Archive for September, 2013

Tester’s Populist Trifecta

by lizard

I remain agnostic about the alleged betrayals that went down behind the scenes of the Baucus/Tester/Schweitzer open senate seat fight.

That said, I have been giving James Conner’s allegation that Jon Tester is playing a Machiavellian long-game for reelection some extra thought. For a refresher, you can read the whole post here. This excerpt lays out the allegation:

Tester and his top political operatives, my sources report, both like and fear Steve Daines; like him for support on some environmental matters, fear him as the Republican nominee for the senate in 2018. Therefore, Tester’s top objective is preventing Daines from accumulating seniority, power, and experience, in the U.S. House of Representatives. The best way of doing that? Ensuring that Daines is the GOP nominee for the senate next year. If Daines won a senate seat, he wouldn’t challenge Tester in 2018. That’s probably the best scenario for Tester. But if Daines lost, he’d be an unemployed politician and much less a threat to Tester in 2018.

But Daines wasn’t going to give up his house seat to run against Brian Schweitzer, the only Democrat he feared (and rightly so). Therefore, Tester’s plans for Daines required knocking Schweitzer out of the campaign, which he apparently proceeded to do with a Machiavellian efficiency that must have sent an icy shudder down Karl Rove’s spine. There are people who admire that kind of cold-bloodedness, but I’m not one of them.

2018 is a long ways down the road, but if Tester wants to stay in power, then it certainly wouldn’t hurt to do some things for the base to help rehab his rocky relationship with them, a relationship that nearly cost him his seat last November.

First, Tester came out against the Syrian intervention. That decision was made easier by the collapse of an actual vote, and the surprising diplomatic solution suggested by Russia, but Tester should still get credit for finally stating publicly how he would vote.

Second, Tester came out against Larry Summers, and because Tester is seen as a moderate Democrat with “close ties” to the banking industry, Tester’s public opposition probably did more to tank Summers than, say, Elizabeth Warren. From the link:

Tester has close ties to the bank lobby and is generally viewed as a moderate Democrat. His opposition suggests division within the banking community over a Summers pick, a scenario that would hamper Obama’s ability to win over reluctant lawmakers.

And third, Tester killed the Protect Monsanto Rider, saying:

Stripping the Monsanto Protection Act is a victory for American consumers and family farm agriculture. Corporate giveaways have no business in a bill to fund the government, and I’m pleased that the Senate stood up for accountability and transparency and against special interests.

The cynic in me is skeptical, but there is room for a little cautious optimism that public pressure aligned with self-interest has produced some good results.

If America hasn’t descended into a lawless Mad Max struggle for survival by 2018, then Tester will have some decent examples of smart, populist decisions for his reelection bid.

by lizard

While the American people are getting economically pummeled, it’s nice to know that the overpaid administrators of our publicly funded University system will be getting more money for doing whatever the hell it is they do over there. Again, the justification, as always, is the need to entice quality candidates, because I guess it would be impossible to find competent people willing to work for less than a hundred thousand dollars:

Provost Perry Brown will remain the second highest paid employee at UM, earning $196,570 – an increase of 2.38 percent over last year. Provost Martha Potvin at MSU will earn $209,852 – a raise of 2.37 percent.

Raises for other top-level UM administrators included Michael Ried, the vice president of administration and finance, who will make $173,053, and Scott Whittenburg, vice president of research and creative scholarship, who will earn $189,413.

Peggy Kuhr, vice president of integrated communications, received a $3,558 raise, bringing her salary to $150,558, while Theresa Branch, vice president of student affairs, will earn $153,812 after Oct. 1.

“Probably 60 percent of the hires we make in the university system are truly national and international hires,” McRae said. “We know that living in Montana, we’re always going to make less than the average. But the university system has to compete nationally, and we do balance the administrative salaries with those concerns.”

This is reminiscent of the outcry that happened at the beginning of this year when MCPS Superintendent, Alex Apostle, received a whopping 13% pay raise after teachers were told there’s no money for them:

The tension has been rising ever since the Missoula County Public Schools Board of Trustees approved a 13 percent raise for the district’s superintendent, Alex Apostle, on Jan. 14, said Charlson, president of the Missoula Education Association, the district’s teachers union.

“There’s a lot of outcry,” Charlson said. “When we negotiated last year and when the board adopted the budget in August, we were told there was no money, and in that budget there was nothing there about Dr. Apostle’s increase.

“I’ve received hundreds of letters and phone calls, and teachers are questioning what will be cut, because something will have to give and be moved around to accommodate the superintendent’s salary increase and have the budget balance.”

The reason this stings so badly for so many is the economic recovery we are constantly being told is happening, isn’t happening for most Americans. And you know it’s bad when Walmart does this:

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) is cutting orders it places with suppliers this quarter and next to address rising inventory the company flagged in last month’s earnings report.

Last week, an ordering manager at the company’s Bentonville, Arkansas, headquarters described the pullback in an e-mail to a supplier, who said others got similar messages. “We are looking at reducing inventory for Q3 and Q4,” said the Sept. 17 e-mail, which was reviewed by Bloomberg News.

U.S. inventory growth at Wal-Mart outstripped sales gains in the second quarter at a faster rate than at the retailer’s biggest rivals. Merchandise has been piling up because consumers have been spending less freely than Wal-Mart projected, and the company has forfeited some sales because it doesn’t have enough workers in stores to keep shelves adequately stocked.

Hmmm, I wonder why consumers are “spending less freely” in this wonderful, recovering economy the Obama administration has been steering for Wall Street these last five years?

