Archive for August, 2012

by lizard

Those in power must think killing people is hilarious. Why else would they joke about it?

Obama did it back in 2010 when he joked about blowing up the Jonas Brothers with a drone strike if they tried to have relations with his daughters. The venue was nerd prom the correspondents dinner; a good place for the president to show how comfortable he is with the power he wields, slaughtering innocent civilians from the sky by remote control.

Good times.

If you enjoyed Obama’s joking remarks about murder, then you’ll love the remarks Karl Rove recently made at a billionaire fundraiser.

The report about Rove’s remarks comes from Sheelah Kolhatkar, writing for Business Week. Here is how she opens her piece, including a hilarious joke about killing Todd Akin:

On the final morning of the Republican National Convention, Karl Rove took the stage at the Tampa Club to provide an exclusive breakfast briefing to about 70 of the Republican Party’s highest-earning and most powerful donors. During the more than hour-long session, Rove explained to an audience dotted with hedge fund billionaires and investors—including John Paulson and Wilbur Ross—how his super PAC, American Crossroads, will persuade undecided voters in crucial swing states to vote against Barack Obama. He also detailed plans for Senate and House races, and joked, “We should sink Todd Akin. If he’s found mysteriously murdered, don’t look for my whereabouts!”

Isn’t politics in America fun? Hell yeah it is. Just watch the joy Hillary Clinton experiences upon news of Gaddafi getting executed.

I am so excited for the Democratic Convention, I feel like drowning a bag of squirming kittens.

Good times indeed.

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by lizard

In 2006, the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism featured a roundtable about Alternative Weeklies in transition. One of the panelists who participated in this roundtable was Missoula’s very own Matt Gibson, owner of the Missoula Independent.

What follows is an interesting discussion about alt-weeklies from all the panelists, which is worth reading in full, but for this post I’m only interested in how Gibson’s answers may help us understand the changes underway at the Indy. The first question is a macro what-if:

If there was one thing you could change about the Alternative Weekly industry what would it be?

Matt Gibson: I wish that more publishers and editors formulated the core values of their newspaper around ambitious, high-quality journalism—rather than ideology and politics. “Alternative” need not be synonymous with “progressive,” nor is “liberal” a prerequisite for “worthwhile.” When we define our newspapers in oppositional terms, it boxes us into a corner that limits our options and our appeal. The word “alternative” doesn’t help much in that respect. These problems aren’t nearly as severe as they once seemed, but the stereotype still burdens the industry.

Aiming for broader appeal, if it can be pulled off, makes sense. But it seems to me there is a real risk of trying to please everyone and ultimately pleasing no one. Still, with so much change occurring with print media, not adapting to the changing landscape would be irresponsible.

Here’s the third question, and Gibson’s answer:

As we noted in this year’s report, there do appear to be some changes going on demographically in the weeklies’ readership – readers are older, but also more often parents. What kinds of impacts could this have on the weeklies considering that advertisers are primarily targeting young singles?

Gibson: In our market, advertisers do not generally seem to prefer a younger demographic. Actually, our paper is often rejected by advertisers in favor of media thought to deliver older, more settled, more affluent consumers. Rather than concentrate on our appeal to the youngest segment of the market, we are determined to broaden our reach to encompass the entire market.

Our objectives are unique due to our unusual circumstances. With 67 percent cumulative reach among all adults in our metro market, we aspire to sell advertising head to head against the daily’s Sunday publication. In other words, we aim to become the most powerful media in the market, albeit in a free weekly tabloid format.

This answer is curious. Is Gibson’s assessment of advertiser’s unique preferences in Missoula accurate? And if so, how exactly has the Indy been reaching out to those older, more settled, more affluent customers?

Question number 5 elicits a response from Gibson that may be good to consider with continued rumblings leaking from the Indy’s newsroom:

How much confidence do you have that traditional mainstream media organizations will survive and thrive in the transition to the Internet?

Gibson: Traditional mainstream media can thrive in the future, especially in a hyper-competitive environment characterized by a multiplicity of marginal voices. When consumers are bombarded with conflicting perspectives, they may find a critical need for authoritative editorial content that gives the various competing voices proportion and context. Credible, comprehensive traditional media are well-suited to serve that need.

Trust will be absolutely vital and increasingly valuable characteristic in the Internet age. To rise above the din of proliferating content, mainstream media must provide incisive reporting that cuts through the crowd noise to give audiences a reliable baseline measurement of the world they inhabit, capturing both the detail and significance of the day’s events.

If Gibson’s vision for the Indy is to broaden its appeal by escaping the burdensome stereotype of being progressive, then we should be seeing more conflicting perspectives, which I don’t think is necessarily a bad thing. But to accomplish this, in Gibson’s own words, there is “a critical need for authoritative editorial content that gives the various competing voices proportion and context.”

Is current editor Robert Meyerowitz the right person to provide that authoritative editorial content? From what I’ve read coming out of the Indy, or in some cases, not coming out, I’d say no. And from what I hear, I’m certainly not alone.

It was nice to see the Indy at least give long time photojournalist, Chad Harder, a public fond farewell, because he deserves it. If you read the link (and check out the slideshow) you’ll discover Chad has been attacked by police and almost lost his hand working for Gibson’s publications. So yeah, Chad is due a fond farewell.

But how “fond” was it? A source close to Chad says, not very. Hopefully Chad, like Ochenski, lands on his feet.

Gibson says trust will be absolutely vital and increasingly valuable characteristic in the Internet age.

I agree.

by lizard

I’ve never been shy about delving into conspiratorial terrain, despite the common responses to posts that examine conspiracy culture, which is ridicule. I’ve even received a sort of well meaning warning for exploring my gut suspicion regarding the alleged Aurora gunman, James Holmes.

