Archive for November, 2012

Thinking The Unthinkable

by lizard

Dave Lindorff, a regular contributor to Counterpunch, offered a disturbing “what if” thought experiment today regarding climate change, titled What If America’s Leaders Actually Want Catastrophic Climate Change? Here’s how the article begins:

What if the leaders of the United States — and by leaders I mean the generals in the Pentagon, the corporate executives of the country’s largest enterprises, and the top officials in government — have secretly concluded that while world-wide climate change is indeed going to be catastrophic, the US, or more broadly speaking, North America, is fortuitously situated to come out on top in the resulting global struggle for survival?

I’m not by nature a conspiracy theorist, but this horrifying thought came to me yesterday as I batted away yet another round of ignorant rants from people who insist against all logic that climate change is a gigantic fraud being perpetrated, variously, by the oil companies (who allegedly want to benefit from carbon credit trading), the scientific community (which allegedly is collectively selling out and participating in some world-wide system of omerta in order to get grants), or the world socialist conspiracy (which of course, is trying to destroy capitalism).

What prompted me to this speculation about an American conspiracy of inaction was the seemingly incomprehensible failure of the US — in the face of overwhelming evidence that the Earth is heating up at an accelerating rate, and that we are in danger of soon reaching a point of no return where the process feeds itself — to do anything to reduce either this country’s annual production of more atmospheric CO2, or to promote some broader international agreement to slow the production of greenhouse gases.

Okay, a lot of Republicans are wacky believers in a 6000-year-old world where Adam and Eve hunted dinosaurs and god talked to Moses. But it seems equally or even more insane that people who clearly know better, like President Barack Obama, or most of the Democratic Party leadership in Congress, would resist even minimal efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions, and would directly work to undermine international efforts at reaching a rigorous treaty on global reduction of carbon emissions.

Despite the lies that spewed from Republicans about Obama’s energy policies, America is poised to overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer by 2017.

“Energy developments in the United States are profound and their effect will be felt well beyond North America – and the energy sector,” the IEA said in the annual long-term report, giving one of the most optimistic forecasts for U.S. energy production growth to date.

Yeah, optimistic. Unlike the reality of permafrost thawing, the acidification of the oceans, and the disappearance of arctic sea ice.

Personally, I avoid reading articles about climate change, because it’s incredibly depressing. I’m not surprised how many people opt to be deniers with this issue.

I am a little surprised that Dave Lindorff is willing to open himself up to the ridicule of “thinking the unthinkable” with his off-the-deep-end speculation. Here is how his piece concludes:

I realize this is conspiracy thinking, and that as such it is rather far-fetched, and yet what troubles me is that it’s hard to imagine a alternative explanation for the years of complete inaction on combating global warming, and the deliberate undermining of any sort of international accord which America has engaged in for the past decade.

Our leaders, political and corporate, may be puerile, egocentric greed-heads, but they are not stupid. They surely for the most part recognize that the Earth is heating up and heading at full speed towards ecological, social and political disaster. How else to explain, then, their astonishing unwillingness to take action?

Good question.

Obama’s Asia Pivot

by lizard

When Presidents travel, it almost always has symbolic significance. Obama’s post-election travel, even more so.

The first trip Obama embarked on after trouncing Mitt was to Thailand, Cambodia, and Myanmar—the latter a first for any US President.

“We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist,” said Obama.

Striking a cooler tone, the UN dispatch piece (from the link) put it like this:

Obama’s speech felt almost like a lecture, directed especially at Burma’s leadership. He enumerated Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, and emphasized that the USA was willing to serve as a role-model for Myanmar’s nascent democracy. His tone was professorial, almost chiding.

The deeper significance of Obama’s post-election travel is an amorphous strategic shift known as the Asia Pivot.

To risk oversimplifying geopolitics, this shift is necessitated by a big chunk of earth called China, a country that just yesterday landed its very first jet on its new aircraft carrier.

But before that mostly symbolic achievement causes you too much concern, the concluding paragraph from that link is worth considering:

The United States, Britain and Japan launched the first aircraft carriers nearly a century ago. The U.S. Navy, with 11, is the only fleet that currently operates more than one.

From the Bloomberg perspective  Obama’s Asia Pivot Depends on What He Can Deliver at Home, which I think is misleading, because the article clearly confuses “U.S. goals” with something that benefits actual U.S. people. Exhibit A:

President Obama’s trip will give him a chance to advance broad U.S. goals that predate China’s recent rise. Thailand, his first stop, has been a diplomatic partner with the U.S. for almost two centuries; its recent decision to join talks for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Obama administration’s top trade priority, will bolster established economic ties.

In Myanmar, Obama’s next stop, headlines will rightly focus on U.S. efforts to lock in progress for democracy and human rights and increase the prospects for investment. Myanmar’s opening also represents a remarkable opportunity to advance another longstanding U.S. interest: fighting hunger, as the U.S. did in the Green Revolution sown partly by the innovations of Americans such as Norman Borlaug. Myanmar was the world’s biggest exporter of rice from 1960 to 1963; today it is ninth. With improved yields, production could more than double. Emphasizing such opportunities is a good way to remind China’s more paranoid strategists that encircling China is not the only reason for U.S. presidents to hop on a plane to Asia.