Citing that Walmart story and some poll results, Michael Whitney describes why American Workers are hanging on by the skin of their teeth:

After five years of Obama’s economic recovery, the American people are as gloomy as ever. According to a Bloomberg National Poll that was released this week, fewer people “are optimistic about the job market” or “the housing market” or “anticipate improvement in the economy’s strength over the next year.” Also, only 38 percent think that President Obama is doing enough “to make people feel more economically secure.” Worst of all, Bloomberg pollsters found that 68 percent of interviewees thought the country was “headed in the wrong direction”.

So why is everyone so miserable? Are things really that bad or have we turned into a nation of crybabies?

The reason people are so pessimistic is because the economy is still in the doldrums and no one’s doing anything about it. That’s it in a nutshell. Survey after survey have shown that what people really care about is jobs, but no one in Washington is listening. In fact, jobs aren’t even on Obama’s radar. Just look at his record. He’s worse than any president in modern times. Take a look at this graph.

More than 600,000 good-paying public sector jobs have been slashed during Obama’s tenure as president. That’s worse than Bush, worse than Clinton, worse than Reagan, worse than anyone, except maybe Hoover. Is that Obama’s goal, to one-up Herbert Hoover?

Obama has done everything he could to make the lives of working people as wretched as possible. Do you remember the Card Check sellout or the Wisconsin “flyover” when Governor Scott Walker was eviscerating collective bargaining rights for public sector unions and Obama blew kisses from Airforce One on his way to a campaign speech in Minnesota? Nice touch, Barry. Or what about the “Job’s Czar” fiasco, when Obama appointed GE’s outsourcing mandarin Jeffrey Immelt to the new position just in time for GE to lay off another 950 workers at their locomotive plant in Pennsylvania. That’s tells you what Obama really thinks about labor.

What Obama cares about is trimming the deficits and keeping Wall Street happy. That’s it. But the people who elected him don’t want him to cut the deficits, because cutting the deficits prolongs the slump and costs jobs. What they want is more stimulus, so people can find work, feed their families, and have some basic security. That’s what they want, but they’re not going to get it from Obama because he doesn’t work for them. He works for the stuffed shirts who flank him on the golf course at Martha’s Vineyard or the big shots who chow down with him at his $100,000-per-plate campaign jamborees. That’s his real constituency. Everyone else can take a flying fu** for all he cares.

This is the consequence of the Democrat sell-out to Wall Street two decades ago, average people have no recourse to the disastrous policies that are being enacted to keep the top percent insulated from the misery they are creating.

While retailers are trying to gauge how tapped-out consumers will be for the holiday shopping season, health insurance consumers are trying to gauge how affordable the affordable care act will be. In this Missoulian article, a personal narrative exemplifies the dynamics at play. Here is a lengthy excerpt:

People must purchase health insurance by Dec. 15 for it to become effective Jan. 1 – a date Brooke Barnett is eagerly anticipating. It could be the first time her family has health insurance since she was laid off from her medical writer job with a marketing and communications firm in March and lost health insurance benefits in June.

“Being uninsured is really scary. My eye is twitching,” Barnett said Thursday from the Alberton home she shares with her husband and two young children.

“It feels like we’re holding out until January,” she added.

Fisher, Barnett’s 1 1/2-year-old son, didn’t wait for January, and the family is struggling to figure out how to pay off a roughly $1,000 bill from a trip to the emergency room for stitches.

Because her husband, Todd Skibbe, works part-time for Alberton, he’s not eligible for benefits, and Barnett’s freelance writing and photography doesn’t bring in enough money to purchase insurance and still pay the mortgage, student loans and other household expenses.

“We’re month to month,” she said. “There’s no padding in the budget.”

Insurance through her previous employer wasn’t great, she said, but at least it was something in case catastrophe struck.

“It was like I was just throwing money into a black hole,” she said, adding she’s hopeful the new system will be more about practical, affordable health care than about affordable insurance.

The idea of being able to purchase insurance, made affordable with subsidies and tax credits, is promising, although she would like to see something more like a single-payer system.

However, if an insurance plan costs more than $200 a month, Barnett said she’s still not sure how the family will be able to afford the extra cost without skimping on essentials, like the grocery budget.

“I don’t know; it just seems like a paradox,” she said.

If the ACA continues to be unaffordable, I guess people will have to look at other options, like maybe dancing around with rattlesnakes and speaking in tongues, or how about colloidal silver?

Instead of being totally pessimistic, I’m going to try and conclude this post on a positive note: if it wasn’t for our health care crisis, I’m not sure the tv series Breaking Bad would have been created. People think that show is about meth, but it’s not. It’s about the failure of the American health care system.

I know, kind of pathetic for a silver lining, but at least I tried, right? Right???

by lizard

I’m getting out of town this weekend to celebrate my 10 year anniversary with my wife, so I probably won’t be posting anything for the next 4 days, and that’s a good thing. I’ve been keeping up with nearly daily posts for over a month, something I’m happy to be able to do, but it takes a lot to stay focused on the various failures I constantly write about.

Keeping with the theme of failure, there is no better word to describe our city/state/country’s approach to treating people with mental illness. I have more experience with this systemic failure than I can detail here, but let me say it’s beyond frustrating to know someone is a danger to themselves and others, and all you can do is wait for something bad to happen. I was reminded of that this morning, reading the Missoulian (sorry, no link, but some of you will probably figure it out).

The failure is the system, not the people within the system doing the best they can. But our collective best is abysmal. Whether we’re talking about the state hospital in Warm Springs, the Neuro-Behavioral Unit at the Providence Center, or any of our three mental health organizations (Western Montana Mental Health, Winds of Change, Three Rivers), there is more need for help than these entities can provide, and the result is too often jail, or suicide.

