FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING
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QUIS CUSTODIET IPSOS CUSTODES
Means "Who Polices the Police?"
Black 14-year-old Carrying a Puppy Tackled and Choked
by Police for Giving Them a "Dehumanizing Stare"
Miami-Dade Police Detective Alvaro Zabaleta justified the use of force, saying McMillan was exhibiting threatening “body language,” which includes “clenched fists.” McMillan adamantly denies this charge because, well, he was holding a puppy.
“Of course we have to neutralize the threat in front of us,” said Zabaleta. “And when you have somebody that is being resistant, somebody that is pulling away from you, somebody that’s clenching their fist, somebody that’s flaring their arms, that’s the immediate threat.”
McMillan’s mother, Maurissa Holmes saw the incident and recorded it on her cell phone. She told WSVN-TV, "I ran over there and said, 'That's my son, that's my son. Can you get off of him? He can't breathe.'
Again from AlterNet:
1 Black Man Is Killed Every 28 Hours by Police or Vigilantes
"Operation Ghetto Storm" explains why such killings occur so often. Current practices of institutional racism have roots in the enslavement of black Africans, whose labor was exploited to build the American capitalist economy, and the genocide of Native Americans. The report points out that in order to maintain the systems of racism, colonialism, and capitalist exploitation, the United States maintains a network of "repressive enforcement structures". These structures include the police, FBI, Homeland Security, CIA, Secret Service, prisons, and private security companies, along with mass surveillance and mass incarceration.
The report digs into how police justify their shootings. Most police officers, security guards, or vigilantes who extrajudicially killed black people, about 47% (146 of 313), claimed they "felt threatened", "feared for their life", or "were forced to shoot to protect themselves or others". George Zimmerman, the armed self-appointed neighborhood watchman who killed Trayvon Martin last year, claimed exactly this to justify shooting Martin. Other justifications include suspects fleeing (14%), allegedly driving cars toward officers, allegedly reaching for waistbands or lunging, or allegedly pointing a gun at an officer. Only 13% or 42 people fired a weapon "before or during the officer's arrival".
Police recruitment, training, policies, and overall racism within society conditions police (and many other people) to assume black people are violent to begin with. This leads to police overacting in situations involving African-American suspects. It also explains why so many police claimed the black suspect "looked suspicious" or "thought they had a gun". Johannes Mehserle, the white BART police officer who shot and killed 22-year-old Oscar Grant in January 2009, claimed Grant had a gun, even though Grant was subdued to the ground by other officers.
And finally, this Youtube video coming out of my home town Houston, courtesy of a facebook friend:
The universe is telling me something when all this information comes my way over a twelve hour stretch.
I've written a lot here over the years about police brutality and corruption, and how certain aspects of police culture make it all inevitable. But I've barely scratched the surface about a related but different aspect of police culture: American police forces exist in no small part in order to keep the black man down. And I say this entirely without irony. Because it's true. You won't find it written in any mission statements anywhere, but you see it all the time, on the evening television news, in the papers, and just walking down the street.
You can quibble about what the personal motivations are for a given cop who unjustly arrests, brutalizes, or kills a black man, but in the end personal motivation doesn't matter: this happens so incredibly often that its net effect is to oppress black men--you can't make that go away by talking about "bad apples," or how difficult the job is, or how you think black men wrangle with police more because they commit more crimes, which is a racist notion, anyway, from the get-go. Cops oppress African Americans right in front of our faces all the freaking time. This is one of the main functions of the American police officer, whether you want to call it that or not.
It's well past time that we have a massive public discussion about this. I, for one, am sick to death of everybody ignoring what is a massive injustice.
Posted by Ron at 2:03 AM
The Silent Death of the American Left
It is a bitter reality, brought into vivid focus by five years of Obama, that the Left is an immobilized and politically impotent force at the very moment when the economic inequalities engineered by our overlords at Goldman Sachs who manage the global economy, should have recharged a long-moribund resistance movement back to life.
Instead the Left seems powerless to coalesce, to translate critique into practice, to mobilize against wars, to resist incursions against basic civil liberties, powerless to confront rule by the bondholders and hedgefunders, unable to meaningfully obstruct the cutting edge of a parasitical economic system that glorifies greed while preying on the weakest and most destitute, and incapable of confronting the true legacy of the man they put their trust in.
This is the politics of exhaustion. We have become a generation of leftovers. We have reached a moment of historical failure that would make even Nietzsche shudder.
I'm increasingly starting to think that maybe the Greens kind of got it right a few years back when they kept running Nader again and again. It's just that they didn't go far enough. And they didn't keep it up. As long as Americans continue to think that the Democrats are the party of the American left, then that's what they are, which renders meaningless the entire concept of left-wing politics. Because, you know, subtract the social issues, and the Dems are actually pretty conservative. That means that Americans don't really understand that there are, in fact, alternatives to corporate rule, that we don't have to live paycheck-to-paycheck, constantly worried about drowning, never having any real hopes to improve our lot in life.
So the fake liberal party needs to pay. Dearly. They need to be savaged so mercilessly, so continuously, that it becomes understood that they are the party of the wealthy elite, that they work tirelessly to rip you off, that they are liars, that they're corrupt, that they're the enemy. When their defenders tell you that opposing them will put the Republicans in power, you need to up the volume and just freak out on them. That's all we have? A choice between right-wing politics and psycho far right-wing politics? A great big "fuck you" is all that such a rhetorical ploy deserves in response.
The whole voting for Nader equals a vote for the Republicans thing seemed to make sense a decade ago, even though I disagreed at the time. But as the years have gone by, things have only gotten worse. Just as many on the left predicted back in the day. Keeping the Republicans at bay, at this point, strikes me as nothing but a sophisticated sleight-of-hand maneuver to accomplish conservative goals without the GOP's direct involvement.
So we should go to war with the Democrats. Or, at least, that's where my thinking is at the moment.
Posted by Ron at 1:00 AM
Scientists Agree On Climate Change, Why Doesn't The Public?
From NPR's All Things Considered:
RICHARD HARRIS, BYLINE: Academies of science around the world agree that climate change is real and caused largely by burning fossil fuels. So do many professional scientific organizations. Polls of scientists point to the same conclusion and so, now, does a review of the scientific literature. It shows that 97 percent of the time, scientists who express a view say that human activity is warming the planet.