This Asia Pivot has nothing to do with promoting democracy or human rights, and it doesn’t depend on what Obama can deliver at home.

This Asia Pivot has everything to do with trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which, if you haven’t heard of, please educate yourself. That Salon article is a good start.

Once you understand “US goals” is just code for corporate plundering, you will understand why a fire at a Bangladesh textile factory, killing over a hundred workers, doesn’t merit much corporate media attention.

Muhammad Shahbul Alam, 26, described flames filling two of the three stairwells of the nine-floor building – where clothes for international brands including high-street names appear to have been made — shortly after the fire alarm had been raised.

Rooms full of female workers were cut off as piles of yarn and fabric filling corridors ignited. Reports also suggested fire exits at the site had locks on, which had to be broken in order for staff to escape.

“It was 6.45pm when the fire alarm was raised. I rushed out. I heard that [grills blocking the way to] the second and third floors were locked. When I came down, I saw fire at both the stairways that the ladies used. I still have not found any trace of my sister-in-law,” Alam told the Guardian.

According to Zakir Hossain, another worker, management told their employees not to evacuate immediately.

“The office staff asked us to stay where we were, telling us not to panic. We did not listen to them and started moving out,” Hossain recalled. “A lot of people were stuck there. Some people got out climbing down the bamboo [scaffolding] tied against the building.”

Though it’s no comparison to what workers abroad endure, I urge everyone to read Mac McClelland’s Mother Jones piece about being a Warehouse Wage Slave.

The struggle for humane labor conditions is monumental.  But pivoting to that issue isn’t a part of the agenda.

Tweets In The Woods

by lizard

I was walking in the woods with my wife and kids today when we heard the explosion. And felt it. The reverberation off the hills almost sounded like secondary explosions. Thankfully my kids weren’t terrified, and we didn’t have our dogs with us, so they didn’t freak out and take off.

I wanted to know what the hell had happened, so I pulled out my goddamn/fantastic iPhone to consult the Twitter. I put out a tweet, then scanned my feed. Sure enough a few tweets from fellow Missoulians popped up.

For example, at 8:53am, @Lgpguin tweeted:

Sonic boom? Earthquake? WTH just shook Slant Street ‘hood?! Missoula

And a minute later @stacyrye tweeted:

Holy booms! Anyone else hear that huge boom that shook windows just now?

By the end of our walk in the woods, the official twitter account of the Missoulian tweeted confirmation (at 9:28am) that the explosion came from the landfill, where illegally disposed dynamite was found, then detonated.

I’m somewhat ambivalent about how quickly my goddamn/fantastic iPhone gave me the answer to the mystery of the Big Boom. But the problem isn’t the technology, it’s how we use it.

I probably checked my phone a dozen times during our “nature” walk. Allowing that intrusion of technology to pull me away from being present with my kids is just a shitty thing to do.

I delayed my leap into technology as long as I could because I knew. I used my first ridiculous iMac as basically an electronic typewriter until 2007, and I didn’t get a “smart” phone until a little over a year ago.

Now, with Twitter, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

Blogs are mostly ponds, sometimes great lakes. Twitter’s the sea. And it can be a very weird, fucked up sea, where even the Israeli assault on Gaza plays out in 140 characters.

All that said, WTF Allied Waste and Missoula County Sheriff’s department? A little heads up would have been nice.

by lizard

Maybe it’s because of the movies. We’ve seen too many apocalypse-themed films and tv series, therefore the concept has been normalized in a totally unrealistic, sanitized manner, making it easier for some to actually cheer an impending, real world collapse.

We saw this phenomena manifest as the millennium approached and Y2K anxiety increased. Would the doomsday declarers finally be validated? Would civilization as we know it come to an end? And when it comes down to survival, what are the real limitations of duct tape?

This CNN tech story, written a week before the 9’s flipped to 0’s, first debunks the doomsday predictions, then comments on why the cultural fervor around Y2K is fascinating:

As a technology story, Ive always found the Y2K computer bug to be a real yawner. No doubt its been a major issue for many computer systems administrators, and an expensive diversion for computerdependent institutions of all stripes. But computers have all kinds of problems all the time, and those samesaid institutions have large staff and budgets dedicated to keeping the machines running. Ive never understood why we would expect this one problem to remain untended, and thus wreak havoc.

As a cultural story, though, the Y2K computer bug is fascinating indeed. Its the perfect proxy for our fears about the future, a vivid symbol of how the world weve made has spun out of control. A lot of people with a bit of Luddite in them are hoping the computers will go down. So are followers of millennialist religions. Its truly a story line for the ages Modern society doomed by its own tooclever creations Pack the food and the guns and head for the hills The suspense about what might happen when the date clicks over to 01012000 is now oddly bound up with what might happen to the economy. The end of the century, against all odds, has coincided with one of the greatest periods of economic expansion in history. Especially for those at or near the top of the socioeconomic food chain, times could hardly be better.