I didn’t expect to run across a post about mental illness and incarceration at Zero Hedge, but I found this post last night, and it describes a nearly half-century trend shifting people who can’t manage their illnesses from mental asylums to prisons:

“In every city and state I have visited, the jails have become the de facto mental institutions,” warns the president of the American Jail Association as the WSJ notes, America’s lockups have become its new asylums. After scores of state mental institutions were closed beginning in the 1970s, few alternatives materialized. Many of the afflicted wound up on the streets, where, untreated, they became more vulnerable to joblessness, drug abuse and crime. Stunningly, the number of mentally ill prisoners the country’s three biggest jail systems – Cook County, IL; Los Angeles County; and New York City – handle daily is equal to 28% of all beds in the nation’s 213 state psychiatric hospitals. “We’re finding sicker and sicker people all the time” who have to be treated for their mental illnesses. Prisons “can’t say no to the mentally ill. They have to solve the problem.”

The Zero Hedge post cites an article from the Wall Street Journal, but it’s behind a paywall. There are graphs and stats at Zero Hedge, though, that tell the story pretty starkly.

Mental Illness is a significant contributing factor to homelessness, something I hope Missoula’s 10 year plan to end homelessness takes a close look at.

I don’t want to further stigmatize a population already seen through the lens of multiple mass-shooting tragedies, but if our most supposedly vigilant military systems can’t flag and appropriately respond to the potential threat of Aaron Alexis, then we have very serious problems.

This from a NYT article two days ago:

Mr. Alexis had a history of angry outbursts over the last decade, and he had been arrested three times in three states, though he was never prosecuted in any of those episodes. Shortly after the F.B.I.’s news conference, Hewlett-Packard Company, the principal contractor on the computer services work at the navy yard, announced that it had terminated its relationship with The Experts. Mr. Alexis worked at numerous military installations for The Experts over the past year, but had started working at the navy yard just a week before the shootings.

Hewlett-Packard “has lost all confidence in The Experts’ ability to meet its contractual obligations and serve as an H.P. subcontractor,” said Hewlett-Packard’s director of global contingent labor, Henry Dreschler, in a letter to The Experts’ chief executive, Thomas E. Hoshko.

A Hewlett-Packard spokesman, Michael Thacker, declined to comment on the letter. But in an e-mail he said, “Based on what we now know about The Experts’ conduct, including its failure to respond appropriately to Aaron Alexis’ mental health issues and certain incidents recently reported in the press, H.P. has terminated its relationship with The Experts.”

A month before the shootings, Mr. Alexis told the police in Newport, R.I., that he had been hearing voices sent by a “microwave machine.” Logs from the hotel where Mr. Alexis was staying show that officials at The Experts were aware of his “unstable” condition and brought him home. But it is unclear what the company did to address his problems after that.

The Experts said in a statement that a site manager for Hewlett-Packard in Rhode Island had “closely supervised” Mr. Alexis, “including during the events” there. The company said it was “disappointed in H.P.’s decision” because it “had no greater insight into Alexis’s mental health than H.P.”

We can do better than this. And in Missoula, I know we will.

by lizard

Over at Counterpunch, David Swanson documents 45 lies featured in president Obama’s UN speech.

As Democrats got all apoplectic over the vacuous antics of Ted Cruz, their guy was on the global stage lying his ass off.

Now, it’s an established fact that the necessary characteristics of a politician includes the capacity for deceit, but Obama does it on an impressively brazen level when he says things like “together we have worked to end a decade of war” and “we have limited the use of drones.


It’s not like there’s much credibility left for Obama to destroy. But the sheer audacity of his UN performance may in fact bolster the credible threat of US force in the eyes of the world’s population, because it shows how totally unhinged America has become, to be able to just take this level of deceit in stride, like it doesn’t matter.

Well, it does matter, so take a few minutes from Clown Cruz coverage, and read the list of lies that comprises the slick surface of America’s global PR. It’s astounding.

by lizard

Kofi Awoonor, a Ghanaian poet, is among the casualties of the mall massacre in Nairobi:

Prof Kofi Awoonor, a former diplomat, was killed in the attack in Nairobi. He was in the city attending the Storymoja Hay literary festival, a celebration of pan-African writing and storytelling.

His fellow Ghanaian poet Nii Ayikewei Parkes said people attending the festival had realised something was wrong when Awoonor, known affectionately by many in Ghana as “Prof”, failed to turn up for a session at which poets from west Africa and east Africa were due to perform a reading.

“Professor Awoonor and I and two other poets were representing west Africa, and there were four poets from east Africa,” said Parkes, author of Tail of the Blue Bird, who is also Awoonor’s nephew.

“The high commissioner had phoned to say that [Awoonor’s] son Afetsi was injured in an attack at the mall, and that they had lost track of [Awoonor].

“Later that night the high commissioner phoned and said that his body had been found.”

If you click continue, you can read a portion of a poem titled ACROSS A NEW DAWN. The full poem can be read here. To read more of Awoonor’s poetry, the poetry foundation features 13 poems here. Continue Reading »

by lizard

As young people, we are told surface-level narratives explaining how complex systems work. With the economy, it’s a story about supply and demand, a fairy-tale that things called competitive markets exist, and through the competing forces of supply and demand, equilibrium settles in. The way this is managed seems so simple:

If demand increases and supply remains unchanged, a shortage occurs, leading to a higher equilibrium price.

If demand decreases and supply remains unchanged, a surplus occurs, leading to a lower equilibrium price.

If demand remains unchanged and supply increases, a surplus occurs, leading to a lower equilibrium price.

If demand remains unchanged and supply decreases, a shortage occurs, leading to a higher equilibrium price.