ED MAIBACH: It's not a surprise at all. But it is the best, the most ambitious and biggest study done on this point, to date.
HARRIS: Ed Maibach heads the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University. He wasn't involved in the study, but one of his students was. Volunteers combed through 12,000 studies from around the world. In about a third of the cases, the authors took a position about climate change. In that group, only 2 percent of those papers rejected the idea that human activities cause climate change. This is published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. And although this consensus isn't news to anybody who studies the climate, Maibach's opinion surveys show the public isn't aware of it.
Read or listen to the rest here.
Really, this ultimately is about how we know what we know. That is, when you get right down to it, we don't really know, for instance, that the Earth revolves around the sun, or that the brain is where we think, or that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. I mean, humanity knows. But the vast majority of us have to take the word of scientists that all these notions are true. And that's okay. Humanity has developed a vast body of knowledge about reality. No single individual can truly do all the research and work involved in knowing everything. But all individuals can learn enough about how science operates, about the whole system of observation, experimentation, hypothesis, ad infinitum, such that we can have a fair sense of trust that what scientists tell us about the nature of reality is, in fact, true. We also can rely on the fact that, if we really wanted, we could, given enough time and opportunity, learn what we need in order to figure out a given fact for ourselves.
And that's how scientific knowledge must work in a complex civilization such as ours. There's a lot of stuff about which we have to trust the experts, with, of course, some knowledge about what an expert actually is, and how they approach their work. Actually, it's a pretty good system virtually all the time. Unless, as with the Catholic Church and Galileo, certain opinion-makers with megaphones don't like what scientists are telling everybody. That's when the system breaks down.
So here's the deal. Global warming, the kind caused by human activity, is a scientific fact. Nearly all of the relevant scientists are on board with this, and have been for some years now. There are no serious skeptics anymore, or, at least, none who don't receive their funding from Exxon or the Heritage Foundation. But people who simply don't like that global warming has been scientifically verified over and over again are taking advantage of the trust-cracks in the relationship between laymen and scientists in order to create doubt about it. That is, hardcore pro-capitalists, the wealthy, rank and file conservatives, the oil industry, and others intuitively understand that the only way out of this is to radically change how we approach economics, which also means radically altering who has power in our society. So, instead of resigning themselves to the inevitable, they are doing their damnedest to make everybody put their heads in the sand. And they don't give two shits that this may very well mean the end of civilization as we know it.
No, it doesn't matter that you took a geology class in college and you really think you understand. You don't understand. It doesn't matter that you read an article in some magazine somewhere trumping up the mistaken scientific views of one of the last honest skeptics. You're wrong. The only reason you're clutching at straws like this, the ONLY reason because you don't do this with any science but climatology, is because you hate what getting serious about global warming will do to your cherished conservative beliefs. And all this crazed cognitive dissonance you're spewing to your friends and family is just confusing people. You need to stop. Right now. Not only are you being totally dishonest, with yourself, and with the world, but you are also endangering your countrymen, your children, and your grandchildren. You're endangering the nation. The world.
Global warming is a scientific fact. It is no longer controversial. It hasn't been controversial for a long time. The "debate" about it is a sick joke. A delaying tactic that will doom us all. When people engage in this denial, this intellectual claptrap, they become as guilty as any right-wing think tank butthole who gets on television with his suicidal disinformation campaign. It needs to end. Now.
Posted by Ron at 1:28 AM
THREE DAY HIATUS
I'm in Houston right now helping my beautiful and brilliant girlfriend celebrate her birthday. So I'm taking tonight, tomorrow, and Monday off. See y'all Tuesday!
Posted by Ron at 11:58 PM
The Invention of the White Race
It is in the context of such findings that he offers his major thesis — the “white race” was invented as a ruling class social control formation in response to labor solidarity as manifested in the later, civil war stage of Bacon’s Rebellion (1676-77). To this he adds two important corollaries: 1) the ruling elite, in its own class interest, deliberately instituted a system of racial privileges to define and maintain the “white race” and 2) the consequences were not only ruinous to the interests of African-Americans, they were also “disastrous” for European-American workers, whose class interests differed fundamentally from those of the ruling elite.
Howard Zinn hits on exactly this topic in his book A People's History of the United States, and it looks like the guy who wrote the book being reviewed here was studying the same historical sources. So it's a good fit with what I already know: because there was very little mixing of black and white before this time period, the concept of "race" didn't really exist in the way we now understand it.
Before Europe started colonizing the New World, race was a sort of nationalistic thing, the French people, the English people, etc. But big time global trade, and the movement of large populations of workers along with it, essentially the earliest days of capitalism, necessitated a divide-and-conquer strategy in order to keep workers docile and compliant. So "race" was created, and with it the notions of superiority and inferiority that we continue to see to this very day. In short, by making white workers resent black workers, and vice versa, resentment toward the true assholes, the exploitative merchant class, became diffused and misdirected. It was apparently a very successful strategy from the viewpoint of the rich.
We continue to see this strategy at work even today. When the Democrats embraced civil rights in the 1960s, it was the beginning of the end for that party's powerful coalition with organized labor, which had always been almost exclusively white, and historically hostile to allowing blacks within their unions. Even though the unions have definitely become more progressive on race in recent years, just as the rest of the nation has, the damage was done, and the Democrats, without a powerful labor movement on their side, are no longer a friend to the working American. We also continue to see the bizarre success of Republicans, who are straight-up hostile to to the concerns of people who work for a living, among working class whites. Indeed, that party's Southern Strategy has been built almost entirely on the notion of racial resentment, the welfare queen, the undeserving beneficiary of affirmative action, etc.
Really, when you get right down to it, the construction of the white race has been one of the greatest successes of all time for the wealthy class. It has functioned well, more or less, for four centuries, and it looks to be a major part of the labor/capital dynamic for decades to come. I'm really starting to believe, as did Martin Luther King, Jr. in the final years of his life, that racial justice and economic justice are inextricably intertwined.
You can't have one without the other.
Posted by Ron at 2:44 AM
12-year old girl explains world debt
And gets it wrong.