Twelve years after Y2K’s great fizzle, a new apocalypse bubble has inflated and will burst in less than a month, leaving behind the same residue of disappointment for those who want to see a global disruption of business as usual.

And for apocalypse-peddlers, that’s what they are banking on: sucker-consumers willing to purchase a glimpse of disaster before it happens.

Mayan descendants, though, are pissed off that their spiritual/cultural intellectual property is being exploited for profit by the Guatemalan government:

The ‘golden age’ of the Mayan civilization may have occurred over 1,000 years ago, but more than half the population of the Central American nation of Guatemala are of Mayan descent and many still celebrate ancient customs. So, as we approach Dec. 21, 2012, it’s little wonder they’re pissed that one of their calendars has been hijacked and misinterpreted as a prophet of doom.

But this time, the anger isn’t directed at the West’s “messianic thinking,” Maya leaders have accused the Guatemalan government of perpetuating the myth that the Mayan Long Count calendar predicts the end of the world for financial gain.

“We are speaking out against deceit, lies and twisting of the truth, and turning us into folklore-for-profit. They are not telling the truth about time cycles,” Felipe Gomez, leader of the Maya alliance Oxlaljuj Ajpop, told the AFP news agency.

So with all this in mind, I went to my shelves to find a book titled The Destruction of the Jaguar: Poems from the Books of Chilam Balam (City Lights, 1987).

This book is an artistic translation (by Christopher Sawyer-Laucanno) of the books of Chilam Balam, a collection of fragmented Mayan writing that has survived the cultural genocide of the Spanish colonizers.

The translated verses are bookended by two excerpts from the Spanish Chronicles of Bishop Diego de Landa, a brutal example of how some Christians sought to subjugate the New World:

Spanish Franciscan friar and the second Bishop of the Yucatan Diego de Landa is best remembered today for two things: his classic account of the pre-Columbian customs, language, astrology, and writing of the Mayas, and his brutal attempts to convert them to Christianity.

Landa was one of the many priests in the 16th century who responded to the Spanish Crown’s call to bring Christianity to the people of the New World. While some friars like Bartolomé de Las Casas worked compassionately with and for the indigenous people, others like Landa resorted to torture and the destruction of native icons, temples, and writings.

Below the fold are two selections; a translated excerpt from the Books of Chilam Balam, and a translated excerpt from the Bishop Diego de Landa. Continue Reading »

Thanks Giving

by lizard

It’s holiday time, so be kind, and be careful. Tis the season to be stressed out, and with stress comes all kinds of inadequate coping strategies, like binge drinking.

Ask anyone who works in the ER, or in law enforcement, or in social services about what this time of year produces. Be thankful they work the jobs they do, especially during the holidays, when people really lose their shit.

When I think about it, I have a lot to be thankful for.

Usually I don’t think about things to be thankful for. That’s because I spend too much time and energy staring at goddamn screens, watching horrors unfold.

But I have a lot to be thankful for, friends and family first and foremost. And I’m thankful for this virtual venue, which allows me to share my opinions and poetics.

I’m also thankful for any kind of ceasefire, no matter how tenuous or ultimately politically strangled the situation remains.

Lots to be thankful for, like this song from Vetiver, called You May Be Blue. Enjoy!

Saturday Night Mash-Up

by lizard

When Montana blogger Dave Budge isn’t bashing labor for killing Twinkie jobs, he’s making cheese, and anyone interested in his cheesy knowledge can attend a class at the Missoula Food Co-op on Nov. 27th from 6:00pm – 8:00pm for an introduction to cheese making.

Cheese pairs nicely with wine, or so I’ve heard, and I’m going to try and make that a smooth segue to a wonderful musical pairing that popped up on my twitter feed today.

Musical mash-ups are nothing new. One of the more well known efforts is Danger Mouse’s controversial mashing of Jay-Z and the Beatles, producing the Grey Album.

Pulling off what Danger Mouse does takes chops.

The musical pairing I urge you to watch is not edited to fit perfectly together, it just does. The culture of what’s buzzing says so:

In his review of the Miles Davis-written score to the 1958 film Elevator to the Gallows, critic Phil Johnson called it “the loneliest trumpet sound you will ever hear, and the model for sad-core music ever since. Hear it and weep.” Replace “trumpet” with “piano,” and the same description could work for LCD Soundsystem’s “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down.” Especially when you remember that it’s the last song the band performed.

So without further delay, here it is: LCD Soundsystem’s New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down with Miles Davis’ Elevator to the Gallows:

by lizard

Before Pillar of Defense, the working name for this round of IDF killing was Pillar of Cloud, a phrase with deep theological resonance.

We can only guess why the name was changed.

