Archive for April, 2013

Springtime Means Wartime

by lizard

US Foreign policy escapes significant scrutiny here in The Homeland partly because Americans are incredibly ignorant of the world outside our borders. For example, when the ethnicity of the suspects in the Boston marathon bombing became known—Chechen—the resulting confusion between Chechnya and the Czech Republic elicited this statement from the Ambassador of the Czech Republic, which includes this:

As more information on the origin of the alleged perpetrators is coming to light, I am concerned to note in the social media a most unfortunate misunderstanding in this respect. The Czech Republic and Chechnya are two very different entities – the Czech Republic is a Central European country; Chechnya is a part of the Russian Federation.

Springtime in America can be unpleasant, but in Afghanistan spring is literally the season of Taliban offensives, and this year even more is at stake:

KABUL — It didn’t take long. Within hours of announcing the start of its annual spring offensive, the Taliban in Afghanistan claimed responsibility for an early-morning attack in the eastern part of the country that killed at least three police officers.

“In addition to suicide bombings, insurgents warned of coordinating ‘insider’ attacks against ‘foreign transgressors’,” the Taliban said in a statement on Sunday.

The Taliban, known for employing bombastic language in describing its achievements–claims frequently invalidated or unproven–hailed the 2013 spring offensive as “monumental.”

This year, the Taliban’s annual declaration of increased violence–coinciding with the break from harsh winter weather–is widely considered an especially crucial test for President Hamid Karzai’s government as it prepares to assume control of the nation’s security from coalition forces, which are slated to withdraw combat troops in 2014.

As big footprint, Bush-initiated wars wind down, low-casualty (for Americans), NATO-cover regime-change wars continue under Obama.

Syria would have been a done deal by now if it wasn’t for that Russian and Chinese Security Council veto. By done deal, I mean the replication of what happened to Libya: a PR “humanitarian intervention” campaign led by NATO.

I wrote this post last March, and opened with this:

For those who supported the “humanitarian intervention” imposed on Libya by NATO, it must be asked what responsibilities should the nations that provided the planes and bombs have post-intervention? Is there any sense of obligation from those who advocate the toppling of repressive regimes to ensure the power vacuum doesn’t get filled with equally oppressive violators of human rights? Otherwise, what the hell is the point of intervening?

If you read that post, I go on to explore the seams of the propaganda campaign against Syria. The initial framing of a populist Syrian uprising against Assad proved to be an unsustainable narrative, though not completely without merit. To highlight the shift in coverage, this NYT article, titled Islamist Rebels’ Create Dilemma on Syria Policy, is finally getting closer to the real dynamics developing in Syria:

CAIRO — In Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, rebels aligned with Al Qaeda control the power plant, run the bakeries and head a court that applies Islamic law. Elsewhere, they have seized government oil fields, put employees back to work and now profit from the crude they produce.

Across Syria, rebel-held areas are dotted with Islamic courts staffed by lawyers and clerics, and by fighting brigades led by extremists. Even the Supreme Military Council, the umbrella rebel organization whose formation the West had hoped would sideline radical groups, is stocked with commanders who want to infuse Islamic law into a future Syrian government.

Nowhere in rebel-controlled Syria is there a secular fighting force to speak of.

This is the landscape President Obama confronts as he considers how to respond to growing evidence that Syrian officials have used chemical weapons, crossing a “red line” he had set. More than two years of violence have radicalized the armed opposition fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad, leaving few groups that both share the political vision of the United States and have the military might to push it forward.

Chuck Hagel, in statements reported on last December, had this to say in regards to a Syrian intervention:

“I think we’ve got to be very wise and careful on this and continue to work with the multilateral institutions in the lead in Syria. I don’t think America wants to be in the lead on this,” he said. “What you have to do is manage the problem. You manage it to a higher ground of possible solutions, ultimately to try to get to a resolution. You don’t have control over what’s going on in Syria.”

“You’ve got to be patient, smart, wise, manage the problem,” he said.

The Obama administration has resisted intervention in Syria based on the risk that arming the opposition directly could fuel the fire and out of concern that establishing a no-fly zone would require a major U.S. commitment with uncertain results.

A major U.S. commitment with uncertain results is what Obama has put into motion with his RED LINE ultimatum. More blood to bathe his Nobel Prize in, I guess.

Chris Hedges has a column up this month, titled The Hijacking of Human Rights, and it speaks directly to the transformation of human rights organizations into vehicles of pro-war propaganda:

The appointment of Suzanne Nossel, a former State Department official and longtime government apparatchik, as executive director of PEN American Center is part of a campaign to turn U.S. human rights organizations into propagandists for pre-emptive war and apologists for empire. Nossel’s appointment led me to resign from PEN as well as withdraw from speaking at the PEN World Voices Festival in May. But Nossel is only symptomatic of the widespread hijacking of human rights organizations to demonize those—especially Muslims—branded by the state as the enemy, in order to cloak pre-emptive war and empire with a fictional virtue and to effectively divert attention from our own mounting human rights abuses, including torture, warrantless wiretapping and monitoring, the denial of due process and extrajudicial assassinations.

Nossel, who was deputy assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs under Hillary Clinton in a State Department that was little more than a subsidiary of the Pentagon, is part of the new wave of “humanitarian interventionists,” such as Samantha Power, Michael Ignatieff and Susan Rice, who naively see in the U.S. military a vehicle to create a better world. They know little of the reality of war or the actual inner workings of empire. They harbor a childish belief in the innate goodness and ultimate beneficence of American power. The deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocents, the horrendous suffering and violent terror inflicted in the name of their utopian goals in Iraq and Afghanistan, barely register on their moral calculus. This makes them at once oblivious and dangerous. “Innocence is a kind of insanity,” Graham Greene wrote in his novel “The Quiet American,” and those who destroy to build are “impregnably armored by … good intentions and … ignorance.”

Deescalation, Diplomacy, these are not terms we will hear. My bet is we will hear plenty about red lines. And soil samples.

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by lizard

The broad, persistent push for equal rights for the LGBT community has been immensely successful. Some of the most significant successes have come from the courageous actions of gay men and women who serve in the military, men like Dan Choi.

In the last 24 hours another courageous gay man who served in the military is making headlines, Bradley Manning. The controversy is not that Manning has spent over 1,000 days in detention, initially in torturous conditions:

For the last three weeks in Ft. Meade, MD, Bradley Manning has had a pretrial motion hearing to seek accountability for the abusive treatment he endured at the Quantico Marine brig in Virginia, from July 29, 2010, to April 20, 2011. Manning was on Prevention of Injury watch (POI) or Suicide Watch his entire time in the brig, isolated in a 6×8 ft cell for 23 hours a day. For the first six months, he got only 20 minutes of sunshine a day. For the last month and a half, he had to surrender his underwear at night. For his entire time there, he was monitored around the clock, he had to ask for toilet paper and soap, and he had to wear metal shackles any time he left his cell. There weren’t detainees next to his cell, and when he left his cell the brig went in lockdown, so he was effectively barred from speaking to other inmates. And the military used his poor communication to justify his treatment.

No, the controversy instead is that some rogue member within the San Francisco Pride organization got Bradley Manning an honorary marshal designation in an upcoming pride parade.

The resulting anger from those in the military community who think Bradley Manning is a traitor to America caused SF Pride president, Lisa Williams, to quickly capitulate. Unfortunately Williams sorta overcompensated in her public reasoning. Here is her full statement:

26 April 2013: Bradley Manning will not be a grand marshal in this year’s San Francisco Pride celebration. His nomination was a mistake and should never have been allowed to happen. A staff person at SF Pride, acting under his own initiative, prematurely contacted Bradley Manning based on internal conversations within the SF Pride organization. That was an error and that person has been disciplined. He does not now, nor did he at that time, speak for SF Pride.

Bradley Manning is facing the military justice system of this country. We all await the decision of that system. However, until that time, even the hint of support for actions which placed in harms way the lives of our men and women in uniform — and countless others, military and civilian alike — will not be tolerated by the leadership of San Francisco Pride. It is, and would be, an insult to every one, gay and straight, who has ever served in the military of this country. There are many, gay and straight, military and non-military, who believe Bradley Manning to be innocent. There are many who feel differently. Under the US Constitution, they have a first amendment right to show up, participate and voice their opinions at Pride this year.

Specifically, what these events have revealed is a system whereby a less-than-handful of people may decide who represents the LGBT community’s highest aspirations as grand marshals for SF Pride. This is a systemic failure that now has become apparent and will be rectified. In point of fact, less than 15 people actually cast votes for Bradley Manning. These 15 people are part of what is called the SF Pride Electoral College, comprised of former SF Pride Grand Marshals. However, as an organization with a responsibility to serve the broader community, SF Pride repudiates this vote. The Board of Directors for SF Pride never voted to support this nomination. Bradley Manning will have his day in court, but will not serve as an official participant in the SF Pride Parade.

Instead of mitigating what is being framed as an internal blunder within SF Pride, Lisa Williams put fuel on the fire for those who don’t support this reversal; those who may be inclined to say stuff like this:

Williams did not simply go through the motions and make a statement clarifying he would not be honored like military factions of the LGBT community wanted. She herself put forth a robust condemnation of Manning fueled by her own perceptions.

The bio for Williams on SF Pride shows she works for a “political consulting and community advocacy” that serves Democratic Party politics. She “organized satellite offices for the Obama campaign.” She also is the PAC chair of the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition.

Those statements are from Kevin Gosztola, a young journalist who has written extensively on Bradley Manning’s case. The frustration behind the depiction is palpable.

Ultimately, by fueling this controversy, Lisa Williams has done a favor for those concerned about the implications of Bradley Manning’s prosecution. For those who would rather a parade for gay pride just be that, I’m sure there’s plenty of justified frustration.

You don’t get significant policy wins by diluting your impact over some peripheral whistleblower case, and you certainly won’t curry favor with the current administration by pointing out how terrible they’ve been on the war against whistleblowers.

by lizard

I’ve been obsessively listening to The Terror, a new Flaming Lips album (released April 16th) currently getting panned by critics.

I think the critics are wrong, but that’s just a matter of taste. This album personally resonates, and has therefore sparked some language of my own.

