Archive for June, 2013

by lizard

Fast and Furious is a scandal that emanates a right-wing stink to it, and is therefore easily dismissed by those predisposed to act and think differently when it’s their team supposedly in charge.

But forget that angle for a moment, and instead consider The Strange Case of Barrett Brown; specifically, the Stratfor leak:

The contents of the Stratfor leak were even more outrageous than those of the HBGary hack. They included discussion of opportunities for renditions and assassinations. For example, in one video, Statfor’s vice president of intelligence, Fred Burton, suggested taking advantage of the chaos in Libya to render Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who had been released from prison on compassionate grounds due to his terminal illness. Burton said that the case “was personal.” When someone pointed out in an e-mail that such a move would almost certainly be illegal—“This man has already been tried, found guilty, sentenced…and served time”—another Stratfor employee responded that this was just an argument for a more efficient solution: “One more reason to just bugzap him with a hellfire. :-)”

(Stratfor employees also seemed to take a keen interest in Jeremy Scahill’s writings about Blackwater in The Nation, copying and circulating entire articles, with comments suggesting a principle interest was in the question of whether Blackwater was setting up a competing intelligence operation. E-mails also showed grudging respect for Scahill: “Like or dislike Scahill’s position (or what comes of his work), he does an amazing job outing [Blackwater].”)

When the contents of the Stratfor leak became available, Brown decided to put ProjectPM on it. A link to the Stratfor dump appeared in an Anonymous chat channel; Brown copied it and pasted it into the private chat channel for ProjectPM, bringing the dump to the attention of the editors.

There is so much information surfacing right now, and big things afoot, it’s hard to keep up. Barrett Brown’s disturbing case is getting some attention right now because the death of Michael Hastings has sparked some interest into what story spooked him enough to send this e-mail about going “off the radar”.

Though I’m not familiar with viralread.com, this post asks some decent questions:

Los Angeles police say there is no evidence of foul play in the car crash that killed Michael Hastings, yet mystery still surrounds the award-winning journalist’s death. So far, no one has explained why Hastings was driving at high speed down Highland Avenue at 4 o’clock in the morning Tuesday, and reports that Hastings was under investigation by the FBI were flatly denied by the bureau. Meanwhile, an e-mail Hastings sent to a colleague the day before he died has added to the confusion by referencing a “big story” he said he had begun working on.

In the immediate aftermath of the fiery accident that killed Hastings, supporters of Barrett Brown, former spokesman for the Anonymous hacker collective, said Hastings had been planning a story about Brown, who has been jailed in Texas on federal charges since his arrest last September. However, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday that Hastings “was researching a story about a privacy lawsuit brought by Florida socialite Jill Kelley against the Department of Defense and the FBI.” Kelley says she received threatening anonymous e-mails that proved to have come from Paula Broadwell, who had an adulterous affair with former CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus.

Yet in an e-mail sent Monday afternoon to one of his colleagues at the liberal blog BuzzFeed, Hastings mentioned neither of those stories. Instead, the subject line was “FBI investigation, re: NSA.”

Hastings wrote that the FBI was “interviewing my ‘close friends and associates,’” and suggested that if the FBI contacted BuzzFeed, it “may be wise to immediately request legal counsel before any conversations or interviews about our news-gathering practices or related journalism issues.”

Hastings’ reference to the National Security Agency, whose surveillance programs were recently exposed by a former contract worker, Edward Snowden, seemed to imply that this was also the reason for his concern about the FBI. In his last article for BuzzFeed on June 7, Hastings cited the NSA scandal in denouncing “Obama’s national security state.” Yet his e-mail Monday also included this unexplained sentence: “I’m onto a big story, and need to go off the radar for a bit.” About 15 hours after he sent that e-mail, Hastings was killed when his Mercedes-Benz C250 sports coupe slammed head-on into a palm tree near the intersection of Highland and Melrose avenues.

Was the “big story” about the NSA? And what was Hastings doing in the final hours of his life? Those questions remain unanswered, as does the question of why the 33-year-old reporter believed he was the target of an investigation that the federal agency says it never conducted. ”At no time was journalist Michael Hastings under investigation by the FBI,” a spokeswoman for the bureau told reporters Friday.

What does any of this have to do with Fast and Furious? In the deluge of information leaking from the global security offensive launched from American soil, it appears a few loose gun shipments south of the border may just be symptoms of a deeper symbiosis between cartels and the US govt.

Thanks to the Stratfor leak, the internal e-mail perspective from one of many players in the corporatizing of national security is worth looking into. The e-mail is very illuminating… Continue Reading »

By JC

“In May 2004, the NSA briefed [Then chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and GW Bush appointee Colleen] Kollar-Kotelly on the technical aspects of that program’s collection, according to the report. She also met with the NSA director, Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, on two successive Saturdays during the summer of 2004 to discuss the issue, the report said.

‘It was very professional,” Hayden said in an interview. “We of course had to explain to her what it was we had been doing, what it was we wanted to do, how we would do it, what kind of safeguards we felt able to put in. We left it to her judgment whether there was proportionality in terms of was this worth doing, in the balance between security and liberty.'”

Oh, Ok. I feel better now that I know who is balancing “security and liberty” in the good ole U.S. of A!

I’m going off-grid for a week. Dontcha all go and revolt without me now, ok? Full text of the above quote, copied from behind the WaPo’s paywall. If you want to try and read it there and click on some good links to background info, just hit the stop button on your web browser right after the text loads, and before the paywall pops up. If the paywall pops up, just hit reload, and stop as soon as the text renders ya gotta be quick. This sort of content just shouldn’t be offered up for subscribers — it needs to be read in context with everything else that is leaking out.

And have a wunnerful “Independence” day folks, in Babylon. I’m going to go and be interdependent with my homies, where there are no fireworks, and people are living their anarchistic ideals. Continue Reading »

Courage is Contagious

by lizard

Ladies and gentlemen, Glenn Greenwald.

by lizard

When it comes to zombies, we apparently can’t get enough. But it’s more than that. I like this snippet from a Missoula Indy review of World War Z, by Molly Laich:

The scholarship on our fixation with zombies has been done: It’s a comment on rabid consumerism or our apocalyptic anxieties in light of a strangled world economy, or else it just satisfies our bloodlust for gore and pillaging. It’s become such a thing that it’s starting to seem as though some people really do think that a zombie invasion is possible or even likely.

The zombie invasion, as depicted by the screen adaptation of Max Brooks’ book, puts the nation-state of Israel into a an interesting role, one Jesse Benjamin expounds on for Mondoweiss in a post titled Zombie Hasbara: ‘World War Z’ and Hollywood’s Zionist Embrace. Here’s the lead-in:

I went to the Drive-In in Atlanta Friday night, to celebrate a friend’s birthday, a beautiful night under an almost full moon. We watched This is The End and Fast and Furious 6, and two of us stayed for the 2:00 am screening of World War Z. I’m not a zombie fanatic, so other than watching the Walking Dead, I had few expectations beyond the trailers that have been on TV since the Super Bowl. So I was surprised, jarred out of the movie really, when right in the middle of the narrative, Brad Pitt’s character, Gerry Lane, travels to Israel and spends more than 10 minutes in a full-on pro-Israel propaganda piece that was as corny as it was crazy.

