Archive for December, 2012

by lizard

We may not make any best-of lists here at 4&20 Blackbirds, but it’s still an immense pleasure for me to express my opinions and share poems with the readers who stop by. Thank you.

This has been a tough year on many levels. I hope the poems I feature offer a bit of balance to the consistently critical political posts I write, though admittedly much of the poetry I select isn’t necessarily about butterflies and sunshine.

In that vein, my final post of 2012 features a poem by Joy Harjo, from her book She Had Some Horses (Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1983). Enjoy, and be safe. Continue Reading »

by lizard

Congress seems incapable of accomplishing anything, but when it comes to dismantling the citizenry’s civil liberties, Congress puts aside the play-acting of venomous partisanship to empower the federal government to invade our lives.

And lest we forget, back in 2008, it was Obama’s “evolving” FISA position that gave one of the first indications that Obama was just another deceitful politician willing to say one thing, then turn around and do the opposite. The link is to Greenwald’s piece, and it opens like this:

To this day, many people identify mid-2008 as the time they realized what type of politician Barack Obama actually is. Six months before, when seeking the Democratic nomination, then-Sen. Obama unambiguously vowed that he would filibuster “any bill” that retroactively immunized the telecom industry for having participated in the illegal Bush NSA warrantless eavesdropping program.

But in July 2008, once he had secured the nomination, a bill came before the Senate that did exactly that – the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 – and Obama not only failed to filibuster as promised, but far worse, he voted against the filibuster brought by other Senators, and then voted in favor of enacting the bill itself. That blatant, unblinking violation of his own clear promise – actively supporting a bill he had sworn months earlier he would block from a vote – caused a serious rift even in the middle of an election year between Obama and his own supporters.

Democrats have proven themselves worthless when it comes to standing up to the continued assault on civil liberties, so it shouldn’t have surprised anyone who pays attention when Diane Feinstein led the attack on three modest amendments that put a few meager safeguards in place. Here is how Greenwald describes what went down (read the whole article for descriptions of the amendments):

The Democratic Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, took the lead in attacking Wyden, Merkley, Udall and Paul with the most foul Cheneyite accusations, and demanded renewal of the FISA law without any reforms. And then predictably, in virtually identical 37-54 votes, Feinstein and her conservative-Democratic comrades joined with virtually the entire GOP caucus (except for three Senators: Paul, Mike Lee and Dean Heller) to reject each one of the proposed amendments and thus give Obama exactly what he demanded: reform-free renewal of the law (while a few Democratic Senators have displayed genuine, sustained commitment to these issues, most Democrats who voted against FISA renewal yesterday did so symbolically and half-heartedly, knowing and not caring that they would lose as evidenced by the lack of an attempted filibuster).

In other words, Obama successfully relied on Senate Republicans (the ones his supporters depict as the Root of All Evil) along with a dozen of the most militaristic Democrats to ensure that he can continue to eavesdrop on Americans without any warrants, transparency or real oversight. That’s the standard coalition that has spent the last four years extending Bush/Cheney theories, eroding core liberties and entrenching endless militarism: Obama + the GOP caucus + Feinstein-type Democrats. As Michelle Richardson, the ACLU’s legislative counsel, put it to the Huffington Post: “I bet [Bush] is laughing his ass off.”

The ever-expanding power of the federal government to invade our lives is one reason I cringe at the potential results of the clamor for gun control. There is already so much surveillance and profiling going on, adding more layers of suppression doesn’t seem like something that would be used to actually keep average people safe from average gun violence, which we seem to be suddenly realizing happens every day in America, like 6 different people getting shot over a 24 hour period in Newark.

Before new legislation is considered, it might be important to ask why existing safety measures, like a federal database already in place is not being utilized:

A federal database with the names of mentally ill people barred from buying guns still lacks millions of records it needs to be effective. A new report from Mayors Against Illegal Guns points to gaps in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

The problem is that 14 years after NICS was put in place, states still aren’t submitting all the required mental health records.

“I think that those states are doing a disservice to their citizens,” says Lori Haas, whose daughter Emily was injured in the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting. “They’re not doing what they can to protect public safety and to keep firearms out of the hands of potentially dangerous people.”

The problem may be one of prioritizing threat assessments correctly. While the systems in place to track people who shouldn’t have guns atrophies, new systems of local/state/federal integration are flourishing, as exemplified by the collaborative crackdown on Occupy Wall Street, brought to you by FOIA and alternative media like Democracy Now:

Juan González: We begin with a look at newly revealed documents that show the FBI monitored the Occupy Wall Street movement from its earliest days last year. Internal government records show Occupy was treated as a potential terrorism threat when organizing first began in August of 2011. Counterterrorism agents were used to track Occupy activities despite the internal acknowledgment that the movement opposed violent tactics. The monitoring expanded across the country as Occupy grew into a national movement, with FBI agents sharing information with businesses, local police agencies and universities. One FBI memo warned that Occupy could prove to be an “outlet” through which activists could exploit “general government dissatisfaction.” Although the documents provide no clear evidence of government infiltration, they do suggest the FBI used information from local law enforcement agencies gathered by someone observing Occupy activists on the ground.

So, just to be clear: actual militants who employ terrorism as a tactic in places like Syria get US government support, while a hodge-podge of domestic activists who gathered together in various encampments get the integrated jackboot from the US police state.

More from the link:

AMY GOODMAN: The heavily redacted FBI records were obtained by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund through a Freedom of Information Act request. We invited the FBI to join us on the program to discuss the latest revelations, but they declined. Instead, spokesperson Paul Bresson issued a written statement saying, quote, “The FBI cautions against drawing conclusions from redacted FOIA documents.” He also said, quote, “It is law enforcement’s duty to use all lawful tools to protect their communities.”

Well, for more, we’re joined by Mara Verheyden-Hilliard. She’s executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, which obtained the documents showing how the FBI monitored Occupy Wall Street, joining us now from Washington, D.C.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Mara. Tell us what you found. We’ve got time. Tell us what you found in these documents.

