uncle Pers & Aunt Shlee:

Pinto Beans with Bacon and Jalapeños

1 Tbsp olive oil, grapeseed oil, or canola oil
2 to 3 whole jalapeño chile peppers
2 to 3 thick-cut slices of bacon
2 cups of chopped onion
2 medium clove of garlic, minced
4 cups of cooked pinto beans (2 15-ounce cans, rinsed and drained)
1/2 cup, loosely packed, chopped fresh cilantro


1 Heat oil in a medium skillet on high heat. Put the jalapeños in the pan and stir to coat with the oil. Let cook, turning occasionally, on all sides, until all sides are nicely browned (about 10-15 minutes, depending on how hot your burner is). Remove from pan. Cut away and discard the stem, core, seeds, and veins. Coarsely chop the remaining jalapeño flesh.

2 While the jalapeños are cooking, cook the bacon slices on medium low heat in a large skillet, until crispy. Remove bacon from the pan to a paper towel-lined plate. Pour off (do not discard down the drain!) all but 2 tablespoons of bacon fat.

3 Add the chopped onion to the pan with the bacon fat. Increase the heat to medium high and cook until translucent and lightly browned. Add the minced garlic and cook a minute more. While the onion is cooking, chop the cooked bacon.

4 Add the cooked beans, chopped bacon, and the chopped jalapeños to the pan and stir to mix. Sprinkle with salt.
Serve with chopped fresh cilantro, and steak and salsa.
Yield: Serves 4-6.

Asparagus Frittata Recipe

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound asparagus, tough ends snapped off, spears cut diagonally into 1-inch lengths
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup shredded Gruyere or Swiss cheese


1 Heat olive oil into a 10-inch oven-proof frying pan over medium high heat. Add onions and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened, about 3 minutes. Add asparagus, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, covered, until the asparagus are barely tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Pour in eggs and cook until almost set, but still runny on top, about 2 minutes. While cooking, pre-heat oven broiler.

2 Sprinkle cheese over eggs and put in oven to broil until cheese is melted and browned, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from oven with oven mitts and slide frittata onto a serving plate. Cut into wedges.

Yield: Serves 4.


Chicken Scaloppine over Broccoli Rabe

Calories: 318
Calories from fat: 21%
Fat: 7.4g
Saturated fat: 1.7g
Monounsaturated fat: 3.3g
Polyunsaturated fat: 1g
Protein: 44.3g
Carbohydrate: 14g
Fiber: 3.9g
Cholesterol: 101mg
Iron: 2.9mg
Sodium: 577mg
Calcium: 102mg

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast cutlets
1/2 cup dry white wine 1/2 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon butter
1 pound broccoli rabe (rapini), cut into 3-inch pieces
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
4 lemon slices (optional)


Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.

Combine breadcrumbs and pepper in a shallow dish; dredge chicken in breadcrumb mixture. Add chicken to pan; cook 3 minutes on each side or until done. Remove from pan; keep warm.

Add wine, broth, juice, and butter to pan, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Stir in broccoli rabe; cover and cook 3 minutes or until broccoli rabe is tender. Stir in parsley and capers. Serve chicken over broccoli rabe mixture.
Garnish with lemon slices, if desired.

Alison Lewis, Cooking Light

Significa 1-30-12

Blogpost of the Month: Richard Sauder

Wisened In The Upper Amazon
Sunday, January 22, 2012

I have drunk ayahuasca 12 times now, and every time it seends me reeling. Every time it slams me hard, at a physical level, and every time it raises new questions about reality, and our perception and experience of it, expanding my inner horizons.

A couple of days ago I journeyed into the edge of the forest in the Upper Amazon in the company of a Kichwa shaman. We built a sturdy lean to for shelter against the rain, and collected fallen wood for a fire. He then took me walk about through the forest in search of copal trees. We found a couple of towering, massive specimens from one of which he proceeded to collect small clumps of dried resin or sap. He did this by grabbing hold of a lone, thin vine that was growing straight up 150 feet into the crown of the tree, and yanking on it and slapping it against the side of the tree to knock off the clumps of dried resin. He then used the resin to light the fire as a hard rain began to fall, and thunder pealed.