The Times of Israel may be only slightly exaggerating when it calls this “the greatest piece of cinematic propaganda for Israel since Otto Preminger’s “Exodus.” Not only is Israel’s fanatical Wall Building proven to be justified, against the hordes of undead invaders, and not only are Jewish victimizations paraded to justify the aggrandizement of Israeli military prowess, but it’s Israel’s supposed humanism, and multicultural inclusiveness, which in the end weakens the fragile post-apocalyptic state and allows the zombies to overrun everything. Its pretty heady stuff.

It’s a very compelling review, one only Mondoweiss can pull off.

The reason even mentioning Israeli propaganda can be difficult is how quickly reactionary groups like the Anti-Defemation League respond to any attempt to humanize the “zombie” Palestinian hordes clawing at the walls of their open-air concentration camps.

Apparently, Alice Walker’s latest novel, The Cushion in the Road, qualifies as one of those troubling works of art that results in this kind of response:

“Alice Walker isn’t a thinker or a writer,” he writes. “She rode to fame during a time when critics championed ‘ethnic’ writing, no matter how bad it was. And now because of the dim-wittedness of those times, during which all voices were ‘valid’ and ‘equal’, even though it is more than apparent that art distinguishes itself by talent only…If people had just waited for real talent to emerge instead of dressing a wart hog in a ball gown and giving it a rhinestone tiara, we wouldn’t now be stuck with Alice Walker.”

And this:

“Alice Walker is your typical angry, resentful, envious and enraged black american female,” she writes, “who takes advantage of our freedoms to spew out her hate and jealousy of the success of Israel and the brilliant intellect of the jewish people.In comparaison a great majority of her kind have really never totally gave up the law of the jungle with a hidden sense of inferiority and savage, bacward reasonning no matter how much instruction and emancipation they get in the modern world.

Why the venom? From the same article:

The Jewish establishment and the ADL, in particular, have long had a pre-occupation, if not an obsession, with the notion of “Black anti-Semitism.” In 1992, it published a 50 page letter-size “ADL Research Report,” entitled “The Anti-Semitism of Black Demagogues and Extremists” which included just about everyone who had broken the unwritten taboo of speaking and writing about the role of Jews in the African slave trade.

For having the temerity to step outside of the invisible plantation in which a patronizing Jewish establishment has long consigned the black intelligentsia and political class, Walker is being subjected to a level of racist venom that one might expect from a KKK journal.

Even here in Missoula, when a billboard went up on I-90 that said this: $8 million a day to Israel just doesn’t make sense! an eventual article, facilitated by the Indy, and framed as a billboard war, shot back with this:

The Council for the National Interest, a Virginia-based nonprofit, paid for the billboard. Executive Director Phil Giraldi says the nonprofit takes issue with military aid provided by the United States to Israel and designed its campaign to start a conversation about this country’s fiscal priorities. “It’s essentially a question of Israel getting a large amount of money,” he says.

The message, however, hit a nerve. Chessin, for one, says the billboard is one-sided and superficial, as well as anti-Israel. Aiming to reclaim the battlefield of public opinion, Har Shalom mobilized and joined forces with Stand With Us, an international nonprofit based out of Los Angeles, to promote its own message.

SWU educates about Israel and, according to its website, combats “the extremism and anti-Semitism that often distorts the issues.” SWU’s Gary Ratner says his organization commonly encounters messages like the one in Missoula. “It’s called ‘BDS’boycott, divestment and sanction,” he says. “It’s an attempt to undermine American support for Israel and the joint values that we hold.”

When alerted to such efforts, SWU counters with its own themes, fueling a public relations war that’s played out on buses, billboards and in train stations across the country. Typically the skirmishes occur in progressive strongholds such as San Francisco, Portland and New York, but now it’s stretched to Missoula.

Equating any criticism of Israel with anti-semitism is a long-used tactic deployed over and over again because it works. But no PR war can totally erase what Israel has become: a dangerous, paranoid aggressor willing to do anything because of a perceived existential threat cunningly exploited for maximum gain in terrain, resources, and power.

by lizard

A book of poems is usually a selection by the author, and shaped through the editorial process. Greta Wrolstad didn’t get that chance, so shaping her posthumous collection, Night is Simply Shadow (Tavern Books, 2013), came down to others.

I received my copy a few weeks ago, and before getting into the body of it, I checked any kind of guiding notation on how the book came to be. At the end of the book, the Editor’s Note describes how “accomplished” poems came to be excluded:

It is important to note that Night is Simply a Shadow is not a miscellany or “selected poems.” Rather, this book represents one answer to the singular question facing any editor of a posthumous volume: How does one create a book on behalf of an author without their aesthetic oversight and editorial input? Our answer was to view Night is Simply a Shadow as an individual volume, a unified vision. We found ourselves making the difficult decision to exclude some accomplished poems that we felt didn’t serve the overall trajectory of the book.

I’m a little disappointed to read this. In my first run through Greta’s posthumous publication, the voice of a young woman not even 25 years old is there, vibrant, and leaves me wishing for more. That more isn’t possible because of her death is one thing, but that accomplished poems were consciously excluded is, again, disappointing.

That said, I’m happy to finally be in possession of this collection, because it’s one I’ve been anticipating for years. In a post I wrote last summer, I said this:

I never met Greta, but we shared a mentor. Her tragic but sadly not uncommon fatality on a Montana highway snatched this young woman just getting started with her verse, her life. I imagine the poems that will never be written will forever ghost the margins of those who knew her.

This weekend, with the summer heat finally arriving in force, lots of people will be seeking relief by floating and swimming in rivers. As people are out enjoying themselves, please be careful. Though alcohol wasn’t a factor in Greta’s accident, it too often is a factor in motor vehicle accidents, so if you see someone too intoxicated to drive get behind the wheel, call the police. If that person is someone you know, talk to them, take their keys, do something, because entirely way too many people this time of year come off the river in no shape to drive, but they do anyways.

Ok, now a poem from Greta Wrolstad: Continue Reading »

by lizard

Last October, Missoula’s new top municipal judge, Kathleen Jenks, stopped all municipal referrals to the treatment courts, also known as co-occurring courts. Jenks also halted the work program, which began straining the capacity of Missoula’s jail.

The good news? Referrals have resumed:

Municipal Court will again order defendants to Missoula Co-Occurring Treatment Court after having stopped referrals for more than 10 months.

“There’s a lot of communication that we’ve put into place, and I really think it’s going to work this time,” said Municipal Court Judge Kathleen Jenks.

For those who understand the challenging dynamics of mental illness, substance abuse, armed service related PTSD, and how the jails and hospitals and mental health professionals are all struggling to meet increased need with less resources, any little bit of good news helps, and this qualifies.

I also wanted to link to an article after reading this tweet from @Lgpguin:

Read police log or click on #scanner app and listen; you will know cops need more #mentalhealthmatters training. Constant

A Billings Gazette article I found, titled Finding a way through crisis, may be 3 years old, but it describes the CIT model:

Crisis Intervention Teams have formed in more than 35 communities across the country, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which helped develop the program model.

Launched in Memphis, Tenn., the program builds collaboration between law enforcement, mental health providers and others to help keep mentally ill people out of jail and unhurt when officers handle calls.

It was created in 1988 after Memphis cops shot a mentally ill man because they were unable to get a knife from him.

Billings organized its crisis team in 2006, after the then-new Community Crisis Center used grant funding to send a few people to the national training program. Since then, 173 law enforcement officers from Eastern Montana have completed the training in Billings.