Supply and demand are not the factors to be taking into consideration if we’re talking about logging, and the bipartisan support among Montana’s representatives for logging mandates entangled in the timber industry gift-packaging. At the beginning of this month, Jon Tester was “feeling better” about Conrad Burns Steve Daines’ support:

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester’s long-stalled forest bill, which would newly designate acreage for both wilderness and logging in three Montana forests, could be finding some new momentum, the senator and bill supporters say.

“I feel better now about its position than I ever have in the past, and significantly better,” Tester, a Democrat, said in an interview late last week.

He said there’s a growing understanding in Congress not only about his bill, but also that something needs to be done to improve forest management in the West.

Tester and the bill’s supporters, which include timber-mill owners, wilderness advocates and scores of recreation businesses, also are hoping a new player in the political mix – Republican Congressman Steve Daines – might provide a bipartisan push that’s been missing.

Three weeks later, the White House is threatening to veto the hot mess coming from the House because the reality of the bill is coming into focus:

In response to fires that have ravaged the West this year, the House on Friday approved a bill that would expand logging in national forests despite a White House veto threat.

The measure, which would impose limits on environmental reviews to speed timber-cutting projects, was approved by the Republican-controlled House, 244-173, on a largely party-line vote.

The bill would more than double timber harvest levels nationwide to roughly 6 billion board feet of timber for sale each year, up from the average of 2.5 billion board feet sold annually in recent years.

That legislation is being proposed to increase supply, outside the forces of demand, that’s a problem. That Steve/Jon/Max all hold hands and skip along, that’s a problem as well.

This legislative push is trying to capitalize on another intense fire season. It’s cynical, short-term job-whoring for special interests, and it’s bad policy.

That Tester has kept this torch burning after snuffing Conrad Burns should not go unmentioned.

Meanwhile, climate change only gets a brief mention by Obama at the UN, and hardly anyone is discussing what’s happening in Japan.

We are in serious trouble.

by lizard

Sans football, my weekends have become super-productive. I’m getting all kinds of stuff done around the house. There is also a correlation between my lack of attention and the success of my Kansas City Chiefs, who seem to always do better when I’m not watching, so when they go to the playoffs this year, I can take full credit. You’re welcome, Chiefs fans.

Whenever my NFL abstinence is in jeopardy, I seem to find articles that help keep my resolve strong. Last evening, for example, I read an article describing how the wholesomeness of the NFL was protected from M.I.A.’s un-wholesome middle finger during Madonna’s Super Bowl performance in 2012. How was this accomplished you ask? The answer: a 1.5 million dollar fine.

On February 5, 2012, M.I.A. performed as a guest of Madonna during her Super Bowl halftime performance. During her brief time on stage, M.I.A. flipped off the camera for a split second. Last week, news broke that the case, which seemed to fade away, has been quietly unfolding since March of last year. And the NFL is demanding that M.I.A. pay $1.5 million (with a public apology) for her seconds-long middle finger.

In its legal filings, the NFL said M.I.A.’s “offensive” middle-finger happened “in flagrant disregard for the values that form the cornerstone of the NFL brand and the Super Bowl.” According to the NFL, M.I.A. breached a pre-show agreement to maintain the NFL’s “reputation for wholesomeness”; the league argues she broke the contract as a publicity stunt.

Luckily, M.I.A. is not one to take this kind of bullshit quietly. She released the following statement, and it makes some damn good points:

The NFL thing is completely ridiculous. It’s been making me laugh for a while, but now it’s so boring I don’t even laugh anymore. So the precise moment in question, and you can actually freeze-frame this as many media outlets have. The frame you’re looking for has my middle finger in the foreground, and the larger picture where it zooms out is a row of 10-15 cheerleaders, young black females, that Madonna got from a local high school in Indianapolis, and they were all under 16. If you look at them, they’re all wearing cheerleader outfits, hips thrusted in the air, legs wide open, in this very sexually provocative position.

So, now, they’re scapegoating me into figuring out the goalposts on what is offensive in America. Like, is my finger offensive, or is the underage black girl with her legs wide open more offensive to the family audience? That’s basically what it comes down to. It’s a massive waste of time, a massive waste of money, it’s a massive display of powerful corporation dick-shaking. They want me on my knees and say sorry so they can slap me on my wrist. Basically, so they can say it’s OK for me to promote being sexually exploited as a female than to display female empowerment through being punk rock. That is what it boils down to, and I’m being sued for it.

Since wholesome entertainment is what Blackbird readers have come to expect from the content here at 4&20 Blackbirds, I’d like to offer an amazing performance by some very talented kids of the song 46 and 2, by Tool. Enjoy!

The Cost of Griz Nation

by lizard

When I wrote about UM’s enrollment problem, I made a snarky comment about the plans to build a 3 million dollar athlete study center.

Why, you may be asking, should 3 million dollars be spent to build a space solely for athletes to study? Will this help stupid football players, like Matt Hermanson, avoid going to jail for criminal mischief? Doubtful. But it will help Allie Parks and the onerous trips she has to make all the way across campus, which like totally sucks:

Junior Allie Parks, a member of the cross-country and track teams, said that she has been studying in the library or at home, which can be difficult because of her demanding practice schedule.

“It just kind of sucks, when I am trying to get stuff done and have to go all the way across campus after weights in the morning, then back for practice again later,” said Parks, an environmental studies major. “And there is nowhere to print our papers and homework off.”

It’s great to have nice, new spaces to study and learn, but the quality of a college education should be more about the caliber of the faculty, not the caliber of the buildings, and colleges across the nation have been exploiting part-time professors, called adjuncts, for years.