I haven’t enjoyed a thematically cohesive album like this since Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs. Both albums, IMHO, tap into something important. Here’s an example:

Once a band achieves a certain amount of success, evolving creatively becomes increasingly difficult, partly because that’s not the industry’s priority; commercial success is. From the “panned” link above, a failure to reproduce the formula of past successes is how the critic begins:

Expectations for a new Flaming Lips record are soaring high, mostly based on the fact the band always delivers brilliant music. The feeling is you can always rely on a Flaming Lips record. Or can you?

I think the feeling we are left with after listening to “The Terror,” however, is we miss the sound of singer Wayne Coyne’s undistorted voice and the variation seen on other records by The Flaming Lips. And that feeling is there from the opening track – usually a strength for The Lips.

Feelings are subjective, and this critic is certainly not speaking for me. I think the album is brilliant, an opinion that, for me, is solidified by each subsequent listen.

What I wrote in response is partly derived from the lyrical content of the album. If you listen closely, you will hear. Anyways, for the purpose of this post I’ve decided to title this poem PROJECT BUTTERFLY. Continue Reading »

by lizard

The blast registered as a 2.1-magnitude tremor. The death toll is up to 15 people, mostly first responders, with over 200 people injured. The cause is still unknown.

It’s been pointed out over the last few days that stuff which kills Americans on a regular basis gets much less attention than a hyper-sentionalized bombing. From the link:

The number of workplace deaths across the U.S. continues to rise, something it has done every year since 2004. AFL-CIO released its annual report Wednesday—Death in the Workplace: The Toll of Neglect—which covered 2010. The report notes that the number of deaths in 2010 was up 149 over 2009, to a recent high of 4,690—meaning an average of 13 workers die on the job every day in the U.S. On top of that, an estimated 50,000 additional workers died in 2010 because of occupational diseases. More than 3.8 million work-related injuries and illnesses were also reported, but it is estimated that the real number is much higher, between 7.6 million and 11.4 million annually.

Instead of trying to examine the dynamics behind why OSHA has only 2,200 inspectors for roughly 8 million work places, the media is consumed with dissecting the bomb brothers.

How the older brother, Tamerlan, was radicalized has become THE BIG QUESTION, and one answer the media is gravitating toward is this: conspiracy theories.

The AP keeps digging into the dead bombing suspect’s past and finds him endorsing, at some point, not just a cocktail but a Long Island Iced Tea of conspiracy theories. His inspiration, the mysterious “Misha,” reportedly turned him onto radical Islam that was disconnected from the larger, more strategic terror organizations that the U.S. considers itself at war with.

The AP article Slate references tells a bizarre story that leaves a reader with lots of questions, like who the hell is this “Misha” character?

This is how the article opens:

WASHINGTON (AP) — In the years before the Boston Marathon bombings, Tamerlan Tsarnaev fell under the influence of a new friend, a Muslim convert who steered the religiously apathetic young man toward a strict strain of Islam, family members said.

Under the tutelage of a friend known to the Tsarnaev family only as Misha, Tamerlan gave up boxing and stopped studying music, his family said. He began opposing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He turned to websites and literature claiming that the CIA was behind the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and Jews controlled the world.

Here is another snippet:

Tamerlan took an interest in Infowars, a conspiracy theory website. Khozhugov said Tamerlan was interested in finding a copy of the book “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the classic anti-Semitic hoax, first published in Russia in 1903, that claims a Jewish plot to take over the world.

The FBI is getting all kinds of heat right now for “dropping the ball.” Spinning this as incompetence is not a difficult sell, considering stories like this:

After the Boston Marathon bombings, the FBI acknowledged that in 2011 agents had interviewed the 26-year-old Tsarnaev and scrutinized his internet history, at the request of Russian officials. Yet, despite the Russians’ concerns about Tsarnaev’s potential links to militant separatist groups in Chechnya, the FBI determined he was not a threat.

Meanwhile, in an unrelated case, the bureau vigorously pursued Rezwan Ferdaus, a Northeastern University graduate who was born in Massachusetts and lived with his parents in a Boston suburb. Ferdaus came to the FBI’s attention through an informant posing as an Al Qaeda operative—a man who was paid $50,000 by the FBI for his efforts, while hiding a heroin addiction from his handlers.

According to court records, Ferdaus told the informant that he wanted to destroy the gold dome of the US Capitol building using a remote-controlled model airplane loaded with grenades. If that plot was far-fetched, so was the possibility that Ferdaus could even attempt it: He did not have weapons, and even if he had known where to buy explosives, Ferdaus was broke, according to court records.

Through the informant, the FBI encouraged Ferdaus to move forward with his idea to attack the US Capitol. They dedicated significant resources to the operation, giving him $4,000 to purchase an F-86 Sabre remote-controlled airplane and providing him with “explosives”—25 pounds of fake C-4 and three inert grenades. In May 2011, Ferdaus traveled to Washington, DC, to scout out locations from which to launch his weapon—all while being secretly recorded by FBI agents. Finally, on September 28, 2011, after a nine-month sting operation, FBI agents arrested Ferdaus, charging him with, among other offenses, attempting to destroy a federal building and providing material support to terrorists.

Ferdaus pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 17 years in prison, though no evidence indicated that he could have built and launched a weapon were it not for the FBI providing the money and materials.

I ended my last post with an epistemological look at the phrase Theatre of the Absurd.

For this post, I think maybe Kafkaesque is appropriate:

: of, relating to, or suggestive of Franz Kafka or his writings; especially : having a nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical quality

From that last link, as the FBI fixates on plots of its own creation, there have been some big screw ups:

Since the 9/11 attacks, the FBI has arrested more than 175 alleged terrorists using operations like the one in Boston that nabbed Ferdaus. In these expensive and elaborate stings, the targets often are men on the fringes of Muslim communities; many are economically desperate and some are mentally ill, and they are easily manipulated by paid informants and undercover agents.

But in the years since 9/11, several operational terrorists in the United States have gone unnoticed or have been overlooked by the FBI.

Faisal Shahzad, a 33-year-old naturalized US citizen from Pakistan, delivered a car bomb to Times Square on May 1, 2010. Shahzad wasn’t on the FBI’s radar until that day, after a street vendor reported the suspicious vehicle. Fortunately, the explosives he’d assembled failed to go off.

Nidal Hasan, a US Army Medical Corps officer, shot and killed 13 people at Fort Hood on November 5, 2009, even after the FBI investigated 18 emails he’d sent to Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born Al Qaeda propagandist who was killed in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen. The FBI didn’t realize Hasan was a threat until it was too late.

And despite the FBI’s initial interest in Tsarnaev, the same became true with him and his younger brother in Boston.

The price tag for the FBI’s counterterrorism efforts, according to the above article, is 3.3 billion dollars. I don’t think it would be very easy to argue that’s money well spent right about now.

Perversely, the failure of the FBI will ultimately result in more money thrown at counterterrorism, whether inter-agency, or somewhere else.

by Pete Talbot

Or so says the Washington Post.

“Who’ll be your whipping boy now?” asked my wife.

Still Max.  But I have a lot of questions.  Was it the public outcry on his latest actions the led to his retirement?  You know, his no vote on the expanded background checks for gun buyers and his comments on the health care “train wreck.”  The pundits say he did these things because he’s up for re-election in 2014.  Now he says he’s not running.

I get an email from Max’s organization every other day asking for money.  And he already has something like $6.5 million in his war chest.

So either he took a poll recently that said his numbers were in the crapper or he’s been playing at this super-secret campaign strategy to hold the seat in Democratic hands.  I suspect the former.

I guess it could be something else, like his health, but they say the guy runs miles everyday, so that probably isn’t it.  Then there’s this, from a source at ABC News: He has recently been remarried and “is finally happy,” the friend said. “At 72, he can still have a life. It’s harder to do that at 79.”

And the most shocking thing of all: The likely Democratic candidate to succeed him would be former governor Brian Schweitzer, sources said.

Where the hell did this come from?  It’s been said that these two guys don’t like each other very much.  Again, from the Post: ” … Schweitzer, a popular figure who at times has feuded with Baucus over local political issues in the Big Sky state. In February, Schweitzer hinted at a potential run in a Facebook post.”

Since I don’t follow Schweitzer on Facebook, this is news to me.  I thought Brian was busy trying to take over the Stillwater palladium mine over there in Columbus.

So much subterfuge, so little time.

Was Baucus really grooming Schweitzer for the seat all the time? Was this to keep potential Republican (or Democratic) rivals at bay. It seems to have worked on the Republicans with the two candidates, so far, being no-names: Corey Stapleton and Champ Edmunds.

This political insider crap drives me crazy, if that’s what it is.  I’m sure details will emerge over the next few weeks.  Personally, I’d like to see Denise Juneau run for the seat.

by lizard

At first the FBI tried to deny any previous contact with the alleged Boston bombers. Then CBS reported this:

The FBI admitted Friday they interviewed the now-deceased Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev two years ago and failed to find any incriminating information about him.

This is an issue they’ve had in the past. They interviewed Carlos Bledsoe in Little Rock, Ark., before he shot up an Army recruiting station in 2009. They were also looking into Major Hasan Nadal before the Fort Hood shootings.

However, the FBI has maintained in those incidents that they took all the steps they were asked to and were allowed to under the law.

Oh, maybe having laws is the problem. Is that why the FBI spends so much time thwarting their own terrorists plots? The link is to a NYT article dated April 28th, 2012:

THE United States has been narrowly saved from lethal terrorist plots in recent years — or so it has seemed. A would-be suicide bomber was intercepted on his way to the Capitol; a scheme to bomb synagogues and shoot Stinger missiles at military aircraft was developed by men in Newburgh, N.Y.; and a fanciful idea to fly explosive-laden model planes into the Pentagon and the Capitol was hatched in Massachusetts.

But all these dramas were facilitated by the F.B.I., whose undercover agents and informers posed as terrorists offering a dummy missile, fake C-4 explosives, a disarmed suicide vest and rudimentary training. Suspects naïvely played their parts until they were arrested.