There are lots of great people continuing to push for expanding that number of trained law enforcement officers, but implementing the CIT model means more than just training law enforcement. I attended a presentation on this CIT model in April, and it was incredibly encouraging to hear the presenters describe the benefits.

How does this relate to Naomi Klein’s term Disaster Capitalism, which she coined in her book The Shock Doctrine, you ask? Good question.

Here is one definition I found:

the practice (by a government, regime, etc) of taking advantage of a major disaster to adopt liberal economic policies that the population would be less likely to accept under normal circumstances

Basically, the idea is that during a crisis, whether it’s a natural disaster or a weaponized loan from the IMF, the resulting shake up makes things possible that weren’t previously possible. What Klein’s book doesn’t delve into is how that limited space contains an equal possibility for a positive re-structuring.

Perpetually decreasing funding/resources and increasing need is a crisis for a lot of people, in Montana and beyond. It’s easy to get mired in the negativity of that reality (I do all the time).

But it is also possible to see this as an opportunity as well.

And finally, a post with “Good News” in its title must include the best news of the day: DOMA IS DEAD!!!

Now, if we can just get that asshole in Texas to knock it the fuck off, the trifecta of good news can be completed.

Seriously, Rick Perry, don’t.

by lizard

I’ve been thinking about this excerpt from Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:

History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of “history” it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons nobody really understands at the time–and which never explains in retrospect, what actually happened…

There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda…You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning…

So now, less than five years later, you can go up a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost SEE the high water mark–that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

That wave has been rolling back now for nearly half a century.

The high water mark Thompson describes was the result of a collective coming of age for the post-WWII generation, a tumultuous era that saw a shift from fighting fascists and communists to the violent suppression of activists and dissidents here at home as US power brokers sought to capitalize on victory by turning the US into a global empire.

With news today of the Supreme Court gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act, I wonder how many Boomers are shaking their heads in disbelief. The gains many people fought for, suffered for, and died for have been systemically attacked.

In an effort to remind his readers of the long-known risk of the surveillance state, Glenn Greenwald wrote this today about the Idaho senator, Frank Church. Before getting to that, I’d like to take a quick look at how disgustingly servile the lapdogs of corporate media have become.

Enter, stage right, Andrew Sorkin (this is an actual transcript of what he said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box”):

There is speculation [Snowden’s] planning to fly to Havana en route to Ecuador. The government of Ecuador has confirmed it is considering an asylum application for Snowden. He faces American espionage charges now after he admitted to revealing classified documents. I got to say, this is — I feel like, A, we’ve screwed this up to even let him get to Russia. B, clearly the Chinese hate us to even let him out of the country. That says something. Russia hated us and we knew that beforehand but that’s sort of — and now, I don’t know. And my second piece of this…I would arrest him and now I’d almost arrest Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who seems to be out there, he wants to help him get to Ecuador.

This journo-drama is a convenient distraction from the scope of what citizens are being subjected to by their government.

Enter, stage left, Frank Church:

Upon completing his investigation, Church was so shocked to learn what he had discovered – the massive and awesome spying capabilities constructed by the US government with no transparency or accountability – that he issued the following warning, as reported by the New York Times, using language strikingly stark for such a mainstream US politician when speaking about his own government:

“‘That capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide.’

“He added that if a dictator ever took over, the NSA ‘could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back.'”

In what I can only imagine is a desperate attempt at sleight-of-hand pandering, the president apparently said some shit today about climate change.

Here is how he opened his ‘We Need to Act‘ song and dance:

On Christmas Eve, 1968, the astronauts of Apollo 8 did a live broadcast from lunar orbit. So Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, William Anders — the first humans to orbit the moon — described what they saw, and they read Scripture from the Book of Genesis to the rest of us back here. And later that night, they took a photo that would change the way we see and think about our world.

It was an image of Earth — beautiful; breathtaking; a glowing marble of blue oceans, and green forests, and brown mountains brushed with white clouds, rising over the surface of the moon.

And while the sight of our planet from space might seem routine today, imagine what it looked like to those of us seeing our home, our planet, for the first time. Imagine what it looked like to children like me. Even the astronauts were amazed. “It makes you realize,” Lovell would say, “just what you have back there on Earth.”

I should say there is nothing Obama could have said today that would have mattered to me.

Today, George Orwell’s 110th birthday.

The panopticon is here, brothers and sisters.

So behave.

by lizard

In an interview with Canadian media last year, Brain Schweitzer explained that the Keystone XL Pipeline is not currently being built because of jackasses. Specifically, the jackasses in Washington:

Montana’s governor says the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta’s oil sands to the Gulf Coast will eventually be built and he blames the delay on “jackasses” in Washington who have only recently discovered the issue.

“Blah, blah, blah, Washington, D.C., politics. If you want to get something a) not done and b) cussed and discussed, send it to Washington, D.C.,” Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat, said in an interview with The Canadian Press. “It’s going to get built.

The anticipation for Schweitzer’s announcement that he’s charging into the race for Baucus’ seat is getting almost giddy. There is immense pressure from Montana Democrats to enlist Schweitzer, wallop Republicans, then send Montana’s coal cowboy to join an institution he regularly disparaged.

Does Brian acknowledge any legitimacy to those expressing their concerns about the pipeline project? From the interview:

“Ninety per cent of these jackasses that are complaining about the Keystone pipeline in Washington, D.C., one year ago wouldn’t have even known where the Keystone was. While we were doing the heavy lifting here in Montana and in South Dakota and in Kansas and Oklahoma … in Washington, D.C. … all these great defenders had never heard of Keystone before.”

If empty rhetoric is heavy lifting, then Brian Schweitzer really got a good workout when he went all populist for the cameras in the wake of Exxon’s pipeline rupture which bled 44,000 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone River. John Adams, in a post at the Lowdown, put Schweitzer’s barking in the broader context it deserved:

Gov. Brian Schweitzer has taken a tough public stance against ExxonMobil in the days following the 44,000 gallon Yellowstone River oil spill. Schweitzer has said he’ll be on Exxon “like smell on skunk” and that the Yellowstone River won’t be clean, “until Montana says it’s clean.” Schweitzer has publically accused Exxon officials of not being transparent, directing security guards to keep the press away from the unified command center, and not being honest about the true nature of the spill. He’s said that the company’s interests “are not aligned with Montana’s interest,” and that ExxonMobil officials’ “primary goal here was to limit the liability to the shareholders, not to be straightforward with the details of the spill and subsequent cleanup.”

One Politico headline initially proclaimed that “Montana gov has boot on neck of ExxonMobil,” though the headline was recently changed to somewhat less hyperbolic “Montana gov on ExxonMobil like ‘smell on a skunk.’”

Many environmental groups – including representatives from the National Wildlife Federation on a conference call to reporters last week — have lauded Schweitzer for his hard-line approach to dealing with ExxonMobil during the disaster.

But others have accused Schweitzer of talking out of both sides of his mouth on the issue. They cite Schweitzer’s ardent support for coal, oil and gas development in Montana, his backing of ExxonMobil’s plan to truck more than 200 massive Korean-built tar sands processing modules across the state into Canada, and his support for Keystone XL pipeline, which would pipe Canadian tar sands crude (the same type of crude that fouled the Kalamazoo River when an Enbridge Energy pipeline burst there last year) from the Montana-Canada border to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast.

