Archive for September, 2012

by lizard

The WAKE THE FUCK UP ad featuring Samuel L. Jackson and a cute little white girl “wide-eyed and awake” is making the rounds. See for yourself:

It’s funny and engaging and very much needed to prod enthusiasm, which is building, according to the polls.

The ad’s success is a play on the of-course-it-was-going-to-be successful book titled GO THE FUCK TO SLEEP, narration: Samuel L. Jackson.

This week’s poem, written late last night, is inspired by the fucking brilliance of using the word fuck in new and creative ways. Enjoy! Continue Reading »

Strike at the Roots!

-RPK

I listened to Lawrence Lessig last night on Campus talk about his perspective on reducing corruption in our political system.  It was a very moving talk, in which he outlined a very compelling argument for where to focus our reform energies:  moving to a more republic form of campaign finance (through individual credits), and limiting lobbying influence.  

One prong to his approach, is getting congressional candidates to sign pledges (and maybe full binding contracts) promising that if elected, they will not than transition to lucrative K street jobs.  I like the idea (I think it should apply to staff also).  So, who will be the first candidate in Montana to sign?  

Check out all the information at Rootstrikers.

Good Job, Indy!

by lizard

If you picked up the Missoula Independent today, you probably didn’t notice anything different.

But if you open the paper, and look on page 3, you will notice a few changes in personnel.

For example, this: Robert Meyerowitz is no longer the editor. That title now goes to Skylar Browning. Congratulations Skylar!

And even more good news: Chad Harder is back!

Good news is hard to come by, but I think this qualifies.

40 Days Left

by lizard

It was this post from Pogie that inspired me to finally come out and say, explicitly, what I’ve been hesitant to say, up to this point.

I’m voting, and I will be voting for (mostly) Montana Democrats.

The short-term reality of crazy people littering the Republican landscape in this state means I’m voting for Steve Bullock and Pam Bucy. I’m voting for Kim Gillan and Jon Tester.

If I lived in Ohio or Florida, I may even be convinced to vote for Barack Obama.

Because Mitt.

But since I live in Montana, well, it will be either Jill or Gary.

I don’t expect some anonymous blogger saying this to matter all that much, but I felt compelled to say it anyway.

The GOP has totally lost it. I realize this has been evident for years now, but when those assholes in DC killed the jobs bill for Vets they initially supported, for some reason that really drove it home for me.

I wish like hell we had a better political system, because part of me feels like I’m validating a totally rigged political structure that is only responsive to money.

But I honestly shudder to think what could have happened in Montana if Brian Schweitzer hadn’t used his veto power to stop extremely self-destructive legislation.

That said, I’ll be watching wearily and writing critically when issues that concern me are being debated and decided (and hopefully my fellow bloggers will start writing more as well).

As I write this, it is 40 days, 5 hours, and 31 minutes until election day. Time is ticking. And though votes are already being cast, still, anything could happen in that amount of time.

Turkey And Syria

by lizard

In a discussion from my Case Against Blind Support for Israel post, The Polish Wolf makes some comments that deserve some closer inspection. I’ll include his first comment in full, since it starts out with some praise that is appreciated, especially from someone I’ve had a few passionate disagreements with.

One of your best posts, I would say. We are in complete agreement – some forces in Israel definitely want a war in Iran, and would prefer the US to take the brunt of the consequences. I think conservatives are making more of the split between Netanyahu and Obama than their really is, but any daylight between the two is a good sign. The US seems more interested now in aligning with the new populist Sunni states than with Israel. Ultimately I think the big Israeli mistake was allowing their relations with Turkey to erode so badly – in hard power Turkey is an equal to Israel, their soft power far exceeds the Israelis, and they have a stable government with support from the majority of their people – in other words, they are an equally potent ally without all the side effects. If Israel wants to get back their special relationship with the US, they need to start with repairing their relationship with Turkey.

One of the things I emphasize over and over again, in post after post, is how US foreign policy produces unforeseen consequences, aka, blowback.

Part of why that happens, IMHO, is because of a national arrogance derived from having the most deadly (and expensive) military the world has ever seen. It seems to create a sense that we don’t really need to understand the other players on the global stage because, in the end, the people with the biggest guns win.

Interventionists like the Polish Wolf support the notion of a smarter, nicer, and ultimately necessary US imperial presence in the world. Though we mostly disagree, he, unlike a majority of Americans, actually tries to understand the perspectives of other countries—something I’d say even our top-level state department officials need to try doing.

So with that mutual desire in mind to understand other nations, especially ones who are in military alliances like NATO with us, I’d like to challenge the claim that Turkey has “a stable government” supported by a majority of its people.

First, when I think of stable governments, I don’t usually envision ongoing trials of high-ranking military officials for planning a coup:

Three Turkish generals are among 15 high-ranking active duty officers arrested during the weekend for a failed coup plan, court officials said.

The officers were tried in absentia and sentenced to jail time in the Sledgehammer coup case, which ended on Friday, Today’s Zaman reported.

More than 300 officers convicted in the coup conspiracy, for which planning started in 2003, were sentenced in the Friday hearing.

Ten officers were arrested Sunday by Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court, including two generals and seven colonels. Five more people were arrested Monday.

Of those arrested Sunday, Maj. Gen. Ayhan Gumus was sentenced to 16 years in prison. The rest received terms of 13 years four months.

Dissent within Turkey’s military ranks is incredibly important to take into consideration as Turkey’s overt involvement in the escalating Syrian crisis continues.

For a little context, back in June, Syria shot down a Turkish warplane it claimed had violated its airspace. This after cross border attacks by the Free Syrian Army based out of Turkey were being used by Turkey’s PM, Erdogan, as a possible justification to invoke article 5.

It was reported just yesterday in the Denver Post that the Free Syrian Army has finally moved its headquarters from Turkey to Syria, “with the aim of uniting rebels and speeding up the fall of President Bashar Assad’s regime.”

Here’s more from the link:

Brig. Gen. Mustafa al-Sheikh, who heads the FSA’s Military Council, said that the group made the move last week. He would not give the location of the new headquarters or other details.