The FBI did recently stop a teenager from flying to Syria to help the terrorists America is totally NOT (wink, wink) supporting:

CHICAGO (AP) — An Illinois teenager who was friends with a man charged last year with trying to bomb a Chicago bar was arrested at an airport on his way to try to join a terrorist group in war-torn Syria, the FBI said Saturday.

Abdella Ahmad Tounisi was arrested Friday night as he attempted to board a flight from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to Turkey, which borders Syria, the FBI said. He hoped to join Jabhat al-Nusrah, an al-Qaida-affiliated group fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime in a bloody civil war.

There are no links between Tounisi and the Boston Marathon bombings earlier in the week, the head of the FBI office in Chicago, Cory B. Nelson, said in a statement announcing the arrest.

Tounisi, a U.S. citizen, was snared in an Internet sting after contacting a sham website set up by the FBI that purported to hook up would-be fighters with terrorists, the federal complaint says.

I wonder if Tounisi was hoping to be cool like Eric Harroun, the US soldier now facing the death penalty for fighting with the bad terrorist opposition forces in Syria instead of the good freedom fighting opposition forces getting 123 million more taxpayer dollars in “non-lethal” aid.

What, this guy worry?

In trying to reconcile this madness, I googled a term that popped into my noggin—Theatre of the Absurd—and found this:

‘The Theatre of the Absurd’ is a term coined by the critic Martin Esslin for the work of a number of playwrights, mostly written in the 1950s and 1960s. The term is derived from an essay by the French philosopher Albert Camus. In his ‘Myth of Sisyphus’, written in 1942, he first defined the human situation as basically meaningless and absurd. The ‘absurd’ plays by Samuel Beckett, Arthur Adamov, Eugene Ionesco, Jean Genet, Harold Pinter and others all share the view that man is inhabiting a universe with which he is out of key. Its meaning is indecipherable and his place within it is without purpose. He is bewildered, troubled and obscurely threatened.

Yeah.

I think I’ll leave it at that for now.

By JC

death-panel-lg

by lizard

Brother Enemy (White Pine Press, 2002) is a collection of poems from the Korean War. Edited and translated by Suh Ji-Moon, the introduction begins with this:

The Korean War started with a surprise attack launched by North Korea at dawn on the 25th of june, 1950. Although South Korea was quite unprepared for the invasion that shattered the peace of a bright Sunday morning, it wasn’t wholly unexpected. THe mood of hostility between the Communist-controlled north and the U.S.-bolstered south had been such that disaster hung in the air. “I knew this was bound to happen./ And it has come at last” poet Cho Chi-hun says in “Journal of Despair, June 25, 1950.”

A lot of research went in to compiling this collection, and we are lucky work like this is being done. After 63 years, we are once again witnessing a significant mood of hostility developing on the Korean peninsula. The US media is framing this mood of hostility as a purely irrational North Korean escalation, meaning provocative maneuvers being taken by the US are never mentioned. “Alternative” media must provide more context:

The corporate media reduces the DPRK (North Korea) to the Kim family and prefaces their names with the terms “madman”, “evil” and “brutal”. Such vilifications of foreign leaders are used here not only to signify they are target for US overthrow. They are meant to intimidate and isolate anti-war activists as being out in left field for ever wanting to oppose a war against countries ruled by “madmen” – be they Saddam, Fidel, Hugo Chavez, Ahmadinejad, Qaddaffi.

Yet to a sensible person, it is crazy that the US, with nuclear weapons thousands of miles from home, in South Korea, denies North Korea has a right to have its own nuclear weapons on its own land – particularly when the North says it is developing nuclear weapons only as a deterrent because the US won’t take its own weapons out of the Korean peninsula.

Missing in what passes for discourse on the DPRK in the corporate media is that the US was conducting month-long war maneuvers last March in Korea, now extended into April, using stealth bombers, undetectable by radar, capable of carrying nuclear weapons. And this year these are not “deterrent” war maneuvers, but “pre-emptive war” maneuvers.

Would the US government and people get a little “irrational” if a foreign country that previously had killed millions of our people, sent nuclear capable stealth bombers off the coasts of New York City, Washington DC, Houston, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, there to fly around for a month in preparation for a possible nuclear attack on us? For what is called, in warped US language, war “games”?

Violence and the threat of violence is escalating across the globe. The more the US perpetrates and escalates that violence, the more our chances of directly experiencing that violence here at home increase.

This week’s poem is by Cho Chi-hun. Continue Reading »

by lizard

Today was not a bad day to be out cleaning up the Clark Fork with my family and nearly 1,000 other Missoulians. To visually see the trash on just our little section of river pile up was impressive.

Getting people together to do something positive for our environment, what a strange idea. Like no more hurting people, it’s a type of simple kid-logic that’s apparently incomprehensible to some people (I’m looking at you, Eric).

Comprehension of simple kid-logic also appears difficult for the vast majority of MT Republicans in Helena, because they have been busy putting the last few nails in the coffin where Medicaid expansion has gone to die:

HELENA – A contentious Medicaid proposal to fund private health insurance for thousands of low-income Montanans appears dead at the 2013 Legislature, after House Republicans Friday successfully bottled up the bill in committee.

I’m going to let Republicans in on a little secret: just because you killed an opportunity for 70,000 Montanans to get access to health insurance, that doesn’t mean those people—OUR NEIGHBORS—won’t have medical needs that get treated. You cruel, stupid ideologues have won nothing by doing this except to increase the cost and suffering of your constituents.

And you shameless ideologues do this while taking the health insurance WE PAY FOR for yourselves!

Unfortunately comprehension was not just a Republican problem with this particular piece of legislation. Apparently Rep. Tom Jacobson of Great Falls just simply doesn’t know how to cast votes. Whoopsies!

A move by Democrats to bring the measure to the floor failed by a single vote, with one Democrat later admitting he voted the wrong way. A later effort to undo the first vote failed by three votes.

House Minority Leader Chuck Hunter, D-Helena, said Democrats haven’t given up on passing the Medicaid-expansion bill. But he conceded it would be “very difficult to accomplish” at this point, with just seven working days left in the 2013 session.

For now, House Bill 623 resides in the House Human Services Committee – a panel controlled by Republicans who have consistently voted to kill all Medicaid-expansion proposals this session.

It would take 60 votes in the House to bring the measure to the floor for debate and possible passage. Republicans, most of whom oppose the bill, have a 61-39 majority in the House.

There are seven days left in this legislative session. When it’s over, who goes back to farm subsidies? Who goes back with health insurance? Who goes back with dark money falling out of their pockets?

The ideological reasoning for killing this legislation is crap because it’s coming from hypocrites.

Shame on you.

No More Hurting People

by lizard

The phrase scrawled on light blue paper reads: no more hurting people. Holding the paper, 8 year old Martin Richard, the youngest victim of the Boston bombing.

That phrase, coming from a kid who died an awful, violent death, is incredibly powerful.

That same phrase, coming from the mouth of our president, turns immediately (at least for me) into rhetorical garbage.

Reading through the transcript of Obama’s attempt to comfort Boston and America I felt almost sick, especially this excerpt:

You showed us, Boston, that in the face of evil, Americans will lift up what’s good. In the face of cruelty, we will choose compassion. In the face of those who would visit death upon innocents, we will choose to save and to comfort and to heal. We’ll choose friendship. We’ll choose love. Because Scripture teaches us God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline.

Obama’s job is to look into the camera and describe to Americans a fairytale that doesn’t exist, and the job of the media is to lube up their delivery system for broadcasting that fairytale.

But the reality is, in the face of cruelty, Americans choose ignorance.

Is this the compassion Obama was talking about?

I’ve been on a hunger strike since Feb. 10 and have lost well over 30 pounds. I will not eat until they restore my dignity.

I’ve been detained at Guantánamo for 11 years and three months. I have never been charged with any crime. I have never received a trial.

I could have been home years ago — no one seriously thinks I am a threat — but still I am here. Years ago the military said I was a “guard” for Osama bin Laden, but this was nonsense, like something out of the American movies I used to watch. They don’t even seem to believe it anymore. But they don’t seem to care how long I sit here, either.

When I was at home in Yemen, in 2000, a childhood friend told me that in Afghanistan I could do better than the $50 a month I earned in a factory, and support my family. I’d never really traveled, and knew nothing about Afghanistan, but I gave it a try.

I was wrong to trust him. There was no work. I wanted to leave, but had no money to fly home. After the American invasion in 2001, I fled to Pakistan like everyone else. The Pakistanis arrested me when I asked to see someone from the Yemeni Embassy. I was then sent to Kandahar, and put on the first plane to Gitmo.

Last month, on March 15, I was sick in the prison hospital and refused to be fed. A team from the E.R.F. (Extreme Reaction Force), a squad of eight military police officers in riot gear, burst in. They tied my hands and feet to the bed. They forcibly inserted an IV into my hand. I spent 26 hours in this state, tied to the bed. During this time I was not permitted to go to the toilet. They inserted a catheter, which was painful, degrading and unnecessary. I was not even permitted to pray.

I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone.

I am still being force-fed. Two times a day they tie me to a chair in my cell. My arms, legs and head are strapped down. I never know when they will come. Sometimes they come during the night, as late as 11 p.m., when I’m sleeping.

There are so many of us on hunger strike now that there aren’t enough qualified medical staff members to carry out the force-feedings; nothing is happening at regular intervals. They are feeding people around the clock just to keep up.

During one force-feeding the nurse pushed the tube about 18 inches into my stomach, hurting me more than usual, because she was doing things so hastily. I called the interpreter to ask the doctor if the procedure was being done correctly or not.

It was so painful that I begged them to stop feeding me. The nurse refused to stop feeding me. As they were finishing, some of the “food” spilled on my clothes. I asked them to change my clothes, but the guard refused to allow me to hold on to this last shred of my dignity.

When they come to force me into the chair, if I refuse to be tied up, they call the E.R.F. team. So I have a choice. Either I can exercise my right to protest my detention, and be beaten up, or I can submit to painful force-feeding.

The only reason I am still here is that President Obama refuses to send any detainees back to Yemen. This makes no sense. I am a human being, not a passport, and I deserve to be treated like one.

I do not want to die here, but until President Obama and Yemen’s president do something, that is what I risk every day.