MARA VERHEYDEN-HILLIARD: Well, the documents, as you stated, show that the FBI and American intelligence agencies were monitoring and reporting on Occupy Wall Street before the first tent even went up in Zuccotti Park. The documents that we have been able to obtain show the FBI communicating with the New York Stock Exchange in August of 2011 about the upcoming Occupy demonstrations, about plans for the protests. It shows them meeting with or communicating with private businesses. And throughout the materials, there is repeated evidence of the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, American intelligence agencies really working as a private intelligence arm for corporations, for Wall Street, for the banks, for the very entities that people were rising up to protest against.

If that ain’t corporate/state fascism, then I don’t know what is.

Anyway, while Congress tries to figure out how badly regular Americans are going to get fucked by the fiscal fist, their “progress” with FISA is getting predictably buried by corporate media, along with the cointelpro 2.0 mobilized against Occupy Wall Street (read Kevin Gosztola’s deconstruction of an AP story to understand the mechanics of manipulation)

My prediction for 2013: drones over the homeland.

God bless America!

Where’s Johnny Gosch

by lizard

Johnny Gosch was 12 years old when he was presumably kidnapped in Des Moines, Iowa on September 5th, 1982, while working his paper route.

Johnny Gosch’s kidnapping is a rabbit hole his mother, Noreen, has been going down for thirty years.

MSNBC recently aired a documentary about Johnny’s disappearance. It barely scratches the surface, which is good, because things like sex trafficking and ritual abuse aren’t topics most people want to delve into.

The car that may have been involved in the kidnapping, according to an eye witness, had Nebraska plates. Years later, in Omaha, Nebraska, an investigation into financial impropriety of a rising Republican star, Larry King, and his Franklin Credit Union, would produce direct witness accounts of Johnny’s abduction.

For an overview of the Franklin coverup, I’ll keep it to the shallow end with wikipedia:

Allegations of sexual abuse first emerged in November 1988 during a National Credit Union Administration investigation of unrelated financial irregularities at the FCFCU, at which King had worked for 18 years.[2] In December, the State Foster Care Review Board submitted the results of a two year investigation into the physical and sexual abuse of foster children to the Executive Board of the Nebraska Legislature who were investigating reports of child sexual abuse linked to the credit union. Authorities launched a probe, interviewing a number of claimed abuse victims who said that children in foster care were flown to the U.S. East Coast and were abused at “bad parties.”[3] Subsequently, John DeCamp, a former Nebraska state Senator, publicly identified five prominent individuals as being involved in a prostitution ring that transported minors across state lines.

That is an extreme summation of a very complicated case that ultimately collapsed when the lead investigator, Gary Caradori, crashed and died in his small plane (I know. And for those keeping score on the crazy scoreboard, the plane crashed in Aurora, Illinois).

Back in April I wrote this post about Goldman Sachs getting shamed into divesting from a lucrative online sex-trafficking website because, you know, money. If you check out that post, you will find the documentary A Conspiracy of Silence about the Franklin Coverup.

I don’t think it takes any stretch of the imagination to speculate that the dark underbelly of power includes indulging in all kinds of depravity. As an added benefit, people with those kind of proclivities are prone to things like blackmail, which is convenient if you’re trying to, let’s say, control how they employ their political power.

The Franklin scandal went as far as implicating George Bush Sr., who will probably be dying soon, and good riddance.

As for Johnny, maybe things worked out ok for him.

Like maybe he became a guy who goes by the name Jeff Gannon, a male escort who gained access to the White House as a soft-balling fake journalist under Bush junior:

LOBBING softball questions at White House press conferences is hardly a new phenomenon, but having them thrown by a pseudo-journalist with a sleazy background who mysteriously cleared security checks is. Add in the fact that reporter Jeff Gannon used a false name and his employer was a Web site called Talon News staffed almost exclusively by Republican activists and you have the whiff of a scandal.

Whether Gannon, whose real name is James D. Guckert, was a White House “plant” may never be known because officials in the Bush administration have taken great pains to distance themselves from the controversy. But passive denials only increase the lack of credibility to explanations of how the White House credentialed Guckert, even though he was representing a pseudo-news operation, using an alias and was linked to X-rated Web sites.

Is Jeff Gannon the long lost 12 year old Johnny? Who knows.

What I do know is that those in lofty positions of power are virtually never held accountable, no matter what depraved criminal acts they may be involved in.

The World Doesn’t End

by lizard

Our cultural landscape is littered with debris from our long, post-WWII decline. But not unlike Jesus Christ, that debris can be reborn. How you ask? Well, through the slick marketing of America’s insatiable consumer culture, of course.

A few years ago Levi’s updated their brand by pimping Walt Whitman and darkening their vision a bit. According to this Slate review, it was all very post-2008 financial collapse:

The previous Levi’s ad campaign was titled “Live Unbuttoned.” It featured smiling, attractive people dancing around to jumpy pop music. Watching those ads now, it seems clear they were conceived before the fall 2008 financial plunge. They already feel irrelevant—an attempt to capture a zeitgeist that’s evaporated.

In December 2008, Levi’s ditched its old ad agency and signed on with Wieden + Kennedy (the talented ad makers responsible for creating many of Nike’s epic, stirring, one-minute anthems). The spots that W+K came up with—this new campaign is labeled “Go Forth”—have been running since the summer in movie theaters and, increasingly, on television. From the moment we see that “America” sign half-sunk in inky water, we know we’re watching something new. The campaign inhabits a different universe from the one depicted in “Live Unbuttoned.”

Yes, and to exemplify this new gritty universe, one of the ads was filmed in post-Katrina New Orleans. He has risen indeed!

I would check out the Levi ads by following the link before reading further. They are significant (and expensive) pieces of production created by people at the top of their game.

Before I drop Bill Hicks, who explains why it is incumbent for the acolytes of advertising to “suck Satan’s pecker,” I should offer a disclaimer that the material in these posts do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the blogger.

That said, ladies and pricks, Mr. Hicks:

As a poet, I find the commodified use of Whitman to be unfortunate. Unlike the Mad Men episode that featured Frank O’Hara, which resulted in an actual uptick in interest for the poet and his verse, the use of Whitman has no artistic merit, just pure profit motive.

So to disentangle the poet from the obnoxious use of his verse, you can listen to this nice reading of the original poem:

In my own poetics, I’m finishing the second year of writing that encompasses my long poem project, “Z”. I’m using Whitman’s line right now, in what might be the concluding sequence.