The FSA is the most prominent of the rebel groups trying to topple Assad, though its authority over networks of fighters in Syria is limited. Its commanders have been criticized for being based in Turkey while thousands are killed inside Syria.

I guess the FSA is the most prominent rebel group, thanks to how the western media has been “reporting” the crisis in Syria. Of course this little group called al-Qaeda is also one of the rebel groups, but widespread reporting of that little factoid would probably confuse an American audience, considering we’ve spent over a trillion dollars allegedly trying to eradicate them off the face of the earth.

So because the mainstream news isn’t blaring the involvement of our nemesis in Syria, it gets relegated to jack asses like Alex Jones and anonymous bloggers like me to say HEY, NOW WAIT JUST A GODDAMN MINUTE!

You can also find it reported at places like Digital Journal (the article got 43 likes on Facebook!) Here’s a snip:

A top strategist at the prestigious U.S. Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) is crediting al-Qaeda forces in Syria with the resurgence of the rebellion against President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.

“The Syrian rebels would be immeasurably weaker today without al-Qaeda in their ranks,” writes Ed Husain, a Senior Fellow of Middle East Studies with the CFR, which is considered in political circles to be America’s most influential foreign-policy think tank.

So what is Turkish sentiment about getting involved in Syria? This article from The Kurdish Globe is worth reading. The quick answer: it’s complicated. Here’s how the article starts out:

Developments in Syria are being watched by the world press with ever-increasing interest. What will be the fate of rebels and of Assad’s regime and what is the current situation in Syria are the most frequently asked questions. Turkish state authorities are also closely following the events in Syria, and they very often convey their opinions and make statements about Syria. However, their statements and some of their opinions include a variety of arguments that are partly contradictory and conflicting. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its supporters are especially harsh in criticizing Assad’s Syria and his treatment of rebels. Other political parties in Turkey do not want to be involved with the policies regarding Syria or do not have much to say about it.

Later in the piece, the political opposition is described in more detail:

…Turkish opposition parties are dissatisfied with Turkey’s Syria policy and have criticized the AKP and Erdogan because of his harsh statement against Syria. Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said, “Erdogan says Syria is an internal affair and that Turkey has run out of patience on the Syria issue. What will the government do then, Is it going to conduct a military operation” He should explain why Turkey has run out of patience.” He accused Erdogan of being “a subcontractor” of the Western powers in the Middle East.”Turkey is on the way to becoming a pawn of the United States. We shouldn’t get involved in possible military action in Syria,” he added.

Syria is not a crisis happening in a vacuum. It’s a crisis happening in an incredibly volatile region, where sectarian conflicts and domestic uprisings get highlighted and supported, or violently suppressed, based not on human rights, but geopolitics.

That’s something I hope well-intentioned interventionists understand.

Suicide

by lizard

When Junior Seau decided to end his life with a gun shot to the chest, public speculation began immediately. Sports Illustrated put it like this:

Did the game Junior Seau loved help take his life? We don’t know. We don’t know why one of the greatest linebackers of his generation shot himself in the chest Wednesday and died at 43, leaving behind three children. It’s entirely possible his demons came from other external factors. Maybe they were always there. We don’t know. But given everything we’ve learned in the past few years about the brain damage caused by repeated head trauma, the immediate reaction is to point the finger at football.

That’s the biggest problem the sport has right now. Not bounties. Not performance-enhancing drugs. It’s the mounting evidence that repeated shots to the head could be slowly killing football players. Even if it had nothing to do with Seau’s death, football has lost the benefit of the doubt. Every time a far-too-young ex-player dies after suffering some sort of mental distress, football will be the prime suspect.

To counter the hand-wringers, Slate put up a piece titled The Concussion Panic.

In this article, a broad CDC study with a small sample size is cited:

The CDC study was designed to look for fatal cases of cardiovascular disease among the athletes. (It found one-third fewer than expected.) But the researchers also compiled numbers for more than a dozen other categories of disease and injury, including suicide. Former players were 42 percent less likely to die of cancer, 86 percent less likely to die of tuberculosis, and 73 percent less likely to die from digestive problems. And among the athletes who regularly played professional football between 1959 and 1988, a total of nine perished as a result of “intentional self-harm,” compared with an expected number of about 22. The sample size was small, but the effect is large: Ex-NFLers were 59 percent less likely to commit suicide.

So whatever, football players get paid millions and have great health insurance all their lives, right? What are they depressed about? Scab refs making shitty calls on the field?

If you want to have a good reason to kill yourself, join the US military. Back in June, the NYT reported on suicide deaths outpacing combat deaths in Afghanistan.

The suicide rate among the nation’s active-duty military personnel has spiked this year, eclipsing the number of troops dying in battle and on pace to set a record annual high since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan more than a decade ago, the Pentagon said Friday.

I’m sure the VA is all over that crisis for our veterans with adequate mental health services, right? And that is totally not an entitlement/govt’ assistance program, right?

But it’s not just veterans and football players killing themselves. From sea to shining sea, Americans are allegedly choosing to commit suicide at an increasing rate, overtaking the notorious car crash as cause of death:

Suicide has overtaken car crashes as the biggest cause of death in the US.

New data shows that suicide has risen 15 percent over the last decade, while car crash deaths have dropped by a quarter.

Car crash deaths have decreased due to new safety measures implemented by the government but researchers feel that other causes of death may need to be addressed more now.

That last part is priceless.

Yes, lets address those other causes of death now.

But they can’t be addressed, not in our current paradigm.

In our current paradigm, the increased suicide rate is a snarky angle for an Obama joke, for some.

I fully accept the accusation of being humorless for not taking that sad jab at Obama more lightly. IMHO, this trend as punch-line misses a deeper sickness that goes way beyond party.

by lizard

Today I got to comb the well-stocked poetry section at Vargo’s Jazz City and Books, in Bozeman, for just the second time. Knowing what I might find there, I saved a little dough and used a recent birthday to justify going a bit hog-wild.