Just after nightfall I drank a strong dose of ayahuasca and invoked the spirit of amasanga. I specifically asked to be shown what is going to happen in the near future, so that I could communicate what I was shown to a wider public.

Here is what ayahusca showed me:

I saw a large, rectangular compound, set in an open space that had been cleared in a forested area. The site was surrounded by a tall security fence with guard towers or gun towers in the corners. There were military trucks parked near to and also inside the fence, It was a concentration camp. It had a dark, brooding air about it, a low vibration.

Shimmering in the air above the military concentration camp was a sort of electronic mesh or grid or net. I understood that this electronic "shield", if you will, was a sort of frequency barrier to control the concentration camp and to prevent any higher energy or frequency from entering. The interesting thing about the electronic grid was that it encompassed only the area above the concentration camp. It conformed to the rectangular extent of the camp and no farther. I saw no signs or symbols, but had the understanding that this was an American concentration camp.

I wasn`t sure that this was the answer I was seeking, so I asked ayahuasca a second time to show what was going to happen in the near future (understood to be the next one to twelve months). Once again I was shown precisely the same grim scene.

Inwardly I thought, "O.K., that`s it then, that`s the answer. Military dictatorship, police state, internment camps, human holding pens, that`s what`s being planned, that`s what`s coming up in the future months."

I believe that this scenario clearly applies to individual countries, such as the USA, but can also be extended to the whole Earth, considering the whole planet as a concentration camp. The global police state is rapidly spreading its tentacles everywhere. Twice in the last three weeks, buses that I was traveling on were stopped by the army and the national police, respectively, and all the male passengers were ordered off the bus to have their personal identity documents examined. This type of thing is happening routinely in many countries now, including in the USA. Before I left the USA, in late 2010, federal agents entered a bus I was traveling on in New York state and walked the aisle, requesting passengers to produce personal identification. The same thing happened to me while taveling in Peru. Failure to comply can result in arrest and physical detention (jail) or deportation.

The TSA in the USA is now actively expanding its search operations beyond airport screening areas. Recent legislation in the USA such as the notorious NDAA lays the (il)legal groundwork for fascist arrest, detention and even summary execution of anyone, anywhere that the USA government deems a threat to its fascist, imperial agenda. And then there is the recent bid solicitation by FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for contractors to build fenced "camps" within 72 hours, in every region of the continental USA.

For more information, see here and here, and also explore the links here.

What I saw closely corresponds to the camps described in this FEMA bid solicitation.

The electronic grid that controls and subjugates humanity is also real enough -- television, radio, cell telephones and cell telephone towers,, HAARP, the GWEN antennas, ELF antennas, satellite microwave systems, the commercial electrical grid that spans large areas of the planet and feeds electricity into homes and buildings all over the world, and even more we do not know about.

I accept that this huge, global electromagnetic "shield" is a control mechanism that is used to artificially suppress human consciousness.

So that is what ayahuasca showed me initially. But I presisted in inquiring, "What is going to happen in the near future?" What happened next was not quite what I was expecting. I thought maybe it would show me scenes of financial collapse and social unrest, or of war, or natural disasters.

But it did not show me those things, perhaps because all of those are self-evident. Global financial collapse is already underway, social unrest is occurring in many countries and war is an ever-present threat rearing its ugly head.

So, no, ayahuasdca showed me none of those things.

What happened instead is that again and again, at intervals of several minutes I saw extraordinarily brilliant bursts of intensely white, pure light with slight traces of rose, lavender, violet and other hues and colors. I sensed tremendous significance and intent and order in the light, without, however, being able to consciously perceive any discrete image or message.