If you want to read more about why the Keystone Pipeline is such a terrible idea, I wrote this post back in March, after the Missoulian printed their very pro-pipeline editorial.

By JC

The Telegraph:
“WikiLeaks just threw some gasoline onto the conspiracy fire. On Wednesday night, they Tweeted: ‘Michael Hastings contacted WikiLeaks lawyer Jennifer Robinson just a few hours before he died, saying that the FBI was investigating him.'”

LA Times:
“The bureau responded in a statement: ‘At no time was journalist Michael Hastings ever under investigation by the FBI.'”

USA Today:
“Coroner’s Lt. Fred Corral says an autopsy was performed Wednesday and the 33-year-old Hastings was identified by matching fingerprints to prints the FBI had on file.

So I guess collecting vast treasure troves of data no longer indicates an “investigation.” I guess the FBI has been inflicted with that rampant national security STD (secretly transmitted disease) known as the “Clapper” and is presented in the form of “least untruthful manner” statements.


Heil Obama.

by lizard

Our financial markets continue to be driven by liars, addicts, and political enablers. Just this week we’ve seen markets react to the prospect of the Federal Reserve’s cooling of their fiscal methadone program, and two prominent disclosures of internal documents from Bank of America (All In) and ratings agencies like Moody’s and Standard & Poor (Rolling Stone), indicating that, within these institutions, it was common knowledge that the financial system was being gamed.

Chris Hayes’ program, All In, reported on the Bank of America bombshell. This is an excerpt from the show’s transcript (you can watch the video at the BoA link):

we were told to lie. those are the words of a bank of america employee describing what her supervisors asked her to do. and she’s not the only one. in an absolute bombshell filing in federal court , sworn affidavits describe an intentional strategy on the part of the bank to systemically lie to struggling homeowners right up to the point of foreclosure. to hoodwink borrowers, stall for time and maximize the amount of money bank of america got. now, we’ve known for years in talking to the people on the receiving end of the bank’s treatment that borrowers seeking loan modifications were strung along and screwed over. now we have what appears to be the smoking gun. here’s just a sample of what the bank of america employees said under oath. simone gordon, senior collector, 2007 and 2012 , “we were told to lie to customers and claim that bank of america had not received documents it had requested and that it had not received trial payments when, in fact, it had. employees were rewarded by meeting a quota of placing a specific number of accounts into foreclosure.” erica brown, customer service representative , 2009 pane 2010 , “during my time at bank of america i saw well over 100 cases in which a bank of america analyst canceled loan modifications and stated nonpayment as reason for cancelation when it was apparent from the computer system that the homeowner had actually made the required payments.” william wilson , underwriter then- case management team manager, 2010 to 2012 . “employees who challenged or questioned the ethics of bank of america ‘s practice of declining modifications for false and fraudulent reasons for often fired.” teresa, collector 2009 and 2010 . “the information we received in group meetings showed me that bank of america ‘s deliberate practice was to string homeowners along with no intention of providing permanent modifications.”

Matt Taibbi reported on the ratings agencies conscious deception:

Thanks to a mountain of evidence gathered for a pair of major lawsuits, documents that for the most part have never been seen by the general public, we now know that the nation’s two top ratings companies, Moody’s and S&P, have for many years been shameless tools for the banks, willing to give just about anything a high rating in exchange for cash.

In incriminating e-mail after incriminating e-mail, executives and analysts from these companies are caught admitting their entire business model is crooked.

“Lord help our fucking scam . . . this has to be the stupidest place I have worked at,” writes one Standard & Poor’s executive. “As you know, I had difficulties explaining ‘HOW’ we got to those numbers since there is no science behind it,” confesses a high-ranking S&P analyst. “If we are just going to make it up in order to rate deals, then quants [quantitative analysts] are of precious little value,” complains another senior S&P man. “Let’s hope we are all wealthy and retired by the time this house of card[s] falters,” ruminates one more.

Will these institutions ever experience actual accountability? Will our political system ever put in place policies to keep these greed-driven addicts from blowing up the global economy, again?

by lizard

Last month, Joe Klein reported on McChrystal’s New Mission:

General Stan McChrystal made an important statement in the Wall Street Journal yesterday.

He announced an ambitious new plan for serious national service. The plan—the Franklin Project—was hatched under aegis of the Aspen Institute and it’s about the best I’ve seen in many years of lobbying for a robust form of service—and I make a distinction between service, which is full-time, tough and challenging, and volunteerism, which is admirable but not all-consuming.

In the coming weeks, I’ll elaborate on the many reasons we need a rigorous progam to provide a coming-of-age ritual that will transform boys and girls into men and women (and it’s especially important for boys). There will be a summit to discuss the implementation of the Franklin plan in late June.

For the moment, congratulations are in order for McChrystal who, I’m told, has been pushing for the most intense form of service in the Franklin Project’s internal deliberations. This effort is, I believe, crucial to the future of our democracy.

The Aspen Institute?

The Aspen Institute is largely funded by foundations such as the Carnegie Corporation, The Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Ford Foundation, by seminar fees, and by individual donations. Its board of trustees includes leaders from politics, government, business and academia who also contribute to its support. Board members include Madeleine Albright, Sylvia Earle, Henry Louis Gates, David Gergen, David H. Koch, Queen Noor of Jordan, and Condoleezza Rice.

It’s good to see a disgraced general get some much needed rehab for his national brown shirt project.

America: fuck yeah!

by lizard

When I was a high school senior nearing my graduation, I had an afternoon run-in with the law. It was a beautiful day in midwest suburbia for party hopping, and I had graciously offered to transport the beer supply from one venue to another. In transit, I got delightfully ripped with a friend. Such is youth.

But because my youth was of the predominantly white, upper-middle class variety, when I got pulled over for exceeding the 25 mph speed limit, my experience was tame.

Despite the probably lingering odor of weed, despite my passenger hiding his open beer under his seat, despite a trunk full of beer, I got off with essentially a warning and a call to mom, who came to pick me up.

White privilege operates mostly by what doesn’t happen to white people. Like getting busted for weed.

The ACLU recently put out a study showing the racial similarity in marijuana use and the glaring disparity in enforcement:

African Americans are almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites, even though they use the drug at similar rates, according to a new analysis of federal data from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Overall between 2001 and 2010, there were more than 8 million marijuana arrests, 88 percent of which were for possession. These arrests account for more than half of all drug arrests. Since 1990, marijuana possession arrests have increased 193 percent, tracking the spike in overall drug arrests and an inflated national prison population. But the increase in marijuana arrests has come almost entirely from increased arrests of blacks. While arrests of whites have remained largely constant since 2001, the arrest rate for blacks has spiked 32.7 percent

The racial component of the war against weed is clear. But if that argument isn’t enough, how about the impact on this aging white guy, Frank Dennis Peters:

A South Carolina man could face years in prison for drug trafficking after investigators found 137 marijuana plants growing in his backyard last month. The catch? He says he was growing the plants for his ailing wife.

“I have a moral obligation to make my wife as comfortable as possible,” Frank Dennis Peters, 66, told the Beaufort Gazette.

The sole caregiver for his wife of 40 years, Peters said marijuana helped her cope with her many medical issues, including fibromyalgia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, the Gazette reported. The drug helped her sleep and increased her appetite, he told the paper.