I came away with titles by Robert Duncan, Joy Harjo, Denise Levertov, a book/DVD package featuring Gary Snyder and Jim Harrison, and two books by James Wright.

A goddamn treasure trove, even after the half dozen books I had to re-shelve.

The poem for this week’s poetry series is from James Wright. It’s a long, somewhat formal poem, but please don’t let that dissuade you from taking the time to read it. The poem may grow on you. Continue Reading »

Two Must Reads

by lizard

Rachel Alexander, writing for The Nation, shares her perspective on Preventing Sexual Assault on Campus.

And though it took me until today to read George Ochenski’s Monday column, I’m glad I did.

Afghanistan Can’t Be Won

by lizard

Mr. 1% says screw 47% of the country. That’s the breaking news tonight.

What doesn’t seem to be part of the 24 news cycle is the fact the US military sustained “the single largest biggest single-day loss of U.S. combat aircraft since the Vietnam War” in Afghanistan:

The Taliban attack against Camp Bastion/ Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan that killed two U.S. Marines and wounded several others was conducted with military like precision.

According to the Wall Street Journal, “The coordinated Taliban attack destroyed six Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier jump-jets and “significantly” damaged two others, as well as some hangars, the coalition said. The Taliban also destroyed three refueling stations. Harrier jets cost about $30 million to $40 million dollars apiece – for a total in of anywhere between $180- $240 million dollars in damage.

Is there really bipartisan support for losing this war for another two years?

Once upon a time, the strategy in Afghanistan was counter-insurgency, meaning winning hearts and minds. That will never happen. Not when we blow up women and young girls gathering firewood.

If we’re not in a shooting war with Iran by November, is it possible who ever buys/steals/lies himself into the presidency will acknowledge the war in Afghanistan is not winnable?

Because it’s not.

And based on this report, that’s now understood by military decision makers:

The strategy for getting U.S. forces out of Afghanistan depends on training Afghan soldiers and police to protect the country themselves, but on Monday the U.S. military suspended most joint field operations with Afghan forces because so many Americans are being killed by the men they are training.

Afghan government troops — our allies — have turned their guns on NATO forces 36 times this year, killing 51, most of them Americans. That is more attacks than the last two years combined.

The order effectively suspends “until further notice” most of the operations which U.S. and Afghan troops conduct side by side. At higher headquarters, Afghans and Americans will still work together, but in the field small unit operations putting Afghan soldiers alongside Americans — the guts of the U.S. strategy to turn the fighting over to Afghans — will be suspended unless an exception is granted by a commanding general.

It’s over. Bring them home.

53 Days And Counting…

by lizard

I didn’t catch this until today, but apparently it’s now being reported that the appeasement memo from the Cairo Embassy was the result of a PR guy gone rogue. I came across this new piece of info from reading this post from the Flathead Memo, where James Conner is revising and kind of apologizing for his initial post, which you can read here.

In that initial post, James says of the Embassy memo:

That statement by our embassy in Egypt isn’t going to mollify the fanatics who attacked our embassy and killed our consular officer. Islamic zealots want us dead or converted to Islam. There’s no middle ground here; none is possible as long as Islam produces hyper-religious cultists who treat producing an image of its prophet as a capital offense.

I expect our embassies to issue full-throated defenses of free speech — including speech that offends. Anything less is cowardice. We know what’s the matter with Islam. But what’s the matter with our State Department?

The subsequent post acknowledges that the memo is now being reported as having been issued by a PR guy gone rogue. James says:

Now, a day and a half later, it’s clear that the PR guy in Cairo acted against instructions, no doubt hoping to damp the anger of protesters who were planning a demonstration later that day. I understand why he did what he did, but he did the wrong thing, a cowardly thing, and served his country poorly.

Cowardice is a matter of perspective. That a major feature of the US war on terror entails remote killing from air conditioned rooms half a world away with drones is, I think, a pretty cowardly method of waging war. It’s also guaranteed to radicalize more potential terrorists. But we’re not having that conversation.

Instead, the conversation Dave Budge thinks we should be having is one about the first amendment and free speech. In that post he wonders (rhetorically) why the principled left isn’t outraged about Obama’s supposed aim to use the video to cover his administration’s alleged ineptitude:

So, Obama gets in a jam (again) and calls on Eric Holder to supply covering fire to escape press scrutiny. But the press, for the most part, doesn’t seem to care. Nor, might I add, have we heard very much from the principled left. Glenn Greenwald’s opening salvo in his new gig at The Guardian spilled ink on the press’s question of “Why do they hate us” as opposed to the government shutting off access to truth. Funny that.

Meanwhile, the Obama admin “reached out” to YouTube to see if there was any way they could “review their terms of service” policy to get the incendiary video taken down. The good news is that YouTube refused. Ah, but never let a government looking for scapegoats get in the way of principles. Just round up “the usual suspects”. Today a person associated with The Innocence of Muslims was brought in for an interview by the LAPD and the Feds promptly stepped in. Meanwhile, and perhaps I’ve just missed it, all of those people who excuse Julian Assange, accused Ari Fleischer of censorship when he said people should watch what they say, and are otherwise great civil libertarians have gone missing in their outrage. Well, I guess principles stop on the eve of an election. So it seems, anyhow.

My personal hierarchy of outrage in reacting to this still developing situation isn’t to prioritize the Obama administration’s attempt to suppress this stupid video, though I do think it is troubling how this ex-felon guy who supposedly made it is now being investigated by the FBI.

Instead what most concerns me is how the more relevant factors fueling this spreading unrest are not being adequately addressed, like how flooding countries with weapons in an attempt to orchestrate violence against the regimes we deem necessary to destabilize and ultimately overthrow has unforeseen consequences.

As figurative pressure valves vent steam across the Middle East and North Africa, a broader assessment of how the US advances its interests in the region would be great, but we certainly won’t get that during an election season.

Romney wouldn’t discuss foreign policy during the GOP convention, and Obama certainly wasn’t about to discuss signature drone strikes during his coronation.