So I just accepted that ayahuasca wanted me to know that after the concentration camp(s) phase, after the police state repression, after the fascist human prison pens, the Great White Light breaks in and washes all of that away, like a great purifying tidal wave.

I have to say that the force of the Pure White Light is absolutely dazzling. It is unknown multiple orders of magnitude stronger than the shadowy gloom of the concentration camp scene. You might say that the fascist prison camps can`t hold a candle to the Great White Light.

So it looks like near future events will be exceedingly negative at first, but that the subsequent prospect of events to follow is far brighter!

The forces of gloom, doom and darkness will hold sway for yet another while, but after that their shadowy plans will melt away into insipid nothingness.

Nothing from nothing yields nothing. The Vipers Brood will be returning to the bottomless pit from which they sprang, fleeing in abject horror, fear and dread, as the Great White Light that they so loathe comes flooding in.

Coming soon to a planet near you. Details may vary somewhat from person to person, country to country, region to region. But that is the overall picture, as shown to me by ayahuasca.


Men's Rules

At last a guy has taken the time to write this all down
Finally , the guys' side of the story.
( I must admit, it's pretty good.)

We always hear "the rules"
From the female side....
Now here are the rules from the male side.

These are our rules!
Please note... these are all numbered "1"

1. Men are NOT mind readers.

1. Learn to work the toilet seat.
You're a big girl. If it's up, put it down.
We need it up, you need it down.
You don't hear us complaining about you leaving it down.

1. Sunday sports, It's like the full moon
or the changing of the tides.
Let it be.

1. Crying is blackmail.

1. Ask for what you want.
Let us be clear on this one:
Subtle hints do not work!
Strong hints do not work!
Obvious hints do not work!
Just say it!

1. Yes and No are perfectly acceptable answers to almost every question.

1. Come to us with a problem only if you want help solving it. That's what we do.
Sympathy is what your girlfriends are for.

1. Anything we said 6 months ago is inadmissible in an argument.
In fact, all comments become Null and void after 7 Days.

1. If you think you're fat, you probably are.
Don't ask us.

1. If something we said can be interpreted two ways and one of the ways makes you sad or angry, we meant the other one

1. You can either ask us to do something
Or tell us how you want it done.
Not both.
If you already know best how to do it, just do it yourself.

1. Whenever possible, Please say whatever you have to say during commercials..

1. Christopher Columbus did NOT need directions and neither do we.

1. ALL men see in only 16 colors, like Windows default settings.
Peach, for example, is a fruit, not A color. Pumpkin is also a fruit. We have no idea what mauve is.

1. If it itches, it will be scratched.
We do that.

1. If we ask what is wrong and you say "nothing," We will act like nothing's wrong.
We know you are lying, but it is just not worth the hassle..

1. If you ask a question you don't want an answer to, Expect an answer you don't want to hear.

1. When we have to go somewhere, absolutely anything you wear is fine... Really .

1. Don't ask us what we're thinking about unless you are prepared to discuss such topics as Football or Hockey.

1. You have enough clothes.

1. You have too many shoes.

1. I am in shape. Round IS a shape!

1. Thank you for reading this.

Yes, I know, I have to sleep on the couch tonight;

But did you know men really don't mind that? It's like camping.

Pass this to as many men as you can -
to give them a laugh.

Pass this to as many women as you can -
to give them a bigger laugh.


YouTube Clip of the Week: Mischievous Mitchell

Dennis the Menace as a Jew-baiting racist. Boys will be boys!


Konformist Book Club: A Memoir of Injustice
By the Younger Brother of James Earl Ray, Alleged Assassin of Martin Luther King, Jr
Jerry Ray, Tamara Carter

List Price: $19.95
Price: $15.56 & eligible for FREE Super Saver Shipping on orders over $25.
You Save: $4.39 (22%)

Kindle Edition: $8.79

Publication Date: February 19, 2011

Including previously undisclosed information on one of the most significant and mysterious events in modern American history, this account debunks the myth that James Earl Ray was a racist and documents his actual location on one of the critical days leading up to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The memoir also reveals photographs of James Earl Ray when he was ill in prison and gives the key to a code used by the brothers in planning a prison break. Presenting a mesmerizing perspective on the manipulation of the media in reporting on race relations, the working middle class, and the U.S. criminal justice system, this account broadcasts an urgent call to action to correct some of the many injustices that surround these events, such as the U.S. government's refusal to rigorously test the alleged murder weapon, and encourages support for new federal legislation.