This week, two poems. The first poem, written by Kathy Engel, comes from a collection titled Poets for Palestine, edited by Remi Kanazi. The second poem comes from me, written today, after I was given a strange line by my old iMac computer last night: rejoice the orbit voice. Enjoy! Continue Reading »

Pillars Of Lies

by lizard

As Israel mobilizes up to 75,000 reservists for Pillars of Defense, we are sure to hear all about rockets hitting Tel Aviv and nearly hitting Jerusalem for the first time in decades.

What many in the US won’t hear is who actually started this latest round of violence.

As in every vicious military offensive Israel carries out in Gaza, the dominant narrative is that it is a response to rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel. This is how it’s being reported in the US, and this is how virtually every American understands it.

And it’s a lie.

It’s true that on Saturday, prior to the expanded Israeli bombardment, the military wing of the Popular Front For the Liberation of Palestine shot an anti-tank missile at an Israeli Defense Forces vehicle near the Gaza border, wounding four Israeli soldiers. But what prompted the firing of the anti-tank missile?

First, on Monday, November 5th, Israeli forces shot and killed 23 year old Ahmad Nabhani when he “approached the border fence with Israel.” According to at least one account, Nabhani was mentally challenged.

Then, on Thursday, November 8th, the Israeli Occupation Forces – eight tanks and four bulldozers, to be exact – invaded southern Gaza, shooting and killing a 13-year old boy.

This is the pattern, and western media, especially in America, are complicit in building the false narrative of unprovoked attacks against Israel from militants.

But it gets worse.

One of Israel’s air strikes successfully assassinated Ahmed Jaabari, a commander of a military arm of Hamas. While this man may be framed as a terrorist now, there are calmer voices providing the context that Jaabari was an effective enforcer of a ceasefire that had been largely successful. And the day he was killed, a deal to extend that ceasefire was circulating. Gershon Baskin from the Daily Beast:

Yesterday morning, hours before Israel assassinated Ahmed Jaabari, my counterpart in Hamas presented the draft to Jaabari and to other Hamas leaders. Senior Hamas leaders on the outside had already seen it and had instructed him to check the reactions to it in Gaza. I was supposed to receive the draft yesterday evening to present to Israeli officials who were waiting for me to send it to them.

That option is now off the table. Jaabari is dead and so is the chance for a mutually beneficial long term ceasefire understanding. Why did Benjamin Netanyahu do it? The cynical answer already offered by Aluf Benn in Haaretz is elections consideration. Cast Lead was also conducted before elections. Hitting Jaabari, according to Netanyahu’s thinking, would help him in the upcoming Israeli elections. Perhaps this is true, perhaps not.

It seems to me that some of the commanders of the Israeli army have been very frustrated that the previous agreements to return to calm left Israel in a weaker position, with Hamas calling the shots. They have been calling to rebuild Israel’s deterrence. Let them in Gaza feel the pain of a serious Israeli attack and then they will think seven times before shooting more rockets, is what they proposed. In the last days there has been a lot of talk from politicians, military experts and officers to return to the policy of “targeted killings.” This, they claim, would make the Hamas leaders hide for their lives and stop shooting at us. These military geniuses failed to realize that what never worked in the past will not work now either.

Now millions of Israelis and Palestinians are living under the terror of attack. Many more Gazans will be killed than Israelis, but is this a worthy achievement that we can be proud of and that will guarantee our long term security? I don’t think so.

This escalating attack on Gaza also derails any chance for diplomatic talks between the US and Iran, especially considering the deep rocket strikes are being made possible by the use of Iranian hardware.

What’s not to like for Netanyahu? With help from America, this attack may even help to stall the Palestinian bid for non-member statehood at the UN, though this Washington Post article from 3 days ago reports that bid is still moving forward to the November 29th vote.

Though there are some similarities between Pillars of Defense and Cast Lead, this brutal attack on Gaza is happening in a region still going through significant changes. How is Morsi going to navigate this crisis, for example?

The whole region has suffered beyond imagination. When will it ever stop?

by lizard

The last time Israel named the slaughtering of Palestinians with a fancy name, it was Operation Cast Lead.

That ugly atrocity began two days after Christmas, on December 27th, 2008, and ended just two days before Obama’s first inauguration, on January 18th, 2009. Between 1,100 and 1,500 hundred Palestinians were killed in the siege.

I’m sure it has nothing to do with elections in Israel, but it does appear the time has come for another named military operation with cool American jets (for the killing), and that name is apparently Operation Pillar of Defense. No, really.

And if Israel gets any flak about their methods, like they did about using white phosphorous, well, they’ve got America to back them up on the UN’s Human Rights Council for three more years.

Here is some of what Susan Rice said from the link:

“The United States is clearly of the view that the Human Rights Council clearly has its flaws … including its excessive focus on Israel, but it is also a body that is increasingly proving its value and we’ve been proud to contribute to some of what we think are some of the finer moments of the Human Rights Council it’s approach to Syria, it’s approach to Sudan, it’s approach to the situation in Libya with the commission of inquiry.”