Now that both men are trying to respond to this complicated situation in campaign mode, we’ll have to hope things don’t escalate dramatically in the next 53 days.

by lizard

Global Cop or National Hermit. Either shape the world for our safety and benefit, or withdraw and let the evil shadow from the East darken the earth. That is the choice, America. Or at least lots of people seem to see it that way.

I really tried to not write a 9/11 post, but three days later, here it is.

Eleven years ago we Americans had an opportunity to step back from the psychic blow we took that blue-skied Tuesday and really look at the forces that shape anti-American sentiment in other parts of the world, especially the Mideast.

Instead the shock of attack jarred us from our comfort and brought us raging onto the global stage, willing to consume whatever crudely-patched narratives were assembled to goad our blood and treasure toward feeding that dark impulse for revenge, with two wars of occupation.

That impulse still works.

As protests of varying severity spread to 11 countries (hyped by media?), the opportunity to understand the anger is of course being drowned out by the frenzy of froth spittled from Romney’s angry white man campaign. It’s sad.

And it’s infectious. Even people I usually respect get caught up in it, and say stuff like this on twitter about the unrest in Cairo:

I’m taking my time machine so I can get a first hand look at the middle ages. I’m setting the clock for yesterday in Cairo.

The Arab Spring Sprung in Egypt after Tunisia, and as it was first sputtering, the protesters were getting the corporate media framing of angry arab mobs acting savagely. For example, there were reports of protesters looting museums, which later came out as Mubarak regime thugs trying to delegitimize the popular protests. Whether US corporate media were dupes or compliant instruments of state power in how they went with those reports, you can decide for yourself.

As the first shoots of the Arab Spring were trying to spring up, I wrote this angry post in response to the waffling of a President who didn’t seem to want to lose a faithful authoritarian friend of America.

Now it’s Arab Fall, meaning autocrats have fallen (sometimes sodomized and executed), and in those power vacuums, surprise! It’s still volatile.

*

Weird, deja vu. I’m again watching Rachel Maddow talking about conspiracy theories.

Apparently, Paul Ryan was at a speaking event with a guy who bills himself to the religious right as a “former terrorist”, Kamal Saleem.

Saleem, whose real name is Khodor Shami, claims that he was Muslim Brotherhood operative who “came to the United States of America…to destroy this country,” saying that he crossed the Canadian border and “brought weapon caches right through cities.” Somewhere along the way he converted, got a job at Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, and became the favorite ex-Muslim of the Religious Right. As a result, he says his life is constantly in danger, and he is being pursued by foreign agents.

That seriously happened. And there’s totally video of it, somewhere, on the web.

This dovetails nicely with how lately, like in the last 48 hours, I’ve nearly come to Jesus, seeing clearly the error of my principled harping against Obama. Romney and Ryan are simply that awful, and there’s even a rash of Republicans who agree. The polls in swing states show the Muslim/Socialist/Apologist for America pulling ahead as we close in on October, November.

Damn, see how that happens? Now I’m the asshole talking domestic politics as our sovereign property is being attacked by the ubiquitous angry arab mob we’ll never be bothered enough to understand.

Let’s just kill them and call them militants until proven otherwise.

After all, when bravado meets bravado, and the embarrassment of a diplomat who played a direct role in the NATO Libya coup gets killed, it’s not even a question. Revenge.

*

As the campaigns and the raging world depresses everyone, it might be kind of nice to remember how Asmaa Mahfouz helped topple a dictator:

And in response, during that spring, I wrote this: Continue Reading »

by lizard

MSNBC is showing live feeds from Cairo. Protests are spreading. Yemen is getting hit, tomorrow big protests in Pakistan are planned.

Obama is walking back comments putting Egypt’s US relationship in question. Rachel Maddow and Richard Engel are talking about free masons and zionists as I write this. They are pondering why crazy arabs are also conspiracy theorists about everything America, and so angry.

It’s all very exciting coverage, very engaging.

Unlike QE3

That’s not very exciting. The need for continued juicing from the Fed sounds like this:

The Federal Reserve said it will expand its holdings of long-term securities with open-ended purchases of $40 billion of mortgage debt a month in a third round of quantitative easing as it seeks to boost growth and reduce unemployment.

bah.

Let’s get back to the fun foreign policy campaign stuff, like Mitt being a lying POS. I might add, locally, those who pass along the lies are equally despicable (Rob Natelson).

But what the hell is truth anyway? Seriously, where can one find it, like ever?

The movie that supposedly sparked the spreading anti-American rage is shrouded in weird, ridiculous claims. No one seems to know what the hell is going on.

But when has that ever stopped the need to act decisively? Marines, drones, war ships to the Libyan coast.

I am not looking forward to October.

by lizard

Americans are waking up this morning to the news that US Ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, along with three other Americans, have been killed in an attack on the US consulate in Benghazi. This attack in Libya has come on the heels of an attack on the US embassy in Cairo.

What allegedly sparked both attacks is an anti-Islam film:

The protests in both countries were sparked by outrage over a film ridiculing Muhammad produced by an American in California and being promoted by an extreme anti-Muslim Egyptian Christian campaigner in the United States. Excerpts from the film dubbed into Arabic were posted on YouTube.

I doubt we’ll get much more analysis in the MSM beyond crazy Muslims going crazy again over a hateful film, but is that all there is to these two attacks? For a closer look, the Berlin-based blogger, b, has a post up at Moon of Alabama in which he speculates that Ayman al-Zawahiri’s release of a video to coincide with this year’s 9/11 anniversary may also be fueling anti-American sentiment.

Regardless of the motivation, it seems that only American deaths are capable of capturing our attention when it comes to US foreign policy.

So now that Americans are paying attention, it should be pointed out that once again Americans have died from the blowback of arming Islamic extremists and jihadists.

Will US media make that connection? Will pundits start paying attention to the fact we are supporting foreign fighters with ties to al-Qaeda in Syria?

Another factor swirling around this morning is the hour long conversation Obama had with Netanyahu, after the White House stated that a request for a meeting between the two leaders was never made.