About the Author

Jerry Ray is an activist and unintentional witness to the events surrounding the Martin Luther King Jr. assassination. He has appeared on Good Morning America, the Phil Donahue Show, the Tavis Smiley Show, WBZ-TV, and KNSD. He lives in McMinnville, Tennessee. Tamara Carter is an activist, a teacher, and an independent researcher of the Martin Luther King Jr. and JFK assassinations. She is also a charter member and organizer of the Coalition on Political Assassinations. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia.

Paperback: 480 pages
Publisher: Trine Day (February 19, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1936296055
ISBN-13: 978-1936296057


Kindle Edition:


Awesome Quotes

“To declare war on 1.2 billion Muslims and say all Muslims are the same, this is dangerous talk. Yeah, there are some radicals. But they don’t come here to kill us because we’re free and prosperous. Do they go to Switzerland and Sweden? I mean, that’s absurd... The CIA has explained it to us. They said they come here and want to do us harm because we’re bombing them.”
Ron Paul

“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.”
Seneca (Roman philosopher, mid-1st century AD)


Kool Websites

Draw a Stickman


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RIP: Etta James, Joe Paterno, Robert Hegyes (Epstein on Wecome Back, Kotter), the TV series Chuck and Peyton Manning's NFL career, at least according to Rob Lowe's Twitter account on the last one...

Real Estate Porn

Castle Rogue's Manor

If you're in the mood for an opulent and unique home, but a $12 million private island isn't your style, then Castle Rogue's Manor might be right up your medieval alley. Located overlooking White River in Eureka Springs, Ark., this 15,000 square-foot castle sports 12 bedrooms, 13 bathrooms, 17 acres of land, and a $1.8 million price-tag. It is also a castle, just like the name implies.

The property was once a mere house sitting on 20 acres of land, but according to the original builder, the site overlooking White River "just screamed for a castle." Now Castle Rogue's Manor, anchored at the top of a 100' limestone bluff, enjoys a 360-degree view over the surrounding Ozark scenery as well as the nearby river, lake, and town of Beaver.

If that $1.8 million price-tag sounds huge, just remember Castle Rogue's Manor contains 15,000 square feet. That's just $120 per square foot — a pretty reasonable price for a property like this one — even without considering the 17 acres of land and unmistakeable medieval flare. This just happens to be a really, really big home that is also a castle.

The fantasy fortress is mindblowingly beautiful with its Gatekeeper's Cottage, Paisley Hall, two guard towers, and other structures all built in medieval style. Nearly all of the castle's details have been hand-crafted, but the work on Castle Rogue's Manor was so daunting that four out of the nine roofers hired to apply the cottage's original shingles left as soon as they laid eyes on the place. The entire castle is a piece of art, ready to house any kind of resort, museum, or getaway.

The interior paneling is made from black walnut and cedar logs which were created from trees on the property itself. The castle's basement was used as a woodshop for seasoning and crafting the local wood. The Gatekeeper's Cottage was built first as a prototype for the great hall, and the fireplace in the great hall is 9' wide and 5' high, put together with over three tons of rock. Two other fireplaces (and tubing in the foundation of Paisley Hall) in the home help keep the chill away during the Ozark winters.

The cottage and great hall shows off post-and-beam construction, steel beams, and various ornamental ironwork. Since the castle was built with local lumber, the overall design is meant to convey a reverence for wood. Despite the medieval flair, Castle Rogue's Manor is wired for modern conveniences, including a computer network and even a central vacuum system. Of course, like any luxury home, the castle boasts a complete kitchen, air conditioning, clothes washer and dryer, and other staples of modern living.