To emphasize that point, an NPR story describes how The Sad Death of an Adjunct Professor Sparks a Labor Debate. From the link:

Last spring, months before her death, Vojtko showed up at a meeting between adjunct professors at Duquesne University and the union officials who had been trying to organize them. The professors are trying to organize a union affiliated with the United Steelworkers.

Daniel Kovalik, senior counsel to the Steelworkers union, says Vojtko was distraught. “She had cancer; she had very high medical bills,” Kovalik says.

After 25 years of teaching French at Duquesne, the university had not renewed her contract. As a part-time professor, she had been earning about $10,000 a year, and had no health insurance.

“She didn’t want charity,” Kovalik says. “She thought that after working 25 years for Duquesne that she was owed a living wage and some sort of retirement and benefits.”

Vojtko died Sept. 1 after a heart attack at the age of 83, destitute and nearly homeless.

And how much do administrators make? Here’s more:

Today, these itinerant teachers make up a whopping 75 percent of college instructors, with their average pay between $20,000 and $25,000 annually.

The shift toward adjunct teachers has helped institutions save lots of money. But Duquesne Provost Tim Austin says it’s unfair to cast his school as “heartless and greedy.”

“First of all, I don’t accept that the arrangements that we make with part-timers are dictated by cost savings,” Austin says.

Second, says Austin, Duquesne pays adjunct professors more than most institutions.

“The least that an adjunct professor could be paid is $3,500 for a course, $7,000 for a given semester,” he says. “Whether those are appropriate in a yet larger context is … a matter that the academic world has not yet found a decisive answer.”

The answer is staring university leaders in the face, says Maria Maisto, head of New Faculty Majority, which advocates for adjunct professors: Pay college presidents and coaches less, and part-time professors more.

“If education is really at the heart of what we do, then there’s absolutely no excuse for not putting the bulk of the resources into what happens in the classroom,” Maisto says.

But that’s not what institutions are doing, she says.

Yep, that is definitely what they are doing, and it will only get worse:

When Robin Pflugrad signed his three-year contract in 2010 for $155,000 per year, it made him the 10th highest paid coach at the FCS level, with the other nine at schools east of the Mississippi River. That has since changed, and the increases are headed our way. North Dakota State head football coach Craig Bohl had a base salary of almost $200,000 last year, and with incentives, reached more than $260,000. Others are following and feeling the need and pressure to make somewhat competitive offers to the coaches they currently employee.

These trends will continue because sports programs are apparently more of a priority than educators. Freshman, you will figure this out pretty quickly as you sit in class rooms taught by adjuncts on food stamps and disgruntled grad students teaching 100-level courses to mitigate the debt load they’ll be carrying.

Go Griz!

by lizard

Because of their successful Baby Boomer parents, entitled Millennials grew up with unrealistic expectations of their own potential for success. That’s the gist of this article, titled Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy. In this incredibly condescending depiction of GYPSY’s (Gen Y Protagonists & Special Yuppies) the sneer toward this up-and-coming generation stems from how these entitled youngsters consider themselves special. Not only that, they also have the audacity to want a level of personal fulfillment from their careers. Crazy kids.

Adam Weinstein has a response to this article, and it’s this: Fuck you. I’m Gen Y, and I’m Not a Special Snowflake. I’m Broke.

A bunch of you people on Facebook and Twitter keep sharing a Huff Po stick-figure thing about how Gen Y is unhappy because they’re unrealistic delusional ingrates.

If you wrote that, or you liked that, carefully consider these thoughts:

1) These are weirdly contrived generational categories, too weird for such black-and-white reasoning. I’ve always thought myself more tail-end-of-Gen-X in temperament, age, and outlook. But ’77-’79 is a sociologically ambiguous no-man’s land, and we typically get lumped in with the millennials, especially when it comes to money matters.

2) Go f**k yourselves.

You have no idea about student debt, underemployment, life-long renting. “Stop feeling special” is some shitty advice. I don’t feel special or entitled, just poor. The only thing that makes me special is I have more ballooning debt than you. I’ve tempered the hell out of my expectations of work, and I’ve exceeded those expectations crazily to have one interesting, exciting damned career that’s culminated in some leadership roles for national publications. And I’m still poor and in debt and worked beyond the point where it can be managed with my health and my desire to actually see the son I’m helping to raise.

Younger journos see me as a success story and ask my advice, and I feel like a fraud, because I’m doing what I love, and it makes me completely miserable and exhausts me.

Last weekend my baby had a fever, and we contemplated taking him to the ER, and my first thought was – had to be – “Oh God, that could wipe out our bank account! Maybe he can just ride it out?” Our status in this Big Financial Game had sucked my basic humanity towards my child away for a minute. If I wish for something better, is that me simply being entitled and delusional?

There *are* delusions at play here, but they are not our generation’s. They play out as two contradictory lectures that we are told, simultaneously, by our monied elders:

1) This is AMERICA. Everybody does better than their parents!

2) This is AMERICA. Suck it up and quit bitching that you’re not as well-off as your parents!

The latter maxim lurks in the heart of every critique of millennials. It assumes that if we’re worse off than previous generations, the fault is ours, and our complaints are so much white whine. We should shut up and be content, because we do work less than our forebears, and spend more time enraptured by our own navels, trying to divine some life-affirming creative direction in them.

But there’s nothing for us to suck up, really. As a rule, our parents did end up much more dedicated to their careers than we have. But as a rule, they were laid off less. They didn’t intern or work as independent contractors. They got full medical. They were occasionally permitted to adopt magical unicorn-like money-granting creatures called “pensions.” Or, barring that, they accumulated a huger 401K to cash out before the Great Recession, because they saved more. And they saved more because the costs of college, of kid care, of health care, of doing business and staying alive and buying groceries and staying connected, were far less than they are today. They could raise a family on one salary if necessary.