Here is the comment:

Lizard, you are a smart fellow. You have good communication skills, you’re a talented poet, write exceptionally well, work hard at your job, are committed to an admirable employer, advocate for what many consider worthy causes and represent yourself well in public. Yet your constant conspiracy rants marginalize your future as a potentially effective community leader and diminish people’s perceptions of you as an intelligent reasonable person.

Your lengthening list of worn out conspiracies (the list I keep on you is up to 8 conspiracies now) makes you sound as paranoid and as delusional as the far right conspiracy theorists you frequently attack as being paranoid and delusional. For your own sake, try to resolve this inner issue and get on with more meaningful things in your life.

I addressed this comment in the original post’s comment thread, but for the purpose of this post, I’d like to contest the idea that it’s only the “far right” conspiracy theorists who I’ve allegedly “attacked”.

When I called Glenn Beck a Conspiracy Pimp, it wasn’t to attack the far right. It was an attempt to point out how an opportunist like Beck was injecting paranoia from the far right into susceptible mainstream minds.

This trend of mainstreaming conspiratorial paranoia into the GOP has been so successful, the Republican National Committee approved a resolution on January 13th of this year, to expose the United Nations diabolical socialist world takeover lurking within its nefarious Agenda 21.

I guess that means it’s official. If you’re a Republican, you are now also a conspiracy theorist.

For a great look at this weird creeping of the Agenda 21 movement into the official platform of the GOP, Stephen Lacey at Think Progress has this piece, titled Republican Party Officially Embraces ‘Garbage’ Agenda 21 Conspiracy Theories As Its National Platform.

The article features an interesting interview with Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and is very much worth reading in its entirety. As a tease, when asked about what conditions need to be in place to make these conspiracy theories so prevalent, Potok says this:

I think that what is really going on is that the world is changing. And in our country, we’re seeing change in fairly dramatic ways. So, you see these kinds of crazy theories pop up at a time when major changes are a foot in our society — changes that really cause people to struggle, that make a significant number of people out there genuinely uncomfortable.

There are many things happening right now. Probably the most significant is that we, as a country, are losing our white majority. The census bureau has predicted that whites will fall under 50 percent of the population by the year 2050. Well, you know, that’s an enormous change. It’s already happened in California 12 years ago. And as a result, the politics of that state changed significantly. So it’s those kinds of changes, along with the very serious dislocations caused by economic globalization and by the kind of decline in the power of the nation state.

Apart from this, I think, we also have an extremely long tradition — in this country in particular — of distrust of the federal government. There’s also distrust around our government engaging in any kind of an international institution like the United Nations. You know, this fear of One World Government, of some sort of government forcing us all into a kind of global socialist hierarchy, goes all the way back to the League of Nations and Woodrow Wilson’s support for it. And really even before, as early as the 19th century, you see people on the extreme right in this country and in Europe voicing fears of One World government.

This country in particular has really been plagued with an irrational fear of the United States somehow being sublimated to a global government. The reality of Agenda 21 is it’s not a treaty, it’s not a legally binding agreement, it forces absolutely no one to do anything at all. It is purely and utterly voluntary. And yet it is being portrayed by the Republican National Committee, among others, as sort of a diabolical plan to strip away private property and to generally impose Socialism and Socialistic ideas upon this country.

The impending loss of a white majority is a very interesting condition for Potok to mention. That imminent reality was also mentioned in the Democracy Now clip I included in the post about Karl Rove. In that clip, Unger describes Rove’s infamous claim that he’s trying to create a permanent Republican majority as being just a line, and Unger says of that line “I’m not buying it.”

Instead, Unger states that by 2020, the Hispanic population in America will reach 70 million people, so the big challenge for Republicans is how to respond to that huge demographic shift.

What we are seeing with the state by state attack on voting rights is just one example of how Republicans are responding to the changing world around them.

And making sure their ranks are filled with angry, paranoid white people who feel their position in society slipping away is another example.

by lizard

Todd Akin has stirred up a real shit storm, exposing the rift between the extreme right and the larger power centers of the GOP, like Karl Rove.

Todd Akin has also enraged, and rightly so, sane people who can’t believe there are more than a few nutjobs who could actually believe what he said about rape and pregnancy, probably because it’s unbelievable someone thinks this way.

While the Akin controversy takes up all the oxygen in the room this week, a segment on Democracy Now with Craig Unger reminded viewers about how destructive the shadow called Rove has been for American democracy.

For more, Truth Out archived Goodman’s interview with Mark Crispin Miller, which opens with Amy saying this:

A top Republican internet strategist who was set to testify in a case alleging election tampering in 2004 in Ohio has died in a plane crash. Mike Connell was the chief IT consultant to Karl Rove and created websites for the Bush and McCain electoral campaigns. He also set up the official Ohio state election website reporting the 2004 presidential election returns.

Connell was reportedly an experienced pilot. He died instantly Friday night when his private plane crashed in a residential neighborhood near Akron, Ohio.

Michael Connell was deposed one day before the election this year by attorneys Cliff Arnebeck and Bob Fitrakis about his actions during the 2004 vote count and his access to Karl Rove’s e-mail files and how they went missing.

Velvet Revolution, a non-profit investigating Connell’s activities, revealed this weekend that Connell had recently said he was afraid George Bush and Dick Cheney would “throw [him] under the bus.” Cliff Arnebeck had also previously alerted Attorney General Michael Mukasey to alleged threats from Karl Rove to Connell if he refused to “take the fall.”

Think a stolen Ohio election can’t happen again? Then maybe you should read this piece by Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman, titled Four Ways Ohio Republicans Are Already Stealing the 2012 Election.

If I was Akin, I would avoid flying in planes until after November.

by lizard

A commenter today called me bitter, and there’s some validity to that observation. I have a confession: though I’ve written posts like this—echoing the criticism of the specialized poetry industry fed by the proliferation of MFA programs—I would love to spend a few dedicated years focused on writing.