Where is my government? I will submit to any “security measures” they want in order to go home, even though they are totally unnecessary.

I will agree to whatever it takes in order to be free. I am now 35. All I want is to see my family again and to start a family of my own.

The situation is desperate now. All of the detainees here are suffering deeply. At least 40 people here are on a hunger strike. People are fainting with exhaustion every day. I have vomited blood.

And there is no end in sight to our imprisonment. Denying ourselves food and risking death every day is the choice we have made.

I just hope that because of the pain we are suffering, the eyes of the world will once again look to Guantánamo before it is too late.

No more hurting people, says a young American boy. To a child, it really is that simple; don’t hurt people. Do unto them as you would have them do to you, right?

All cowardly terrorists should stop hurting people. By his own definition, that includes President Obama.

“Any time bombs are used to target innocent civilians, it is an act of terror.” He says.

If that statement is true (and I think it is) then double-tap drone strikes and Collateral Murder are both clear acts of terror.

There isn’t enough collective bandwidth available for Americans to acknowledge all the acts of terror our elected leaders have perpetrated, post-9/11.

While some eyes in the world will continue to follow the needless suffering of Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel and the growing hunger strike now at 63 detainees, American eyes can barely register that a possibly mentally ill musician from Mississippi sent a ricin-poisoned letter to the president.

The story of the week has reached a Friday crescendo with the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Boston can now emerge from martial law shelter in place, and celebrate.

If he survives his wounds, this 19 year old alleged terrorist will stand trial. He won’t be blown up by a drone strike, tortured to death at a CIA black site, or held for a decade without trial.

If America truly had the capability of adhering to principal and the rule of law, this is how alleged terrorists would be dealt with.

*UPDATE: I guess no Miranda rights for alleged terrorists

by Pete Talbot

My background gets checked all the time: for jobs, when I buy insurance, leave or enter the country, try to get a loan or apply for a credit card.

Background checks for gun buyers aren’t that big a deal. No one is limiting their choice of weapons or trying to take any away.

And 90 percent of Americans believe that expanded background checks are OK. Some of that 90 percent must live in Montana, right, Max?

If it were me, I’d support a ban on assault weapons and 30-plus-round clips. But I understand Max’s trepidation on this. The last time Max did anything controversial – and he probably didn’t realize it at the time – he voted for the Brady Bill.  The bill came about after President Reagan, Press Secretary James Brady, and a Secret Service agent and DC cop were wounded in an 1981 assassination attempt.

The Brady Bill was finally signed into law by President Clinton in 1993.  Many Republicans supported this legislation. Yet, Ax Max signs showed up around the state.

Next year,  he’s up for re-election, and Ax Max signs still haunt him.

I don’t expect Max to support ammo clip or assault weapon legislation but still, he’s against expanded background checks? C’mon Max, do you really need the votes from folks who think background checks are a radical infringement on their 2nd Amendment rights?  You’re worried about Republican candidates Corey Stapleton or Champ Edmunds?  You’ve already got $6.5 million in campaign funds in the bank.  No Republican challenger can come close to raising that kind of money.  You should be more worried about a primary challenger who would vote the correct way on expanded background checks.

Max always says: “My job is to stand up for Montanans, they are my employers.” I would venture that his employers are big pharma, insurance, finance and now the NRA.  Prove me wrong, Max.

by lizard

The two blasts (initial reports of two additional unexploded bombs appear to be inaccurate) in Boston today is something most of us are just starting to process. I debated about whether or not to even write this right now. I follow Richard Hugo House on twitter (a poetry thing) and I really appreciated this tweet:

We apologize for the pre-scheduled posts that went out earlier- we’re going silent now. Our hearts and hopes are with those in Boston today.

It’s almost too depressing to watch all the standard reactions in the noise, present post no exception. OccupyDenver tweets about dead Iraqis in a similar blast, the New York Post misinforms about some Saudi National, there’s some awful Newtown angle with family members running, and of course conspiratorial associations spread like wild fire, for example drawing attention to this April 12th story (Bloomberg Businessweek) about Obama’s “determination” to see through the construction of a 3.9 billion dollar headquarters for Homeland Security…at Elizabeth Hospital:

President Barack Obama is trying to solve big problems in his proposed 2014 budget. His efforts to curtail entitlement spending have gotten most of the headlines. But he also seems determined to complete the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s new headquarters, the largest federal construction project since the Pentagon rose in the 1940s. The cost: $3.9 billion.

The project would unite at a single location nearly all DHS’s 22 divisions devoted to thwarting terrorists and safeguarding the populace from natural and manmade disasters. The site is the campus of St. Elizabeth Hospital, a former federal asylum that was once the home of poet Ezra Pound and John Hinckley, Ronald Reagan’s would-be assassin. There would be 4.5 million square feet of workspace in the new facility and ample employee parking.

I know. Ezra Pound was in a federal asylum?

Patriot’s Day Bombing, is that the name we’re going with internet? There’s always a bit of confusion at first, and names are important, right? Suddenly this descended from the cloud upon which Nate Silver sits:

What matters: 1) who did it; 2) how they did it; 3) why they did it. What doesn’t matter: what we call it.

In more words than a tweet can convey, I found this interesting:

In his speech following today’s explosions at the Boston Marathon, President Obama noted that today is Patriot’s Day in Massachusetts. “It’s a day that celebrates the free and fiercely independent spirit that this great American city of Boston has reflected from the earliest days of our nation,” the president said during a briefing where he made it clear that we don’t yet know who was behind today’s attack. But Obama wasn’t the first to mention the holiday in the wake of the attack—speculation had already started swirling on Twitter about the possible significance of the Massachusetts Monday holiday on which the marathon is held every year.

With that in mind, a quick primer on Patriot’s Day: It commemorates the opening battles of the American Revolutionary War, the battles of Lexington and Concord, both held on April 19, 1775. The holiday has become best known for the marathon and is in fact also referred to as “Marathon Monday.” (Patriot’s Day, we should note, should not be confused with Patriot Day, established on September 11 to mark the World Trade Center attacks.)

So why were people so quick to speculate about the holiday’s possible significance? Undoubtedly because they were inspired by the fact that this week does contain a number of unhappy anniversaries: the Oklahoma City Bombing (April 19, 1995), the Waco assault (April 19, 1993), the Columbine School Shooting (April 20, 1999), and the Virginia Tech massacre (April 16, 2007), for starters. Two of those tragedies—the Virginia Tech massacre and the Waco assault—were on Monday, the Patriot’s Day of those years.

Reading that reminded me of this: an attempt at expressing how I personally relate to the month of April, and why I think, generally, fucked up things happen around this time of year.

Maybe more noise, maybe not.

I hope not.

by lizard

For the pro-life conservatives who consider the fight against abortion as being the number one concern, it’s all about saving the lives of the unborn (we will get to what happens to the lives of kids when they’re born into poverty in a bit). And for the right-wing meme-machine, abortion is a convenient social issue guaranteed to rile up the base.

Abortion also exposes the inherent contradictions for the broader conservative movement when it comes to their ideological obsession over the claimed need to shrink government. This is what drives me crazy. Conservatives say they want smaller government and less regulations, but they also want government regulating what happens in the wombs of women and the bedroom of gay Americans.

The issue of abortion is creeping into our media fray thanks to the current case being prosecuted against Kermit Gosnell—a case the right-wing meme-machine is generating a frenzy over. Part of the argument being made is lax oversight allowed this doctor to do horrific things in an incredibly unsanitary environment. But the main point for conservatives is this case is not being covered by the liberally-biased mainstream media because liberals enjoy killing unborn children so much, they don’t want any bad publicity to negatively impact on the ability of women to abort their unwanted pregnancies.

From the link (Mother Jones):

Obviously, conservatives believe the media is ignoring this story because it’s about abortion, and the lefties who run our media empires hate stories that put abortion in a bad light. Alternatively, it could be because it’s a Philadelphia story, and the national media doesn’t usually give a lot of time to local cases like this. Frankly, I don’t know—though I’ll note that even the conservative media didn’t give it a huge amount of coverage until fairly recently, when Gosnell’s trial started.

But if the motivations of the mainstream press are hazy, the motivations of the conservative press are crystal clear: they want this case to get a lot of attention because it highlights a rogue abortion doctor. That’s it. They wouldn’t give it the time of day if it were merely a story of regulatory failure that caused the deaths of a few poor people in, say, a rogue inner city dentist’s office.

Which is fine. If it were a rogue banker, I’d want to highlight it too. But that wouldn’t mean the rest of the media would somehow be implicated in a conspiracy if they didn’t follow my lead.

Our mainstream corporate media is selective about what issues get covered, and how they get covered. To understand the bias of corporate media, Project Censored closely tracks the stories corporate media buries:

The Project Censored team researched the board members of 10 major media organizations from newspaper to television to radio. Of these ten organizations, we found there are 118 people who sit on 288 different American and international corporate boards proving a close on-going interlock between big media and corporate America. We found media directors who also were former Senators or Representatives in the House such as Sam Nunn (Disney) and William Cohen (Viacom). Board members served at the FCC such as William Kennard (New York Times) and Dennis FitzSimmons (Tribune Company) showing revolving door relationships with big media and U.S. government officials.

These ten big media organizations are the main source of news for most Americans. Their corporate ties require us to continually scrutinize the quality of their news for bias. Disney owns ABC so we wonder how the board of Disney reacts to negative news about their board of directors friends such as Halliburton or Boeing. We see board members with connections to Ford, Kraft, and Kimberly-Clark who employ tens of thousands of Americans. Is it possible that the U.S. workforce receives only the corporate news private companies want them to hear? Do we collectively realize that working people in the U.S. have longer hours, lower pay and fewer benefits than their foreign counterparts? If these companies control the media, they control the dissemination of news turning the First Amendment on its head by protecting corporate interests over people.

So conservatives have a point that media bias exists, and is somehow tied up in the omission of this story in the 24/7 news cycle. The nature of the media bias, however, is tilted toward the interests of the almighty corporate bottom-line, and the plight of those in poverty is not a high priority, even if it’s something this grisly, and thus a good candidate for media sensationalization.