Investigators came to Peters’ home on May 30 after receiving a tip from neighbors that marijuana was growing on the property, the Gazette reported. Peters, who said his neighbors knew about the plants and weren’t bothered by their presence, told the Gazette he believed a neighbor’s guest alerted the police. Peters confirmed the plants were marijuana, and told authorities they were used for personal and medicinal uses. Though medicinal marijuana is legal in South Carolina, it has to be purchased through the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control — something no one has done since the law was passed in 1980.

The inevitably of legalizing cannabis = aging Baby Boomers. That will be the deciding factor. The war on drugs has been racially deployed from the beginning, and white privilege has shielded users for decades.  If enforcement for white people happened at the same rate as black people, cannabis would already be legal.

by lizard

Michael Hastings received journalistic notoriety for bringing down The Runaway General, Stanley McChrystal.

Michael Hastings died this morning in a car accident. He was 33 years old.

The mere fact a journalist who was a dick to those in power died is enough to illicit immediate speculation (I’m looking at you, Bob Brigham).

Instead of immediately “going there” it might be more constructive to first focus on why this guy was an inspiration to so many involved in an information war that does indeed produce casualties.

This June 7th piece for Buzzfeed is, I believe, Michael Hasting’s last article. Here’s an excerpt:

For most bigwig Democrats in Washington, D.C., the last 48 hours has delivered news of the worst kind — a flood of new information that has washed away any lingering doubts about where President Obama and his party stand on civil liberties, full stop.

Glenn Greenwald’s exposure of the NSA’s massive domestic spy program has revealed the entire caste of current Democratic leaders as a gang of civil liberty opportunists, whose true passion, it seems, was in trolling George W. Bush for eight years on matters of national security.

“Everyone should just calm down,” Senator Harry Reid said yesterday, inhaling slowly.

That’s right: don’t panic.

The very topic of Democratic two-facedness on civil liberties is one of the most important issues that Greenwald has covered. Many of those Dems — including the sitting President Barack Obama, Senator Carl Levin, and Sec. State John Kerry — have now become the stewards and enhancers of programs that appear to dwarf any of the spying scandals that broke during the Bush years, the very same scandals they used as wedge issues to win elections in the Congressional elections 2006 and the presidential primary of 2007-2008.

Knee-jerk speculation is defeatist, deflating.

Hastings contributed important stories about what kind of characters are in charge of the US death machine, and he wrote about how personal those impacts can be (Michael’s girlfriend was killed in Iraq in an ambush).

From the dick link, by Marc Ambinder:

Michael Hastings was the type of national security reporter I didn’t have the guts to be.

“A dick?”

I guess — well, yes. A dick. A dick to those in power. Fearless. Someone who didn’t care what others thought of him.

It’s a big loss to those of us who value the punches critical journalism should be swinging at institutional power structures, regardless of party politics.

by lizard

Jan Brewer rolled up her sleeves and shoved through medicaid expansion for her Arizona constituents. Instead of wagging that bony finger in disrespect of the president, she saw the critical need of her state and directed her hand to the more honest work of expanding access to health care for around 300,000 Arizonans.

Montana, unfortunately, does not have a comparable force willing to battle its own party to do the right thing. And with people like Jennifer Fielder getting voted into the vice chair position within Montana’s GOP hierarchy, well, the political landscape of ascendent right-wing extremism is fertile for more ideological fuckery deployed in callous disregard for the desperate need of tens of thousands of Montanans.

If one is politically invested in how this trend could benefit Montana Democrats, the worse they get, the better, as illustrated by this tweet from Don Pogreba:

I, for one, am THRILLED that the MT GOP is embracing its reactionary fringe. That tent’s getting smaller and smaller. #mtpol

In terms of voter turn out, both tents are small. If Montana Democrats only focus on what’s good for Montana Democrats, and celebrate how a significant movement on the extreme right is continually becoming more politically successful, then those celebrated trends will continue.

I know there is broad, bipartisan disgust in this state about our legislature’s failure to expand Medicaid to 70,000 Montanans. How could there not be? There is no sane, fiscally conservative argument for doing so. It really is, as Krugman puts it, a product of spite.

I believe there are conservatives without spite in their hearts; conservatives who don’t see denying health care to their neighbors as a political victory.

Jan Brewer saw the light—who cares if it was only for the shine of her political legacy as she terms out. She clearly saw the public benefit to her constituents, and did the right thing.

Is that really an impossibility for conservatives here in Montana?

Rappin’ & Rockin’

by lizard

For your Sunday enjoyment!

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by lizard

If it all works out, I may get a sequence of poems published by a small press moving out of the just simmering phase. For this project I’ve picked a grouping of 11 poems tentatively called AMERICAN DEATH WISH.

The title feels inescapable.

There is another title of poems I’m excited about. Night is Simply a Shadow is the posthumous collection of poems by Greta Wrolstad, a collection I’ve hoped would eventually come out.

From the link, Joanna Klink says this of her student:

Greta Wrolstad (1981-2005) was a poet and vital presence in the M.F.A. program at The University of Montana, where she held a teaching assistantship in English and served as poetry co-editor of CutBank. Greta was my student. She was not only tremendously talented but at-home in herself, in ways that are utterly elusive to me. I will be lucky if, in my lifetime, I can approach some of the peace that seemed to radiate from Greta at 24.

Like Elizabeth Bishop and Marianne Moore, two poets she read exhaustively, Greta was exceptionally good at describing the natural world—in part, I suspect, because she had the patience to look at seawater and trees for a long time, without asking what she saw to be anything other than itself. Greta was a traveler. Her poems open out like vast geographies, always with a strain of quiet and sense of witness.

*

Maybe death as a theme feels so inescapable because death has become so casual.

The recent inquiries into the cause of death of the poet Pablo Neruda, inquiries that Neruda may have been actually poisoned by the CIA, isn’t even a blip on our collective radar. From the link:

A Chilean judge has issued an order for police to initiate a manhunt of the man prosecutors say poisoned Pablo Neruda, the poet described by literary luminary Gabriel Garcia Marquez as the “greatest poet of the 20th century in any language.”

Neruda’s death, some forty years ago at the age of 69, has always been attributed to prostate cancer, for which he was being treated at the time of his death. But Manuel Araya, the poet’s one-time chauffeur who maintains that Neruda was killed by the Pinochet regime, is the plaintiff in a case that seeks to establish the true cause of his death.

At the end of last week, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Montana’s poet laureate, Sheryl Noethe. Her incredible generosity and deep commitment to poetic advocacy makes her a fantastic steward of the honorary position.

This week’s poetry selection is from Sheryl’s debut collection, titled The Descent Of Heaven Over the Lake (New Rivers Press, 1984).

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3 METAPHORS FOR LOVE

A man steps from a bar out onto the street
shaking his head and waving a gun.
His friend weaves uncertainly behind him,
holding out a hand.
The sun poisons his liquor through his head.

The body is struck like a bell and makes
no sound. Stopped ringing long ago, it seems.
“Look,” you say, “I’m beginning to leave you.”
The trees burst into flame. You try
to stay asleep.

An old woman on a boat bites into a lemon.
Your body rings and you taste her joy as
her teeth break the skin. The ferry breaks
neatly into the waves of the sea. A soldier
walks by and offers you a cigarette.
His grin breaks into your gaze.
You look past him, toward the sea,
where you’d hoped the dolphins might be.