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, citing Israeli sources, reported that the Israelis were told Obama’s schedule would not permit a meeting even though Israel offered to have Netanyahu travel to Washington.

Obama and Netanyahu are both due to address the United Nations in New York in late September but not at the same time.

The Obama administration pushed back later Tuesday.

“Contrary to reports in the press, there was never a request for Prime Minister Netanyahu to meet with President Obama in Washington, nor was a request for a meeting ever denied,” the White House said Tuesday night in its statement, which made reference to “our close cooperation on Iran and other security issues.”

Netanyahu has shown growing impatience with what he says is a lack of clarity by the Obama administration on articulating so-called “red lines” that Iran cannot cross if it wants to avoid war over its nuclear ambitions.

Those “Israeli sources” Wolf Blitzer cites are now being seen by some as participating in a deceitful attempt to embarrass the Obama administration (again) with the possible aim of affecting the US elections, to the benefit of Netanyahu’s real friend, Romney.

This story will continue developing, and I expect the spin to be dizzying. Stay tuned.

by lizard

In an attempt at insight, Rob Natelson tries to explain how the God/Jerusalem “flap” represents the friction between Democrat’s “collectivist” ideology and its lust for power. Naturally, this makes Rob think about the Russians:

The flap over “God” and “Jerusalem” in the Democratic platform reminded me of a dispute that raged when the USSR was threatening the world: Were the Soviets driven by their disproved ideology, or by more earthly motives such as corruption and lust for power?

The answer was “All of the above.” Ideology, particularly the Communist doctrine that the ends justified the means, served earthly motives, and earthly motives induced the Soviets to promote their ideology. When they were in conflict, the emphasis see-sawed back and forth.

There is a similar discussion among conservatives, moderates, and moderate liberals about weird leftism of the Democratic Party under Obama. Are they mostly about collectivist ideology? Or Chicago-style power politics?

As in the case of the Soviets, the answer is plainly “both.”

Later in the post, this ideology is described as “increasingly anti-Israel” because obviously all those ethnic-loving diversity pimps who form the ideological backbone of the Democratic Party love Muslims more than our bestest friends in the whole world, Israel.

What’s missing from Rob’s shallow analysis is the argument—which isn’t necessarily a leftist argument—that Israel is not our friend, and the relentless pressure to attack Iran is not in America’s interest.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey:

“I don’t want to be complicit if they (Israel) choose to do it,” Dempsey was quoted as saying by Britain’s Guardian newspaper on Friday, suggesting that he would view an Israeli attack as reprehensible or illegal.

He went on to repeat that although Israel could delay Iran’s nuclear project, it would not destroy it. He said that unilateral action might unravel a strong international coalition that has applied progressively stiff sanctions on Iran.

“(This) could be undone if (Iran) was attacked prematurely,” he was quoted as saying.

This isn’t the first time officials from the military establishment have gone public about what war with Iran could mean. They are, after all, the personnel tasked with fighting and dying once the bombs start flying.

Honestly, the political saber-rattlers on both sides are despicable creatures more concerned about what AIPAC can do to their cushy political careers than what a war with Iran will do to US soldiers.

Iran’s military response to an overt attack (they have already been attacked more covertly with nuclear scientists getting assassinated and cyber attacks from the US) would be significant, which is a very restrained way of saying WWIII.

It’s within the context of a looming war with Iran (being pushed by Israel) that I hope Obama gets four more years, primarily because Romney and Netanyahu are pals. And according to this NYT piece, they go way back:

The two young men had woefully little in common: one was a wealthy Mormon from Michigan, the other a middle-class Jew from Israel.

But in 1976, the lives of Mitt Romney and Benjamin Netanyahu intersected, briefly but indelibly, in the 16th-floor offices of the Boston Consulting Group, where both had been recruited as corporate advisers. At the most formative time of their careers, they sized each other up during the firm’s weekly brainstorming sessions, absorbing the same profoundly analytical view of the world.

That shared experience decades ago led to a warm friendship, little known to outsiders, that is now rich with political intrigue. Mr. Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, is making the case for military action against Iran as Mr. Romney, the likely Republican presidential nominee, is attacking the Obama administration for not supporting Mr. Netanyahu more robustly.

Creepy.

Today at Counterpunch, Jonathan Cook asks if the cozy relationship between the US and Israel is The Greatest Myth of American Politics. Here’s an excerpt:

Politicians may prefer to express undying love for Israel, and hand over billions of dollars annually in aid, but the US security establishment has — at least, in private — always regarded Israel as an unfaithful partner.

The distrust has been particularly hard to hide in relation to Iran. Israel has been putting relentless pressure on Washington, apparently in the hope of manoeuvring it into supporting or joining an attack on Tehran to stop what Israel claims is an Iranian effort to build a nuclear bomb concealed beneath its civilian energy programme.

While coverage has focused on the personal animosity between Obama and the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, the truth is that US officials generally are deeply at odds with Israel on this issue.

The conflict burst into the open this month with reports that the Pentagon had scaled back next month’s joint military exercise, Austere Challenge, with the Israeli military that had been billed as the largest and most significant in the two countries’ history.

The goal of the exercise was to test the readiness of Israel’s missile-defence shield in case of Iranian reprisals — possibly the biggest fear holding Israel back from launching a go-it-alone attack. The Pentagon’s main leverage on Israel is its X-band radar stationed in Israel but operated exclusively by a US crew, that would provide Israel with early warning of Iranian missiles.

A senior Israeli military official told Time magazine what message the Pentagon’s rethink had conveyed: “Basically what the Americans are saying is, ‘We don’t trust you’.”

Cook continues, giving specific instances of espionage and deceit. It’s worth reading.

Unless of course you think any criticism of the US relationship with Israel equates to anti-semitism, in which case, please report this post to the Anti-Defamation League for censorship.

by lizard

There is a powerful collection of poems titled I Go to the Ruined Place: Contemporary Poems in Defense of Global Human Rights, edited by two outstanding Montana poets, who I have featured here, Melissa Kwasny and M.L. Smoker.

Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:

. . . When we made our call for submissions for an anthology of poems in defense of human rights, the allegations of torture were foremost in our minds. We knew people were outraged, saddened, profoundly moved and ashamed. But we also wanted to reach people who had suffered violations of their own rights from circumstances across the globe, or whose families had, or for whom preventing or healing these violations had become a life’s work. We drafted our call loosely: we are increasingly witness to torture, terrorisms and other violations of human rights at unprecedented degrees. What do our instincts tell us and what is our response to these violations? What is our vision of a future wherein human rights are not only respected but expanded?

What we received were both first hand accounts of violation—see prisoner Adrian English’s “raped man’s stream of consciousness,” or Farnoosh Moshiri’s poem recounting the terror of giving birth in Iran, or Li-Young Lee’s “self-help for fellow refugees”—and responses from people who feel struck personally by the blows enacted on others: to speak for, to speak as, and to speak against. We were surprised at the range of issues spoken to by the poets. While torture remained a critical topic, as well as issues at stake in the Iraq war, there were also poems that addressed immigrant rights, prisoners’ rights, the holocaust, the wars in Cambodia, Vietnam, Serbia, South America, Palestine and Israel. We received poems that spoke of suicide bombing, violence against women, the aftermath of 9/11, and outlawing marriage for gay Americans.

We were also moved at the range of experience among the responders: homeless advocates, civil rights workers, clinical social workers, medics, the mentally ill, veterans, humanitarian aid workers, teachers, conscientious objectors, and, of course, many writers who work and fight daily for social justice in their communities. We are particularly proud of the number of Native American poets included in this anthology, something unusual in anthologies of this sort. It seemed to us impossible to collect a group of poems on human rights issues if we didn’t acknowledge the far reaching and often appalling violations that have taken place in our own country, upon the first citizens of this land who belong to five-hundred-sixty-two federally recognized tribes who function as sovereign nations. It is the acknowledgement of this history, among others, that will allow us to move forward as a country with a clearer conscience, extending our hand to other nations and other peoples who continue to endure neglect and abuse.

This week’s poem is unfortunately one that would fit into that collection. I would say enjoy, but it’s not that kind of poem, unless maybe you’re Jordan Johnson. Continue Reading »

By JC

Via the Turley Blog:

“For those long unhappy with the Democratic leadership, it was a telling symbolic moment. Once again, it appeared that Democratic voters (even delegates representing the most loyal activists) are given only the appearance of participation in their party. For years, Democratic leaders lied to their members about their knowledge and even support for Bush’s torture program and surveillance policies until it was revealed that key Democrats were briefed on the programs. The party leadership then worked with Bush to scuttle any effort to investigate torture and other alleged crimes to avoid implicating key Democratic members. Likewise, while the majority of Democratic voters opposed the continuation of the wars, the Democratic party leaders blocked efforts to force a pull out under both Obama and Bush. These controversies were seen by many that the Democratic Party is primarily run to ensure the continuation of a small number of leaders in power with voters treated as ignorant minions. It was a particularly poignant moment in an uncontested convention after Democratic voters were not given any alternative to Obama.

The image of the chair just ignoring the obvious opposition from the floor of the conventional symbolized this long simmering tension. For full disclosure, I have long been a critic of both parties and have argued for changes to break the monopoly on power by the two parties. It is really not the merits of these two changes that is most bothersome. Arguments can be made on both side of such issues. It is the disregard of the views of the members and the dishonesty in how the matter was handled. The illusion of democracy was all that the leaders wanted in the vote.

Notably, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa seemed to be ready to acknowledge that the delegates clearly rejected the change on the first vote. He then insisted on a second vote and it got worse. He seemed about to admit the failure of the motion and then called for a third vote which sounded even more lopsided (with not just a failure to get two-thirds but even a majority). Yet, he declared the motion passed to the boos and jeers of the delegates.

In creating the illusion of democratic voting, the delegates might have just as well bleated like sheep in protest. It did not matter. The message was clear that the delegates are just a backdrop to be used by party leaders to celebrate their reign.”

This one clip underscores why I have paid no attention to the conventions this year. Sadly, it all is just a meaningless show. Want to see a real platform that all democrats and left of center indies could support? Check it out.

by lizard

This is how HUD (Housing an Urban Development) describes affordable housing:

The generally accepted definition of affordability is for a household to pay no more than 30 percent of its annual income on housing. Families who pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing are considered cost burdened and may have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation and medical care.

For a person on the low end of an SSI pay out, around $674 dollars, affordable housing means paying $200 dollars for rent. Does that even exist in Missoula?

In this post I linked to a NARPM report that put Missoula’s vacancy rate in the rental market at 3-5%, well below the national average of 10%. The report also indicated around half of Missoula’s households rent their homes, that’s 30,000 people, 10,000 of them being students of UM.

Right now housing is again making headlines in Missoula, but not whether it’s affordable. No, the big controversy is supposedly about the zoning of Additional Dwelling Units, but the more I follow this issue, the more I’m beginning to realize it’s not about ADU’s at all. Instead I think what this issue boils down to is what kinds of people live where.

I may be oversimplifying this, but it seems to me those who oppose ADU’s want to make sure city government retains the regulatory power to socially engineer neighborhoods to keep those trashy, irresponsible renters from destroying nice, upstanding, single family neighborhoods with their ugly couches in the alley and their un-shoveled sidewalks in the winter.

Another facet of this issue is the role of property management companies and absentee landlords.

Will relaxing zoning for ADU’s exacerbate the problem of properties that aren’t being taken care of because the people or entities that own them aren’t doing their part to maintain them? Will they attract the bad kind of renters that have apparently stigmatized the entire renting population in this town in the minds of many? Will they help address the tight rental market that desperately needs more AFFORDABLE housing?

Lots of questions, lots of uncertainty.