If you have the $1.8 million — and a desire to buy a home in Arkansas — it would be hard to go wrong with the amazing Castle Rogue's Manor. It's a handcrafted piece of a beauty with some colorful history already under its soaring architecture. That much square footage and acreage have plenty of uses and you wont find any home more unique than this visionary palace. Since the Gatekeeper's Cottage is a separate building, you could even consider it an in-law suite, and keep the main castle to yourself!


Inside A $1.5 Million Cave House
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Locals refer to it as the Cave House and the nickname is apt. Sitting on 37 acres just outside of Bisbee, AZ, a mining town-turned-Baby Boomer retirement haven about 80 miles from Tucson, the Chulo Canyon Cave House is carved into an outcropping of granite boulder, extending more than 2,000-square feet into a desert grotto.

The strange and unusual dwelling is up for grabs and could be yours for $1.5 million. It occupies 2,890-square feet of living space and comes with a 890-square foot guest house, a subterranean game room underneath the guest house, a library building, a stand-alone workshop space, a separate home office, and a carport. The main house features rough petrous walls, rock and cement ceilings, and potable wall water seep that is collected from a natural spring. There’s a glass-walled sunroom, a commercial-grade kitchen with stained glass cabinets and mosaic tiling, an-eight person dining room, a sunken living room, two full bathrooms, a sleep loft with walk-in closet tucked below underneath the loft stairs, and a back room that is currently used as an exercise and yoga room.

The desert abode was built by the current owner, specifically the current owner’s late husband who recently passed away. “It’s technically a man made cave that was actually blasted out of the rock existing there,” explains Jean Noreen, a Realtor with Bisbee Realty and the listing agent for the Cave House. ”But it has all of the good qualities of a cave for living like it stays the same temperature all year round.” Maintaining a so-called ‘rock temperature,’ the house never slides below 66 degrees Fahrenheit or above 72 degrees.

Creating this man-made cavern home meant recruiting a mining engineer who, using the Swedish straight wall mining technique, injected the ceilings with roof bolts and excavated blasted rock with ammonium nitrate.

But as attention-grabbing as the stone-forged main lair is, the property’s zaniness doesn’t end there. Starting with the pools, which are not your typical chlorinated in-grounds. Rather, the home’s natural pools are a short hike away, up the side of a nearby mountain and fed by a freshwater creek for six to eight months out of the year. The higher up the mountain you climb the more pools you have to choose from. The owners also installed a carefully camouflaged hot tub...


A little bit of Dodge City in Junior's back yard
David Caraviello, NASCAR.COM
January 22, 2012
Full Article:

There's a barbershop that advertises haircuts for a quarter, a jail with real locking cells, and a church with a steeple. There's a post office, a bank, and a hotel with bunk beds in the rooms upstairs. There's the Blazin Saddles Tack Shop and the Silverado Saloon, the latter of which features a pool table and genuine bottles of booze behind the long, polished bar.

Welcome to Whisky River, a Western town that seems so authentic, you almost expect to see Matt Dillon, Seth Bullock or Josey Wales tromping down the muddy thoroughfare that runs through the middle. On this day, it's playing host to the filming of a shoot-'em-up commercial for this year's Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. But this is no movie set -- this is Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s private fantasyland, a little piece of Dodge City or Deadwood built on his 200 acres of property north of Charlotte.

"Dale Jr.'s a real low-key guy, and likes to have fun with his friends, and this is definitely the place for that," said Paul Menard, one of four active drivers involved in the commercial shoot, and a former teammate of Earnhardt's at Dale Earnhardt Inc. "It's got a little history. It's a cool place."