Economic summits where folks grovel at the feet of corporate executives are fun and all, but largely useless. Here is one question every speaker in Butte should have been asked: Why don’t wages follow the upward trends of productivity?

FEDERAL income tax rates will rise for the wealthiest Americans, and certain tax loopholes might get closed this year. But these developments, and whatever else happens in Washington in the coming debt-ceiling debate, are unlikely to do much to alter one major factor contributing to income inequality: stagnant wages. For millions of workers, wages have flatlined. Take Caterpillar, long a symbol of American industry: while it reported record profits last year, it insisted on a six-year wage freeze for many of its blue-collar workers.

Wages have fallen to a record low as a share of America’s gross domestic product. Until 1975, wages nearly always accounted for more than 50 percent of the nation’s G.D.P., but last year wages fell to a record low of 43.5 percent. Since 2001, when the wage share was 49 percent, there has been a steep slide.

“We went almost a century where the labor share was pretty stable and we shared prosperity,” says Lawrence Katz, a labor economist at Harvard. “What we’re seeing now is very disquieting.” For the great bulk of workers, labor’s shrinking share is even worse than the statistics show, when one considers that a sizable — and growing — chunk of overall wages goes to the top 1 percent: senior corporate executives, Wall Street professionals, Hollywood stars, pop singers and professional athletes. The share of wages going to the top 1 percent climbed to 12.9 percent in 2010, from 7.3 percent in 1979.

With that in mind, I’ll let Adam have the final say:

This state of affairs does not exist because we’re entitled and have simply declined to work as hard as the people that birthed us. American workers have changed from generation to generation: Since 1979, the alleged Dawn of the Millennial, the average U.S. worker has endured a 75 percent increase in productivity…while real wages stayed flat.

Those changes are blips on a timeline compared to the massive, psyche-altering vicissitudes of American Industry, its self-Taylorization to the point where profit-making and shareholder value have been maximized in ways that Morgans and Carnegies and Vanderbilts couldn’t even have conceived — in ways that have stiffed workers and the families they can no longer afford. Since ’79, the top 1 percent of earners in America has seen their income quadruple.

So take your “revise your expectations! check your ego!” Horatio Alger bullshit, and stuff it. While you’re at it, stuff this economy. Not this GDP, not this unemployment level: this economy, this financial system that establishes complete social and political control over us, that conditions us to believe that we don’t deserve basic shelter and clothing and food and education and existence-sustaining medical care unless we throw our lives into vassalage and hope, pray, that the lords don’t fuck with our retirements or our coverages. (Maybe if we’re extra productive, someday they’ll do a 4o1K match again, like our ancestors used to talk about!)

Take the system that siphons off our capacities for human flourishing in hopes that we get thrown a little coin of the realm in return. Take that system and blow it up, you cowards.

Oh, and also, stop thinking that you’re special.

by lizard

When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause
             in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

—Walt Whitman


For how this poem relates to Breaking Bad, this piece by Kera Bolonik, featured at the Poetry Foundation, may be helpful.

For additional examples of the use of Whitman in pop culture, The World Doesn’t End.

by lizard

Evolve, adapt, or face extinction. That appears to be the reality Pope Francis is grappling with, as evidenced by an interview sending shockwaves across the billion plus faithful of the Catholic Church, and beyond. Here is an example of the sea-change underway:

We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. … The proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives. Today sometimes it seems that the opposite order is prevailing.

This quote resonates far beyond the church. The global population of this planet must find a new balance, and Pope Francis is right when he states that the order which stands on the opposite side of the saving love of God seems to be prevailing.

The behaviors that constitute the opposing forces of God’s love are described in Proverbs:

A proud look
A lying tongue
Hands that shed innocent blood
A heart that devises wicked plots
Feet that are swift to run into mischief
A deceitful witness that uttereth lies
Him that soweth discord among brethren

Reading that list reminded me of some more good news, and that is the conviction of Hamilton pastor, Harris Himes:

A Ravalli County jury found Hamilton pastor Harris Himes guilty on three felony counts of securities fraud Friday.

The seven-man, five-woman jury took just under five hours to render its verdict after a four-day trial.

The controversial pastor was charged with cheating a church member out of $150,000 in 2008.

The jury found Himes guilty of failure to register a security, failure to register as a security salesperson and fraudulent practices, all felonies.


This is good news because Harris Himes is a sad, hateful person who gets to ruminate on his own wickedness for what I hope is a nice stretch in prison.

Remember, when a legislative attempt to nullify Missoula’s equality ordinance went down in Helena last session, Himes said this:

Harris Himes, representing the Montana Eagle Forum, called the Missoula ordinance “unconstitutional on its face.”

“There are those of us who would not to rent to gay and lesbian people for religious reasons,” said Himes, a Hamilton pastor.

Pressed later by Rep. Ellie Hill, D-Missoula, what those religious

reasons are, Himes said: “It is God himself who says that homosexuality is an abomination, and he has various punishments for that too.”

Hill asked what those punishments are, and Himes quoted Leviticus saying that homosexuals “surely shall be put to death.”

In Armageddon news, the burden of Damascus has yet to be fulfilled, so that’s good (the link is to a Mother Jones article that came before the wheels of war against Syria came to a halting stop). Here’s a quick description of what gets end-timers all worked up:

With Congress set to vote next week on the authorization to use military force in Syria, the Damascus prophecy has taken on a new significance among the nation’s End Times industry—writers and pastors who believe the world is hurtling toward the return of Christ as forecasted in the Book of Revelation—and its adherents in the pews and in public life. On Saturday, Rosenberg will travel to Topeka, Kansas, at the invitation of Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, to discuss the situation in the Middle East.