(my emphasis added)

Susan Rice is getting heat right now for being floated for Secretary of State. That heat is coming from angry men from the right, saying stuff like she’s “not too bright”.

I would be concerned, just from Rice’s quote, how dedicated (or indebted) to AIPAC she may be.

Not everyone may agree, but I think that’s a legitimate question.

Which brings me to the most ridiculous thing I’ve read all week: Jane Harman considered for CIA Director.

CNN, Politico, and others have all listed former Congresswoman Jane Harman as a potential new CIA head. Oddly, however, none have mentioned reports in 2006 and again in 2009 that an NSA wiretap in 2005 had picked up Harman promising a suspected Israeli agent that she would aid people indicted for espionage on behalf of Israel.

According to reports, Harman allegedly told the Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage-related charges against two top officials for the powerful Israel lobby organization, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

In return, the suspected Israeli agent (who may have been a dual-citizen American) reportedly pledged to help lobby for Harman to become chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Harman was already the ranking Democrat on the committee.

At the end of the conversation, Harman reportedly said: “This conversation doesn’t exist.”

I don’t think Jane Harman has a chance for the appointment, but I find it kind of disturbing that she’s even being considered.

But she is being considered because, behind the scenes, there is always the constant need to appease Israel.

I don’t know how eager Obama is to be the appeaser for Israel; he’s certainly not as eager as Romney would have been, and that’s a good thing.

Taking it back to Petraeus again, I ran across this tidbit from a piece at consortium news. I think it highlights another possible motivating factor behind Obama’s quick acceptance of Petraeus’ resignation:

One person familiar with the Obama administration’s thinking said President Obama was never close to Petraeus, who was viewed as a favorite of the neoconservatives and someone who had undercut a possible solution to Iran’s nuclear program in 2011 by pushing a bizarre claim that Iranian intelligence was behind an assassination plot aimed at the Saudi ambassador to Washington.

As that case initially evolved, the White House and Justice Department were skeptical that the plot traced back to the Iranian government, but Petraeus pushed the alleged connection which was then made public in a high-profile indictment. The charges further strained relations with Iran, making a possible military confrontation more likely.

Regardless why Petraeus resigned, I think it’s a good thing he is no longer heading up the CIA. Who knows how compromised Petraeus had become to interests that didn’t necessarily align with American interests.

by lizard

When Petraeus resigned last Friday, allegedly because of an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, I knew there was more to the story.

Since Friday, the scandal has spiraled into a soap opera, with feuding mistresses, feuding intelligence agencies, and a baffled press corps struggling to sift through the drama for context. Why did Petraeus really resign?

For those capable of resisting the cover story of juicy infidelity, there is something more significant going on here, and the first clue came from Paula Broadwell herself. Here’s the video (and although she’s being accused of spilling secrets, this sensitive info can also be found in this Foxnews report):

The important takeaway from this video is that the CIA annex (which is a separate facility from the consulate) was holding captured Libyan militia members, and that the attack may have been an attempt to get them back.

Why is this important?

For the answer, we have to go back to January, 2009, when President Obama issued Executive Order 13491, effectively banning the CIA from the business of running prisons.

If the CIA is still involved in the business of imprisonment, in defiance of an executive order, and that business blew up in their face in Benghazi, leading to an Obama administration coverup to keep this from coming out before the election, then a congressional investigation may turn up more stuff.

Petraeus seems to be trying to use his resignation to avoid testifying before congress about what he knew about the events leading up to the consulate attack in Benghazi. That won’t work, and more information about this story may eventually come out.

Personally, I don’t need any more information to come to the conclusion that the CIA is still out of control, and operating in ways that certainly doesn’t make us, in this country, any safer.

Whether it’s black hole prisons or directing drone strikes, I hope we learn more, and I hope it’s bad enough to pressure Obama to do something significant to stop the sadistic sociopaths in the CIA from acting like a paramilitary death squad abroad.

by lizard

Advocates for free markets and limited government seem to turn politically schizophrenic when it comes to cannabis prohibition in Montana.

A majority of Montanans appeared to let fear and ignorance motivate their vote for I-124, which keeps in place the stupid, reactionary legislative disaster known as SB 423 from last years legislative session.

How bad is it? This bad:

SB 423 is not medical marijuana regulation, as supporters of this bill would like you to believe. SB 423 makes no mention of medical marijuana; the program is now called the Montana Marijuana Program. Participants in this program are no longer called patients, but “registered card holders.”

SB 423 has no state oversight, meaning that production and distribution of marijuana for medical purposes is not regulated or overseen by any state department, agency or regulatory committee. The Department of Health and Human Services simply issues cards and sets administrative rules and fees. It does not oversee any regulatory aspect of the program. In fact, SB 423 even bans labs and testing facilities, allowing no testing or any type of quality control.

After the governor vetoed a full repeal bill, SB 423 was thrown together in the last few weeks of the legislative session. The goal, to come as close to eliminating the program as the Legislature could get. SB 423 punishes and penalizes those who try to participate.