In addition to aping Whitman, a few days ago I picked up the collection of prose poems that won Charles Simic the Pulitzer in 1990, titled The World Doesn’t End. It blew me away. For more, this NYT article is worth reading.

Here’s the intro:

Charles Simic, who won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry this year with a collection of prose poems, ”The World Doesn’t End,” credits the military police with having helped in the formation of his work. Mr. Simic had begun writing verse in his youth, only a couple of years after he acquired English when he came to this country from Yugoslavia. But his early work was largely imitative.

Then, he says, he was drafted and served as an M.P. briefly in West Germany and later in France between 1961 and 1964. ”The Army had a great impact on me,” he recalled. ”I was far from everything, all by myself. I had my brother in Illinois send me all the poems I had written and I sat there in the barracks at night reading them and ripping them up, saying: ‘This is Pound. This is Cummings. This is Eliot.’ And when they were all gone, I thought: ‘My God, what will I do now? I’ve got nothing.”

That last assertion turned out to be very inaccurate, though what Simic got is not something I’m going to speculate about right now.

I will offer this, which resonates personally due to my multiple aliases.  Enjoy! Continue Reading »

by lizard

This week’s poem is by Matthew Rohrer, from his collection titled Destroyer And Preserver (Wave Books, 2011). And if you want to know more about Wave Books, one of my favorite publishers of poetry, follow the link.

Enjoy! Continue Reading »

by lizard

So, tonight Congress gave up.

More specifically, House Republicans have successfully driven negotiations to resolve the fiscal trap into total chaos.

Is everything totally fucked?

No, but it’s a hard sentiment to escape these days.

I tried writing a post the other day about Syria, but as that nation descends deeper into real chaos, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to navigate the nest of lies, atrocities, contradictions, and propaganda ripping that nation apart.

The latest story is the dramatic kidnapping and subsequent release of Richard Engel and crew, and while there is legitimate skepticism and serious questions about exactly what happened, it’s nearly impossible to get one’s bearings in order to evaluate these stories as they emerge, stories like the movement of chemical weapons and the Assad regime firing Scud missiles.

One of the worst stories out of Syria involves a child participating in a beheading (graphic); a gruesome reminder that some of the forces being used to impose the US policy of regime change are now becoming too notorious in their tactics of terrorism to ignore, which is why the Al Nusra Front are now officially considered a terrorist group by its former cheerleader, the US of A.

Not surprisingly, the terrorist label is not appreciated by those Syrians who support the rebels.

Things are bad. I doubt I’m alone in not being able to shake the shooting at Sandy Hook from my thoughts. It’s awful trying to put words to it, and it’s awful to watch all sides kick the issue around.

But probably the most awful thing is not even 20 children shot multiple times in a safe, affluent, idyllic American town will be enough to rattle us from our collective stupor as our social environment, along with our physical one, grows more and more toxic.

Instead, in our increasing desperation, many will place their hopes in false signals, like the significance of planets lined up over Giza, a branch off the Mayan limb some people are hanging their hopes on.

Here’s something a little more tangible: tomorrow night is the longest night of the year, and after tomorrow tonight, we slowly get a little more light back.

And remember, if you’re at an END OF THE WORLD PARTY!, please, don’t be an asshole and drink and drive.

Thanks.

The Nightmare

by lizard

20121217-220912.jpg

Today my wife informed me a kid told my son “I’m going to shoot you with a gun” at school. My son is in preschool.

Obviously, some kind of conversation will be happening, and it will start with reporting this to the school. I would also like to know if the parent(s) own guns, and if they do, I would like to know how they secure them.

As a parent, do I have a right to know this? I don’t know.

Over the weekend, my parents saw The Hobbit. My mom told me she saw lots of kids there, including a few who looked as young as 5 or 6. During the movie, she heard crying.

There have been some big numbers about exposure to violence worth repeating here:

By the time kids enter middle school, they will have seen 8,000 murders and 100,000 more acts of violence on broadcast TV alone.

As a high schooler, I had plenty of righteous indignation over my parents objections to my musical tastes. I loved Pantera and Marilyn Manson, and even listened to stuff like Morbid Angel and Deicide.

I also played an early first-person shooter game called Marathon, though the carnage was nothing compared to what exists today.

But with Columbine, 9/11, and the subsequent horrors that have been unleashed, our social environment is more infused with violence than its ever been, especially when it comes to “entertainment” (insert comment about Zero Dark Thirty here)

The picture that heads up this post is from a book written and illustrated by Mercer Mayer, titled There’s A Nightmare In My Closet, first published in 1968. My wife checked it out at the library last week.

But when she was reading it, and the little boy with his cap gun and little army helmet said “Go away, Nightmare, or I’ll shoot you,” she decided it wasn’t getting subsequent reads.

It may be one little choice to minimize my kids’ exposure to the violent impulses that exist, impulses they will eventually be exposed to in a culture that glorifies violence, but it’s better than feeling totally powerless.

Sigh.

by lizard

Before last Friday’s reminder that we are a culture saturated in violence, I was having a cup of coffee with local poet Mark Gibbons.

After an unfortunate fire setback the release of his new book, I am happy to report Mark’s collection of poetry, titled Forgotten Dreams (FootHills Publishing, 2012), is now available, and not only do you get great poetry, there are also several Lee Nye portraits sprinkled throughout.

The poem I’ve picked for this week’s poetry series is titled CHRISTMAS, HELL, and despite what the author claims he can’t do at the beginning of the poem, there is a slow turn fueled by nostalgic recollections that proves, well, yes he can. Enjoy! Continue Reading »

by lizard

I’ve been struggling with how to broach the topic of the Sandy Hook massacre directly. Instead, I found this post, which I think is the most honest thing I’ve read so far, and it echoes what I’ve been thinking the conversation should be focused on: mental health, not gun control, although work on the latter still needs to be done.

So please, take the time to go to the link or click for more, and read the story of a mother and her mentally ill son. Being somewhat familiar with the constraints of the mental health system, it’s an incredibly sad, insightful look at what parents of mentally ill kids are faced with.

Continue Reading »

Panhandling For Peace Beer

by lizard

Helena native Robert Rivers and his partner Fernanda Menna Barreto Krum are trying to monetize 25 years of working for global peace by opening another brewery in Missoula.