An MFA increases the chance you’ll get the velvet rope unhooked. In defense of this process, I found this post by Julie Schumacher.

MFA programs are proliferating. Currently there are 71 MFA programs in the U.S., as well as another 112 programs that offer an MA in English with a concentration or emphasis in Creative Writing. A conservative estimate would suppose that more than 800 MFAs are conferred each year.

This fact is bemoaned on a tiresome and regular basis in book reviews, essays, and cultural commentary. The universities are churning out similar approaches and similar minds; workshops are producing writers cloned like Dolly the sheep. The ultimate fear seems to be that (god forbid) we will have too many writers. A poet surplus. An excess of essayists.

I find myself unintimidated by this scenario. Imagine the worst: having finished your MFA, you continue to revise your manuscript, slipping pieces of it like slivers of your heart into the mail for publication, and in the meantime you land a job as a technical writer. Your cube-mate reveals himself to be a poet, posting snippets of Akhmatova by the coffee urn. Your supervisor is a lover of metaphor. Each of them harbors an inner life, and together all of you hope for larger things. Is this so bad?

Put that way, sure, sounds great. But then there’s the cost. If you read Julie’s whole defense, it’s promoting a specific program that offers 3 year fellowships. Not every MFA program works that way. The price tags can be steep.

Time like that for writing is a privilege, one I’d like to experience some day.

And crashing at an anarchist collective for cheap would also be a blast, though from what I hear, that chance is on its way out.

So with that personal context in mind, I pulled an anthology of American Poets of the New Century from the shelves, edited by Michael Dumanis and Cate Marvin (Sarabande Books, 2006) and found this poem by Suzanne Wise, titled simply Confession. Enjoy!

Continue Reading »

Gimme A Break!

by lizard

In what I think was her first featured piece at the Indy, Molly Laich outed herself as a weed-addicted slacker. The article personal essay (thanks, Erika ;), titled Forgetting Mary Jane, read like confessional journal writing.

I remember thinking it was strange that this stoner confessional was run as a feature piece. It must have been around this time (September, 2011) when the new editor, Robert Meyerowitz, was getting familiar with his new terrain.

I also remember thinking how unfortunate the timing of the “article” was with all the medical marijuana wrangling going down among fear-mongering legislators who would rather drive drunk than craft sane legislation.

Anyway, Robert Meyerowitz has once again subjected readers of the Missoula Independent to Molly Laich’s failure-to-launch journaling project, featured front and center in this week’s issue. I’m beginning to wonder if Meyerowitz is part of a grand conspiracy to make my generation look like whining, perpetually entitled adolescents incapable of growing up.

The title of the piece is “Gimme Shelter”. No, not this article about the Poverello Center written in April of 2007. This is an altogether different story about being without a home.

For many college graduates, home after college is often a parents home. Molly is no exception, enduring a crappy job that took 6 months to find.

I did a lot of cringing reading this story. Molly writes about her mother, who works long hours as a paralegal (who is providing her shelter), saying “Here’s what life looks like when you make all the wrong choices”. Then, a few paragraphs later, she writes about taking $500 in birthday gifted cash from her mother, and spending it all at REI in anticipation of her tenuous housing situation when she returns to Missoula:

A voice inside me says I should go to the REI in Troy, Mich., and spend all $500 of the birthday money my mom gave me on backpacking equipment. “How much for a hiking backpack, a sleeping bag and a tent?” I ask.

The floor salesman tells me he can get me into a pack, gladly. The people at REI are always trying to get you into a pack. Also, goose down sleeping bags.

“What’s the vegan position on goose down?” I ask. “Oh, they’re against it,” he says, so I go with synthetic.

There are all these questions:

“What kind of a trip are you planning on taking?”

“I don’t know.”

“How long will you be out?”

“I don’t know.”

“For your tent, are you looking to sleep one or two people?”

I tell him I’m planning for a moment in my future that I’ve seen in my dreams, when I won’t have a home. Luckily, he thinks I’m kidding and we’re spared the heaviness.

The night before I set out to leave Michigan forever, I have a breakdown. I have a few couches in Missoula to sleep on, but the housing situation is tentative at best. There’s the money I saved. Still, it will never be enough. I got blonde highlights in April, but who will love me in June when my roots start showing? Every morning I spit blood in the sink from my gums. It’s troubling. What if I fall off a mountain or get my foot caught in a trap?

The cringe factor here is at about an 8 for me. Then Molly returns to Missoula, and it hits 10.

Before getting to that, I should mention this is the first post I’ve ever been asked to write. I was asked to write about Molly’s story because in writing this story Molly has made some people pretty upset, and with just cause, which is this:

There’s a house on Missoula’s south side filled with radicals and secrets. A beautiful, frightening girl with strong arms and a septum piercing says I can rent the laundry room for $100 a month, under the condition that I never write about the house. It stings, but I agree.

Molly then proceeds to violate that one condition of her stay at this secret, radical place, seemingly without shame.

Shameless entitlement is too often a generational characteristic I see in my peers. With Molly, it reaches an almost comic level, like when she uses Facebook to beg for stuff:

In a gift economy, we work for the sake of work and we gain status the more we’re able to give away. I use Facebook to take the gift economy out for a spin. My status updates become a list of demands. I try to couch them in charming rhetoric, but I’m just a beggar: I need a yoga mat. I need a bike. I need a ride to and from the drop-off point to go tubing. I need a ride to the movies to see a terrible movie so I can write a review for the paper.

People are happy to help when they can, and I begin to think of myself as a good person for affording my friends the opportunity to be so generous. I have nothing to offer in return but my company. I can workshop your poem? I can write you a news article? I can wait here with the tubes while the car you put gas into powers you back to the drop-off point?

11?