SB 423 limits providers, formerly called caregivers, to two patients and does not allow them to be compensated in any way. They must grow and give away their product for free. SB423 actually creates a widely distributed system of production (lots of small growers) and eliminates all professional organizations that could actually be subject to strict regulations. Basically this is a “hippy system” of unregulated masses growing their own, as opposed to any kind of controlled regulatory system.

SB 423 allows for warrantless searches of any place marijuana is grown, including private residences. This is a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article II, Section 11, of the Montana Constitution. It also bans all forms of advertising, a clear violation of the freedom of speech.

It mandates all participants in the program be disclosed to law enforcement. Cardholders who are pulled over by law enforcement can be forced to submit a blood sample, simply because they participate in the program.

SB423 interferes with the Doctor / Patient relationship by forcing doctors to limit their recommendations for medical marijuana to 25 patients per year, or face a costly investigation by the medical board of examiners.

SB 423 will leave well over 5,400 current cardholders without a provider. If these cardholders cannot grow their own medicine, (and many people cannot grow for themselves for numerous reasons), they will no longer be able to participate in the program and forced to give up their card.

Eclipsing local bad news for advocates working to address the idiotic war against a plant is the great news that came from Colorado and Washington voters, who legalized possession of the federally designated schedule I drug. But don’t break out the bowls or spark those joints yet. The big question now is how will Obama’s Department of Justice react?

There are those who hope an Obama administration, unconstrained by the need to campaign for reelection, will become suddenly more progressive on the hardline positions that made political advocacy for party loyalists so challenging to sell.

The work to counter the authoritarian creep (that will continue under Obama) must begin in earnest now, on many fronts. Some local efforts have not been effective at all, like Missoula’s Marijuana Committee, which is disbanding because their efforts were negated by state law, at the request of Fred Van Valkenburg.

The Montana Legislature’s House Bill 391 essentially undid Missoula’s Initiative 2.

In fact, Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg requested the 2011 legislation because he couldn’t enforce state law and carry out the local initiative simultaneously; the 2011 law says the power of initiative does not extend to “the prioritization of the enforcement of any state law by a unit of local government.”

Once the law was on the books, it made sense for the commissioners to request the committee disband, said Commissioner Michele Landquist..

Thanks Fred!

Meanwhile, prescription pills are killing more people than cocaine and heroin combined. Legally prescribed methods of pain management with narcotics is fueling an actual drug epidemic that could probably use some more resources toward managing.

30,000 cardholders, including some who cited chronic pain as their reason for choosing medical cannabis, were successfully framed by prohibitionists as participating in an out-of-control weed-toking free-for-all. They were aided, IMHO, by media sources like the Missoulian, who obsessed over the psychotic antics of Jason Christ, and ran stories like this.

For those of us who understand cannabis prohibition is cruel and ultimately not enforceable, gains continue to be made. Colorado and Washington have made two big strides in the right direction.

President Obama, now thinking about his legacy, can recognize that momentum, and adapt, or he can continue using the power of the Federal government to seize property and destroy people’s lives.

by lizard

This morning I pulled Sheryl Noethe’s book of poems, As Is, from my shelves. Noethe is Montana’s poet laureate, because she damn well deserves to be.

I kid you not, the poem I opened the book to begins with the line Working at the Homeless Shelter. Sometimes that’s just how it happens. Enjoy the poem. Continue Reading »

by lizard

This weekend, the cold arrives, which makes this a good time to remind local readers that people on the economic margins of our community don’t always have the security of somewhere warm to sleep.

Last month, Missoula’s 10 year plan to end homelessness opened up for public comment. It’s worth taking the time to read. I’ve been very encouraged, following this process, to see what’s being shaped.

After reading the 40+ pages, one of the big takeaways is the need to focus more resources on prevention.

But what does that actually mean?

It might help to understand how precarious housing can be. It can range from couch surfing to weekly motels; car sleeping to a sleeping bag beneath a tarp, beneath a bridge.

What all those options have in common is a vulnerability to loss, which was highlighted yesterday by this letter published in the Missoulian. The letter describes a homeless veteran getting kicked out of his motel room for the Griz/Cat game. Read it below the fold.

Why can’t we do better than this? Continue Reading »

by Jay Stevens

Hey, everybody! I thought I’d drop in and say hello and give shouts out to old friends that did well in their election bids yesterday. Jhwygirl and I chatted on the phone the other day, and she said I should post every once in a while, and why the heck not? I miss Montana politics and the hubub of election day in Missoula.

So, anyhoo. Congrats go out to Jon Tester and Steve Bullock, who won very close and extremely important races. Congrats, too, to Linda McCulloch for destroying Brad Johnson, again. (Who will ever forget Johnson botching the 2006 election? Not Montana, apparently.) And to Monica Lindeen in defeating the reality-challenged Derek Skees. (Who won 46 percent of the vote?) Tim Fox‘ win in the attorney general race, and the nearly neck-and-neck OPI race should remind us how nuts and frustrating Montana election results can be. Do folks really like Fox’ dirty politicking? And why would anyone support Juneau’s excellence in public office with a vote for Welch? (Please speculate freely in the comments!)