The idea behind the prophecy is a fairly straightforward one. In Isaiah 17, the prophet explains that, in the run-up to Armageddon, “Damascus is about to be removed from being a city, and will become a fallen ruin.” The implication is that it will be leveled by God on behalf of Israel as part of the last great struggle for mankind.

What got me all worked up yesterday is a different kind of looming armageddon, a nuclear one. I really hope Harvey Wasserman is overstating the crisis at Fukushima:

We are now within two months of what may be humankind’s most dangerous moment since the Cuban Missile Crisis.

There is no excuse for not acting. All the resources our species can muster must be focussed on the fuel pool at Fukushima Unit 4.

Fukushima’s owner, Tokyo Electric (Tepco), says that within as few as 60 days it may begin trying to remove more than 1300 spent fuel rods from a badly damaged pool perched 100 feet in the air. The pool rests on a badly damaged building that is tilting, sinking and could easily come down in the next earthquake, if not on its own.

Some 400 tons of fuel in that pool could spew out more than 15,000 times as much radiation as was released at Hiroshima.

The one thing certain about this crisis is that Tepco does not have the scientific, engineering or financial resources to handle it. Nor does the Japanese government. The situation demands a coordinated worldwide effort of the best scientists and engineers our species can muster.

Why does this increasingly volatile situation get virtually NO MEDIA?! Tepco has admitted covering up the severity of leaks from the beginning.

You would think a UN general assembly might be a good forum to raise the alarm, but I doubt this issue can compete with Rouhani’s anticipated speech.

There’s a lot of good work out there to be done in the world, and there are big, positive shifts happening. It would really suck if we wipe out a significant portion of life on the planet before this global awakening can be more fully realized.


by lizard

Royce Engstrom, president of the University of Montana, seems to be employing the following strategy: if you don’t talk about it, maybe it will just go away.

I’m talking of course about the “enrollment problem” Royce Engstrom is desperately trying to message for the regents:

UM saw its enrollment peak in 2011 at 15,669 students, and has steadily decreased by an estimated 1,100 students over the past two years, carrying broad implications for the school’s budget.

At the same time, Montana State University expects its enrollment numbers to top 15,000 for the first time in school history, marking a 21 percent increase since 2010.

The decline anticipated this year at UM pertains only to the Missoula campus, Engstrom noted. The other three UM-affiliated schools remain on track with past enrollment figures.

Engstrom named a variety of factors for the recent decline, including the economy, competition from other schools – both in state and out – and changing demographics in Montana.

“The enrollment decline we’re experiencing at UM is in the resident undergraduate population,” he said. “The enrollment picture is the thing that keeps me awake at night. We have five key actions we’re putting into motion to address enrollment, and resident undergraduates are the target.”

No doubt there are multiple factors in declining enrollment, but the one factor you won’t find mentioned in this article (which is surprising) is the rape scandal that UM couldn’t PR itself out of two years ago, triggering a trifecta of investigations.

From the beginning of his tenure, there have been critics. Engstrom is receiving a very generous salary with benefits because, we were told two years ago, that’s what is required to attract quality candidates:

The compensation package approved by the regents mirrored that of Montana State University President Waded Cruzado, who was hired a year ago. Engstrom’s annual salary will be $280,000.

In addition, he will receive a $500,000 deferred compensation package, which has never been offered before at UM.

The Montana University System was forced to get creative in terms of compensation for university presidents to attract high-quality candidates, said Kevin McRae, associate commissioner for communications and human resources.

Will UM finally pause its endless construction if it’s clear the university’s leadership can’t seduce more students to pay the always-increasing tuition and fees for their “higher” education?

And how long will Engstrom be allowed to lead the University? Obviously, the problems that blew up in Engstrom’s face were simmering long before he was hired. But that’s the (nicely compensated) job Engstrom was hired to do. Is it already time for a change?

by lizard

Montana’s Economic Summit, held in Butte and organized by Max Baucus, is making plenty of headlines, with CEO’s making big announcements about expanding business in Montana, and providing insights like this:

Jim McNerney, chairman and CEO of Boeing, also used the conference to announce a $35 million expansion of its manufacturing plant in Helena and the hiring of 20 to 25 new employees.

McNerney also called for federal tax reform, a frequent theme of corporate executives at the summit. Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, is leading an effort to overhaul the federal tax code before he retires when his term ends in 2014.

McNerney told the summit that the U.S. corporate tax rate – at 35 percent – is the highest in the industrialized world by 10 percentage points.

Corporations would like to reduce corporate tax rates, McNerney said, but Boeing, and perhaps others, are willing to give up multiple tax preferences to achieve the goal of lower rates.

“We recognize that everyone will have to give a little bit to get … in the end zone, for tax reform,” he said. “We all admire your senior senator’s strong-minded efforts to make something happen, in the time that he has left in office … and there is little time left. The ranks of bridge-builders in Congress seem to be thinning with every election.”

Overhauling the U.S. tax system could spur higher economic growth and create more higher-wage jobs, he said.

I call bullshit. Corporations don’t need an overhaul of the US tax system to provide higher-wage jobs, because they are already sitting on an immense amount of cash:

Corporations are hoarding cash: despite dividends and buybacks, cash is likely to hit another record high.

Cash set a record in the first quarter of 2013 on an absolute basis: $1.093 trillion in the S&P 500. It has set a record for 18 of the last 20 quarters.

With 47 percent of the S&P 500 reporting,we are once again on track for record cash levels.