It would also help, in light of the corporate media consolidation that has happened in the past two decades, if people understood that the terms “liberal” and “conservative” are simply commodified products sold to news-consumers. Once you figure that out, you can then move beyond the labels to a better understanding of the corporate incentives behind reinforcing the polarization of our political landscape.

All that said, there is still great content generated by our media that can lead humans to be more aware of the problems our society faces and form solutions to address them.

Now, let’s talk about what happens when kids are born into poverty. I’m going to purposefully avoid talking about the ideological war being waged against the poor, because I recently focused on that angle in this post.

Instead, I would like to highlight this great article by Tina Rosenberg titled The Power of Talking to Your Baby:

By the time a poor child is 1 year old, she has most likely already fallen behind middle-class children in her ability to talk, understand and learn. The gap between poor children and wealthier ones widens each year, and by high school it has become a chasm. American attempts to close this gap in schools have largely failed, and a consensus is starting to build that these attempts must start long before school — before preschool, perhaps even before birth.

There is no consensus, however, about what form these attempts should take, because there is no consensus about the problem itself. What is it about poverty that limits a child’s ability to learn? Researchers have answered the question in different ways: Is it exposure to lead? Character issues like a lack of self-control or failure to think of future consequences? The effects of high levels of stress hormones? The lack of a culture of reading?

Another idea, however, is creeping into the policy debate: that the key to early learning is talking — specifically, a child’s exposure to language spoken by parents and caretakers from birth to age 3, the more the better. It turns out, evidence is showing, that the much-ridiculed stream of parent-to-child baby talk — Feel Teddy’s nose! It’s so soft! Cars make noise — look, there’s a yellow one! Baby feels hungry? Now Mommy is opening the refrigerator! — is very, very important. (So put those smartphones away!)

The idea has been successfully put into practice a few times on a small scale, but it is about to get its first large-scale test, in Providence, R.I., which last month won the $5 million grand prize in Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge, beating 300 other cities for best new idea. In Providence, only one in three children enter school ready for kindergarten reading. The city already has a network of successful programs in which nurses, mentors, therapists and social workers regularly visit pregnant women, new parents and children in their homes, providing medical attention and advice, therapy, counseling and other services. Now Providence will train these home visitors to add a new service: creating family conversation.

The Providence Talks program will be based on research by Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley at the University of Kansas, who in 1995 published a book, “Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children.” (see here for a summary.) Hart and Risley were studying how parents of different socioeconomic backgrounds talked to their babies. Every month, the researchers visited the 42 families in the study and recorded an hour of parent-child interaction. They were looking for things like how much parents praised their children, what they talked about, whether the conversational tone was positive or negative. Then they waited till the children were 9, and examined how they were doing in school. In the meantime, they transcribed and analyzed every word on the tapes — a process that took six years. “It wasn’t until we’d collected our data that we realized that the important variable was how much talking the parents were doing,” Risley told an interviewer later.

All parents gave their children directives like “Put away your toy!” or “Don’t eat that!” But interaction was more likely to stop there for parents on welfare, while as a family’s income and educational levels rose, those interactions were more likely to be just the beginning.

The disparity was staggering. Children whose families were on welfare heard about 600 words per hour. Working-class children heard 1,200 words per hour, and children from professional families heard 2,100 words. By age 3, a poor child would have heard 30 million fewer words in his home environment than a child from a professional family. And the disparity mattered: the greater the number of words children heard from their parents or caregivers before they were 3, the higher their IQ and the better they did in school. TV talk not only didn’t help, it was detrimental.

Read the whole article.

By the time teachers begin their role in the education of American children, the playing field is already incredibly skewed through no fault of the children impacted by poverty, which of course makes the conservative poor-bashing of poor children even more despicable.

So what can we start doing about it?

Understanding the problem is the beginning, and though I’m clearly biased when it comes to the subject of poetry, I think everyone should read this Harper’s piece by Tony Hoagland, titled Twenty Little Poems That Could Save America:

What went wrong? Somehow, we blew it. We never quite got poetry inside the American school system, and thus, never quite inside the culture. Many brave people have tried, tried for decades, are surely still trying. The most recent watermark of their success was the introduction of Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg and some e.e. cummings, of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and “In a Station of the Metro” — this last poem ponderously explained, but at least clean and classical, as quick as an inoculation. It isn’t really fair to blame contemporary indifference to poetry on “Emperor of Ice-Cream.” Nor is it fair to blame Wallace Stevens himself, who also left us, after all, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” a poem that will continue to electrify and intrigue far more curious young minds than are anesthetized by a bad day of pedagogy on the Ice Cream Poem. Let us blame instead the stuffed shirts who took an hour to explain that poem in their classrooms, who chose it because it would need an explainer; pretentious ponderous ponderosas of professional professors will always be drawn to poems that require a priest.

I don’t know if poetry can save America, but I know for a fact poetry saves lives.

In this week’s LWPS I mentioned how the Book of Frank by CAConrad wasn’t for everyone, then linked to an interview for anyone who wanted to explore why.

In that interview, CAConrad is painfully honest about the childhood experiences those poems come from. The book opens with a quote from CAConrad’s grandmother— “well of course they are staring, we’re very interesting—and the interviewer asks about that and about how the audience reacts during readings. This is what CAConrad has to say:

CA: The audience has to take it. If they’re there, they have to take it, or leave. People have walked out on me reading these and other poems more than a few times. I don’t care. Poetry will not apologize.

TD: “well of course they are staring, we’re very interesting” summarizes much of the book as the reader experiences reality with Frank. Did you have that statement from your grandmother in mind when you were compiling the poems?

CA: Oh, well that’s something she said to me when I was young. I was a young boy visiting my mother’s mother in Iowa. I wasn’t born there, I was born in Kansas, then mostly raised in rural Pennsylvania. Anyway, my mother had a reputation because she was a thief, an alcoholic, always in trouble, and kind of known as the town whore. So as a young boy I was in the little grocery store with my grandmother back in that town where my mother grew up. I can still see this. The look of CONTEMPT on the faces of these old women looking at me, whispering, shaking their heads while looking at me, you know, the kind of body language that turns your stomach no matter how old you are. I told my grandmother that they were staring at us. Then she said that sentence to me. It cheered me right away, I can’t say why. But it’s something that’s come in handy in my life. But your question was more about how it fits the book. It felt right. Particularly because of the trauma the poems came out of, well, it was my little way of making myself feel good at the start of the book. That’s why I put it there. What readers think it was put there for, or how it fits for readers is just fine with me.

I was absolutely delighted to have received a very positive response from the poet himself after tweeting the link to that post. I think CAConrad is an amazing poet (you can buy his books here) who shows those who care to look how language has the power to process trauma.

And because there is a war being waged against the poor, we will need to utilize whatever tools are available.

To end this rather lengthy post, I offer a little clip from a movie I absolutely adore. Enjoy!

by lizard

CAConrad’s the Book of Frank (Wave Books, 2009) is not recommended reading for everyone. If you want to know a bit about it, you can read this interview: poetry will not apologize.

For this week’s poetry installment, I have chosen a selection from the Book of Frank, and to compliment that poem, a message to the watchers their presence known.

Don’t worry about what that might mean. Enjoy! Continue Reading »

Taking Everything

by lizard

In my more paranoid moments, I wonder how much of what we see and know is being engineered by people with too much power and influence.

As Occupy Wall Street was emerging in the fall of 2011, the accusations from the right (and a-political, all-in conspiracists) was that Soros money was behind it. This Reuters piece debunking that claim still carries a seed of doubt, because a guy with billions of dollars will have it going lots of different places:

Soros spokesman Michael Vachon said that Soros has not “funded the protests directly or indirectly.” He added: “Assertions to the contrary are an attempt by those who oppose the protesters to cast doubt on the authenticity of the movement.”

Soros has donated at least $3.5 million to an organization called the Tides Center in recent years, earmarking the funds for specific purposes. Tides has given grants to Adbusters, an anti-capitalist group in Canada whose inventive marketing campaign sparked the first demonstrations last month.

While I still support the idea of directly challenging Wall Street’s role in the extreme wealth disparity that’s exploded over the last decades, and while I still greatly admire the people who faced down the (nationally coordinated) police state response, there are reasons to be skeptical, like this rather disorienting headline:

Carne Ross, Top Occupy Wall Street Activist, Hired To Lobby For Syrian Opposition

WASHINGTON — Members of the Syrian opposition movement have hired a top Occupy Wall Street activist as their U.S. lobbyist, according to registration forms filed with the U.S. Senate on Monday. Carne Ross is best known as one of the driving forces behind the Occupy Wall Street Working Group on Alternative Banking, a coalition that created a model for nonprofit banking.

According to the lobbying forms, Ross’s advisory firm, Independent Diplomat, Inc., will “meet with key officials and desk officers in the State Department and other U.S. agencies to gather their views [on the Syrian civil war] … and advise the Syrian Coalition how best to tailor their own approach to the U.S. Government.”

Um, well, shit.

Have fun, Mr. Activist, figuring out how to destroy Syria as al-Nusra just announced they’re officially going steady with Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

While Mr. Activist lands a nice gig with the government that’s run by the banks, two articles recently boggled my mind, because they deal with money in the trillions.

I linked to this article by Dave Lindorff in the comments of a post about poverty, because the cruelty of the cuts rippling out right now shouldn’t even be happening if not for this obscene greed:

I mean it. Stop talking about cutting school budgets, Social Security benefits, Medicare, Veteran’s pensions. Stop cutting subsidies to transit systems, to foreign aid. Stop cutting unemployment benefits. Stop it all.

There can not be any justification for budget cutting while wealthy criminals, corrupt politicians and business executives are hiding what reportedly totals between $29 trillion and $32 trillion in offshore tax havens.

A massive data dump by the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), working in conjunction with dozens of news organizations around the globe, has exposed the secret files of over 120,000 dummy offshore companies that have been used for years to hide the wealth — much of it ill-gotten, all of it tax-dodged — of the world’s rich and mega-rich.