But this won’t be your average brewery. No, it’s going to be a conflict resolution brewery, because nothing makes people more peaceful than alcohol, right? From the article:

After working to promote peace in 15 conflict zones around the world over the past 25 years, Helena native Robert Rivers and his partner Fernanda Menna Barreto Krum want to promote peace by using something that’s brought people together for thousands of years: good beer.

“Conflict is an invitation to growth, or violence, depending on how you deal with it,” Rivers said. “Usually conflicts become exacerbated when people take an individual approach.”

Rivers and Menna Barreto Krum intend to open Big Medicine Brewing Co. in Missoula. They say the brewery will bring people together to educate them about social conflict and social change. They also plan to serve beer inspired by breweries around the world.

The couple visited Helena on Sunday to gather support in Rivers’ hometown. They’re also trying to raise $200,000 to supplement their own investment.

Instead of using conventional means to finance the project, the couple is asking for donations to their for-profit venture. The brewery is currently incorporated and their recent fundraising efforts have brought them $35,000.

They’re taking that approach to avoid taking on debt that would detract from their mission, they say, and to create a sense of community from the start of the project.

What a brilliant business plan: transform selfless humanitarian NGO work in dangerous conflict zones into a beer brand, then go around panhandling people for “donations” to mitigate the risk a big bank loan comes with.

In vetting this post with my wife, she reminded me that I have a tendency to be an obnoxious hater on the topics I have strong feelings about. It’s true.

So allow me to acknowledge that the risks and sacrifices Rivers and Krum took on to help people suffering in war zones is worth celebrating. I shouldn’t let my criticism of how NGO’s are too often deployed as instruments of US imperial soft power detract from the exemplary work people do.

And while I can see the connection being made between beer’s positive social role aligning with this for-profit Big Medicine brewery venture, I’m also keenly aware of the negative impacts of alcoholism.

All that said, it sounds like good things could come from this new beer brewing business:

Big Medicine Brewing Co. will intentionally bring people together to collaborate, learn and share ideas to promote social change, Rivers said.

In the first year of operation, two-day workshops are planned each month, featuring subjects related to social conflict and social change initiation, as well as one-hour dialogues twice a month.

For the first year Rivers and Menna Barreto Krum plan to draw on their own expertise and experience to facilitate these programs and brew the beer. Rivers has a master’s degree in peace and conflict studies from the European Centre for Peace Studies, and Menna Barreto Krum has a master’s degree in psychology and a certificate in global mental health from Harvard.

From Missoula to Connecticut, we need a paradigm shift in dealing with mental health, so I’m hopeful this new brewery can be more than just a brewery.

And just to be clear, more than a brewery is what this business is being sold as, according to Brad Robinson, co-founder of Big Sky Brewing Co.

I found this part of the article interesting:

But does Missoula have room for another brewery?

Robinson thinks so. He said that, while he is confident their beer will be a success, their product is social change. The couple said they picked Missoula as a place to start because the market for breweries is strong.

Once up and running, Big Medicine Brewing Co. will produce no more than 1,000 barrels of beer a year, Rivers said. Yearly earnings are capped at $50,000 each for Rivers and Menna Barreto Krum, and any earnings beyond that will go toward purchasing land for a retreat center near Missoula, the couple said.

Robinson said other breweries might turn a cold shoulder to their project, but Menna Barreto Krum and Rivers have seen genocide, Robinson pointed out. He is confident they can handle the local competition.

Nice, a self-imposed cap on market aspirations accompanied by an endorsement from a local brewery powerhouse.

And how about that cute little quip of having “seen genocide” directed at local competition?

I can’t wait for that first conflict resolution workshop. I hope they don’t mind if I bring my own pint of Coldsmoke.

Newtown

by lizard

And weary and worn are our sad souls now
—Yeats

seven days until Solstice
could you hold us?
and could you please refrain
from billing us for
the damages?
to unwrap
the bandages
seven days before Solstice
is not advisable

the wound, a sizeable wound
needs a healing
unpeeling would probably
compromise

today’s immediacy
does not tomorrow’s poetry make

today’s Sandy Hook body count
mostly kindergartners
fucking five year old children
will be forgotten
quick as the pressure
of a finger on a trigger
over and over and over

please be wrong
please, this time, be different
be anything other than what you are:

another school massacre

By JC

No Friday trifecta would be complete without at least throwing one bone to the deniers to chew on.

“Nearly 4 out of 5 Americans now think temperatures are rising and that global warming will be a serious problem for the United States if nothing is done about it, a new Associated Press-GfK poll finds.

Belief and worry about climate change are inching up among Americans in general, but concern is growing faster among people who don’t often trust scientists on the environment. In follow-up interviews, some of those doubters said they believe their own eyes as they’ve watched thermometers rise, New York City subway tunnels flood, polar ice melt and Midwestern farm fields dry up.”

Does anybody really believe anything will get done?

By JC

Via Matty Koehler on FaceBook:

“Hot Topics from today’s [Missoulian] paper… or is that the December 14, 1912 paper?”

“The misanthrope in me finds it hilarious….the nature-lover in me finds it sad, and outrageous….the Indiana Jones in me finds it interesting.”

By JC

Missoula’s Stone-Manning named state DEQ chief. (Just hit your browser’s “stop loading” button as soon as you see text to avoid the paywall).

If there’s one thing Tracy Stone-Manning knows about, it’s “opportunity!”

“Stone-Manning has been Tester’s policy director based in Missoula since 2007…

While on Tester’s staff, Stone-Manning worked on details and negotiations for the senator’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, which combined new wilderness and recreation designations with extensive logging and forest remediation projects. She also was involved in Tester’s legislation transferring gray wolves from federal Endangered Species Act protection to state management.”

This does not bode well for wilderness or wildlife. We’ll see where else her opportunism takes its toll.

by lizard

This Oxford-led study examining the dire effects of privatization isn’t new; it came out 3 years ago, but it highlights the lethality of a phenomenon that is, at best, indifferent to the human suffering it leaves in its wake.

As many as one million working-age men died due to the economic shock of mass privatisation policies followed by post-communist countries in the 1990s, according to a new study published in The Lancet.