At least Molly is honest when she finally admits she has never known want. But then she goes on to describe how she uses her food stamps, and I have to wonder if this is some kind of sick, twisted performance art:

To be clear: I don’t know anything about real want. If I run out of money, I can call my mother and she’ll deposit double whatever I ask for into my bank account. She still pays my cellphone bill, based on the shared lie that she needs to in order to keep in contact with me, like if I didn’t use my iPhone to call my mother I would have no need for such a device. She tells me that 30 is the new 19. She refers to this time in my life as an “adventure,” which I consider only a little condescending.

I apply for food stamps and they arrive in my post office box a week later. On the application, you can either put down a home address or just describe where you live. You’re supposed to feel bad about buying junk food with food stamps, but it’s the decadent salads and green smoothies I purchase every day at Good Food Store that rack me with guilt. Like, people on welfare don’t deserve to get a jump-start on the day? Before too long it flips and I start thinking, “Why can’t I pay my late fees at Hastings with my food stamps? This is bullshit.”

Wow.

Read the whole piece if you can stand it. It’s the cringe-iest example of entitlement I think I’ve ever read. Thanks Meyerowitz!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go buy a copy of today’s Missoulian so I can read me some George Ochenski.

________________

POEM FOR MOLLY

if sour is upon these words
by the air-flicking tongue of lizard
if some anonymous esophagus belches bitter breath
over food stamp smoothies
and exploiting anarchist housing
it is only because a hypocrite’s cartilage
bends his bones—
so what if demands for shelter echo from educated hallways
to be from there, maybe that carries
no responsibility at all
maybe trafficking words for a shady editor
is what it’s all about
competing in the shout arena
where we all sing the same song called
LOOK AT ME!
looking deeper you tried to put away the revelry, to abstain
and it is not easy
as you fashion for your readers a convenient spear
gleaming in the neon glow of the Golden Rose
among sad souls doing whatever to get by before sunrise
when the assholes of blogland rise to rant
pant-less with mushroom peckers in repose
carpal tunneling scrolls of blog upon small screens
and it is not easy
floating life’s shifting winds
call these trends of weather man-made or just heart-sick
who am I to say?
call every moment a sentence pretends to hold
the bursting of a star
like a car and its passengers the moment before
collision
the moment everything changes in an instant
and words fall like complex filaments
to an unreceptive
earth

—William Skink

by lizard

I’m still a mostly ignorant newbie when it comes to understanding Montana politics, especially Montana Democrats. I have no clue what really goes on in Helena, and what little I know (outside of what traditional media reports) comes from a handful of blogs, so there’s that.

Take, for example, a recent post from Montana Cowgirl, calling out Max Baucus for taking $40,000 dollars from the Koch Brothers.

This is just a personal observation, but it seems to me that ever since signaling back in April he’d like 6 more years of corporate suckling, the knives have really come out against Max. I guess maybe some have deemed it time to take this cash cow to slaughter, hand out a few steaks, and wait for the next side of beef to stride forth (wearing a bolo tie?).

According to Cowgirl, Koch money is bad because:

The Koch brothers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars attempting to persuade the American public that climate change is a hoax. Generally, they fund much of the racist and inciteful enterprise known as the Tea Party, from grassroots (or astroturf) organizing to TV ads. They also bankroll anti-union candidates in dozens of states, including major support for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

The attempt by the Koch brothers to financially support climate change deniers is well known, and it does cast a nasty shadow on the corporate suckler, Max Baucus.

What bothers me is the political context in which this is being pointed out. There’s a political scorecard being kept here, and climate change is just a way to score some points, this time against a “Democrat” who has fallen out of favor.

If climate change was to be taken seriously by this political blogger who likes to moo for Democrats, then other positions taken by Democrats should be scrutinized, like Tester’s support of the Keystone pipeline that will transport tar sands crude across America. When Obama postponed construction of the pipeline for purely political reasons, Tester had this to say:

“I am disappointed in the President’s decision. Just as I have supported Montana’s renewable energy jobs, I have long supported responsibly building this pipeline with the highest safety standards and with respect for private property rights. Oil, coal, natural gas, wind, geothermal and biofuels all provide good jobs in Montana. I will continue to champion Montana’s role in securing America’s energy future.”

Good jobs and securing America’s energy future are nice sounding talking points, but the Keystone pipeline project won’t produce either. Of course pointing that out wouldn’t help Jon get reelected.

Then there’s our Governor, the clean coal cowboy. In an article posted earlier this month at Counterpunch, Joshua Frank put it like this:

There’s a coal battle brewing in the great state of Montana and front and center in the fiasco is Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a good old-boy with an affinity for fossil fuels.

The latest trouble with Gov. Schweitzer dates back in 2009 when he and other members of the State Land Board, all Democrats, voted 4 to 1 to open up the rich coal tract of Otter Creek, an approximately 10,000-acre checkerboard of public lands, to development in Montana’s region of the Powder River Basin. An estimated 572 million tons was auctioned off to Arch Coal despite its unpopularity. Currently the lease approved by the Land Board is open for public comment, but opponents fear the Democrats residing on the panel won’t listen to their concerns.

“The main beneficiaries of leasing Otter Creek coal won’t be coal miners or schools or the Northern Cheyenne or the residents of Powder River County,” wrote local residents Bill and Judy Musgrave in the Billings Gazette leading up to the Land Board vote. “It will be coal speculators and the proposed Tongue River Railroad.”

At the beginning of August the Land Board decided to delay its public hearings in response to a weeklong protest spearheaded by Rising Tide North America. They appeared to be frightened of the spectacle that would ensue. Even with the rescheduled public hearing, opponents of coal exports and the Otter Creek mine are still planning a sit-in in Helena beginning on August 13. The non-violent civil disobedience will take place between the offices of Governor Brian Schweitzer and Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, both of whom are Land Board members.