A buddy of mine posted this video on facebook and asked for my input. Here's my response:
It's not surprising to me that a twelve year old gets it so wrong; rather, what is surprising is that she's essentially riffing on the rhetoric of the "very serious people" who run the world these days. That is, her is excuse is that she's a kid. The grownups in charge have no excuse.$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$
All this "fake money" she's talking about isn't fake. It's real. It's how the system creates money. The confusion here, and it's a confusion shared by many, if not most, of the right wing, as well as liberals who haven't studied economics, is the seeming inability to comprehend the concept of a floating currency. People just can't seem to get their arms around money that isn't backed by gold or some other real world valuable item. So she calls real money "fake" because she doesn't understand how it all works. And then she bashes inflation as though it was something to be avoided at all costs, all the time. The reality is that we NEED inflation or the economy can't grow; what's bad is too much inflation, not inflation in itself.
Of course, like I said, she's just a kid. But I can cut through all the jargon and bullshit in just a few sentences. After all, I'm forty five.
The wealthy own and operate the government. Consequently, the government is not allowed to tax the wealthy in any meaningful way for its operating costs, and I'm not talking about frivolous crap, either--I'm talking about important programs that mean the difference between life and death for millions of people. So how does the government make up the difference? It goes hat in hand to those same wealthy people who refuse to pay their fair share, but are perfectly willing, totally happy in fact, to LOAN that same money they owe, for a profit, of course. And that's why we have a national debt problem.
Money that should be coming into government coffers as taxes is instead borrowed, making the rich become ever richer, and everybody else poorer and in debt. It's total bullshit. And people are afraid to call it what it is, a massive ripoff.
ADDING: I do like that she's calling out the banking system for corruption. It is, indeed, extraordinarily corrupt. It's just that I think she's got the essence of it all wrong.
Posted by Ron at 1:17 AM
IS IT HYPOCRISY IF YOU DON'T SEE THE CONTRADICTION?
From the Huffington Post:
Oklahoma Senators Jim Inhofe, Tom Coburn, Have Shaky Records On Disaster Relief
As frantic rescue missions continued Monday in Oklahoma following the catastrophic tornadoes that ripped through the state, it appeared increasingly likely that residents who lost homes and businesses would turn to the federal government for emergency disaster aid. That could put the state's two Republican senators in an awkward position.
Sens. Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn, both Republicans, are fiscal hawks who have repeatedly voted against funding disaster aid for other parts of the country. They also have opposed increased funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which administers federal disaster relief.
Late last year, Inhofe and Coburn both backed a plan to slash disaster relief to victims of Hurricane Sandy. In a December press release, Coburn complained that the Sandy Relief bill contained "wasteful spending," and identified a series of items he objected to, including "$12.9 billion for future disaster mitigation activities and studies."
In 2011, both senators opposed legislation that would have granted necessary funding for FEMA when the agency was set to run out of money. Sending the funds to FEMA would have been "unconscionable," Coburn said at the time.
We saw the same kind of hypocrisy very recently when conservative politicians in Texas with a similar record on disaster funding requested federal relief after the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. But this is nothing new in the Sooner state. The above linked article goes on to observe that Inhofe and Coburn have already ridden this merry-go-round: they were clamoring for federal disaster aid in Oklahoma only a few years ago, before their opposition to relief for Sandy on fiscal grounds. That is, when they were taking their principled but asshole stand, they were already on the dole. It didn't at all trouble them. So it's very likely that they will sense no irony when they go to Congress with their hats in hand this time around. Can you call it hypocrisy when you don't see the contradiction between your stated principles and your on-the-record actions?
These Tea Party types have taken Orwellian doublethink to astounding new heights.
Posted by Ron at 2:16 AM
REPUBLICANS PREFER PSEUDO-SCANDALS TO THE REAL DEAL
From the Huffington Post:
Mitch McConnell Defends Obama Administration On AP Scandal
But during an appearance on NBC's "Meet The Press," McConnell declined to attack the administration over the issue.
"Actually, I do think these national security leaks are very important and it looks to me like this is an investigation that needs to happen because national security leaks, of course, can get our agents overseas killed," McConnell said.
"What I am supportive of is investigating national security leaks that endanger Americans around the world," McConnell said. "Any time you're leaking national security information, if it endangers Americans around the world, it's a serious matter."
And McConnell doesn't care if the White House has to hogtie the first amendment in order to plug the leaks, either.
This is frustrating, but not unexpected. The Republicans have been handed what amounts to a political silver bullet for taking down the President they hate with this very real, very disturbing misuse of federal power. So what do they do? They ignore it in order to focus on bullshit like Benghazi or the IRS trying to figure out if the Tea Party is a political group or a social welfare organization. Or, worse, as in the case of the Senate Minority Leader, they actually support it--I mean, of course, conservatives hate the "liberal" media, so some collateral Constitutional damage in the "War on Terror" is just fine.
Just a little more evidence that our republic is, without a doubt, totally broken. Our leaders see relative trivialities as scandal, and massive violations of the Constitution as good governance. I had hoped for more from the GOP, but that probably makes me a fool, too.
Posted by Ron at 1:51 AM
6 Key Takeaways From the Stupidity and Reality of IRS 'Scandal'
4. Charities are not political front groups. The question of who turned charities into political front groups has barely been discussed. The answer, of course, is the same as it always has been: election lawyers and campaign consultants who look for loopholes in the law so clients can run for office using any tactic with little or no accountability.
Media coverage of this scandal has had the wrong starting line. It wasn’t the IRS that deluged its staff with thousands of applications from political groups pretending to be charities. It was groups following the advice or example of campaign consultants such as Karl Rove. He was the first to use this ruse on a large scale in order to run a shadow presidential campaign where he could hide his donors’ identities.
The way this works is simple. After the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling deregulated campaign finances, political operators looked for ambiguities to exploit and turned to non-profit tax law—knowing the agency's primary focus has nothing to do with electioneering. One of the legal ambiguities is the fiction that "public education" and "lobbying" activities by non-profits groups are not political (and thus subject to election law) if they comprise [less] than 50 percent of that group’s activities.
So that’s what Karl Rove ginned up with his non-profit Crossroads GPS, which spent $123 million for the 2012 federal elections, according to the Sunlight Foundation, with 70 percent raised from secret donors. The IRS still has not issued a ruling on whether Rove’s group violated non-profit tax law.