The idea stemmed from practicality. The bar in the basement of Earnhardt's former house near DEI -- the once-famous Club E, which was featured on MTV's Cribs program -- began to be more trouble than it was worth. "I was thinking, man, I want to have something I can have parties at, and not worry that I'm tearing my house apart," Earnhardt said. Online, he found someone who would build 1,000-square-foot tree houses, and toyed with that idea until his sister, Kelley, warned him that he'd probably fall out.

Then one day Earnhardt was watching a rerun of 60 Minutes which featured a segment on country-singer Willie Nelson, who had bought property in Texas that contained an Old West movie set. The set had originally been only building fronts, but Nelson finished the structures and made them usable. Earnhardt loved the idea and set about building his own Western village from scratch, hiring out-of-work carpenters to do the construction, and -- befitting a driver with a flair for a nostalgic -- using wood from Kannapolis' old Cannon Mills, which once stood near where the statue of Earnhardt's father is today.

"We drew it on a sheet of paper and built it on cinder blocks," Earnhardt said at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, where he took part in the Preview '12 fan event held Saturday. "It got bigger and bigger."

For a first-time visitor, the reality is somewhat staggering. There are saddles and wagon wheels and rocking chairs, hitching posts and barrels and upstairs balconies, stagecoaches and lanterns and animal skulls. Climb on up to the second floor of a hotel called the Hilton, where there are three rooms with bunk beds inside. Head on over to the livery, where there are tools for leatherworking and changing horseshoes. Watch out for the jail, where there are two cells that can be padlocked shut, and a gallows outside for more unfortunate criminals. Belly up to the Silverado Saloon, where there's a piano and a full bar and all manner of animal heads, hides and skulls on the walls.

For Charlotte Motor Speedway, it was the perfect place to film an All-Star Race commercial featuring Menard, Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart and Mark Martin as double-crossing poker players, who end the ensuing argument with six-shooters drawn. Earnhardt has also used Whisky River for projects filmed by his own production company, Hammerhead, as well as for things like birthday parties and Halloween hayrides for family members and friends. For a driver with a definite appreciation for history who has always liked Clint Eastwood's spaghetti Westerns, it seems a natural extension of himself.

"More than anything, I think it helps people see the personality in me," said Earnhardt, who built Whisky River about six years ago. "Because that's important for me, that people know me, get to know me, and understand me. ... That's kind of like looking through someone's record collection. It kind of shows you a little bit about them."

Occupy the Neighborhood

How Counties Can Use Land Banks and Eminent Domain Ellen Brown, Truthout
Saturday 14 January 2012

An electronic database called MERS (Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems) has created defects in the chain of title to over half the homes in America. Counties have been cheated out of millions of dollars in recording fees, and their title records are in hopeless disarray. Meanwhile, foreclosed and abandoned homes are blighting neighborhoods. Straightening out the records and restoring the homes to occupancy is clearly in the public interest, and the burden is on local government to do it. But how? New legal developments are presenting some innovative alternatives.

John O'Brien is register of deeds for Southern Essex County, Massachusetts. He is mad as hell and he isn't going to take it anymore. He calls his land registry a "crime scene." A formal forensic audit of the properties for which he is responsible found that:

•Only 16 percent of the mortgage assignments were valid.

•Twenty-seven percent of the invalid assignments were fraudulent, 35 percent were "robo-signed" and 10 percent violated the Massachusetts Mortgage Fraud Statute.

•The identity of financial institutions that are current owners of the mortgages could be determined for only 287 out of 473 (60 percent).

•There were 683 missing assignments for the 287 traced mortgages, representing approximately $180,000 in lost recording fees per 1,000 mortgages whose current ownership could be traced.

At the root of the problem is that title has been recorded in the name of a private entity called MERS as a mere placeholder for the true owners. The owners are a faceless, changing pool of investors owning indeterminate portions of sliced and diced securitized properties. Their identities have been so well hidden that their claims to title are now in doubt. According to the auditor:

What this means is that ... the institutions - including many pension funds - that purchased these mortgages don't actually own them....