As a National issue, the question of housing is a big one, considering the most recent bubble to burst and ripple out global economic contagion was the US-based housing bubble. Owning a home may have sounded like the American Dream when Bush was pimping his Ownership Society, but the reality of unchecked greed—from casino banks to Americans using their homes like ATM’s—resulted in a cataclysmic economic meltdown we still haven’t recovered from.

Cue Obama.

To understand what’s been happening in the housing market since Obama took office, I’ve relied heavily on Mike Whitney, featured primarily at Counterpunch.

Today his piece was front and center: Obama’s Secret Plan to Prop Up Housing Prices.

If University District home owners think absentee landlords letting unruly college kids run amok is bad, I wonder what they would think about foreign investors getting dibs on bundles of properties for 40-60% mark downs.

But that’s not even half the story. Here’s the opening:

Private Equity firms are piling in to the housing market to take advantage of bargain basement prices on distressed inventory. The Obama administration is stealthily selling homes to big investors who are required to sign non-disclosure agreements to ensure that the public remains in the dark as to the magnitude of the giveaway. Aside from the steep discounts on the homes themselves, the government is also providing “synthetic financing to reduce the up-front capital required if they agree to form a joint venture with Fannie Mae and share proceeds from the rental or sale of properties.” (Businessweek)

In other words, US-taxpayers are providing extravagant financing for deep-pocket speculators who want to reduce their risk while maximizing their profits via additional leverage. The plan resembles Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s Public-Private Partnership Investment Program, (PPIP) which Columbia University professor Joseph Stiglitz denounced in an op-ed in the New York Times. Here’s what he said:

“The Obama administration’s $500 billion or more proposal to deal with America’s ailing banks has been described by some in the financial markets as a win-win-win proposal. Actually, it is a win-win-lose proposal: the banks win, investors win — and taxpayers lose.”

The same rule applies here. Speculators are getting lavish incentives (gov financing, low rates, and severe discounts) in secret deals to buy distressed inventory which should be available to the public at market prices. If that’s not a ripoff, then what is?

A bit further in the piece, here’s Whitney bookending a citation from Michael Olenick from Naked Capitalism:

As we have noted in previous articles, housing prices are going up for two reasons. First, because the banks are withholding their distressed inventory (delaying foreclosures) to keep prices artificially high. And, second, because of Private Equity firms are buying up the available stock of distressed homes in special “bulk sales” deals that are pushing up prices on lower-end homes. Housing analyst Michael Olenick sheds a bit of light on these secret transactions in a recent post on Naked Capitalism. Here’s a clip:

“Besides lower foreclosure activity, the government is going all out to give away houses to private equity firms. Recently Fannie Mae sold 275 properties across metro Phoenix in one sale to a mystery buyer, according to a report by Catherine Reagor of the Arizon Republic. All Fannie disclosed is the buyer is an LLC, which Fannie apparently helped create, based at 135 N. Los Robles Ave., in Pasadena, CA. Google shows that is the US address of EastWest Bank, a bank whose tagline is “Your Financial Bridge,” presumably between Asian money and Phoenix real estate. Fannie’s decision to sell Phoenix to Asian investors keeps 275 houses off the local market, which drives up prices for Phoenix homes people intend to actually live in, rather than flip. (Update: Nick Timiraos points out by e-mail that Fannie’s address in Pasadena is the same as EastWest’s, and Bloomberg has reported that Colony is the buyer. But this still raises the question of why Fannie cooperate with what appears to be an effort to hide the identity of the buyer.) (“Still Looking for a Housing Bottom”, Michael Olenick, naked capitalism)

So, why all the cloak and dagger? Why is the public being kept in the dark? And, most importantly, why are taxpayers providing financing for moneybags PE firms on discounted homes that would sell on Day 1 if they offered to the general public? This whole operation stinks to high-heaven.

It’s important to understand why this is happening: the big banks are still insolvent. LIBOR manipulation and quantitative easing and China fanning the debt clock is just life support for what is ultimately unsustainable.

Speaking of that debt clock, we are officially at 16 trillion.

At Zero Hedge, a really good question: Did the Financial Crisis Start with the End of the Gold Standard?

Lots of questions, lots of uncertainty.

And for the rest of the week, choreography.

by jhwygirl

Republicans are going to roll out former President Ron Reagan’s famous “Are you better off than you were 4 years ago,” meme.

Bring it on – it was only 4 years ago on September 26th that Republican President George W. Bush’s Treasure Secretary got down on bended knee and begged Nancy Pelosi for a $700 billion bank bailout.

I couldn’t find a picture of that, but I did find this one in the New York Times which documents current House Speaker (and GOP leader) John Boehner’s role in the $.7 trillion bailout.

So a reminder to folks – 4 years ago we were in the throes of what was the precipice of a world-wide economic collapse.

World wide.

Stuff like that doesn’t get fixed over night. Or in 4 years. Maybe if the body politik would quit lying and get to discussion real solutions instead of ideological platitudes, our economy would be healthy for everyone.

Facts, of course, are a rare things these days. Memory, it seems, is even more rare.

Addendum: For all government bailouts, check this. Under George W. Bush, in 2008, $1.615 trillion was approved for bailouts.

Right-Wing Terrorism

by lizard

It seems to me that the very real threat of right-wing terrorism continues to be downplayed by mainstream corporate media, despite claims by the right of its supposed “liberal” bias.

Maybe it’s just me, but I would assume a plot by US soldiers to bomb a park in Georgia, blow up a dam in Washington State, and assassinate the president would be getting a little more attention. From the link:

A group of four United States Army soldiers who stand accused of killing a former brother-in-arms and his girlfriend committed the crime to keep their secret militia group under wraps, prosecutors in a Georgia court said on Monday. The soldiers, who are all stationed at Georgia’s Fort Stewart, are all members of FEAR—Forever Enduring Always Ready—an armed group with ambitions that plotted domestic terror attacks and stockpiled weapons as part of an elaborate scheme to overthrow the government, prosecutors said.

And yet these guys are only being charged with murder, not terrorism-related charges, or treason. I guess they don’t have the right skin color or political ideology to be real terrorists.