It’s protests like these that Montana ought to get used to as long as the state continues to extract its vast coal deposits.

Max’s dirty Koch money is certainly worthy of criticism, but for those concerned we’re quickly moving beyond the point of no return with climate change, the positions of many Montana Democrats should be looked at critically as well.

by lizard

After his 24 year old son was found bound and shot—another casualty of Mexico’s drug war—poet Javier Sicilia wrote the following lines before later stating in an interview “Poetry doesn’t exist in me anymore.”

The world is not worthy of words

they have been suffocated from the inside

as they suffocated you, as they tore apart your lungs …

the pain does not leave me

all that remains is a world

through the silence of the righteous,

only through your silence and my silence, Juanelo.

In the year since poetry’s departure from Javier’s life, he has been anything but silent. Last Sunday, Javier helped launch a Caravan For Peace. The location for the kickoff event is described in this piece by Paul Imison, titled Along the Border of the Surreal:

On Sunday, Border Field State Park was the venue for the opening ceremony of the Caravan for Peace, a 30-day tour of 27 US cities by Mexico’s Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity. Specifically, the ceremony took place in what used to be known as Friendship Park (inaugurated by – irony of ironies – former First Lady Pat Nixon in 1971). The park was a meeting spot for families separated by the border for years until the Department of Homeland Security closed it in 2009 amid yet more paranoia about “border security”.

The symbolism of the venue was glaring. As the Mexican government fights a so-called “drug war” (lately rebranded by President Felipe Calderon as the “war on organized crime”), which has taken anywhere between 60,000 and 100,000 lives in less than six years, one might ask exactly where is the “friendship” in the US-Mexico relationship? US trade policy destroys Mexican jobs and wages, immigration policy criminalizes those looking to escape their country’s economic quagmire, and US-trained Mexican troops run roughshod through the country’s cities. Meanwhile, 70% of firearms seized south of the border are illegally smuggled from – Well, where else?

While the right went apoplectic over Fast and Furious, which resulted in a few border agents getting killed by guns that “walked” south of the border, the death toll of Mexico’s drug war is estimated to be around 60,000 people, with 10,000 people disappeared, and well over 100,000 people displaced.

This is a direct result of our guns, our insatiable appetite for drugs, and our government’s insatiable appetite for war.

Speaking of the latter, as reported by the NYT in July, the war-loving Obama administration has found another opportunity to expand his predecessors death policies.

In a significant expansion of the war on drugs, the United States has begun training an elite unit of counternarcotics police in Ghana and planning similar units in Nigeria and Kenya as part of an effort to combat the Latin American cartels that are increasingly using Africa to smuggle cocaine into Europe.

The growing American involvement in Africa follows an earlier escalation of antidrug efforts in Central America, according to documents, Congressional testimony and interviews with a range of officials at the State Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Pentagon.

Plenty of people in the states—probably a majority—don’t think America has anything to apologize for. Any president, for example, who publicly acknowledges some “accidental” atrocity, gets immediately lambasted for doing so.

Rebecca Solnit, writing for The Nation, isn’t afraid to apologize to Mexico for the role America plays in perpetuating the conditions of their abject misery.

Criticizing policy is not what makes Rebecca’s apology so compelling; it’s her examination of the underlying reason Americans spend billions of dollars on illegal drugs:

The drug war is fueled by many things, and maybe the worst drug of all is money, to which so many are so addicted that they can never get enough. It’s a drug for which they will kill, destroying communities and ecologies, even societies, whether for the sake of making drones, Wall Street profits, or massive heroin sales. Then there are the actual drugs, to which so many others turn for numbness.

There is variety in the range of drugs. I know that marijuana mostly just makes you like patio furniture, while heroin renders you ethereally indifferent and a little reptilian, and cocaine pumps you up with your own imaginary fabulousness before throwing you down into your own trashiness. And then there’s meth, which seems to have the same general effect as rabies, except that the victims crave it desperately.

Whatever their differences, these drugs, when used consistently, constantly, destructively, are all anesthesia from pain. The Mexican drug cartels crave money, but they make that money from the way Yankees across the border crave numbness. They sell unfeeling. We buy it. We spend tens of billions of dollars a year doing so, and by some estimates about a third to a half of that money goes back to Mexico.

If you think the war on drugs is about eliminating drugs, then you’d probably think the war was a failure. Also, you’d be wrong. The war is a success, which is why it’s being taken to Africa.

I wonder if the war on drugs will be brought up at any of the presidential debates, and if it does, how will the only two “viable” candidates respond?

Imagine Javier Sicilia walking on stage, saying nothing, just giving both men a cold, dark stare.

Because the world is not worthy of words.

Why Mitt’s My Guy

by Wizard

Want to know why Mitt’s my guy? Because he has what it takes to get those of us who matter through these difficult times.

What finally sealed the deal for me was the story of how Mitt made the tough call to take El Salvadorian cash from the good, rich Latinos who funded death squads to kill those bad, commie Latinos. If you watch the kind of tv I watch (Fox), then you know fighting commies never ended (which is totally not contradicted by all the crap I have in my house made in China).

Some people, like liberals, think Mitt’s governance of liberal land (Massachusetts) makes him some kind of socialized health care loving liberal lover or something. I think Mitt was doing deep reconnaissance, almost like a sleeper cell, and now he’s activated to do America the way she needs to be done, if you catch my drift.

Is Mitt an outsourcing, tax avoiding, gaffe factory of ineptitude? Hardly. He just doesn’t give a fuck what you think. Personally, I think being associated with death squads is bad ass, and making a shit ton of money in every exploitive way possible makes a shit ton of sense.

True power is not having to care what others think of you. With Mitt, like with George, not knowing the names or titles of foreign people, like leaders of countries, is a sign of strength. And it makes liberal elitists howl, which, I admit, is sort of fun to watch.