The March of the Attorneys General

John O'Brien was thrilled when Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley went to court in December against MERS and five major banks - Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and GMAC. Coakley says banks have "undermined our public land record system through the use of MERS."

Other attorneys general are also bringing lawsuits. Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden is going after MERS in a suit seeking $10,000 per violation. "Since at least the 1600s," he says, "real property rights have been a cornerstone of our society. MERS has raised serious questions about who owns what in America."

Biden's lawsuit alleges that MERS violated Delaware's Deceptive Trade Practices Act by:

•Hiding the true mortgage owner and removing that information from the public land records.

•Creating a systemically important, yet inherently unreliable, mortgage database that created confusion and inappropriate assignments and foreclosures of mortgages.

•Operating MERS through its members' employees, whom MERS confusingly appoints as its corporate officers so that they may act on MERS' behalf.

•Failing to ensure the proper transfer of mortgage loan documentation to the securitization trusts, which may have resulted in the failure of securitizations to own the loans upon which they claimed to foreclose.
This last allegation - that there are fatal defects in the loan documentation - may be even more conclusive than the MERS defect in establishing a break in the chain of title to securitized properties. Mortgage-backed securities are sold to investors in packages representing interests in trusts called REMICs (Real Estate Mortgage Investment Conduits). REMICs are designed as tax shelters; but to qualify for that status, they must be "static." Mortgages can't be transferred in and out once the closing date has occurred. The REMIC Pooling and Servicing Agreement typically states that any transfer after the closing date is invalid. Yet few, if any, properties in foreclosure seem to have been assigned to these REMICs before the closing date, in blatant disregard of legal requirements. The whole business is quite complicated, but the bottom line is that title has been clouded not only by MERS, but because the trusts purporting to foreclose do not own the properties by the terms of their own documents.

Courts Are Taking Notice

The title issues are so complicated that judges themselves have been slow to catch on, but they are increasingly waking up and taking notice. In some cases, the judge is not even waiting for the borrowers to raise lack of standing as a defense. In two cases decided in New York in December, the banks lost although their motions were either unopposed or the homeowner did not show up, and in one, there was actually a default. No matter, said the court; the bank simply did not have standing to foreclose.

In Citigroup v. Smith, 2011 NY Slip Op 52236 (U) (December 13, 2011), the mortgage document acknowledged that MERS was not the lender, but was "a separate corporation that is acting solely as a nominee for Lender and Lender's successors and assigns." The court held that since MERS was not a party to the underlying note, when it assigned the mortgage to plaintiff Citigroup there was no assignment of the note; and "a transfer of [a] mortgage without the debt is a nullity and no interest is acquired by it."

Failure to comply with the terms of the loan documents can make an even stronger case for dismissal. In Horace v. LaSalle, Circuit Court of Russell County, Alabama, 57-CV-2008-000362.00 (March 30, 2011), the court permanently enjoined the bank (now part of Bank of America) from foreclosing on the plaintiff's home, stating:

[T]he court is surprised to the point of astonishment that the defendant trust (LaSalle Bank National Association) did not comply with New York Law in attempting to obtain assignment of plaintiff Horace's note and mortgage....

[P]laintiff's motion for summary judgment is granted to the extent that defendant trust ... is permanently enjoined from foreclosing on the property....

Relief for Counties: Land Banks and Eminent Domain

The legal tide is turning against MERS and the banks, giving rise to some interesting possibilities for relief at the county level. Local governments have the power of eminent domain: they can seize real or personal property if (a) they can show that doing so is in the public interest, and (b) the owner is compensated at fair market value.

The public interest part is easy to show. In a 20-page booklet titled "Revitalizing Foreclosed Properties with Land Banks," the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) observes:

The volume of foreclosures has become a significant problem, not only to local economies, but also to the aesthetics of neighborhoods and property values therein. At the same time, middle- to low-income families continue to be priced out of the housing market while suitable housing units remain vacant.