The Oxford-led study measured the relationship between death rates and the pace and scale of privatisation in 25 countries in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, dating back to the early 1990s. They found that mass privatisation came at a human cost: with an average surge in the number of deaths of 13 per cent or the equivalent of about one million lives.

The rapid privatisation programme, part of a plan known by economists as ‘shock therapy’, led to a 56 per cent increase in unemployment, which the study says played an important role in explaining why privatisation claimed so many lives. Many employers provided extensive health and social care for their employees, so through privatisation workers experienced the ‘double whammy’ of losing not only their livelihood but also their means of surviving the crisis.

I bring this up in the context of the fiscal cliff because some are advocating that privatization offers a third way to avoid the overly-hyped drop-off:

The standoff between Congressional Republicans and the Obama Administration on an alternative to sequestration and extension of the “Bush tax cuts” appears to center on tax rate increases versus reductions in entitlement spending.

But there is a third way – one which Virginia has shown in bipartisan fashion in recent years. As evidenced by the recently opened “HOT lanes” on the Beltway between the vicinity of the Dulles Toll Road and the I-495/395/95 “mixing bowl”, private sector involvement and investment in public sector activities is a way to advance services to the public without increasing taxes.

Through the use of divestiture, asset sales, contracting out, privatization, vouchers, and other similar tools and strategies, the federal government can get out of numerous lines of business. By relying on performance by a competitive free market system, or eliminating tax subsidies for nonprofit organizations that duplicate and compete with for-profit companies, Uncle Sam can reduce the deficit, hold the line on taxes, and preserve the safety net for the neediest Americans.

It’s important to remember—and constantly point out to others—that the American public is paying for what the financial sector has done to us, and we are paying for an aggressive global military presence that doesn’t benefit us or make us safer.

So, as the safety net is untied strand by strand, and labor rights are killed state by state, the snake-oil we are being sold as solutions are anything but.

And if you need help remembering, listen to Utah Phillips’ The Long Memory, accompanied by Ani DiFranco:

by lizard

First, ladies and gentlemen, the Grateful Dead!

The dealing going down I’m concerned with has nothing to do with enhancing the grooviness of music and everything to do with war, free trade, and austerity; really just different facets of corporatism.

In Michigan labor takes another hit, while the fiscal cliff media fuckfest is just clever American branding for a global austerity strategy devised by global capital to keep the game going.

The latest “free trade” scheming slowly percolating onto people’s radar is a monstrous corporatist’s wet dream being floated beneath the innocuous sounding title: Trans Pacific Partnership. Just this tiny glimpse should give anyone shudders:

The agreement stipulates that foreign corporations operating in the United States would no longer be subject to domestic U.S. laws regarding protections for the environment, finance or labor rights, and could appeal to an “international tribunal” which would be given the power to overrule American law and impose sanctions on the U.S. for violating the new “rights” of corporations.

The “international tribunal” that would dictate the laws of the countries would be staffed by corporate lawyers acting as “judges,” thus ensuring that cases taken before them have a “fair and balanced” hearing – fairly balanced in favor of corporate rights above anything else.

The third deal is determining what kinds of returns the investors of Syria’s obliteration as a state expect to receive. Here’s their wish-list:

1. Syria should reduce the number of soldiers of the Syrian army to 50,000;
2. Syria will assert its right to sovereignty over the Golan only by political means. Both parties will sign peace agreements under the auspices of the United States and Qatar;
3. Syria must get rid of, under the supervision of the United States, all its chemical and biological weapons and all of its missiles. This operation must be carried out on the land of Jordan;
4. To cancel any claim of sovereignty over Liwa Iskenderun (Alexandretta) and to withdraw in favor of Turkey from some border villages inhabited by Turkmens in “muhafazahs” in Aleppo and Idlib;
5. To expel all members of the Workers Party of Kurdistan, and to hand over those wanted by Turkey. This party should be added to the list of terrorist organizations;
6. To cancel all agreements and contracts signed with Russia and China in the fields of subsurface drilling and armaments;
7. To allow Qatari gas pipeline passage through the Syrian territory toward Turkey and then on to Europe;
8. To allow water pipes to pass through the Syrian territory from the Atatürk Dam to Israel;
9. Qatar and United Arab Emirates pledge to rebuild what has been destroyed by the war in Syria on the condition that their companies have the exclusive access to contracts for reconstruction and for exploitation of Syrian oil and gas;
10.To terminate relations with Iran, Russia and China;
11.To break off relations with Hezbollah and with Palestinian resistance movements;
12. The Syrian regime should be Islamic and not Salafi;
13. This agreement will come into effect as soon as power is taken ((Algerian) Editor’s note: by the “Opposition”).

The article goes on to say this:

This is the price of foreign pressures and of resignation and treachery on the part of Arab states. A high price, an exorbitant price for Syria that persons calling themselves “Syrian” have endorsed. Indeed, this agreement, or rather “Protocol,” is thus the price that the Syrian opposition will have to pay once installed in power in Damascus, as stated in Article 13 of the “Doha Agreement.”

In this way, each of the sponsors of the “revolt of the Syrian people” has helped himself according to his own interests and appetite. The United States, by disarming Syria and distancing the nation from its friends; Turkey, by retrieving Syrian villages and modifying the common borders according to its interests; Qatar, by being granted contracts for the “reconstruction” of the country; and Saudi Arabia, by the establishment of an Islamic regime of its devotion.

This Syrian pie getting carved up is a nation of 25 million people getting bombarded from all directions. It’s beyond disgusting.

And with another mass-shooting in Oregon, and two murders closer to home, I guess it’s almost overload holiday winter lose-your-shit Mayan planetary alignment time.

Good luck, and goddess bless.

by lizard

from NUDE IN YOUR HOT TUB, FACING THE ABYSS (A LITERARY MANIFESTO AFTER THE END OF LITERATURE AND MANIFESTOS):

Once upon a time, writers were like gods, and lived in the mountains. They were either destitute hermits or aristocratic lunatics, and they wrote only to communicate with the already dead or the unborn, or for no one at all. They had never heard of the marketplace, they were arcane and antisocial. Though they might have lamented their lives—which were marked by solitude and sadness—they lived and breathed in the sacred realm of literature. They wrote drama and poetry and philosophy and tragedy, and each form was more devastating than the last. Their books, when they wrote them, reached their audience posthumously and by the most tortuous routes. Their thoughts and stories were terrible to look upon, like the bones of animals that had ceased to exist.