Congrats, too, to old friends JP Pomnichowski, Bryce Bennett, and Ellie Hill for winning their races. And my sympathies for Richard Turner — a great guy and good friend who deserves a seat in Helena, even if his neighbors don’t see it. I wish someone had written more about the state races this year — I used to do it, and enjoyed it. Anybody want to analyze this year’s results?

What I really came here to talk about, though — me and everyone else, apparently — is Nate Silver. Yes, we all know about the punditry backlash, the dust-up with Joe Scarborough, and the fact that Silver nailed it. (I’m with Conor Friedersdorf: I trust Silver more because of the bet.) Okay, Silver might have destroyed punditry (um, no), but he’s not perfect: He muffed Montana.

Read it again: Nate Silver got Montana’s US Senate race wrong. 

Actually, he missed it by quite a bit. Silver projected that Dennis Rehberg would win the race, 49.9 percent to 48.4. Tester, according to the unofficial results, won 48.5 percent to 44.9. That’s a swing from a +1.5 Rehberg win to a -3.6 Rehberg loss, over five percentage points off from his projection. The odd thing is that recent polls showed Tester with a small lead — even Rasmussen, which tended to overestimate Republican support. How did Silver interpret those results with a “lean Republican” projection?

The big factor in his analysis was an adjustment he called “state fundamentals,” which, according to the blog, is “an alternative forecast of the outcome that avoids polls and instead looks at the partisan environment of a state, public fundraising totals, statistical measures of left-right ideology and candidate quality, and other quantifiable factors.” According to that measure, Rehberg had a 50.7 to 42.2 percent lead. 

That was egregiously wrong.

Why? For starters — and I’d need to check other states’ election results over the years to confirm this — Montana is notorious for splitting its ballots. Montana’s perfectly comfortable, for example, in voting for a Republican president, whisking in Democrats to all the statewide seats, and increasing the number of seats Republicans hold in the state legislature — all in the same election, which happened in 2008. This year, Montanans went for a Republican president, Democratic governor, and Democratic Senator, while dividing the statewide seats.

For another, Silver apparently didn’t calculate the effect of a third-party candidate. This election Libertarian Dan Cox won a whopping 29,979 votes, good for 6.52 percent of the vote, which is nearly double Tester’s margin of victory. That’s reminiscent of 2006, when Libertarian Stan Jones’ vote haul (10,377) was more than Tester’s margin of victory over Conrad Burns (~3,500). Tester, after all, won a smaller percentage of the electorate in 2012 than he did in 2006. It’s just that Montanans apparently dislike Dennis Rehberg even more than they did Conrad Burns — after his disgrace for his involvement in the Abramoff corruption scandals.

Either way, Silver’s election projection model is good, but it ain’t perfect.

Political Postmortem

by lizard

There wasn’t much of a battle in the battle ground states last night, leading Obama to an early, decisive victory over Mitt Romney.

The highlight of the night for me was watching Karl Rove throw a tantrum over Fox’s decision to call Ohio for Obama, bullying Megyn Kelly to march down to the numbers room where she talked to the numbers guys.

Was he hoping the machines would still deliver his desired results?

Now the postmortem is on, and the big question is whether or not the GOP will be capable of adapting to the demographic trends that make this election cycle the last one where a 50 state Southern strategy is even feasible.

I don’t think all the angry conservative xenophobes, homophobes, misogynists, and nullifying nutjobs will figure out how irrelevant they are making the GOP until they get a few more lessons in the demographic realities of politics in America.

Here’s the first lesson they should be wrapping their heads around today: lies, unlimited cash, hate, and suppression was not enough to oust the Kenyan Socialist from the White House. Their GOP playbook is broken. Good riddance.

So Goes Ohio…

by lizard

Forget polls and the statistical wizardry of Nate Silver. Forget early voting, turning out the base, and the impact of super storm Sandy. Forget the fights over voter suppression and campaign spending.

Because none of it will matter if Ohio is about to get hijacked by the GOP.

Here’s how Brad Friedman’s piece begins:

Last week, Bob Fitrakis and Gerry Bello at reported an important story concerning what they described as “uncertified ‘experimental’ software patches” being installed at the last minute on electronic vote tabulation systems in 39 Ohio counties.

The story included a copy of the contract [PDF] between Republican Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s office and ES&S, the nation’s largest e-voting system manufacturer, for a new, last-minute piece of software created to the custom specifications of the secretary of state. The contract itself describes the software as “High-level enhancements to ES&S’ election reporting software that extend beyond the current features and functionality of the software to facilitate a custom-developed State Election Results Reporting File.”

A subsequent story at the Free Press the following day included text said to be from a Nov. 1 memo sent from the Ohio secretary of state’s Election Counsel Brandi Laser Seske to a number of state election officials confirming the use of the new, uncertified software on Ohio’s tabulator systems. The memo claims that “its function is to aid in the reporting of results” by converting them “into a format that can be read by the Secretary of State’s election night reporting system.”