The booklet goes on to describe an alternative being pursued by some communities:

To ameliorate the negative effects of foreclosures, some communities are creating public entities - known as land banks - to return these properties to productive reuse while simultaneously addressing the need for affordable housing.

States named as adopting land bank legislation include Michigan, Ohio, Missouri, Georgia, Indiana, Texas, Kentucky and Maryland. HUD notes that the federal government encourages and supports these efforts. But states can still face obstacles to acquiring and restoring the properties, including a lack of funds and difficulties clearing title.

Both of these obstacles might be overcome by focusing on abandoned and foreclosed properties for which the chain of title has been broken, either by MERS or by failure to transfer the promissory note according to the terms of the trust indenture. These homes could be acquired by eminent domain both free of cost and free of adverse claims to title. The county would simply need to give notice in the local newspaper of an intent to exercise its right of eminent domain. The burden of proof would then transfer to the bank or trust claiming title. If the claimant could not prove title, the county would take the property, clear title and either work out a fair settlement with the occupants or restore the home for rent or sale.

Even if the properties were acquired without charge, counties might lack the funds to restore them. Additional funds could be had by establishing a public bank that serves more functions than just those of a land bank. In a series titled "A Solution to the Foreclosure Crisis," Michael Sauvante of the National Commonwealth Group suggests that properties obtained by eminent domain can be used as part of the capital base for a chartered, publicly owned bank, on the model of the state-owned Bank of North Dakota. The county could deposit its revenues into this bank and use its capital and deposits to generate credit, as all chartered banks are empowered to do. This credit could then be used not just to finance property redevelopment, but for other county needs, again on the model of the Bank of North Dakota. For a fuller discussion of publicly owned banks, see

Sauvante adds that the use of eminent domain is often viewed negatively by homeowners. To overcome this prejudice, the county could exercise eminent domain on the mortgage contract rather than on title to the property. (The power of eminent domain applies both to real and to personal property rights.) Title would then remain with the homeowner. The county would just have a secured interest in the property, putting it in the shoes of the bank. It could renegotiate reasonable terms with the homeowner, something banks have been either unwilling or unable to do, since they have to get all the investor-owners to agree, a difficult task; and they have little incentive to negotiate when they can make more money on fees and credit-default-swaps on contracts that go into default.

Settling With the Investors

What about the rights of the investors who bought the securities allegedly backed by the foreclosed homes? The banks selling these collateralized debt obligations represented that they were protected with credit-default-swaps. The investors' remedy is against the counterparties to those bets - or against the banks that sold them a bill of goods.

Foreclosure defense attorney Neil Garfield says the investors are unlikely to recover on abandoned and foreclosed properties in any case. Banks and servicers can earn more when the homes are bulldozed - something that is happening in some counties - than from a sale or workout at a loss. Not only is more earned on credit-default-swaps and fees, but bulldozed homes tell no tales. Garfield maintains that fully a third of the investors' money has gone into middleman profits rather than into real estate purchases and "with a complete loss no one asks for an accounting."

Not only homes and neighborhoods, but 400 years of property law are being destroyed by banker and investor greed. As Barry Ritholtz observes, the ability of a property owner to confidently convey his property is a bedrock of our society. Bailing out reckless financiers and refusing to hold them accountable has led to a fundamental breakdown in the role of government and the court system. This can be righted only by holding the 1 percent to the same set of laws as are applied to the 99 percent. Those laws include that a contract for the sale of real estate must be in writing signed by seller and buyer, that an assignment must bear the signatures required by local law and that forging signatures gives rise to an actionable claim for fraud.

The neoliberal model that says banks can govern themselves has failed. It is up to county government to restore the rule of law and repair the economic distress wrought behind the smokescreen of MERS. New tools at the county's disposal - including eminent domain, land banks and publicly owned banks - can facilitate this local rebirth.

This work by Truthout is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

Ellen is an attorney and the author of eleven books, including Web of Debt: The Shocking Truth About Our Money System and How We Can Break Free. Her websites are and She is also chairman of the Public Banking Institute.