—Sheryl Noethe

by lizard

To a cynic, it may appear that the Obama administration is playing the chemical weapons in Syria card to distract from a long two weeks of awkward disclosures exposing to the US citizenry the Orwellian reality of our overly surveilled lives. Here is the full statement:

Statement by Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes on Syrian Chemical Weapons Use

At the President’s direction, the United States Government has been closely monitoring the potential use of chemical weapons within Syria. Following the assessment made by our intelligence community in April, the President directed the intelligence community to seek credible and corroborated information to build on that assessment and establish the facts with some degree of certainty. Today, we are providing an updated version of our assessment to Congress and to the public.

The Syrian government’s refusal to grant access to the United Nations to investigate any and all credible allegations of chemical weapons use has prevented a comprehensive investigation as called for by the international community. The Assad regime could prove that its request for an investigation was not just a diversionary tactic by granting the UN fact finding mission immediate and unfettered access to conduct on-site investigations to help reveal the truth about chemical weapons use in Syria. While pushing for a UN investigation, the United States has also been working urgently with our partners and allies as well as individuals inside Syria, including the Syrian opposition, to procure, share, and evaluate information associated with reports of chemical weapons use so that we can establish the facts and determine what took place.

Following a deliberative review, our intelligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year. Our intelligence community has high confidence in that assessment given multiple, independent streams of information. The intelligence community estimates that 100 to 150 people have died from detected chemical weapons attacks in Syria to date; however, casualty data is likely incomplete. While the lethality of these attacks make up only a small portion of the catastrophic loss of life in Syria, which now stands at more than 90,000 deaths, the use of chemical weapons violates international norms and crosses clear red lines that have existed within the international community for decades. We believe that the Assad regime maintains control of these weapons. We have no reliable, corroborated reporting to indicate that the opposition in Syria has acquired or used chemical weapons.

The body of information used to make this intelligence assessment includes reporting regarding Syrian officials planning and executing regime chemical weapons attacks; reporting that includes descriptions of the time, location, and means of attack; and descriptions of physiological symptoms that are consistent with exposure to a chemical weapons agent. Some open source reports from social media outlets from Syrian opposition groups and other media sources are consistent with the information we have obtained regarding chemical weapons use and exposure. The assessment is further supported by laboratory analysis of physiological samples obtained from a number of individuals, which revealed exposure to sarin. Each positive result indicates that an individual was exposed to sarin, but it does not tell us how or where the individuals were exposed or who was responsible for the dissemination.

We are working with allies to present a credible, evidentiary case to share with the international community and the public. Since the creation of the UN fact finding mission, we have provided two briefings to Dr. Åke Sellström, the head of the mission. We will also be providing a letter to UN Secretary General Ban, calling the UN’s attention to our updated intelligence assessment and specific incidents of alleged chemical weapons use. We request that the UN mission include these incidents in its ongoing investigation and report, as appropriate, on its findings. We will present additional information and continue to update Dr. Sellström as new developments emerge.

The President has been clear that the use of chemical weapons – or the transfer of chemical weapons to terrorist groups – is a red line for the United States, as there has long been an established norm within the international community against the use of chemical weapons. Our intelligence community now has a high confidence assessment that chemical weapons have been used on a small scale by the Assad regime in Syria. The President has said that the use of chemical weapons would change his calculus, and it has. Our decision making has already been guided by the April intelligence assessment and by the regime’s escalation of horrific violence against its citizens. Following on the credible evidence that the regime has used chemical weapons against the Syrian people, the President has augmented the provision of non-lethal assistance to the civilian opposition, and also authorized the expansion of our assistance to the Supreme Military Council (SMC), and we will be consulting with Congress on these matters in the coming weeks. This effort is aimed at strengthening the effectiveness of the SMC, and helping to coordinate the provision of assistance by the United States and other partners and allies. Put simply, the Assad regime should know that its actions have led us to increase the scope and scale of assistance that we provide to the opposition, including direct support to the SMC. These efforts will increase going forward.

The United States and the international community have a number of other legal, financial, diplomatic, and military responses available. We are prepared for all contingencies, and we will make decisions on our own timeline. Any future action we take will be consistent with our national interest, and must advance our objectives, which include achieving a negotiated political settlement to establish an authority that can provide basic stability and administer state institutions; protecting the rights of all Syrians; securing unconventional and advanced conventional weapons; and countering terrorist activity.

To counter this line of bullshit emanating from a White House desperate to shift attention anywhere else, I suggest reading b’s latest post at Moon of Alabama.

by lizard

During the peak of our local media’s scare-mongering campaign against medical cannabis, I wrote posts like this criticizing how the Missoulian was negatively framing the issue with sensationalist stories. I also pointed out how eager the Missoulian was to report on anything Jason Christ did, including an in depth look in the pronunciation of Jason’s last name.

The use of cannabis to manage chronic pain was a point of contention in the debate that raged as Montana allowed property to be forfeited and lives destroyed by the “fusion” of Federal and local law enforcement.

The legislative backlash (partly a product of Montana legislators repeated inability to address the ambiguities in the law in a timely manner) was fueled by the rapid increase of caregivers and registered patients, many of whom claimed chronic pain as the reasons for seeking cannabis treatment.

Now that an entire industry was successfully attacked and reduced in scope, the Missoulian can print stories like this one: Pot for pets: Vets recommend medical marijuana for animals in pain.

LOS ANGELES – Until she introduced “magic cheese” to her sick and aging bulldog, Laura Bugni-Daniel watched him suffer for two years. He’d spend his days lying down or throwing up.

Today, at age 12, he plays like a puppy through the day, his fur is soft and he sleeps at night, soothed not by magic, but by the dose of marijuana in that cheese.

Bugni-Daniel, of Divide, is part of a growing movement to give medical marijuana to pets in pain. Many urge caution until there’s better science behind it. But stories abound about changes in sick and dying pets after they’ve been given cannabis – even though it isn’t a proven pain killer for man or mutt, and it’s an illicit drug under federal law despite being legal for people in 19 states and the District of Columbia.

The Missoulian recently focused on the state’s growing prescription pill crisis. Nationally, accidentally overdosing on pain killers has become the number one cause of accidental deaths, surpassing car accidents:

Car accidents are no longer the leading cause of accidental deaths in the United States. According to a recent report published by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, this dubious distinction now belongs to drug poisoning. What’s at the root of this trend? A river of prescription painkillers.

Man, it sure would be nice if people had the option to treat chronic pain with medical cannabis instead of very dangerous opiates, because pain pills are killing lots of people.

by lizard

If you want to watch a thinly veiled parable of the 2008 economic collapse, then Killing Them Softly is the movie for you.

The story is set in the fall of 2008 against the backdrop of the Barack Obama-John McCain presidential race and the economic meltdown that rocked their campaigns. Any time a character passes a television set, it will be tuned to then-President Bush selling his emergency plans to salvage the economy or, later on, to one of Obama’s campaign speeches. Except for a billboard glimpsed in the first scene, the movie ignores McCain.

Dominik’s America is grim. The story takes place in an unidentified city that is nothing but industrial rust and decay. If a lot isn’t empty, it is home to a building with boarded-up windows. Characters meet beneath the underpasses of highways that lead nowhere.

It doesn’t take much digging to get Dominik’s message. The mob-run poker games represent Wall Street. Richard Jenkins plays the unnamed lawyer in a Lexus who gives Pitt his orders. The lawyer complains that the gangsters who employ him suffer “a total corporate mentality.”