Click here for the rest.
Let's see, the scandal-rama continues. Benghazi I'm ignoring because I don't really think it's a scandal. The AP phone records affair, which I think very likely is a scandal, I've already addressed. That leaves the IRS thing. And the above excerpt gets right to the heart of the matter.
Blatantly political "charity" groups are definitely gaming the system here. I have no doubt that groups from both sides of the aisle do this, but it's probable that there's more action from mom and pop operations on the right simply because the right is traditionally better at this sort of thing. I mean, I could be wrong about that, but the point is that the IRS is tasked with figuring out who's political and who's not for taxation purposes, and the political groups are doing their damnedest to look non-political on paper. So it's a pretty huge and difficult thing for a government agency to pull off.
It was probably, in hindsight, a really bad idea to use "patriot" and "tea party" as key words for scrutiny because it looks really bad, although it makes complete sense as to why an IRS worker would make that call. But really, that's about it. Something slightly embarrassing for Obama, a little fuel for the right-wing outrage machine, and nothing more. I mean, that's what the IRS is supposed to do here, figure out who's breaking the law. They just need to avoid stepping in Tea Party dog shit so as to avoid freakout.
So it's another pseudo-scandal. Okay, there's also Umbrella-gate, but that's stupid, too.
Posted by Ron at 1:48 AM
Capitalism might be making us evil
From MSN Money:
It's just some non-MBA's quack theory that the market strips away all humanity and transforms people into commodities and resources rather than sentient beings whose welfare must be taken into account. There's no quantitative truth to that, right?
Well, maybe just the research of a couple of German economists.
According to a release from the universities of Bamberg and Bonn, a study by economists Armin Falk and Nora Szech released in the journal Science found that markets erode people's morality and help them make decisions that look outright awful without the thin veil of commerce. In short, capitalism makes us do some not-so-nice things.
An old friend posted the above linked article on my facebook page earlier today. Here's the brief discussion that ensued:
Ron "Might be"? For all my left-wing reading, it was a documentary on the history of Britain I saw a few years ago, a section on how the slave trade arose out of what was considered to be economic necessity, but really was a chance to make massive fortunes with sugar in the Caribbean, that finally made me realize how money can get people to do virtually ANYTHING, and morality be damned. But it's nice to see at least one person in the corporate media figuring it out.$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$
Matt Ha! People do evil and the 'ism's' all leverage it in different ways. For capitalism, technology is removing the plausible deniability that people count on - you now have no excuse for not knowing what the other costs are of your decisions. Buying and selling have a moral element - if you ignore it, you are still guilty.
Of course capitalism provided all that technology too...
Ron I've come to believe that capitalism is like fire. It has many incredible uses that have, do, and will improve mankind's lot. On the other hand, if you're not careful, it will burn down the entire house. Currently, we greatly underestimate its danger and overestimate its value.
Matt Everything you said is true. Trick is to reduce the risk without reducing the benefits (too much). I also think that consumers are really wimpy with their own buying power. They have much more influence than they think. And public markets have little to recommend them - huge warping effect on companies and individuals who invest plus creation of entities that benefit massively from destruction. Not that I have opinions about this...
Jennifer L Was it you Ron who posted an article about how the countries left alone by us (USA and other Capitalist regimes) end up making successful trade and enterprise for their county simply as a by product of being left alone? That was great. Although I think it might have been another friend of mine- with whom you would get along splendidly. He's a professor at University of Minnesota in Psychology and Political Science both.
Ron It wasn't me, although there are more than a few examples of nations who've told the IMF to go to hell, practice Keynesianism, prevent capital flight, and then rebuild successful economies. Chile, which was a big Freidman experiment, is but one example.
Jennifer L Exactly what the article to which I am referring said. And I knew you'd say something along the lines of, "Ya think?!" Regarding this article ;o)
Posted by Ron at 12:51 AM
Chris Hedges: Monitoring of AP Phones a "Terrifying" Step in State Assault on Press Freedom
From Democracy Now:
Posted by Ron at 1:40 AM
Justice Department's pursuit of AP's phone records is both extreme and dangerous
From the Guardian, courtesy of a facebook friend, civil liberties expert Glenn Greenwald sounds off on what could become a pretty big scandal for the White House:
The key point is that all of this takes place in the ongoing War on Whistleblowers waged by the Obama administration. If you talk to any real investigative journalist, they will tell you that an unprecedented climate of fear has emerged in which their sources are petrified to talk to them. That the Obama administration has prosecuted double the number of whistleblowers under espionage statutes as all previous administrations combined has already severely chilled the news gathering process. Imagine what message this latest behavior sends to journalists and their sources: that at any moment, the phone records of even the nation's most establishment journalists can be secretly obtained by the DOJ, which has no compunction about doing so even in the most extreme and invasive manner.
Lots of important stuff in the first amendment. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to assemble, freedom to petition, and, of course, freedom of the press. The founders included all these freedoms in the Bill of Rights, indeed, at the very beginning of the Bill of Rights, because they are considered to be key and foundational to the concept of democracy. That is, you can't have democracy without these freedoms. That's why America has traditionally been very careful when it goes about restricting first amendment freedoms. I mean, as I've said continually about second amendment gun rights, we would be fools to make any freedom totally absolute.
It's a bad idea to allow, say, a religion that practices pedophilia, or an "assembly" designed to intimidate and harass private citizens, or a free press that practices libel, and so on. So okay. Freedom of the press is not absolute. There can be reasonable restrictions on the press. But because freedom of the press is so extraordinarily important to the overall functioning of democracy, we'd better have some damned good reasons for any restrictions we place upon it. DAMNED good reasons. Otherwise, we're literally threatening democracy.
So, is national security one of those reasons?
Sure it is. But that's where things start getting murky. What does "national security" actually mean? And when does that notion become so important that the government must literally threaten democracy by way of restricting freedom of the press? In short, when does security trump citizens' need to know? Some situations are easy. For instance, in a time of war we don't want the New York Times running the names and addresses of CIA operatives in enemy territory. Bad idea. On the other hand, if we have CIA operatives assassinating foreign officials in nations with which we are not at war, the public probably needs to know about it whether the White House and Pentagon agree or not. So this is a big discussion. We have competing legitimate interests here.