Later, there came another wave of writers, who lived in the forests below the mountains, and while they still dreamt of the heights, they needed to live closer to the towns at the edge of the forest, into which they ventured every now and again to do a turn in the public square. They gathered crowds and excited minds and caused scandals and partook in politics and engaged in duels and instigated revolutions. At times, they left for prolonged trips back to the mountains, and when they returned, the people trembled at their new pronouncements. The writers had become heroes, gilded, bold and pompous. And some of the loiterers around the public square started to think: I quite like that! I have half a notion to try that myself.

Soon, writers began to take flats in the town, and took jobs—indeed, whole cities were settled and occupied by writers. They pontificated on every subject under the sun, granted interviews, and published in the local press, St Mountain Books. Some even made a living from their sales, and, when those sales dwindled, they taught about writing at Olympia City College, and when the college stopped hiring in the humanities, they wrote memoirs about ‘mountain living’. They became savvy in publicity, because it became evident that the publishing industry was an arm of the publicity industry, and the smart ones worked first in advertising, which was a good place to hone the craft. And the writers began to outnumber their public, and, it became apparent, the public was only a hallucination after all, just as the importance of writing was mostly a hallucination.

Now you sit at your desk, dreaming of Literature, skimming the Wikipedia page about the ‘Novel’ as you snack on salty treats and watch cat and dog videos on your phone. You post to your blog, and you tweet the most profound things you can think to tweet, you labour over a comment about a trending topic, trying to make it meaningful. You whisper the names like a devotional, Kafka, Lautréamont, Bataille, Duras, hoping to conjure the ghost of something you scarcely understand, something preposterous and obsolete that nevertheless preoccupies your every living day. And you find yourself laughing in spite of yourself, laughing helplessly at yourself, laughing to the verge of tears. You click ‘new document’ and sit there, shaking, staring at your computer screen, and you wonder what in the world you can possibly write now.

—Lars Iyer

*

This week’s poem is by Weldon Kees, a poet who disappeared in July of 1955, never to be heard from again. His poetry is almost always dark, always haunted. The poem below the fold, even when life affirming at the end, anticipates the brambles of forest just beyond sight. For this poet in America at midcentury, the forest was not a place of inspiration, but of fear. Continue Reading »

by lizard

The rhetoric on both sides of the hot-button Additional Dwelling Unit issue makes it very difficult to discern what the potential positive/negative impacts might actually be.

Will ADU’s provide much needed affordable housing, or will they destroy single family neighborhoods? Will they hurt property values? Will they be a boon for developers and real-estate agents? And what about Grandma? Will ADU’s keep Grandma from being stashed away in a nursing home before she’s ready?

I have previously framed this issue as being infill versus sprawl, but I’m not sure if that’s as accurate as it was a few years ago. I’ve also become much more cynical about how the term “affordable housing” is used in Missoula, so I’m much more dubious about whether ADU’s will have the significant impact on the need for affordable housing proponents say they will.

That said, the ADU WILL DESTROY OUR NEIGHBORHOOD! folks have reached a new low, IMO, with this comment from Carole Ulrigg, posted on Bob Jaffe’s listserve yesterday:

The council has no intention of listening to what the majority of Missoula residents that live in the areas that will change want. We worked hard to live in a single family neighborhood.

One only needs to listen to the police scanner to see what increased density does to a neighborhood.

We have made the decision that if the ADU thing passes, that we will no longer donate to ANY organization in Missoula. We presently donate several thousand dollars a year in money and in services to this community. We are also encouraging our friends, neighbors and acquaintances to do the same. Some have already agreed to join us in this protest.

My experience in working with non-profit organizations in Missoula is that the vast majority of the donations come from these neighborhoods that the City Council, pushed by Mayor Engen, is trying to destroy. These citizens worked hard to live were they live and were only to happy to share. To destroy our dreams and to say our years of work were for nothing is nothing more than a slap in the face.

So, because Carol feels slapped in the face by the Mayor and City Council, she wants to lash out at Missoula non-profits as a “protest”. Um, wow. All I can say is, if Carol wants some suggestions on where she can reallocate her money, I can think of a few places she can stick it.

Thankfully, another community member who comments on Jaffe’s listserve responded in a much more charitable way than I’m inclined to respond, so I’ll conclude this post with her great response (thanks Debby):

To those who are now saying they will withdraw support of non-profits because the ADU issue is not going their way:

I totally think it is up to you to do what you want with your money, and to make politically based decisions with it– but please reconsider your call to punish non-profits for things they may not even be voting on nor support. In general, many 501c3 non-profits are not allowed to advocate on particular political issues or lobby votes, so they usually strive to remain politically neutral.

Charity is not bribery. Charity is not a vote, or a way to buy votes. Maybe you hadn’t realized your protest would come across this way– but this might be a perfect moment for all of us to rent “A Christmas Carol.”

If you support non-profits who are helping improve the lives of our fellow citizens, then I hope you are doing so out of the goodness of your heart, not to buy the nonprofit, its board members, or to sway people on issues. I think you have a right to protest, but this seems like a displaced way to do so. A campaign to boycott nonprofits only hurts the less advantaged among us who can’t even afford ADUs much less their own home.

I urge you to please re-examine that perspective before you decide to act on it.

Debby Florence

By JC

And to complete my Friday Trifecta:

I suppose god wants it that way. So let’s keep exporting and burning that coal… must have jobs up till the rapture!

By JC

“President Barack Obama’s inauguration committee will accept unlimited corporate contributions to fund its January festivities, a spokeswoman for the Presidential Inaugural Committee confirmed…”

Need we pretend anymore who runs this country?

By JC

This just in:

“The Most Underperforming Colleges: US News And World Report”
underperfomer

Why?

“it could mean that the school’s reputation has yet to fully reflect negative trends that are taking place in the underlying academic indicators.”

Oh really? And what might those “negative trends be”?

The Anti-Anti-War Left

by lizard

One of the more discouraging trends I see among politically active folks on the left is the slow disintegration of resistance to endless war.