Um…aid? Aid who?

Hopefully the conspiracy theory smear will be enough if tomorrow Ohio breaks inexplicably for Mitt.

Regardless who carries Ohio, no organization or company should be able to make software changes right before an election. This should be taken seriously. Tomorrow’s election may hinge on compromised machines, and I’m not talking about Mitt Romney.

Moral Arithmetic

by lizard

While America is absorbed with anointing our next chief executive, I offer a clip from a discussion about Syria. In this clip, two Syrian women talk about the Islamic extremists who are trying to topple their country’s regime.

The second woman who speaks is known as “Syrian girl” and she has become a very vocal advocate for the counter-narrative to the Syrian crisis—that extremists (supported by the CIA) including elements of Al-Qaeda, are themselves committing atrocities against civilians, and if Assad falls, it’s going to be those Islamic extremists who will more than likely fill the vacuum of power.

Last week, a young veteran knocked on my door. He was an Afghanistan vet against the war, and he was knocking doors for Jon Tester. When he asked me what issues I’m most concerned about, I said foreign policy. He seemed surprised, and said he was glad to hear that, because it’s not an issue that seems to be high on the list for many Americans.

I think Americans have trouble examining US foreign policy because the cognitive dissonance lurking beneath the surface is disorienting.

During my brief conversation with this young veteran, neither of us had any illusions about how dangerous US foreign policy had become. The same brand of terrorists we’ve spent trillions of dollars fighting in Afghanistan and blowing up in places like Yemen and Somalia are being materially supported in places like Syria. It’s insane.

And the insanity will continue, no matter who gets elected.

It’s not very popular among partisans to point out where our two political parties overlap, but when it comes to foreign policy, that overlap is significant, as shown in the foreign policy debate, where Mitt Romney essentially regurgitated Obama’s policy positions.

If you follow the link above, you will find a popular Montana partisan using this quote from Jen Sorensen at Daily Kos to marginalize critics like me:

I find that people who spew the platitude that “the candidates are the same” tend to be the ones who have the least to lose if the wrong candidate is elected. At risk of sounding melodramatic, these elections truly are a matter of life and death. If you end the Affordable Care Act and millions of Americans lose their health insurance, people will die as a result. A recent estimate puts the number at 26,000 deaths per year due to lack of insurance; that’s more than a few September 11ths. Then there’s the Global Gag Rule, which Romney would reinstate. It rarely gets mentioned, but this policy wreaks havoc on women in impoverished nations. Romney would also end contributions to the U.N. Population Fund, which combats the spread of HIV and prevents 22,000 deaths annually.

Click on Sorensen’s name and you can see a literally comic comparison of Romney and Obama, with a column of Obama “at his worst” alongside a column of Romney “at his best.” Here’s one example:

Obama at his worst: continuing the drone strikes.
Romney at his best: might refrain from nuking Iran.

At the end of Sorensen’s snide post, she says this:

Obama isn’t perfect, but as far as I’m concerned, voting is a moral arithmetic problem with a clear answer.

I wonder if Jen Sorensen’s moral arithmetic includes Robert Gibbs’ justification for one of those drone strikes killing a US teenager.

Here is the key exchange:

ADAMSON: …It’s an American citizen that is being targeted without due process, without trial. And, he’s underage. He’s a minor.

GIBBS: I would suggest that you should have a far more responsible father if they are truly concerned about the well being of their children. I don’t think becoming an al Qaeda jihadist terrorist is the best way to go about doing your business.

I fail to see how anyone’s moral arithmetic could possibly include the targeted assassination of a 16 year old boy because his Dad (also a US citizen, and also assassinated via drone strike) was declared irresponsible in how he conducted his jihadist business, the same business the Obama administration is itself conducting in Syria.

As far as I know, the Obama administration has not refuted or condemned Gibbs’ statement regarding its killing of a US teenager.

As a father himself, I hope president Obama can see how the arithmetic of killing a kid because of the alleged crimes of his father is absolutely morally reprehensible, and for the safety of his own daughters, Obama should emphatically condemn Robert Gibbs indefensible justification.

Jen Sorensen is right about one thing: these elections truly are a matter of life and death. But the lesser evil arithmetic means that some deaths are more important than others, and for a 16 year old American citizen (and the constitution that is suppose to protect him), his death doesn’t count as much as Americans dying because our health care system is broken.

by lizard

Inspired by bad lip reading this morning, I’ve been thinking about the absurd. More specifically, I’ve been wondering if the absurd helps keep language agile, healthy even. Much of our language is diseased. Can the absurd provide insight into our national spectacle?

Below the fold, I offer my poetic riff on the above clip, and a poem by Michael Robbins, a very weird poet who successfully pulls off using pop culture in his book of poems, ALIEN VS PREDATOR.

This last weekend before AMERICA CHOOSES! let the absurd make a little bunker for your heart. Enjoy!

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