But it’s not those tax-dodging depositors at risk. The second article from Ellen Brown describes a sleight of hand that really started with the repeal of Glass-Steagall and now lives on in Cyprus and the language of Dodd-Frank, potentially exposing US depositors to a 230 trillion derivative black hole:

Shock waves went around the world when the IMF, the EU, and the ECB not only approved but mandated the confiscation of depositor funds to “bail in” two bankrupt banks in Cyprus. A “bail in” is a quantum leap beyond a “bail out.” When governments are no longer willing to use taxpayer money to bail out banks that have gambled away their capital, the banks are now being instructed to “recapitalize” themselves by confiscating the funds of their creditors, turning debt into equity, or stock; and the “creditors” include the depositors who put their money in the bank thinking it was a secure place to store their savings.

The Cyprus bail-in was not a one-off emergency measure but was consistent with similar policies already in the works for the US, UK, EU, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, as detailed in my earlier articles here and here. “Too big to fail” now trumps all. Rather than banks being put into bankruptcy to salvage the deposits of their customers, the customers will now be put into bankruptcy to save the banks.

Why Derivatives Threaten Your Bank Account

The big risk behind all this is the massive $230 trillion derivatives boondoggle managed by US banks. Derivatives are sold as a kind of insurance for managing profits and risk; but as Satyajit Das points out in Extreme Money, they actually increase risk to the system as a whole.

In the US after the Glass-Steagall Act was implemented in 1933, a bank could not gamble with depositor funds for its own account; but in 1999, that barrier was removed. Recent congressional investigations have revealed that in the biggest derivative banks, JPMorgan and Bank of America, massive commingling has occurred between their depository arms and their unregulated and highly vulnerable derivatives arms. Under both the Dodd Frank Act and the 2005 Bankruptcy Act, derivative claims have super-priority over all other claims, secured and unsecured, insured and uninsured. In a major derivatives fiasco, derivative claimants could well grab all the collateral, leaving other claimants, public and private, holding the bag.

The article gets a bit chunky, but it’s worth slogging through.

To wrap up this post, if you were like me and heard about this thing called bitcoin, but didn’t feel like taking the time figure out what the hell the people making snarky tweets were referring to, this Mother Jones piece attempts to explain it.

I still don’t know. About any of it really.

Maybe a song would be nice. This one just popped up on shuffle as I was writing this post, and thinking about their two Missoula performances makes me smile.

by Pete Talbot

I’m convinced that the only reason I haven’t been appointed to a cabinet post is my wife’s unseemly past.

Take the case of Tracy Stone-Manning.  She’s been nominated by Gov. Bullock to head Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality.  Her husband, Dick Manning, wrote a book nearly a decade ago that apparently criticized certain modern agricultural practices.

Forget her qualifications for the job, her husband wrote something that offended some legislators (although I doubt they actually read the book).

I love this new litmus test being a part of the Bullock administration: let’s hold folks accountable for their spouses’ actions.  Debbie Barrett (R-Dillon) certainly thinks it’s a good idea.

Maybe the husband/wife has a little problem with booze or pills: boot the nominee. Or maybe said spouse opened their kisser at the wrong time or penned a nasty letter to the editor.  That’s certainly grounds for not getting appointed.  I think we should do background checks on the spouses of everyone who holds public office.

For a Republican Senator, a resume isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.  Again, take Pat Williams’ nomination to the board of regents as a case in point.  No, it’s all political now.  Or in some cases, the politics of a spouse.

It can’t get much more petty than that.

(By the way, my wife has a pretty impeccable background.  I, on the other hand … )

by lizard

Al Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn has helped the gun control side of the gun debate by saying this in a video released this week:

America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle, without a background check, and most likely without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?

Closing loopholes and strengthening background checks makes sense, and in some form will probably get passed. An incredible amount of political pressure has kept lawmakers focused on this issue, especially from victims who have lost loved ones from atrocities like Newtown.

Part of this discussion has included the need to increase access to mental health services. Here in Montana, that would mean passing medicaid expansion, something most state Republicans are still against:

In a dramatic turn of events Tuesday, a coalition of Senate Democrats and five Republicans resurrected and then narrowly endorsed a bill to expand Medicaid in Montana — but GOP senators supporting the move said they’re not for expansion.

Instead, they said they’re looking for a “Montana-made solution” to extend more affordable health coverage to the poor. The Medicaid expansion bill needs to stay alive as a possible vehicle for that solution, they said.

That legislative action—where 5 rational Republicans acted honorably to keep the chance to help 70,000 Montanans get access to health care alive—happened April 2nd, before all the drama last Friday.

That drama has been resolved, though in a manner that is understandably upsetting state Democrats:

Senate leaders said Wednesday that they reached a deal aimed at ending the acrimony stemming from the Republican majority’s decision to vote on bills despite Democrats’ attempts to halt the proceedings.

The two sides have been stewing since last Friday when the fight over parliamentary maneuvering stalled the Legislature for hours.

The standoff started with a missing senator that Democrats intended to use to invoke a rare move demanding every member is present before voting. The move could have killed GOP priority bills facing a procedural deadline. It culminated in a rowdy Senate floor session where Senate President Jeff Essmann ignored Democrats as they shouted and pounded on desks in an attempt to be recognized.

Afterward, Republicans alleged Democrats orchestrated the senator’s absence. Democrats complained the Republicans broke the rules by ignoring their motion and going on with the session.

Essmann said he has agreed to drop subpoenas investigating whether Democrats broke decorum rules. He and Senate Minority Leader Jon Sesso met for two hours a day earlier to sort out differences.

Democrats agreed to work the Republicans on legislation to overhaul the political practices office.

That measure, Senate Bill 387 from Sen. Debby Barrett, establishes a commission over the office and attempts to modify the way the commissioner is selected and improve the way campaign finance and other complaints are selected.

Essmann read a letter to the full Senate, which was also signed by Sesso, that focused on the actions of the Democrats.

“The minority acknowledges its role in the disruption of the decorum of the Senate … and I have been assured by Sen. Sesso that this will not happen again.”

Both sides agreed to drop the practice of pounding on desks to gain recognition and to limit disruptions.

The letter does not address grievances from Democrats that Essmann violated rules and the Montana Constitution, an allegation that argues the disputed GOP bills were illegally passed. Democrats have threatened the matter could end up in courts.

Jeff Essman is a despicable little weasel, that may be true, and this resolution is incredibly one-sided, also true, but like I’ve said, challenging Essman’s bullying disregard of rules in court probably won’t play well with average Montanans, especially when there is lots of work that still needs to get done.

Access to health care includes mental health services. Montana desperately needs to find a way to expand that access, and state legislators can provide that expansion for 70,000 people in this state. Hell, even Rick Scott finally saw the light and came out in support of medicaid expansion for Floridians.

We desperately need medicaid expansion to happen in Montana, so get to work in Helena, folks, because Montanans are depending on you to put aside the partisan drama in order to do what’s right for our state.

by lizard

I believe rational conservatives exist. I believe, beyond labels, there are lots of good people out there who want to be helpful instead of hurtful.

Despite the truly sad display of fear behind the attempt of MT legislators to continue criminalizing consensual sex between two people with the same nether parts, younger conservatives who live in this new century are increasingly not going with it.

Here are a few tweets from Missoula councilman Adam Hertz:

It’s an absolute embarrassment to the State of MT that 38 members in the House would send someone to prison for being gay. #MTLeg #MTPol

~

So 36 members of the House, not 38. Two reps apparently read the Constutition between 1st & 2nd reading. Good for you two! #MTLeg #MTPol

~

Thousands of young, prospective Republicans will instead grow up to be Democrats thanks to 36 of you who voted no on SB 107. #MTLeg #MTPol

I commend Adam Hertz for speaking so frankly about the warped, unconstitutional reasoning behind keeping the criminalization of gay sex on the books. That last tweet is absolutely correct. Attracting young people into the party is made much more difficult with such cruel stances being taken by ignorant people.

I think it’s important to find and support rational conservatives. The conservative blogger that inspired this post may be one behind all the liberal/communist fear-mongering, but I remain skeptical, because of posts like this.

Evidence of participating in the echo chamber of right wing paranoia, this conservative blogger adds his voice to the noise being generated over a promotional spot for MSNBC featuring Melissa Harris-Perry. Because Communism. This is the offending language Harris-Perry used to expose her nefarious communist agenda:

“We have never invested in public education as much as we should have, because we’ve always had kind of a private notion of children. Your kid is yours, and totally your responsibility. We haven’t had a very collective notion of “These are our children”; so part of it is that we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents, or kids belong to their families, and recognize that kids belong to whole communities. Once it’s everybody’s responsibility and not just the household’s, then we start making better investments,” (Melissa Harris-Perry, MSNBC promotional video).

This ridiculous “controversy” that Rush Limbaugh is feeding with stupid allusions to communist genocide is the sad glue of fear being used to keep the broken GOP from further splintering.

I wonder if the right-wing noise makers would call Family Promise a communist endeavor. I mean, just look at this group’s mission: Building communities, strengthening lives. More specifically:

Our mission is to help homeless and low-income families achieve sustainable independence.

Here in Missoula, there are not a lot of resources for homeless families. Family Promise takes a collective approach to serving a huge need that our community is not adequately addressing. Does that make them communists?

While I believe rational conservatives exist, the loudest conservatives are often the most irrational. I wonder how many of those conservatives frothing at the mouth over the communism on display in Harris-Perry’s words simultaneously believe they have the right to impose their anti-abortion beliefs on others.

If we are to abandon the collective notion of kids, then we should abolish child abuse laws and disband child protective services state to state. Right?

Wrong.

Melissa Harris-Perry responded to the absurd controversy in a blog post. Here is part of it:

I believe wholeheartedly, and without apology, that we have a collective responsibility to the children of our communities even if we did not conceive and bear them. Of course, parents can and should raise their children with their own values. But they should be able to do so in a community that provides safe places to play, quality food to eat, terrific schools to attend, and economic opportunities to support them. No individual household can do that alone. We have to build that world together.

So those of you who were alarmed by the ad can relax. I have no designs on taking your children. Please keep your kids! But I understand the fear.

We do live in a nation where slaveholders took the infants from the arms of my foremothers and sold them for their own profit. We do live in a nation where the government snatched American Indian children from their families and “re-educated” them by forbidding them to speak their language and practice their traditions.
But that is not what I was talking about, and you know it.