Now, with the boy wonder Paul Ryan selected, it’s on. Obamageddon is coming, America, and instead of getting loaded with booze and ammo, liberals are too busy fighting over why Obama isn’t Socialist enough to satisfy their delicate social justice fairy tales and Marxist utopias.

by lizard

The civil war raging in Syria just keeps getting worse in worse, and the propaganda effort to entice western intervention has collapsed. The regional and sectarian factors that makes this situation so violent (on both sides) and dangerous has bled into the sanitized narrative initially floated to western audiences; that of a popular Syrian revolt comprised primarily of those who first took to the streets against the government.

There may have been truth to that narrative at first, but geopolitics quickly took over.

Now that a full blown civil war has been stirred up, what the skeptics alleged months ago is leaking out, like how the US has been secretly helping the Syrian opposition (Atlantic Wire):

President Obama apparently gave the go-ahead for U.S. intelligence agencies to do everything they can to get Bashar al-Assad out of power in Syria, short of supplying weapons to the rebel forces, according to a new Reuters report. Obama signed a secret order, officially known as an intelligence “finding,” earlier this year authorizing the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies to help out the opposition forces.

The extent of the intelligence support is unknown. Publicly, the State Department said Wednesday they had $25 million set aside for communications equipment for Syrian opposition forces. American officials have been running their support through a rebel command center set up in a town in Turkey that also has a U.S. air base. The air base has a strong population of intelligence officials stationed there.

These kind of revelations may have been shocking a few decades ago, but they’re just the ho-hum of World War Meh now.

The influential (and, I would add, nefarious, but that’s just me) Council on Foreign Relations is even openly extolling the boost provided by…wait for it…Al-Qaeda.

Here’s Ed Husain, senior fellow of Middle Eastern Studies:

The Syrian rebels would be immeasurably weaker today without al-Qaeda in their ranks. By and large, Free Syrian Army (FSA) battalions are tired, divided, chaotic, and ineffective. Feeling abandoned by the West, rebel forces are increasingly demoralized as they square off with the Assad regime’s superior weaponry and professional army. Al-Qaeda fighters, however, may help improve morale. The influx of jihadis brings discipline, religious fervor, battle experience from Iraq, funding from Sunni sympathizers in the Gulf, and most importantly, deadly results. In short, the FSA needs al-Qaeda now.

In Syria, al-Qaeda’s foot soldiers call themselves Jabhat al-Nusrah li-Ahli al-Sham (Front for the Protection of the Levantine People). The group’s strength and acceptance by the FSA are demonstrated by their increasing activity on the ground (BBC)–from seven attacks in March to sixty-six “operations” in June. In particular, the Jabhat has helped take the fight to Syria’s two largest cities: the capital of Damascus, where 54 percent of its activities have been, and Aleppo. Indeed, al-Qaeda could become the most effective fighting force in Syria if defections from the FSA to the Jabhat persist and the ranks of foreign fighters (Guardian) continue to swell.

It’s fascinating. Sometimes our tax dollars blow up humans associated with Al-Qaeda, but other times it goes toward supporting humans associated with Al-Qaeda who blow up other people like Syrian soldiers and civilians.

Instead of just cynically pointing all this out, I’d like to repost the two observations from Helena Cobban, a British-American writer who started Just World Publishing. Her post from Just World News is below the fold. Continue Reading »

By JC

I was waiting for my comment to escape the censors moderating queue at Pogie and PW’s place earlier today (sure, it was from having three links in the comment, uh huh), and was looking at the significance of a few of the piece’s elements.

First off, James Conner hits a home run with his analysis of Pogie’s piece:

“Saying this is one of your best posts probably is being stingy with praise.”

Of course, my comment was all about enticing democrats that have a hard time thinking outside the box, particularly when they are down and out, to cast their policy nets a bit wider. When I looked at the photo accompanying the post — of a beggar boy holding his bowl out for morsels — I first thought that this is how the dem faithful go about asking their politicians for attention to their pet issues. Of course, a closer look showed it to be a reconstruction of some Dickens novel character or another.

It’s not that I’m not supportive of raising the minimum wage, I am all for doing whatever it takes to address poverty in America (our band performed at a benefit concert this weekend for a women’s shelter in Kalispell, for instance, at our own expense). But when Dems reduce themselves to begging for table scraps at a time when the political response of an “opposition” party demands to be more than just maintaining the status quo (with “tweaks”), I get a bit skranky.

But what do I expect from a political party that is beaten down so far it can’t even look to the past, is to see how democrats once used to respond to things like depression, poverty and wealth inequality. I merely pointed Pogie to an article (an article written by an AFL-CIO ExCon member) that did nothing more than talk about how FDR used a wage ceiling (by Executive Order no less) to limit executive pay while the nation was trying to recover from the Great Depression.

“The idea is not unprecedented. In a time of massive domestic and economic distress, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued an executive order during World War II limiting corporate salaries to no more than $25,000 per year after taxes. The president believed that if middle class fathers, brothers, and sons were putting their lives on the line for just $60 per month, the rich should be required to make some sacrifice too.

FDR’s maximum wage proposal was bold and brilliant. Believing that all citizens should help out with the mobilization effort, he refused to be bullied by the rich, and never lost sight of the fact that fair compensation and a thriving middle class are essential elements of a healthy economy — particularly during a national emergency.

A maximum wage law would actually ensure that “a rising tide [would lift] all boats,” and encourage competition while improving lives at every level of society.

The minimum wage certainly must be raised. It’s also time to start a national discussion about creating a maximum wage law.”

Of course, Pogie responded vociferously with his usual ad hominem, which is his preferred method when the left points out simple facts and alternatives to liberal dems’ tepid calls for some kind of action or the other. How dare I attack liberal dems!!!