But because freedom of the press is an essential freedom, the government bears the burden of justifying any restrictions in this area. I have a hard time swallowing that seizing the phone records of dozens of AP reporters and personnel can be justified by "national security." I mean, I suppose there's a case the government can make. But they haven't made it yet. And really, did they need to go after this many people, all in one fell swoop? Surely, there are better, more focused approaches the DOJ could have taken, approaches that would respect and honor one of the most important freedoms that we as Americans have. The sheer scope of this "investigation" is tantamount to mass arrests, a nuclear bomb, when a couple of warning shots would have sufficed.
That's why I'm extraordinarily skeptical that there is any real "national security" issue at stake here. That's why it seems to me that this is about intimidation, about restricting freedom of the press for the sheer sake of the government's convenience. This smells really bad, and the Obama administration better have the most incredible explanation I've ever heard, or I will join with crazed Republicans in calling for his impeachment on this. You don't jack around with the first amendment. And it doesn't matter if you're a Democrat or a Republican. This is above and beyond partisanship. It's about understanding what it means to be an American.
One final note. All you crazed Republicans with whom I might find myself a strange bedfellow. You helped this happen. You said nothing when Bush was doing the same thing. Indeed, you cheered for it, never for one moment projecting into the future to imagine what it would be like when a guy you don't like is in the White House. Conversely, Democrats, you don't even THINK about defending this (unless, of course, Obama offers the best explanation ever). American values, democratic principles, freedom, these are the things to which we must be loyal, not a man, not a party, not an ideology. If it was wrong when Bush did it, it's wrong when Obama does it.
And that's the end of the argument.
Posted by Ron at 1:15 AM
How Dropping the Draft Helped to Turn America Into a Militaristic State
That loaded term - "militarism" - was, in fact, a prominent part of the 1970 report by President Nixon's Commission on an All-Volunteer Force. In its findings, the panel worried about "a cycle of anti-militarism" in a nation then questioning America's increasingly martial posture.
Noting that "the draft is a major source of antagonism" toward the growing military-industrial complex, the report praised the fact that "an all-volunteer force offers an obvious opportunity to curb the growth of anti-militaristic sentiment."
The pattern suggests that in the absence of conscription, dissent - if it exists at all - becomes a low-grade affair (an email, a petition, etc.) but not the kind of serious movement required to compel military policy changes. Why? Because as former Defense Secretary Robert Gates put it, without a draft "wars remain an abstraction - a distant and unpleasant series of news items that does not affect (most people) personally.”
The danger, says West Point's Lance Betros, is that Americans then "reflexively move towards a military solution before they will try all the other elements of national power."
This is really easy for me to say because, at the age of forty five, if I get drafted, it means we've been successfully invaded and are in a desperate fight for existence as a nation. And that ain't gonna happen in my lifetime, I'm quite sure. But yeah, for the reasons the article suggests, I support a draft. Actually, I support universal service, which doesn't mean that everybody has to fight, only that they serve the nation in some capacity, but that may be the Robert Heinlein fan in me bubbling to the surface. But, one way or the other, I fully support using state power to force citizens to serve the nation.
In the same way that the argument for reinstating the draft asserts that the US will continue to misuse its military unless our armed forces are composed of a broad swath of American society, I'm very much of the opinion that Americans will continue to ignore their citizenship responsibilities unless they are mandated to directly serve the country. I mean, seriously. Citizenship is an f'ing joke in this country. Most people don't vote. Most people who get jury summonses either curse them or plot and scheme to find a way out of them. Most people don't keep themselves informed on the important issues of the day--indeed, many who think they do just catch a couple of headlines on Fox or the Daily Show and call it a day. Freedom is all about being a consumer. But when the government is directly involved in your life, when you have a personal relationship with it, what this nation does collectively hits much closer to home.
But the quickest and easiest step in this direction is to reinstate the draft, as soon as possible. Our all volunteer force is very professional, yes, but professionalism also means pursuing a career. And when your career depends on always following orders, even when those orders are to torture, or to bomb civilians, you're going to follow orders. Professionalism exerts downward pressure on the ethics and morals of our soldiers. We've got to lessen this influence somehow, and filling the military's ranks with citizen-soldiers is a damned fine way to do it.
Yeah, being drafted sucks, I'm sure. But there's much more at stake here than a couple of years out of one's life. We have responsibilities as citizens. Extraordinarily important responsibilities.
Posted by Ron at 1:17 AM
Bono: Mascot of Neoliberalism
From CounterPunch, the venerable and venom tongued rock critic Dave Marsh champions a book that may be something of a Rosetta Stone for understanding the failures of liberalism:
Bono may be the personification of all that’s evil about contemporary celebrity culture and all that’s worse than bankrupt about liberal capitalism (and liberal capitalists) but there’s also a real person in there, and he’s spent most of a lifetime making himself what history must surely judge—perhaps not with as much restraint as the author—as a fool.
Does this make Harry Browne’s Bono less easy to despise? Probably but it also makes him easier to understand. Here, Bono becomes less the many-sided symbolic figure and more a fallible (sometimes likable, sometimes detestable) human. Think of the former Paul Hewson as the first self-created one dimensional man (all front, no back). Browne’s dug past the PR and the rhetoric and found…a Mad Men cliché for our times.
But that’s not why you need to read The Front Man. You do need to. Not because you want to better understand Bono, let alone empathize with his plight, but because what topples is not only Bono’s stature but the excuses his chosen trade, liberal philanthropic paternalism, makes for itself. Langston Hughes wrote that the animal that should be chosen to represent liberals is not a donkey or an elephant but an ostrich. This book could be subtitled Bono (With His Head in the Sand).
So I didn’t start writing about Bono—not U2, Bono– and talking about him on the radio because he seems charismatic. (Too desperate for attention and adulation for that.) Bono proves a useful tool for understanding the forces around him because his behavior exemplifies the way that liberals, especially neoliberals from Clinton and Blair to Obama, not only played into the hands of reactionaries but vanished every time they got a chance to act like liberals are supposed to act.
Journalist Chris Hedges has asserted convincingly many times that contemporary institutional American liberalism has become a bankrupt shell of itself, now totally emasculated and in the service of wealth. Bono, a wealthy and extremely prominent liberal, truly personifies this concept.