I venture to say that anyone and everyone should know full well that my message in that ad was a call to see ourselves as connected to a larger whole. I don’t want your kids, but I want them to live in safe neighborhoods. I want them to learn in enriching and dynamic classrooms. I want them to be healthy and well and free from fear. I want them to grow up to agree or disagree with me or with you and to have all the freedom and tools they need to express what they believe.

And no hateful thing that you say to me or about me will ever change that I want those things for your children.

We have a situation in this country where 1 out of 4 children live in poverty. For the richest nation in the world, that is an absolutely shameful statistic.

Conservatives don’t want to talk about our collective responsibility to children. These irrational conservatives would rather talk about “personal responsibility” while cutting school lunch programs and head start programs and cutting government assistance if kids then get bad grades in school. That is insane.

I know there are rational conservatives out there and I wish they would be more vocal, because most of what we hear from the right is totally bonkers.

by Pete Talbot

There are lots of ways to interpret the news and write the story.

One version would say the Democrats “took a big gamble” when they tried to block a pair of bills.

Another might read:

Old, straight, paranoid white guys try to cling to power by suppressing the vote.

Guess which way Lee Newspapers’ Mike Dennison took?

Now I have a lot of respect for Dennison.  He’s covered the Capitol and other statewide issues quite well for many years.  He’d probably get into trouble with corporate (and Lord knows there aren’t a lot of jobs in journalism out there these days) if he wrote the lede that needs writing.

Because let’s face it, the Republicans in the Montana Legislature are, for the most part, a bunch of scared, intransigent, backward-thinking white guys (and a few women) who see the way the rest of the country is trending.  And it’s not in their direction.

The Montana GOP could try to moderate its policy, be more inclusive and play the long game.  Or it could attempt to keep young people, immigrants and the disenfranchised from voting.

It’s doing the latter.

So while I appreciate the mainstream media’s legislative coverage, I’ll look to the blogs for the ledes that cut to the chase.

by lizard

After the Missoulian editorial board came out strongly for the Keystone pipeline, ExxonMobil experienced a little problem in Mayflower, Arkansas. This Alternet piece highlights the 14 things you need to know about why this pipeline spill is so horrifying. This first paragraph sets the tone:

Within a week of the ExxonMobil tar sands oil pipeline burst in Mayflower, Arkansas, ExxonMobil was in charge of the clean-up, the U.S. government had established a no-fly zone over the area, some 40 residents were starting their second week of evacuation, ExxonMobil was threatening to arrest reporters trying to cover the spill, and several homeowners had filed a class action lawsuit seeking damages from the world’s second-most-profitable corporation, which had helped keep the pipeline secret from terrorists.

Then in Houston, Texas, this happened:

While clean up continues on the Exxon oil spill in Arkansas, another oil pipeline burst was detected over the weekend – this time in Houston, Texas.

The Shell Oil owned pipeline burst was detected Friday by the US National Response Center and has dumped an estimated 30,000 gallons of oil into a waterway connected to the Gulf of Mexico (as if it needed any more oil dumped into it!).

If that’s too depressing, the Missoulian may be able to cheer you up with the brighter side of global climate change:

Climate change warnings tend to focus on the losers, but western Montana would come up a winery winner, according to a new scientific analysis of temperature trends.

“Winter temperatures have been a limit to vineyard growth in our state,” said Gary Tabor, director of the Center for Large Landscape Conservation in Bozeman and one of the co-authors of “Climate Change, Wine and Conservation” in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “So as we see our temperatures not being as Montanan as before, we’re seeing the impact of climate change in how people look at agriculture. Folks in Oregon and Washington are looking at our vineyards here to expand production.”

Well, that’s it. If climate change means better conditions for vineyard expansion in Montana, let’s build that damn pipeline right now, ’cause my Bota Box is almost empty.

Maybe at this point I should remind folks oil companies don’t give a fuck about anything if it means making more money. That link is to a must read investigative look by Greg Palast at how BP’s Deepwater disaster may have been averted:

Three years ago this month, on the 20th of April, 2010, the BP Deepwater Horizondrilling rig blew itself to kingdom come.

Soon thereafter, a message came in to our office’s chief of investigations, Ms Badpenny, from a person I dare not name, who was floating somewhere in the Caspian Sea along the coast of Baku, Central Asia.

The source was in mortal fear he’d be identified – and with good reason. Once we agreed on a safe method of communication, he revealed this: 17 months before BP’sDeepwaterHorizonblew out and exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, another BP rig suffered an identical blow-out in the Caspian Sea.

Crucially, both the Gulf and Caspian Sea blow-outs had the same identical cause: the failure of the cement “plug”.

To prevent blow-outs, drilled wells must be capped with cement. BP insisted on lacing its cement with nitrogen gas – the same stuff used in laughing gas – because it speeds up drying.

Time is money, and mixing some nitrogen gas into the cement saves a lot of money.

However, because BP’s penny-pinching method is so damn dangerous, they are nearly alone in using it in deep, high-pressure offshore wells.

The reason: nitrogen gas can create gaps in the cement, allow methane gas to go up the borehole, fill the drilling platform with explosive gas – and boom, you’re dead.

So, when its Caspian Sea rig blew out in 2008, rather than change its ways, BP simply covered it up.

I don’t know if the lure of vineyards is enough for me to start gleefully supporting the Keystone pipeline, sorry Sherry. Especially after what this Montana farmer has to say:

Last year proved too dry. The year before — too wet. For Wade Sikorski of Fallon County, Mont., the years in which the weather is just right to grow food on his ranch seem to be increasingly few and far between.

“We go from one extreme to another,” said Sikorski. “With either extreme, I can’t produce anything.”

Sikorski sees climate change as a culprit, and the Keystone XL pipeline — which is slated to run within a couple miles of his ranch — as likely to make matters worse.

“There are a lot of safety issues with the pipeline itself. It could rupture and leak as it crosses farms and ranches,” he said. “But my main issue is climate change.”

I should note Sikorski is in the extreme minority in his community with his opposition to the pipeline. Jobs are jobs, even if temporary, and most folks want to cash-out whatever pocket change the oil cartels are willing to shake out.

If there is a vineyard boom, and the Montana Taverns Association is unable to keep the wine-tasting rooms from spreading, I hope the vineyard entrepreneurs pick clever names for their wine.

I doubt Climate Change Merlot will be one of them.

by lizard

Though state Republicans are trying to out-do punching poor people (figuratively or course) with incredibly cruel legislation like this, I still kinda wish Mitt Romney won the election.

Before addressing the cognitive dissonance of that sentence, this is what Missouri Republicans want to do to poor kids:

Cookson is sponsoring House Bill 1040. It is short and self-explanatory: “School age children of welfare recipients must attend public school, unless physically disabled, at least ninety percent of the time in order to receive benefits.”

In other words, the responsibility for the family’s financial well-being would depend on a child’s school attendance. That’s a lot of responsibility to place on a first-grader with tonsillitis, or a middle-schooler with mononucleosis, or a high school kid with clinical depression.

While Republicans are openly attacking the poor in Missouri and Tennessee, Democrats take a different approach. They seem to prefer taking the poor gently by the hand and saying these cuts are for your own good.

I know DECISION 2012 is over, but if we could go back to that delightful time period before the presidential election, when Republicans were trying to get away with blatantly lying about Obama gutting the work requirements for welfare, I’d like to briefly explore why Democrats had very legitimate reasons to be upset.

The problem is those reasons have to be artfully articulated, and that’s because Democrats must be very careful how they talk about their support for neoliberal poor-bashing; it’s a much more delicate form of attack to employ.

At the DNC convention, for example, Bill Clinton couldn’t help including a bit of self-promotion in his speech when defending the deceitful attacks against Obama. And with the millions of people Clinton’s welfare reform shed, he had every reason to be indignant over the false depiction by Republicans.

Luckily the Democrat base exhibits a general inability to recognized policy failures by celebrities like Bill Clinton, though The Nation will still dutifully point out why Clinton’s welfare reform has been a failure.

I doubt Bill Clinton’s big donors would see welfare reform as a failure, though. And because Bill Clinton got his telecommunication act passed, allowing corporate media to further consolidate their market share of messaging, the poor have had even less visibility as the economic disparity continues to widen.

While Bill Clinton continues to cash in on his corporate servitude, former aides of Max Baucus are doing the same, according to this NYT article:

Restaurant chains like McDonald’s want to keep their lucrative tax credit for hiring veterans. Altria, the tobacco giant, wants to cut the corporate tax rate. And Sapphire Energy, a small alternative energy company, is determined to protect a tax incentive it believes could turn algae into a popular motor fuel.

To make their case as Congress prepares to debate a rewrite of the nation’s tax code, this diverse set of businesses has at least one strategy in common: they have retained firms that employ lobbyists who are former aides to Max Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which will have a crucial role in shaping any legislation.

No other lawmaker on Capitol Hill has such a sizable constellation of former aides working as tax lobbyists, representing blue-chip clients that include telecommunications businesses, oil companies, retailers and financial firms, according to an analysis by LegiStorm, an online database that tracks Congressional staff members and lobbying. At least 28 aides who have worked for Mr. Baucus, Democrat of Montana, since he became the committee chairman in 2001 have lobbied on tax issues during the Obama administration — more than any other current member of Congress, according to the analysis of lobbying filings performed for The New York Times.

While corporations purchase access to a political system absolutely corrupted by money, a bank in Georgia—SunTrust Bank—literally put edible food in dumpsters to keep it from going to poor Georgians who helped the storeowner clear his store after eviction. Here’s the local report:

Tuesday afternoon, hundreds of people were waiting outside of Laney Supermarket… all hoping to stuff garbage bags with free food. The merchandise was piled up outside of the building after the store owner was evicted early Tuesday morning. But before anyone could grab anything, the Sheriff showed up.

“The normal process is once law enforcement leaves, it becomes public property. But again, with 400 people out with items such as these. These were brand new items from the store. We saw that the potential for a riot was extremely high,” says Sheriff Richard Roundtree.

Zenard Pryor, a frequent shopper there, says that before deputies got there, he was helping the store owner remove items from the building.