“And the truth is that simply braying for radical change and condemning the current system isn’t an alternative. It’s intellectual onanism, empty and only satisfying for the person doing it.”

Sheesh, I never realized that asking today’s liberal dems to act more like liberal dems of the past is “braying for radical change.” Just thought a bit of a roadmap of where a party had been might help to guide them today. But I thank Pogie for the opportunity to look up “onanism.” I didn’t realize that Pogie thought that policies like FDR’s were just the masturbatory fantasies of crazed presidents (or those writing about FDR’s ideas). I guess I could just refer to his piece as nothing more than “thumb capping”, but I doubt he’d get the reference without talking to some of his school boys.

Don then proceeds on his temper tantrum spouting about a bunch of stuff I never even mentioned — insinuations of how I live my life, and what I do that have no bearing in reality. Anything to take the spotlight off how dems have forgotten how to ask for what they believe in — to espouse their values —  in the desire to get a few scraps for the masses, and a feather in their cap (and maybe the favor of a special campaign contributor or two).

Of course, he then has the audacity to throw out this unbearable bit of progressive hope:

“Policies matter. Let’s work to pass the ones we desperately need today, which will matter for millions of people, while dreaming of an even more just, more equitable future.”

Well, yes policies matter. I just happen to believe that people should not just dream about their values and offer policies that are so pre-compromised so as to ensure that the resulting legislation is a mere table scrap, compared to what could come out of putting your dreams into concrete policy statements, like FDR did. 

At least James Connor got it right. Pogie’s article was the best blogging he could do, so I should just leave it at that. It’s ok to go to the powers that be with our bowls outstretched asking for a pittance, because we know that if we ask for what we really believe in, we are doing nothing more than engaging in “smug ‘progressive’ cynicism.”  When will dems learn that if they want a bump in the minimum wage, they need to ask for a maximum wage, or a wage ceiling? Since when has politics descended into a unilateral disarmament of solid policy ideas? When did good old fashioned political compromise beginning with a set of competing beliefs and values go the way of the dodo?

Well, I put my progressive hat up long ago, realizing that for today’s liberal dems, progressivism no longer means what it once did. Today, to be a progressive is to beg, and leave one’s dreams for another day. If today’s liberals wanted to have an engaged dialog with the masses, they are going to need more than a bump in the minimum wage to get people excited. As with Max Baucus’ “it’s off the table” proclamation about not allowing the healthcare debate to begin with a full range of alternatives like single payer, it’s obvious that Montana dems don’t want to start the discussion about the minimum wage by talking about FDR’s maximum wage, or France’s current policy of pay rations for government workers (factor of 20, highest to lowest paid state worker).

And I guess asking that dems like “I do indeed support the idea of a maximum wage” Don Pogreba might have a discussion about wage ceilings and income caps, as many people are starting to do across the United States is also taboo (or “smug self-righteousness)”. We might have a discussion like the following about wage ceilings:

This idea has always existed in the United States. During the Revolutionary Era, Philadelphia’s citizens wanted Pennsylvania’s new constitution to declare that “an enormous Proportion of Property vested in a few Individuals is dangerous to the Rights, and destructive of the Common Happiness of Mankind; and therefore any free State hath a Right by its Laws to discourage the Possession of such Property.”

This is because rich people corrupt democracy. As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” It seems this choice has been made from the backseat of splendid limos as they cruise through neighborhoods of boarded-up houses.

Instead of living in a country where anybody can get rich, we should live in a country where nobody can be poor. To achieve this, we need income caps, not income gaps.”

It would have been far too easy to give Pogie a pat on the back and an “atta-boy” for his post on the minimum wage. I prefer to challenge his sensibilities and get him riled up to find out what he and other dems really think. And I guess it is that they would rather attack the left for not going along with the program, than to engage in any sort of policy debate and historical analysis that might result in a better policy resolution. But then again, many mainstream dems’ hatred for any who might criticize from the left seems to always get in the way of any form of introspection about the state of policy development in the dem party.

by lizard

*UPDATE: The Missoula Independent is reporting the young man who claimed to have been beaten lied. If you follow the link, you will find a youtube clip showing the young man injuring himself trying to do a backflip.

*

I don’t go downtown for drinks like I did when I was a student at UM, but every once in awhile I’ll go down to the Rhino for a drink.

A few weeks ago, that’s where I was, hanging out behind the Rhino, talking to a young man. I think this kid had some developmental issues, because his behavior didn’t seem to be the product of drink or the joint that we had just smoked. In any case, the kid was good natured and very talkative, laughing a lot. That’s what he was doing when two massively muscled meatheads exited the Mo Club. Apparently the sound of laughing bothered them, because they both bee-lined toward us. One of the meatheads got in this kid’s face. When I asked him what his problem was, his pal—tweedle-dumb meathead—got in my face and threatened to kick my ass. I put some space between us, then told the two meatheads I was going inside to call the cops. I returned a minute later with the bouncer, but the meatheads had moved on, maybe to go find some drunk girl to rape.

Even if I hadn’t had this experience recently, I still wouldn’t have been surprised to read this report of a young man being beaten outside the Mo Club because of his sexual orientation.

I wouldn’t be surprised because there are some serious pieces of loathsome shit lurking around this town, like anywhere in the US.

I guess I don’t understand why some people seem so surprised whenever something really nasty like this happens. The image of Missoula as an uber-tolerant Mecca of love and understanding is one that is fiercely protected by many, but though I love this town too, I know it’s got its dark underbelly like any town does.

Sorry, Missoula, but we’re just not that special to avoid the violence that happens every day, in communities all across this country.

So yes, young men get assaulted for being faggots in Missoula and women get raped then shamed for it in Missoula and homeless men get beaten to death in Missoula.