Now, don't get me wrong. I've been something of a U2 fan for many, many years. I've seen them play three times, and two of those shows were among the best I've ever seen. Bono really does have amazing ability as a showman, and takes his audience with him, without effort, wherever he wants to go, and it's usually in an uplifting, joyous, and positive direction. So he's definitely one of the great rock stars of all time.
But as an activist, he leaves much to be desired. Indeed, even though his hobnobbing with politicians and billionaires has over the years had the veneer of coming together, good vibes, and all that other Aquarius shit, there's also been something a bit unseemly about his approaching the power elite and begging them to change their ways. I mean, I like the inherent admission that political power resides within an elite circle of super wealthy men, but I hate the inherent conclusion that we are to petition that elite circle in hopes of attaining justice. That is, the greatest injustice of all is that the world is run as a plutocracy, instead of by its people. I suppose Bono is blinded by the fact that he, too, is a wealthy man, but that in no way changes the underlying dynamic: the aging U2 front man apparently supports the notion of rule-by-wealth.
Needless to say, an actual liberal should be rabble-rousing, inspiring people to take control of their own lives and nations, condemning a global economic system that is about squeezing every last drop of blood from humanity in order to line the pockets of the elite who preside over that system. Instead, Bono blesses the plutocracy, bowing down to it, either too stupid or too blind to understand that without systemic change, the suffering he claims to abhor will continue forever. This is a double shame because he is so profoundly gifted with his ability to move the masses, but that's not what he has chosen to do.
So Bono's liberalism is a joke, all style without any substance of which to speak. Indeed, his philanthropy does nothing but give the elite some propagandistic photo ops, an opportunity for them to tell the world that rule by rich men isn't so bad. He's a tool. And he makes me despair for rock and roll.
Posted by Ron at 2:18 AM
An old pal from my high school debate team sent me this via facebook private messaging:
Ron - I wanted to talk to you privately about something that kinda disturbs me . . . and that's about communism/marxism. I'm not going to ask you what you are - because it's not my business - - and you're still my friend, regardless. But I see communism and naziism and islamism as being one in the same: a barbaric, genocidal movement. I wanted to know what your thoughts are on that. I know that people - in the name of Christianity - have committed some barbarous acts also - - but I don't consider them having followed true Christian doctrines. Christ never forced anyone to follow Him . . . He gave them free will to choose. . . and if they choose not "come to the free banquet" - then that's their chase and let them live free. I can't say the same for communism/naziism/islamism, etc. Again - I thought it'd be best to keep this discussion private. Your thoughts?My response:
Here's what I am: a pragmatist with specific social and economic goals. It doesn't matter how we accomplish those goals, only that we accomplish them.$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$
Having said that, there is a lot in the writings of Marx, and those he has influenced over the last one hundred fifty years or so, that is helpful in understanding how the dominant socioeconomic paradigm in the West for the last century actually functions, sans pro-capitalist propaganda. The thing you have to understand about Marx is that, in my own view, at least, his ideas fall into two categories. One category is about the nature of and how to establish what he thought was the ideal economic system, which is also a social system, communism. You know, forces of history, dictatorship of the proletariat, the withering of the state, etc. The other category consists of an extensive analysis and critique of capitalism.
While some of the ideas in the first category are interesting and possibly helpful, it's the latter category that really excites me. That is, humanity has yet to see Marx-style communism succeed on any large scale, and usually attempts to do so fall prey to power hungry barbarians who speak in a language of Marxism, but typically murder in various ways large numbers of the workers they claim to champion. Personally, I don't understand how one can fight for workers while killing them at the same time. So I'm very skeptical of communism functioning the way it's supposed to. It seems that once you start playing on a national level, once revolutionaries gain the state apparatus, power for its own sake becomes irresistible.
Of course, our democratic republic is also plagued by men who love power for its own sake, but there is a certain check placed on that by what sense of democracy exists here, as well as a battered Constitution which continues to have some teeth. Not perfect, by a long shot, but infinitely preferable to Soviet Socialism, or Chinese state capitalism, or the Khmer Rouge.
But that doesn't destroy Marx. Not at all. I mean, it does mean that his overall ideas about how society ought to function may very well be impossible in the real world, but some of those ideas, in themselves, aren't so bad. Workers having more control over their work, for instance. Regular ordinary people having more of a say in the decisions that affect their lives is good, too. Really, at their root, some of these ideas are, in fact, very democratic in essence, taking the notion of citizens running society into the sphere of work.
But that's all about the first category. Like I said, it's the second category that I love. If you read the Communist Manifesto, you may very well find a lot of notions with which you agree. It's been a while since I've read it, myself, but in it he both praises and condemns capitalism. Praise, for instance, of its ability to throw out tradition and start anew, capitalism's "creative destruction." Condemnation, for instance, of the same thing: destroying tradition can be good much of the time, but it can also throw people into the streets, make them hungry and desperate. Really, if I recall correctly, a lot of what Marx saw in capitalism in the mid nineteenth century continues to exist today. That is, his criticisms are spot on, and because the US long ago made a choice to demonize Marx, rather than intellectually engage with him, those very valid criticisms are simply not a part of the public discourse.
And that's too bad. We don't really talk in this country about capitalism's many failures, and this is a dangerous thing. What little discussion of the nature of capitalism there actually is consists, by and large, of praise and cheerleading. This includes Democrats as well as Republicans.
That's why I've been throwing around the communist rhetoric lately. I think American capitalism has reached an impasse. It appears to be sustaining itself, but it appears to not be sharing its bounty in the way it has in the past. People are starting to see this, I think, but, because Marx has been conflagrated with the human scum who have killed millions in his name, they simply do not have a language to articulate what's wrong. But the Cold War has been over for a couple of decades now. There is no international communist threat today. It's time to dust off the writings of the intellectual who literally wrote the book on what's wrong with capitalism. I mean, I can only talk about this stuff to the people I know, but it's really all I'm capable of doing. I can only hope that people start thinking, at least, about this stuff, and maybe start talking about it, too.
Because if we can't talk about what's wrong with capitalism, then we have no hope of repairing so that it once again serves society rather than sucking it dry as it appears to be doing today. Like I said, it's about the goals, not how we get there.