“So he said, man you know, I’m fixing to get rid of all of this stuff, man, as long as you work, I ain’t got not money to pay you all and stuff, as long as you work, you can get anything that you see that you want. That’s what he said. So me and the dudes, we all get together and started working, cleaning up the building and stuff. We didn’t know that the Police were going to come in, and Roundtree are going to come in here and say throw everything in the trash. That’s wrong, man,” says Pryor.

Many of the people become angry when they realized the food being loaded up in dump trunks would be taken to a landfill.

“You could have took the food to the church, you could have took the food to the food bank, you could have took the food anywhere. You all just throwing the food away cause we hungry, we ain’t got nothing,” says Onlooker Cisro Wallace.

I hope churches are ready for the onslaught of need that is going to increasingly come knocking.

So, coming back to the first sentence of this post, in the midst of such cruel behavior by Republicans and bankers, why would I wish Mitt won the White House?

Because with Obama and Democrats like Max Baucus, the corporate consensus has its best shot at inflicting maximum pain on the tens of millions of people who desperately need what meager government assistance has been preserved from decades of attack.

Closer to home, I really hope the gamble of Montana Democrats last Friday hasn’t destroyed the slim chance of medicaid expansion happening for our state, because if it doesn’t happen, I think they will have to share some of the blame, or at least that is how Republicans will be able to spin it.

While same-day voter registration is critically important for a healthy democracy, and the top-two primary bill might cut into MT Dems libertarian ace-in-the-hole for big ticket races like Tester’s, I’m not sure watching how this plays out in court is going to benefit anyone from either party.

There is, despite the political polarization, a willingness to work for the broader betterment of Montanans. I was happy to see Adam Hertz, a Missoula councilperson, express his support for medicaid expansion on twitter, even though the context of the tweet contained criticism for how Democrats responded to Essman’s now infamous refusal to recognize the minority:

I’m 1 of the GOP who supports Medicaid exp but when I support something I use words & logic instead of tantrums #MTLeg

Montana Democrats pulled out all the stops to keep Republicans from eroding the electoral process in this state, even if doing so means blowing the chance to insure 70,000 people and adding 12,000 new jobs, and they are doing this while Obama leads Democrats into the economic doldrums of austerity with preemptive offerings of chained CPI and other spoils for the unaccountable ruling class.

Other legislative priorities that desperately need addressing include the “dismal” state of Montana’s public defender’s office. Failure to do so will almost guarantee lawsuits.

Same day voting matters as long as there are willing participants who want to engage in our political system. The way things are going, getting people to the voting booths will be an increasingly difficult sell.

Especially if you’re busy chasing dump trucks with perishable food items all the way to the landfill.

by lizard

This week’s poem comes from Stephen Dunn, a poet I’ve featured before. I picked up his book of poems titled Landscape at the End of the Century (W. W. Norton, 1991) today at the Book Exchange. The book’s new home is behind glass doors in one of two new towering shelves I bought at Ikea while on vacation.

Ah, but vacation is over, and the poem is a sort of creepy thought profile of a sociopath. Enjoy!

*

WHAT THEY WANTED

They wanted me to tell the truth,
so I said I’d lived among them
for years, a spy,
but all that I wanted was love.
They said they couldn’t love a spy.
Couldn’t I tell them other truths?
I said I was emotionally bankrupt,
would turn any of them in for a kiss.
I told them how a kiss feels
when it’s especially undeserved;
I thought they’d understand.
They wanted me to say I was sorry,
so I told them I was sorry.
They didn’t like it that I laughed.
They asked what I’d seen them do,
and what I do with what I know.
I told them: find out who you are
before you die.
Tell us, they insisted, what you saw.
I saw the hawk kill a smaller bird.
I said life is one long leave-taking.
They wanted me to speak
like a journalist. I’ll try, I said
I told them I could depict the end
of the world, and my hand wouldn’t tremble.
I said nothing’s serious except destruction.
They wanted to help me then.
They wanted me to share with them,
that was the word they used, share.
I said it’s bad taste
to want to agree with many people.
I told them I’ve tried to give
as often as I’ve betrayed.
They wanted to know my superiors,
to whom did I report?
I told them I accounted to no one,
that each of us is his own punishment.
If I love you, one of them cried out,
what would you give up?
There were others before you,
I wanted to say, and you’d be the one
before someone else. Everything, I said.

—Stephen Dunn

by jhwygirl

I am proud of the Montana Democrats who stood loudly and proudly for their Montana Constitutional right to represent us – the people – on the floor of the Senate.

From Supermontanareporter John S. Adams:

Mike Dennison has and excellent step-by-step breakdown of what happened.

Adams, at his blog The Lowdown has the full bevvy of official responses from Governor Bullock, both parties and the Montana Senate GOP, which controls that body.

Montana GOP can claim Sen. Shannon Augare’s move a crap thing to do all they want, but at least he didn’t violate the Montana Constitution. There are rules to follow – and when the presiding member of a body fails to recognize the minority leader, then we’re talking about some serious concerns for free speech.

Plainly: Senate President Jeff Essman impeded the right of representation for those that elected the minority.

Theatrics? Short of breaking into fist fights, what were Dems to do when their right to speak on the floor of the Senate was ignored?

I thank Montana’s Senate Democrats for not taking this violation of democracy sitting down. And I also thank those in the galley who stood in support, even after Essman attempted to clear the galley of witnesses to the constitutional violations committed under both his leadership and his guidance.

by jhwygirl

Legislative Day 70 House Judiciary, chaired by Krazy Krayton Kerns, saw the tabling on a party line 12 to 8 vote of SB107 which would have removed from state law an unconstitutional and archaic law which criminalizes gay in Montana.

In the past, we’ve piled on the Montana GOP for its continued stance on criminalizing gay (read here and here for just two examples.

June of last year saw some changes – I thought – in the Montana GOP when they dropped the criminalization of gays from their platform.

But here we are back full circle – Groundhog Day for Gays, legislative day 2,593. Rolling out the Montana Taliban, religious deviants, bible distortionists and ignorants who confuse pedophilia with two grown adults acting as adults and twist the bible into a hate-filled text of paranoia.

Why DOES the Montana GOP Hate the State and the Federal Constitution?

Within minutes of tabling SB107 calls went out for blasting this bill onto the floor. This will be a one-shot deal. Some brave and articulate House representative will make a motion on the floor to bring the bill out of committee and on to second reading. The call will be for a full floor debate – the second reading. If a majority vote for that, then it would immediately go to second reading (and a third if passed without amendments, and then to the Governor for signature.)

Please contact your House legislators and tell them to blast and support SB107. I don’t think Republican legislators should be immune from calls, either. The front desk at the legislature can be reached at 406-444-4800.

I wonder: Will even ONE single Republic legislator in the House stand up for the Montana GOP platform? There are 61 of them there on the floor. Will all of them remain silent? And allow Krayton Kerns and his 11 other Republicans in the House Judiciary to once again label Montana Republicans as ignorant backwards xenophobes?

If no one on the GOP side takes a stand on this issue at this critical moment, Montana will know that the selection of that committee was made precisely to kill bills just like this.

I also hope when this is blasted, someone asks Rep. Krayton Kerns – on the floor – to explain the constitutional basis for his no vote in committee on SB107. I’d really love to hear him explain to Montana the constitutionality of criminalizing humanity.

by lizard

20130402-221102.jpg

This week I’ve been on vacation in Seattle, and while we’ve been spending our tourist dollars in Washington, the picture I took of an advertisement shows how Montana state money is being spent to lure tourist dollars in the opposite direction. The slogan, if you’re having a hard time reading it, is Step Out of Bounds.

Before Seattle, we stopped in Spokane to stay with my Grandmother. Two of my Aunts came to dinner, and after the polite small talk we got into work stories. My first Aunt sarcastically exclaimed how excited she was to get an extra month off this summer, unpaid of course. She is witnessing pre-school program cuts first hand, and it’s brutal. My second Aunt is a nurse treating inmates.

It was good catching up with family, despite how somber our conversations were.

I’ve done a decent job staying away from news feeds, mostly due to the round-the-clock surveillance required to keep two small kids from leaping off piers and hanging off hotel balconies.

One story that caught my attention was the legislation creeping through Tennessee’s state bowels to make state assistance for family’s contingent on school achievement.

I think Laura Beck at Jezebel strikes the right tone.

First, here’s what it does:

According to KnoxNews, Tennessee legislators are attempting to pass legislation to cut the welfare benefits of parents with children who don’t meet attendance and performance requirements. The bill, SB 132, is sponsored by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, and Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah, and has passed committees in both the House and Senate, and now heads to another House committee, and to the Senate floor for vote.

The state Department of Human Services originally opposed the bill, but then worked with Campfield and Knox to add exceptions for kids with disabilities (both physical and learning) or if parents take school-approved steps to attempt to improve the child’s progress.

And here is Beck’s reaction:

Just… wow. The levels of fucked on this bill are multiple; It’s almost impossible to think of something worse than this dystopian nightmare. It’s actively making it more difficult for poor families to survive — and it’s a double whammy for the children. For kids who are already struggling in school, they’re now threatened with affecting their family’s ability to survive.

You have an undiagnosed learning disability and you failed the tests? No dinner for you! You miss school because you have no way of getting there? Good job, selfish, now nobody in your family gets to eat. You didn’t get your homework done because you’re so fucking hungry and that’s all you can think about? CRY ME A RIVER.

And, of course, this only targets already financially struggling families. If you’re rich and your kid is doing shitty in school — who cares? You’re rich!

What people in this situation need are more resources, not less. What we should be doing is flooding these areas with assistance programs and funding, but instead, we’re threatening to take it away. The amount of money families on Welfare receive is barely enough for survival — and often, not even that — and to put the pressure on a CHILD to ensure what little they’re given is not reduced? It’s unconscionable.

Fuck this heartbreaking, stupid, regressive, piece of shit bill, and fuck every single member of the Tennessee legislature who votes for it. They should be the ones who have their salaries docked for even considering this insane nonsense.

It is insane. And as I traipse like a good tourist through the aquarium and the science center, which the kids absolutely loved, I can’t help thinking about all those kids who aren’t getting the same chances my kids are getting.

The long term cost of us failing children is huge. And austerity blowback is as predictable as it is sad.




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