Once the surprise subsides, ask yourself what you can do to make things better. I’m going to go out on a crazy limb here and say I bet everyone reading this knows someone who is capable, in the right circumstances, of engaging in targeted violence. These people make jokes in the workplace, they probably drink too much, they are your neighbors, and sometimes, they are your family.

We can pass all the laws and ordinances we want, but relying solely on institutional punishment isn’t enough. We need change at a cultural level, and people willing to stand up, in the moment, to stop this violence from happening in the first place.

by lizard

As this epic electoral battle being waged by wealth against itself for the most solid return on its investment drags on and on, I’d like to take a quick trip down memory lane to what a Bush aide said about reality, many moons ago, as reported by Ron Suskind in the NYT.

In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn’t like about Bush’s former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House’s displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn’t fully comprehend — but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

That quote was later attributed to Karl Rove, an entity more successful than herpes when it comes to sticking around the body politic.

What Karl is saying is just a reiteration of what Aleister Crowley said: do what thou wilt is the whole of the law…

Thinking about Rove led me to recall how there is evidence psychopaths have a disproportionate degree of influence in our society. In a Guardian piece by George Monbiot, titled The 1% are the very best destroyers of wealth the world has ever seen, he looks at a study that compares chief executives to convicts of serious crimes:

In a study published by the journal Psychology, Crime and Law, Belinda Board and Katarina Fritzon tested 39 senior managers and chief executives from leading British businesses. They compared the results to the same tests on patients at Broadmoor special hospital, where people who have been convicted of serious crimes are incarcerated. On certain indicators of psychopathy, the bosses’s scores either matched or exceeded those of the patients. In fact, on these criteria, they beat even the subset of patients who had been diagnosed with psychopathic personality disorders.

The psychopathic traits on which the bosses scored so highly, Board and Fritzon point out, closely resemble the characteristics that companies look for. Those who have these traits often possess great skill in flattering and manipulating powerful people. Egocentricity, a strong sense of entitlement, a readiness to exploit others and a lack of empathy and conscience are also unlikely to damage their prospects in many corporations.

It would be too simplistic to just say we are ruled by psychopaths and that’s why things are so screwed up, but in this earthly realm of competing realities, the realities created by non-psychopaths don’t seem to be doing very well at all.

When I started writing my long poem “Z” in October of 2010, it quickly became a sort of alternate reality poetry project, combining my responses in verse to conventional reality (reported as “current events”) with a meta-narrative that involves the Gnostic villians of existence, the Archons.

For those who don’t know much about Gnosticism, the link above is a translation of something called the Hypostasis of the Archons, a fascinating account of “The Reality of the Rulers”.

Gnostics had a very different interpretation of the old testament God. For a nutshell summary of Gnostic thought, this site has a decent summary and links to additional resources. Here is the one-sentence description of Gnosticism:

a religion that differentiates the evil god of this world (who is identified with the god of the Old Testament) from a higher more abstract God revealed by Jesus Christ, a religion that regards this world as the creation of a series of evil archons/powers who wish to keep the human soul trapped in an evil physical body, a religion that preaches a hidden wisdom or knowledge only to a select group as necessary for salvation or escape from this world.

These early Gnostic Christians made the blasphemous assertion that the old testament god lied when he said he was The Big Cheese of the universe:

Their chief is blind; because of his power and his ignorance and his arrogance he said, with his power, “It is I who am God; there is none apart from me.” When he said this, he sinned against the entirety. And this speech got up to incorruptibility; then there was a voice that came forth from incorruptibility, saying, “You are mistaken, Samael” – which is, “god of the blind.”

My exposure to Gnosticism came through the science fiction writer, Philip K. Dick, who incorporated Gnostic thought along with other philosophic questions and conundrums.

I had immediate sympathy for the Gnostic heretics The Church tried to literally erase from history. And no wonder; these Gnostics were like spiritual libertarians, striking at the very heart of this upstart religion called Christianity by calling Yahweh’s claim of divine exclusivity and dominion an outright lie.

How different would the world be now if their form of Christianity had flourished?

*

I missed putting up a poetry post this week, but this poem by G.C. Waldrep, from the Ostrich Review, will make up for it.

The poem, titled “After Midas“, is dedicated to Ilya Kaminsky, a phenomenal young poet born in the Soviet Union in 1977, and granted asylum with his family in 1993.

Enjoy! Continue Reading »

by lizard

With Gore Vidal passing so soon after Alexander Cockburn, I can’t help wonder about my generation and its capacity to produce comparable figures. Can we do it?

Not when boy geniuses like Jonah Lehrer receive a fawning incubation that then morphs into one of the most embarrassing crash and burns the New York literati crowd has ever seen (from Jezebel):

Journalists are conflicted about Jonah Lehrer, judging by the number of frantic Gchats and emails I received from my peers yesterday after Michael C. Moynihan broke the news in Tablet that the 31-year-old wunderkind science writer, already under fire for extensive “self-plagiarizing,” attributed numerous fake quotes to Bob Dylan in his most recent book, Imagine. (The media was so obsessed with the story that they actually managed to crash Tablet’s website for a bit after the piece went live.)

There’s shock: it’s unbelievable that such a highly regarded, well-paid New Yorker staff writer and author of three books is also equally prolific at making stuff up. (Lehrer resigned after the story broke, and his publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, is recalling print copies of Imagine.)

Ouch.

The truth: it’s impossible for my generation to produce comparable figures, and partly I think that’s because of the profound technological shift in how we process information. There are obviously other factors, but I think that’s a big one.

In judging the intellectual output of these two feisty contrarians, both have taken stances that probably shocked and angered many of their admirers. Cockburn questioned the scientific consensus regarding the human role in climate change, and Vidal speculated what leaders like Bush knew before the 9/11 attacks.

Does that negate the rest of their artistic and intellectual achievements? Hardly, but it’s interesting to consider both expressed their unpopular opinions near the end of their lives.

RIP, gentlemen.




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