It’s a powerful trend comprised of smart, well-intentioned people who for whatever reason seem to think America is actually capable of resolving armed conflicts around the world with bombs and other forms of military intervention.

In an article posted today, Jean Bricmont discusses the anti-anti-war left. It’s worth a full read, but for this post I think the following excerpt is worth highlighting:

Instead of calling for more and more interventions, we should demand of our governments the strict respect for international law, non-interference in the internal affairs of other States and cooperation instead of confrontation. Non-interference means not only military non-intervention. It applies also to diplomatic and economic actions: no unilateral sanctions, no threats during negotiations, and equal treatment of all States. Instead of constantly “denouncing” the leaders of countries such as Russia, China, Iran, Cuba for violating human rights, something the anti-anti-war left loves to do, we should listen to what they have to say, dialogue with them, and help our fellow citizens understand the different ways of thinking in the world, including the criticisms that other countries can make of our way of doing things. Cultivating such mutual understanding could in the long run be the best way to improve “human rights” everywhere.

This would not bring instant solutions to human rights abuses or political conflicts in countries such as Libya or Syria. But what does? The policy of interference increases tensions and militarization in the world. The countries that feel targeted by that policy, and they are numerous, defend themselves however they can. The demonization campaigns prevent peaceful relations between peoples, cultural exchanges between citizens and, indirectly, the flourishing of the very liberal ideas that the advocates of interference claim to be promoting. Once the anti-anti-war left abandoned any alternative program, it in fact gave up the possibility of having the slightest influence over world affairs. It does not in reality “help the victims” as it claims. Except for destroying all resistance here to imperialism and war, it does nothing. The only ones who are really doing anything are in fact the succeeding U.S. administrations. Counting on them to care for the well-being of the world’s peoples is an attitude of total hopelessness.

The immediate need to protect civilians in war-zones is dire, and devastating to watch not happen. People are being brutalized across the globe, and it would be great if our tax-funded military strength could somehow be focused to righteously kill for the betterment of humanity.

But our tax-funded military strength cannot righteously kill for the betterment of humanity.

Interventionists: what would you have the US military and its allies (Saudi Arabia, Qatar) do against Assad to end his bloody state crackdown on the forces fighting to overthrow him? Would you support Al-Qaeda?

I ran across this McClatchy piece via Zero Hedge:

When the group Jabhat al Nusra first claimed responsibility for car and suicide bombings in Damascus that killed dozens last January, many of Syria’s revolutionaries claimed that the organization was a creation of the Syrian government, designed to discredit those who opposed the regime of President Bashar Assad and to hide the regime’s own brutal tactics.

Nearly a year later, however, Jabhat al Nusra, which U.S. officials believe has links to al Qaida, has become essential to the frontline operations of the rebels fighting to topple Assad.

The prominence of Nusra in the rebel cause worries U.S. and other Western officials, who say its operations rely on the same people and tactics that fueled al Qaida in Iraq – an assertion that is borne out by interviews with Nusra members in Syria.

Among Nusra fighters are many Syrians who say they fought with al Qaida in Iraq, which waged a bloody and violent campaign against the U.S. presence in that country and is still blamed for suicide and car bombings that have killed hundreds of Iraqis since the U.S. troops left a year ago.

Nusra’s rise is most evident in Syria’s north and east, where anti-Assad forces have recently been racking up impressive military gains. Gone are the days just five months ago when Nusra’s actions seemed limited to car and suicide bombings. Now, Nusra fighters are organized in battalion-sized groups that are often armed with heavy weaponry.

“When we finish with Assad, we will fight the U.S.!” one Nusra fighter shouted in the northeastern Syrian city of Ras al Ayn when he was told an American journalist present. He laughed as he said it and then got into a van and drove off, leaving the journalist unable to ask whether it had been a joke.

Pointing this out does not make me pro-Assad and indifferent to civilians dying in the thousands. Their suffering is not something I can fathom.

That said, I still think escalating the Syrian conflict, whether through overt intervention, or (kinda) covert support of (kinda) Al-qaeda jihadists, is a bad idea.

Going back to Bricmont’s piece, I’ll conclude this post with the following (kinda) provocative statement:

What the anti-anti-war left has managed to accomplish is to destroy the sovereignty of Europeans in regard to the United States and to eliminate any independent left position concerning war and imperialism. It has also led most of the European left to adopt positions in total contradiction with those of the Latin American left and to consider as adversaries countries such as China and Russia which seek to defend international law, as indeed they should.

by jhwygirl

For nearly 20 years, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has been authorized and reauthorized – twice – by Congress and signed by three different U.S. presidents into law. The latest reauthorization, though, has met some bumps. Guess where: House Republicans.

In late April, the Senate passed a reauthorization of the VAWA that included protections for LGBTQ and Native American survivors of violence – on a bipartisan vote. That reauthorization was not without it’s Tea Party attacks, though: Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Kay Bailey-Hutchinson (Texas) joined together for an amendment that modified or eliminated protections for female immigrants, Native women and those in same-sex relationships. It also would have eliminated the ability of tribal courts to prosecute perpetrators of domestic violence. It failed.

Iowa has a fast-growing Native American population. Texas, given that it borders Mexico, has an extremely large immigrant population. Native American women violent crime at a rate three and a half times greater than the national average, while Grassley charged that tribal courts were “unconstitutional.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) also offered an amendment – wishing to increase mandatory minimum sentences. Advocates for the VAWA, though, didn’t support that amendment due to the believe that it would result in survivors of violence becoming more reluctant to report incidents. This, too, failed. No big government hypocrisy there/snark.

Certainly you can see how Kay, Chuck & John were looking out for their constituencies.

Well, the House Tea Party crowd – including Montana’s own Denny “don’t let the door hit ya’ where the good Lord split ya” Rehberg passed its own version of the VAWA, pulling back in the Senate Tea Party amendments – on a largely party-line vote.

Denny never did look out for Montanans. ‘Nuf said about that.

TOMORROW, Save Wiyabi, the Salish-Kootenai College’s chapter of the Native Youth Leadership Alliance, and Montana’s very fabulous Western Native Voice are sponsoring an action day in Pablo to raise awareness on the importance of the VAWA, and its importance to the Native American community.