The idea of organized crime standing in for big business isn’t new. The original two “Godfather” movies did it earlier and did it better. Francis Ford Coppola lifted the veil of metaphor just once, in “The Godfather, Part II” when Hyman Roth says, “We’re bigger than U.S. Steel.”

The messages are so obvious in “Killing Me Softly” that Dominik all but dispenses with metaphor. Jackie puts it bluntly: “America’s not a country, it’s a business.”

The transition from Bush to Obama felt consequential for a number of reasons; historic transcendence of race, soaring rhetorical ambition, and the relief of finally leaving behind the dark reign of the scoundrels who ran the criminal syndicate known as the Bush administration.

While there were warning signs that the new boss was substantively the same as the old boss, it’s taken a slew of scandals to erode the foundation beneath Obama supporters. I think the following tweet (from Hasalyn Modine) illustrates the growing disillusionment:

I’m really disappointed in President Obama. I was one of the blindly optimistic ones and I feel like a fool. #prism

Last week’s multiple headlines about the NSA’s various metadata vacuuming programs came from a whistleblower who made the gutsy decision to come out from the shadows. His name is Edward Snowden, and his fate is now in the hands of a government that has declared its power to assassinate its own citizens.

Having watched the Obama administration prosecute whistleblowers at a historically unprecedented rate, he fully expects the US government to attempt to use all its weight to punish him. “I am not afraid,” he said calmly, “because this is the choice I’ve made.”

He predicts the government will launch an investigation and “say I have broken the Espionage Act and helped our enemies, but that can be used against anyone who points out how massive and invasive the system has become”.

The only time he became emotional during the many hours of interviews was when he pondered the impact his choices would have on his family, many of whom work for the US government. “The only thing I fear is the harmful effects on my family, who I won’t be able to help any more. That’s what keeps me up at night,” he said, his eyes welling up with tears.

On Morning Joe this morning, Joe speculated that Americans won’t give a shit about being spied on because 66% of Americans don’t give a shit that our government regularly blows up people with drone strikes.

And his sidekick, Mika Brzezinski (daughter of Zbigniew Brzezinski) grilled Glenn Greenwald about what exactly is illegal with all this spying stuff.

I guess we will see if the prediction of American apathy plays out. If past behavior is a good indicator of future behavior, Joe is right, and America will move on to the next spectacle.

Blood for Uranium

by lizard

The San Onofre nuclear power plant in Southern California—which has been shutdown since January, 2012—will not reopen:

The owners of the San Onofre nuclear power plant in Southern California, which has been shut since January 2012, said on Friday that they would close it permanently because of uncertainty over when it could be reopened.

The two reactors at San Onofre had not run since a small amount of radioactive steam escaped from new tubes damaged by vibration and friction. Coming months after the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown in Japan, the event prompted a wave of public opposition and set off a legal and regulatory battle that included Southern California Edison, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which manufactured the parts that leaked.

Those parts, called steam generators, cost more than $600 million. In the end, uncertainty over the plant’s fate “was not good for our customers, our investors, or the need to plan for our region’s long-term electricity needs,” said Theodore F. Craver Jr., chief executive of the utility’s parent company, Edison International.

For an administration with close ties to the nuclear industry, this news represents a setback. From the link:

While campaigning for president in 2008, Barack Obama promised that nuclear power would remain part of the US’s “energy mix”. His chief adviser, David Axelrod, had consulted in the past for Illinois energy company ComEd, a subsidiary of Exelon, a major nuclear-energy producer. Obama’s former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel played a key role in the formation of Exelon.

The Obama Administration’s ties to nuclear energy corporations like Exelon may be playing a much more significant role in shaping Obama’s foreign policy.

According to the scrappy investigative journalist, Greg Palast, if Bush’s foreign policy could be seen as blood for oil, with Obama, it’s blood for uranium:

I was once asked by a radio host to explain why Obama was so insistent on a massive military surge in Afghanistan. I said, “Who the hell knows?”

That was before I saw the Army’s missing “Country Study” of the mineral bonanza. It’s simple, it’s cruel and it’s how the world works. As I’ve said, if you liked blood for oil, you’ll love blood for uranium. While Obama had little use for the Iraq war over oil, war for uranium is another matter altogether.

Bush and Cheney came from the oil patch. To oilmen, Iraq has “strategic” value. Obama comes from the nuclear power patch, Chicago, home of America’s largest nuclear plant operator and one of Obama’s largest backers, Exelon Corporation.

Exelon was created by investment banker Rahm Emanuel – a deal that created Rahm’s personal fortune – before he became Obama’s White House Chief of Staff. (Emanuel is now Mayor of Chicago.) Exelon’s CEO was one of Obama’s earliest and largest fundraisers.

And David Axelrod, the man whose PR message of Hope and Change made Obama leader of the free world, made himself a leader of the PR world, says Bloomberg Business Week, by “operating from the shadows” to create fake “consumer” groups for Exelon.

Would President Obama really send Americans to die just for a bunch of uranium?

Yes, yes he would.

Obama always pitched the Afghan War as the good, sensible war to be fighting, and he followed through once elected with his “surge”. With help from the New York Times, which reported in 2010 on the vast mineral wealth below the barren landscape, the exploitive potential for Obama’s Chicago boys must have seemed too tantalizing to pass up. That, and the geopolitical competition with China made Afghanistan a must control region for Obama’s team of imperialists.

by lizard

If you are looking to buy a home, the one thing I would say to you is this: don’t believe the hype.

In this week’s Indy, Jessica Mayrer has an article about the housing market in Missoula: Real Estate Market Rebounds, For Now:

Missoula real estate experts are hopeful that the era of lackluster sales and flat property values that set in when the economy tanked six years ago seems to be ending.

“We’ve, I think, turned the corner,” says John Herring, president of the Missoula Organization of Realtors. “We’ve definitely seen an increase in activity.”

For real estate agents, there’s reason for optimism. Median home prices in Missoula increased from $198,750 during 2012’s first quarter to $207,500 during the same period this year, according to MOR numbers. City data, meanwhile, shows that 98 new single-family home construction permits were issued through April of this year, or up more than 50 percent from 2012.

If you read the whole article, there is some skepticism about “underlying factors” like the potential for rising interest rates, but it’s not enough.

I say that because the entire “rebound” being touted by industry insiders is a massive fraud, something even the New York Times is finally reporting on:

“Wall Street played a central role in the last housing boom by supplying easy — and, in retrospect, risky — mortgage financing. Now, investment companies like the Blackstone Group have swooped in, buying thousands of houses in the same areas where the financial crisis hit hardest…..

While these investors have not touched many healthy real estate markets, they are among the biggest buyers in struggling areas of the country where housing prices have been increasing the fastest. Those gains, in turn, have been at the leading edge of rising home prices nationwide…..

Nationwide, 68 percent of the damaged homes sold in April went to investors, and only 19 percent to first-time home buyers, according to Campbell HousingPulse.” (NYT)

For Michael Whitney, who has been closely tracking this, the NYT reporting is too little, too late. If you want to understand the dynamics at play, please read Whitney’s latest article, The Big Investment Firms Driving the Housing Market.

Actually, the dynamics are pretty simple. They are called “fundamentals” and when the “fundamentals” aren’t strong, housing markets won’t be strong.