Remember back in 2009, when the Department of Homeland Security distributed a threat assessment about the rise of right-wing extremism? Reactionaries on the right declared it a move by Obama’s Gestapo to intimidate his political adversaries. Yeah.

Turns out, there is a threat from right-wing extremists, and unlike scary eco-terrorists like Daniel McGowan, who did face charges of domestic terrorism for arson (and received a “terrorism enhancement” in his sentencing), right-wing terrorists actually kill people.

What is the Army doing about this particular plot to overthrow the government? This from the first link (which really should be read in full):

A military spokesman said that the Army mounted its own investigation into the killings of Roark and York, filing charges in March of this year that it then never acted on. “Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield does not have a gang or a militia problem,” Kevin Larson, a spokesman for the military base, said in a statement. He said that an Army investigation into the case does remain open, however. The four defendants stand charged in Georgia with murder, felony murder, criminal gang activity, using a firearm while committing a felony, and aggravated assault. The district attorney said that charges have not been filed so far in federal court.

Maybe we’ll be hearing more about this case. Or maybe the media is too obsessed with the dog and pony show to pay any attention to psychopaths in the Army allegedly recruiting and killing their fellow soldiers to conceal a plot to kill the president and overthrow the government.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled programming!

by lizard

I picked up a book of interviews with contemporary poets titled Range of the Possible (Eastern Washington University Press, 2002). The interviewer, Tod Marshall, from what I’ve read so far, has done an excellent job interviewing 20 different poets, all born between the years 1941-1959.

The first interview is with Kim Addonizio. The interview was done in the early fall of 2001, about a month after the 9/11 attacks. Inevitably the question of poetry and politics comes up. Here is an exchange that starts with poetry and politics, and ends up at the proliferation of M.F.A. programs:

Many writers have written about the relationship between poetry and politics. How do you understand the two to intertwine?

I feel very resistant to considering that issue right now. At this moment—a month after the WTC and Pentagon bombings—I’m too exhausted from talking and thinking about the world. And I just went to a museum exhibit on torture that threw me into complete despair about the innate evil of our species. About all I can muster right now is the belief that poetry is a force on the side of light, however practically ineffectual it may be at this time in this country. Our government for the most part doesn’t need to suppress poetry because it’s managed pretty much to marginalize it, to make both poetry and poets invisible or trivial to the average citizen. Anyway, I don’t feel I can speak with any special authority about the relationship of politics and culture. I’d rather hear from someone who has deeply studied those relationship, as I have not. One thing that struck me about the exhibit, though, was the statement, “The soul of torture is male.” I believe that. And the soul of war is male, too. Why is that so? And what can we do about it? I think a lot about our relationship to suffering and evil, and that’s one of the recurrent subjects of my work. I do think that poetry, some form of art anyway, is essential for our survival.

Many have also cast poetry as a spiritual endeavor, one counter, perhaps, to the masculine soul of torture. In a primarily secular age, how do you understand poetry’s relationship to the spiritual?

You know, before the events of September 11, I would have taken as axiomatic the idea that we were living in a secular age. Now I’d question that, given so-called Muslim terrorists, given that quite a few people in this country seem to be intoning “God Bless America” at every opportunity. Religion seems more present than ever, and a spirituality that is not particularly based on religion—or maybe is based more on Eastern religions like Buddhism—is also a part of American culture. The Psychic Friends Network is, on some level, is a manifestation of American spirituality. All that stuff: the UFO cults, the TV shows on near-death experiences. All of that speaks to some sort of belief in, or at least longing for, more than the material. So that’s one thing. It’s axiomatic, too, to say that the arts historically split off from their religious function. But it seems to me that art has always trafficked in the spiritual. It may confirm the doctrine of some religion or may transgress it, but it is interested in ultimate reality, in the sacred. Anyone who deeply practices an art form connects with that. From the outside, though, art has been secularized, commodified, trivialized. I experience the writing of poetry as a spiritual practice, and I bet any other poet would say a version of the same thing, even if he or she didn’t use the word “spiritual.”

Some critics have written disparagingly about the acaddemization of poetry—in a nutshell, since it’s been taken in by the university and subsidized, so to speak, by creative writing programs, American poetry has lost a meaningful edge, a truly radical avant-garde. What do you think about such assertions?

I don’t want an academic job, personally, but such jobs have provided a livelihood for a number of poets, and I don’t see that as necessarily a bad thing. A lot of the so-called “avant-garde” is in the universities, with tenure. I don’t see American poetry losing its edge. The thing about separating the academy from everything else is that you can’t. All sorts of people pass through universities and especially community colleges, where creative writing has also found a strong foothold as part of the curriculum; there’s been a trickle-down effect from all the M.F.A. programs. So you have at one level the critics and scholars trying to categorize everything and take it apart—which is fine if they’re the right kinds of critics and scholars, i.e. lovers of the art, who get it (and unfortunately too many of them don’t). And then you have the poets, some of whom are stifled by the academy, some of whom are trying to subvert it; and then all kinds of students being exposed to poetry, reading poetry and trying to write it, being taught often by practicing poets. There’s a great diversity in the supposed Ivory Towers of learning, I think. And beyond that, again the trickle-down effect: poetry is being taught in high schools, in elementary schools, in senior centers and prisons and battered women’s shelters. Why? Because all these creative writing programs in colleges and universities have nourished people with an interest in and passion for poetry who then take it out into the community since most of them aren’t going to get those tenure-track positions. There’s a whole climate now for poetry to be appreciated that wouldn’t exist, I think, had there not been this “academization” of poetry. Of course, there’s a lot of bad poetry being written now, possibly fueled by all that, but so what, really? There are a lot of terrible musicians in the world, but that doesn’t take anything away from the good ones. People do it because they enjoy it. If they get the chance to read great poetry, and study with poets, and try to improve, that’s a good thing. And you can’t kill the edge, anyway. You can’t kill poetry, or the impulse to art, or the imagination that is going to try to take it to places it hasn’t yet been.
 

—Kim Addonizio




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