The action begins at 11, with everyone meeting at 11 a.m. at the bridge on campus. Lauren Chief Elk, founder of the Wiyabi Project, is one of the speakers, and information will be available for those looking for more information.

The VAWA is important. It’s disturbing that, after so many years of bipartisan support, that this act protecting women has become a political football. That Tea Party Republicans (like Denny Rehberg) thought to remove protections for Native Americans, immigrants and lgbtq is even more repulsive.

Lauren Chief Elk wrote an excellent piece detailing the importance of the VAWA, especially to the Native American communities. It includes numerous informative links along with case law on the VAWA – I highly recommend it, especially for any legislator here in Montana that might want to attempt protections for women here at the state level.

My headline, you can see, was poached from her piece. What else do you call it when Tea Party Republicans refuse to reauthorize an act that has successfully reduced violence towards women for nearly 2 decades?

Finally, I will note – the Senate version of the VAWA reduced program funding by 17%.

A thir

by lizard

Qatar is an important ally of the United States, playing a key support role for CENTCOM during the Iraq war, and more recently supporting the Syrian opposition against Assad. Here is how 60 minutes depicted the US/Qatar relationship before the war in Iraq began:

Life here is tranquil. Almost everywhere you can see a mixture of the old and the new. There’s a growing affinity for American culture and no outspoken opposition to the American presence or the emir’s changes. And American investment is increasing dramatically, especially in natural gas.

“If we go back to 1993-94, the Americans, they invest in our country around $200 million or $300 million. Now it’s over $30 billion American investment in Qatar,” says the emir.

It’s good for the U.S. because it provides bases that can be used in a war with Iraq.

It’s good for Qatar because the American military presence provides protection for the emir and his reforms – reforms that have made Qatar a role model for change in the Arab world.

Sheikh Hamad knows he has to change his country while he can, because he also knows that the last two rulers before him were overthrown.

When asked what he thinks Qatar will look like in 10 years, the emir says, “Well, first, I hope you find me facing you in the same chair. And I hope I’m sure you’ll find a big change.”

Well, nearly 10 years later the role model for change in the Arab world has sentenced a poet to life in prison for reciting a poem.

A Qatari poet has been sentenced to life in prison for inciting the overthrow of the government of Qatar and insulting the Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani and his son, the crown prince, reports say.

The verdict is likely to prove an embarrassment for Qatar which has worked hard to cultivate a progressive, modern image, and is currently playing host to a major international climate change conference.

The charges relate to a poem that 37-year-old Mohammed al-Ajami, a father of four, recited in 2010 before a small, private audience in his flat in Egypt. One audience member subsequently posted the poem online.

Will the Obama administration express the same degree of concern it did when Russian punk rockers Pussy Riot were sentenced to 2 years for hooliganism?

I hope so, because in this situation, pressure from the United States would probably have a significant effect for this poet and father of four now facing in prison for reading a poem.

I tried to find the offending verse, but so far have had no luck, so this week’s poetry series features no actual poetry.

Instead, this post is a reminder to artists everywhere that authoritarians are afraid of the power of free expression and the potential effect it may have on those living in oppressive countries.

Normalizing The Unthinkable

by lizard

Taking your shoes off before boarding an airplane is just one small victory in normalizing the invasive measures of The State when it comes to “protecting” its wards, us.

And we all abide by this new security measure because a so-called terrorist tried to ignite a shoe bomb.

In the comment thread of my previous post about thinking the unthinkable, I linked to an article reporting how Sandy refugees say life in tent city feels like prison, and I highlighted this particular excerpt:

It is hard to sleep at night inside the tent city at Oceanport, New Jersey. A few hundred Superstorm Sandy refugees have been living here since Wednesday – a muddy camp that is a sprawling anomaly amidst Mercedes Benz dealerships and country clubs in this town near the state’s devastated coastal region.

Inside the giant billowy white tents, the massive klieg lights glare down from the ceiling all night long. The air is loud with the buzz of generators pumping out power. The post-storm housing — a refugee camp on the grounds of the Monmouth Park racetrack – is in lockdown, with security guards at every door, including the showers.

No one is allowed to go anywhere without showing their I.D. Even to use the bathroom, “you have to show your badge,” said Amber Decamp, a 22-year-old whose rental was washed away in Seaside Heights, New Jersey.

To me, that level of security seems excessive, almost punitive, as evidenced by the Sandy refugees feeling like prisoners.

To help me understand why these measures are necessary, the following comment was offered by the Polish Wolf:

Liz – read about the conditions in Haitian disaster camps after the earthquake, especially conditions for women, and you’ll see why that kind of security is easy to understand. Anytime you have a lot of strangers who recently experienced catastrophic life changes living together, you’re going to see the best and worst humanity has to offer. I imagine constant illumination and ID checks are part of that

Before I get to my racially-charged, hyperbolic retort, I need to acknowledge PW has a point. Catastrophic events bring out both the best and worst humanity has to offer.

That said, my response:

yes, in a post-crisis environment, “strangers” can be very dangerous, especially black people. once law and order disappears, the latent violence of black people rises to the surface, turning them into dangerous looters. I mean, look at Katrina. it makes total sense the National Guard would point guns at people trying to survive hellish conditions instead of trying to help them.

so in your mind, PW, it makes sense to force people to show ID in order to take a piss, because it’s all about security, right? and it makes sense to flood this “camp” with lights 24/7 because by the cover of darkness these animals may attack each other, rape women, and do god knows what to the Mercedes Benz dealership in the vicinity.

your mentality is right where they want it to be. sad.

The normalized ease in which extreme security and restriction are accepted as necessary, because “strangers” can be dangerous, is disturbing.

I’m not saying strangers can’t be dangerous, and awful shit doesn’t happen during disasters.

But in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, especially when impoverished communities are affected, The State response is one of security, not assistance.

This one report from a tent city in New Jersey stands as a microcosm of the larger State approach to people in crisis.

Help?

No, control.

Which explains why community run hubs are now being targeted by Bloomberg for eviction.

I’m sure the fact there’s Occupy Wall Street DNA in the recovery efforts of community hubs has nothing to do with it.

Below the fold, the call to action. Continue Reading »




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