If you don’t read the whole article, at least read Whitney’s conclusion (with corroboration from Fitch Ratings):

There’s no demand in housing, not really. It’s all smoke an mirrors. Existing home sales were down in March even though the Fed is buying $40 billion in Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS) per month, even though interest rates are at their lowest level in history, even though Obama is providing “no doc” refis to people who haven’t paid a dime on their mortgage in two years, and even though the banks have reduced their foreclosures by 24% in the last year and the nation’s 3 biggest banks have stopped foreclosures altogether. Even with all the rate-stimulus, all the freebie mortgage modification programs, and all the stealth inventory suppression; demand is still weak, weak, weak.

Why? Because the fundamentals are weak, that’s why. Here’s how Fitch Ratings agency summed it up in a recent post at Zero Hedge:

“Fitch Ratings believes the recent home price gains recorded in several residential markets are outpacing improvements in fundamentals and could stall or possibly reverse…..Several factors are combining to form an environment supportive of brisk home price growth, but few are capable of providing long-term support to sustain the recent pace of improvement….

Demand is artificially high … We believe this level of housing demand is likely to abate once the pent-up demand is satisfied. …The supply is also artificially low….

The supply-demand imbalance is even more pronounced in regional markets that are seeing strong institutional and retail bids for rental properties. The low rate and steep drop in prices, coupled with the decline in homeownership, have attracted an estimated $8-$10 billion of new capital to this sector.” (“Haunted By The Last Housing Bubble, Fitch Warns “Gains Are Outpacing Fundamentals”, zero hedge)

Finally some one is talking about fundamentals. And what are the fundamentals that traditionally drive the housing market?

Low unemployment and good paying jobs mainly, the two things that are sadly lacking in Obama’s bogus economic recovery. Until those improve, buying a house is just a crap-shoot. But don’t expect the Times to tell you that.

Yeah, the media. That group of sycophants who are suddenly concerned about an out-of-control administration steering the massive ship of our out-of-control federal government toward a fascist surveillance state where not even loyal sycophants will be safe from Big Brother’s long gaze.

The NYT editorial board said Feinstein’s defense of the surveillance state was “absurd” and declared the Obama administration has no more credibility.

That the sphere of absurdity includes once credible media titans like the NYT goes unnoticed by the purveyors of propaganda that spews from this administration on a daily basis.

by lizard

Is anyone really surprised the NSA is collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers?

The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America’s largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April.

The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an “ongoing, daily basis” to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.

The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.

For those who voted for the lesser of two evils, this is the result of your political calculation.

Will this latest revelation challenge Americans’ seemingly endless capacity for inaction in the face of the continued diminishment of our rights? Doubtful.

Our trajectory, paved with inaction, continues toward fascism.

by lizard

In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.
—Orwell

The role of the poet in Latin America is different than the states, especially during the seventies, when ideological clashes south of the border took countless casualties, including the poets Pablo Neruda and Roque Dalton.

That first name probably rings a few bells. Neruda is a well known poet, thought to have died of prostate cancer, but a story published just a few days ago calls that into question (NYT):

Forty years after the death of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, a judge has issued an order for police to make a portrait of and find the man who prosecutors allege may have poisoned him.

Neruda’s death was attributed at the time to prostate cancer but the case’s plaintiff lawyer, Eduardo Contreras, says there is new evidence showing he was likely murdered by agents of dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Contreras said Dr. Sergio Draper, who originally testified that he was with Neruda at the time of his death on Sept. 23, 1973, is now saying there was another doctor named “Price” with the poet.

But Price did not appear in any of the hospital’s records as a treating doctor and Draper said he never saw him again after the day he left him with Neruda. Moreover Price’s description of a blond, blue eyed, tall man, matches Michael Townley, the CIA double agent who worked with Chilean secret police under Pinochet.

Now that’s respect. Killing Neruda, if true, exemplifies the actual weakness of the perpetrators and the larger forces they represent.

In the case of Roque Dalton, the forces that led to his execution came from the rebel left. Here’s a recent article exploring the new details of his death:

The death of Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton in 1975 is one of the great tragedies of Latin American literature and of the Latin American left. And it was a tragedy the left inflicted on itself.

Dalton had joined one of the armed rebel groups fighting against El Salvador’s dictatorship. He had, by then, already established an international reputation as a writer. Most of his best writing came during his exile in Cuba, where he wrote seven books of poetry, and “Miguel Marmol,” a biography of a 1930s Salvadoran revolutionary that’s one of the great, underappreciated masterpieces of Latin American historical writing.

Dalton was executed by his own rebel movement on Mother’s Day in 1975 — he was accused of being a spy for both the CIA and Cuba. This month, Dalton was officially incorporated into the pantheon of El Salvador’s national cultural heroes: El Salvador’s new, center-left government declared May 14 as National Poetry Day in Dalton’s honor.

At the same time, new details have emerged about Dalton’s killing, and a more complete portrait of the poet’s final hours can finally be told.

The threat of poetry is the threat of truth in a time of universal deceit. The threat of truth is also why Bradley Manning is facing the possibility of life in prison.

by lizard

I found out today the Motor Vehicle Division of the Montana Department of Justice will be doubling the cost of state ID’s in July, from $8.oo to $16.oo. The reason? These new ID’s will now be 8 year ID’s instead of the measly 4 years they are now. So if you’re looking to replace a lost or stolen ID—not a rare occurrence—it’s going to cost you double.

The reason I know all this is because the information was offered, quite unsolicited, by the nice lady I happened to be talking to at Missoula’s Motor Vehicle Division.

She went on to say that this increase was not “asked for”. Apparently this decision to increase cost came from our lovely state legislature, though I haven’t verified that. I asked: would a 4 year option still be available? She replied: no.

Maybe someone should give Tim Fox a call and ask him why squeezing more money from Montanans for essentially the same state issued product is necessary.

If you’re already barely scraping by, an increase like this hurts. To get anything done, even if you’re without a roof over your head, you NEED an ID, which makes this needless gouging even more despicable.

I couldn’t find anything about this increase in local media, or on the Montana Department of Justice website, but I didn’t look too closely. If anyone knows more, comments are always welcome.

by lizard

Last weekend, I watched the movie Cloud Atlas. I think it’s a beautiful film that explores how its characters confront and transcend boundaries, like race. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend spending the nearly 3 hours of viewing time to check it out.

Race is obviously still a contentious issue that didn’t just go away because Barack Obama was elected president, although some at the time put forth the notion that, because Obama was elected, we now live in a post-racial America.

Unfortunately, there are too many examples of why that is not the case, like the racist backlash to a cheerios ad featuring a biracial couple, or the lawsuit alleging racism is involved in the decision to close 54 Chicago public schools, or the violent assault of a 14 year old black kid by Miami police for reportedly giving them a dehumanizing stare.

And that was just this past week.

The fault lines of race become even more pronounced during economic downturns. What’s been happening in Greece, for example, is especially disturbing. The political potency of the Neo-Nazi party, Golden Dawn, continues to grow, and the weakened government doesn’t seem capable of addressing the increasing number of racially-fueled assaults.

So it’s within this context I started reading Matthew Dickman’s first book of poems, titled All-American Poem (APR/Honickman First Book Prize, 2008; distributed by Copper Canyon Press). What can a white male poet born in Portland, Oregon say about race in America? Click continue reading, and find out. Continue Reading »




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