Posted by Ron at 3:03 AM
"FAIR AND BALANCED"
From the Washington Post:
Did Fox News seek to squelch Benghazi debate?
Can Fox News handle internal dissent?
That’s the question raised by the latest flareup regarding Fox News and Geraldo Rivera. On Nov. 2, just days before the presidential election, Rivera engaged in a phenomenal debate on the set of “Fox & Friends” over Benghazi. Fox News talent Eric Bolling infuriated Rivera when he said the U.S. military failed to send help to embattled U.S. personnel in Libya: “Washington, the State Department, the CIA does nothing, sends no help.”
Rivera responded: “You are a politician looking to make a political point.”
It was a great intramural Fox disagreement. And if we are to believe a book by Jonathan Alter, it horrified Fox’s boss. In “The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies,” Alter writes that Fox News Chief Roger Ailes, “called the control room and told the producers to cut Rivera’s mic” after the argument got heated. (The New York Times’s Brian Stelter revealed this reveal yesterday.)
The article goes on to offer Fox's official version of the events, which is something along the lines of the segment running too long, which is the real reason they shut it down. But whatever. Either way, we are treated to the spectacle of something "fair and balanced," or, at least, "balanced" breaking out on Fox, which was then immediately shut down. I mean, there you have it, balance. One side pushing crazy Benghazi theories, another side calling that out as bullshit. Balance. But, for whatever reasons, Fox quickly ended it, and didn't return to it. So much for "balance."
Now, of course, anybody with half a brain has long understood that "fair and balanced" is an Orwellian marketing slogan that doesn't at all describe Fox's far right propaganda. But you so rarely get to see see it in such an obvious way. Usually, you have to dig up a little evidence, which isn't too terribly difficult to do, and point out Fox's bullshit double standard elsewhere: it is an infrequent occurrence, indeed, when Fox's own on-air behavior makes it irrefutably obvious that they are NOT fair and balanced. They had some balance, apparently by accident, and they immediately moved to shut it down. That's noteworthy, I think.
Of course, my assumption is that regular Fox viewers are so extraordinarily indoctrinated that they didn't even catch it. Hell, I bet a Fox viewer could read this post I'm writing right now and STILL not get it. But that's where the country is these days, I guess.
Posted by Ron at 1:06 AM
The Chutzpah Caucus
At this point the economic case for austerity — for slashing government spending even in the face of a weak economy — has collapsed. Claims that spending cuts would actually boost employment by promoting confidence have fallen apart. Claims that there is some kind of red line of debt that countries dare not cross have turned out to rest on fuzzy and to some extent just plain erroneous math. Predictions of fiscal crisis keep not coming true; predictions of disaster from harsh austerity policies have proved all too accurate.
Yet calls for a reversal of the destructive turn toward austerity are still having a hard time getting through. Partly that reflects vested interests, for austerity policies serve the interests of wealthy creditors; partly it reflects the unwillingness of influential people to admit being wrong. But there is, I believe, a further obstacle to change: widespread, deep-seated cynicism about the ability of democratic governments, once engaged in stimulus, to change course in the future.
Click here for the rest.
Indeed, back in my youthful conservative days, when I rejoiced that my macroeconomics teacher at the University of Texas was a Friedmanite, I was taught straight up that the big problem with stimulus spending is that government just couldn't stop it once a recession had ended--it's interesting to observe in hindsight that Friedman never opposed stimulus spending per se, only that he didn't believe it could be scaled back when no longer needed. I remember nodding my head as I took notes in class that day. Why, of course liberals in government couldn't end the spending! That's what liberals love to do! Tax and spend, tax and spend! And really, despite all my leftism and communist sympathies in the years since, I've kind of held on to that unsubstantiated notion, that government couldn't stop stimulus programs once they had outlived their usefulness. It seemed true so I've essentially believed it until just now.
Leave it to Krugman to use facts to persuade me. Very nicely done.
But I would add one more factor influencing the deficit fetishists in addition to the skepticism about cutting back on stimulus spending. Facts don't matter to a lot of people in this country. If you give them facts contradicting what they "know" to be true, the immediate conclusion is that your facts are wrong. No need to look it up just to be sure: I know that government loves to spend, so evidence to the contrary isn't really evidence--it has to be wrong. That is, a rather large percentage of the country has already made up their minds about how the economy works, and there's not a damned thing you can say to them that will make them change their minds. You know, it's Colbert's notion of "truthiness."
So many of these people demanding deficit reduction right now as the absolute best course of action, in spite of the fact that not only is this position unsupported by evidence, but that the actual evidence supports taking the opposite position, are driven by nothing more than a deep seated feeling that slashing spending is the right thing to do.
In this sense, the austerity crowd isn't too terribly different from witch burning mobs in the Middle Ages.
Posted by Ron at 2:01 AM
7 American Troops Killed In Afghanistan Attacks
From the AP via HuffPo:
Seven U.S. service members were killed on Saturday in one of the deadliest days for Americans in Afghanistan in recent months, as the Taliban continued attacks against foreign troops as part of their spring offensive.
At the news conference, Karzai said he had met earlier in the day with the Kabul station chief of the CIA and was reassured that the agency's payments to the Afghan government would continue. The New York Times had reported that for more than a decade, the CIA had given the Afghan National Security Council tens of millions of dollars in monthly payments delivered in suitcases, backpacks and plastic shopping bags.
He said talks had been delayed because of certain conditions that Afghanistan was insisting be included in the pact, which will govern a U.S. military presence after 2014 when nearly all foreign combat troops are to have finished their withdrawal from Afghanistan. The talks, which started in late 2012, are set to last up to a year.
President Barack Obama has not said how many troops will remain, although there have been estimates ranging from 8,000 to 12,000. It is unlikely such an announcement will be made until the security agreement is signed. Those troops would help train Afghan forces and also carry out operations against al-Qaida and other militant groups.
Why are we still there?
We killed Bin Laden already. Al Qaeda is no longer the Marvel Comics super villain group it once was. The ostensible goals for the invasion as expressed when it happened have been accomplished. So what's the deal? We're still there to clean up the mess we created? In ten years we haven't been able to pull off this nation-building experiment started by President Bush, something he promised not to do when he ran in 2000, and Obama hasn't done much better. The government we established continues to rule only the capital, and it's totally corrupt, and we hand over millions of dollars to them in bags like it was some Mafia enterprise. If we're trying to nation-build, we've failed dramatically, and the prospects for eventual success are bleak.
But Obama says we're pulling out, even though leaving apparently means keeping eight to twelve thousand soldiers there, anyway. Some withdrawal. This is the war that never ends, and we don't even know why we're fighting it.
The world never made much sense to me in the first place. But it makes less and less sense as the years wear on.
Posted by Ron at 3:13 AM
THE "EXCEPTIONS" THAT PROVE THE RULE
16-Year-Old Girl Arrested and Charged With a Felony For Science Project Mistake
16-year-old Kiera Wilmot is accused of mixing housing chemicals in a small water bottle at Bartow High School, causing the cap to fly off and produce a bit of smoke. The experiment was conducted outdoors, no property was damaged, and no one was injured.
Not long after Wilmot’s experiment, authorities arrested her and charged her with “possession/discharge of a weapon on school property and discharging a destructive device,” according to WTSP-TV. The school district proceeded to expel Wilmot for handling the “dangerous weapon,” also known as a water bottle. She will have to complete her high school education through an expulsion program.
Friends and staffers, including the school principal, came to Wilmot’s defense, telling media that authorities arrested an upstanding student who meant no harm.
Again from AlterNet:
High School Rapper Arrested and Facing Terrorism
Charges For Rap About Boston Marathon Bombing
According to a press release from the Methuen Police Department, 18-year-old Cameron D’Ambrosio posted the alleged threatening rap on Facebook. Police investigated the teenager after one of D’Ambrosio's classmates reported to Methuen High School authorities the “disturbing verbiage” on his Facebook page. The press release notes that the alleged threats “were in general and not directed towards another person or the school.”
According to the Eagle Tribune, D’Ambrosio was charged with communicating a terrorist threat and faces up to 20 years in jail. He is being held on $1 million bail. All this, for writing some scary rap lyrics on Facebook.
We saw the same shit after Columbine.
While depressing, these two stories are not surprising to me. This is what you get when you mix extreme social paranoia with a school system that is already hysterically concerned with control and discipline: stuff that warrants only a slap on the wrist become elevated to serious felonies when they push the right buttons. And, I mean, that's all this is. Kids doing stupid shit which inadvertently freaked out grownups who don't know how to keep their heads when they've been weirded out by the news, grownups who already take discipline and obedience way too seriously.
No, this doesn't happen all the time. These two cases are definitely exceptions. I mean, they're exceptions at the moment--things could get worse; it's always hard to tell. But as exceptions, they prove the rule: the schools are far, far more about indoctrinating children into a culture of obedience and authority than they are about learning and knowledge. Indeed, the entire American school system revolves around the obedience mandate. All it takes is just the right nudge to send it into police state territory. A terrorist bombing here, a school shooting there, and suddenly administrators and teachers are desperately trying to prove to themselves and others that they are in control of the situation. Because the entirety of their professional lives is about control. They don't even question it. They simply act, and it all seems logical even though it's totally absurd.
So now we have a wannabe thug expressing his art form, and an honors student being inspired by a Youtube experiment. For that, they're now facing some serious federal charges. Totally absurd. But when you're working in an absurd system, indoctrination that everyone is supposed to believe is actually learning, absurdity is a lot harder to recognize.
Just another day in bat shit crazy USA.
Posted by Ron at 2:44 AM
44 Percent of Republicans Think Armed Revolution May be Necessary
Forty-four percent of Republicans agree that armed revolution may be necessary to protect American liberties, according to a gun control poll conducted by Farleigh Dickinson University.
Eighteen percent of Democrats and 27 percent of independents agree that Americans may need to take up arms against their government, the study’s authors found.
Right-wing rocker Ted Nugent made headlines in January when he suggested that the newly re-elected Obama is “attempting to re-implement the tyranny of King George that we escaped from in 1776 … And if you want another Concord Bridge, I got some buddies.” Farleigh Dickinson’s poll suggests that Nugent isn’t the only one hysterically paranoid over the Obama administration.
Okay, I'll admit to at least one time that I wondered aloud about when it would be the right time for revolution. I mean, I did it here, on this blog, at some point during the darkest days of the Bush administration's full court press on civil rights in the post 9/11 period. Some of that stuff was pretty creepy, torture, warrantless wiretapping, unending war. But we certainly never got to the point that I thought it might be time to get our violent revolution on. Ultimately, Bush became discredited, and a Democrat took the Oval Office. Actually, Obama's record on civil rights isn't what I'd call stellar, but he's not filling me with visions of Gestapo and sugar plums, either, the way that Bush did. In the end, however, I don't think I would ever be able to support a violent revolution: a violent revolution necessarily means a violent new regime. It's much better to engage in massive passive resistance--unless, of course, your passive resistance is met with machine guns and torture; then it's time to rethink things.
But none of that seems to be on the horizon.
So what is it these Republicans fear so much that makes them dream of a right-wing people's revolution? This study is very much in the context of the gun regulation debate, and revolution is a topic that comes up again and again when conservatives defend their right to own any and all weapons, no matter what. To be honest, I don't really know what's got them so freaked out. I used to be a conservative, and for years thought I knew what made them tick. But I don't know that I can really say that anymore. This all reminds me of the conspiracy theory I heard about the song "We Are the World" that I heard at Southern Baptist youth camp back in 1985. I was pretty conservative in those days, but asserting that the charity song aimed at fighting hunger in Ethiopia was really about persecuting Christians sounded totally nutty to me. So the notion that Obama wants to turn us into a Muslim nation, or that he wants to confiscate all guns, or that he's a socialist who wants to force us all to work on collective farms, or that the UN is going to take over, and that they use black helicopters to monitor our movements, all this is even nuttier to me in my current liberal incarnation than the "We Are the World" plot was back in the day. That is, it makes sense to me that Republicans want to overthrow the government some day if it crosses some undetermined line in the sand, but only because I think these people are crazy, not because they have a point.
On the other hand, when "government is the problem," I suppose that means you want to destroy the government. Would someone remind me of what the difference is between an anarchist and a Republican? I'm starting to lose the sense of it.
Posted by Ron at 2:13 AM