What’s going on? The short answer is that companies are not spending as much…they have record earnings, but they are holding on to a lot of the money.

We continue to be told that if we go along with enriching the upper echelons with tax cuts and lower corporate tax rates, more higher-paying jobs will be created. We are told this by CEO’s who do everything to exploit the current tax system for their investors, not for their employees. And the platform for this event was put together by one of the senate’s most corrupt senators, our very own Max Baucus, the asshole who torpedoed health care reform for the benefit of insurance parasites and legal drug pushers.

But the kids had a great time watching this economic summit “trend” on social media, so why rain on their parade, especially considering technology was a big topic of interest at this summit?

Technology may have been one of the main focuses, but I don’t think a tech behemoth like Google wants to talk too much about being the target of the NSA (along with financial institutions and the president of Brazil, who canceled a state visit in protest).

Maybe it’s just me, but I think it may be important to continue bringing awareness to the increasingly surreal disclosures about the ever-expanding tentacles of our security state, like how General Keith Alexander built a room called the Information Dominance Center, modeled after the deck of the Star Trek Enterprise. Seriously. This quote comes from the PBS Newshour:

“When he was running the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command, Alexander brought many of his future allies down to Fort Belvoir for a tour of his base of operations, a facility known as the Information Dominance Center. It had been designed by a Hollywood set designer to mimic the bridge of the starship Enterprise from Star Trek, complete with chrome panels, computer stations, a huge TV monitor on the forward wall, and doors that made a ‘whoosh’ sound when they slid open and closed. Lawmakers and other important officials took turns sitting in a leather ‘captain’s chair’ in the center of the room and watched as Alexander, a lover of science-fiction movies, showed off his data tools on the big screen.

“‘Everybody wanted to sit in the chair at least once to pretend he was Jean-Luc Picard,’ says a retired officer in charge of VIP visits.”

Yesterday was the second anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. If we want to have an honest conversation about where we are at after 5 years of post-collapse “recovery” then it might be important to reexamine the “biggest incident of financial terrorism in US History”.

Occupy Wall Street may not be in a position of influence, but their mottos and slogans still apply.

Because shit is still fucked up and bullshit.

by lizard

The Poverello Center is representing Montana as one of 51 finalists in the running to earn $10,000 from Tom’s of Maine’s 50 States of Good campaign. If you go to the link, and vote for the Pov, it will greatly improve their chances of bringing in a much needed boost of funding for the Help Build Hope campaign.

by lizard

Instead of writing some reactionary lament about how fucking unhinged this country has become, I’m going to write about LSD and booze.

Here it is, and it’s very insightful: moderation is not the mantra of college.

Campuses across the nation are petri dishes of chemical experimentation, where limits are redrawn and sometimes bad things happen. With that in mind, I think it’s worth pointing how UM’s student-run media organ—the Kaimin—juxtaposed a bad acid trip with traditional boozing in its September 6th publication.

The feature piece, titled Bleeding a bad trip, is a very well-written retelling of a terrifying LSD experience that put a UM student in the hospital after 47 self-imposed puncture wounds in his neck.

For anyone who may be curious about mind-altering substances like LSD, this story probably makes you think twice. There are certainly lessons in this story about what NOT to do if taking a trip is something you’re contemplating.

What irks me is the other story about a drug, titled Game day: Win or lose, Griz fans will booze. Because with alcohol, and the Griz, it’s all just knucklehead shenanigans.

Here is the majority of the article:

The game doesn’t start for another seven hours, but it’s all beers and smiles when I walk up to the small party. “More Than a Feeling” blasts as I approach an older gentleman we’ll call Dave. He is already drunk and can hardly hide his Griz enthusiasm.

Dave dives into his maroon lawn chair, maroon cozy in hand. His maroon truck provides a Grizzly glow to his figure, as if to suggest he was more divine than smashed.

“Hi there, I’m Jesse Flickinger with the Montana Kaimin. Mind if I ask you some …” I was cut off before I can even mention the game.

“The Montana what?” Dave says, confused as to what a Kaimin even is. Hell, I don’t even know what it is.
His daughter laughs and interjects, “Dad, it’s the student newspaper.”

“Oh thank God,” he says. “I was scared you were some religious nut job and wanted my beer. Anyway, what’s your question son?”

A barely coherent conversation ensues. The few things I gathered: The Griz are awesome, Jordan Johnson is awesome, PBR is awesome and, surprisingly, football is awesome.

I was ready to leave, to move on to the next person who was letting their Grizzly show a little too much, but then Dave left me with one surprisingly intelligible gem.

“We’re going to destroy App State,” he cries, channeling his inner-Braveheart.

“We’re going to yell. We’re not going to be able to talk tomorrow, and it’s going to be great.”
I walk away in fear he might let out a Ric Flair-ian “Whoooo!” and beat my ass, ending the interview with an exclamation point.

I say this out of sheer reverence of the things I saw last Saturday.

A girl having to be wheeled home in an Albertsons shopping cart an hour before game time due to poor decisions and extreme intoxication — check. A guy two snaps into the game unloading his belly full of alcohol on an unsuspecting crowd and sitting in it for a good five minutes before he even bothered to run from security — check.

The most patriotic skydive I’ve ever witnessed — double check.

Night games bring out the best (read: worst) in Griz Nation. Missoula loves this team, and it’s a beautiful thing. And although Monte symbolizes that spirit, he’s just an anthropomorphic character that gets a full-ride for his pride. The real spirit was with Dave and everyone I encountered Saturday afternoon.

Dave is old enough to be my grandpa, but he is Griz Nation. He’s not getting paid for his services. His passion for this team is obsessive, rowdy, drunken and really something else.

It was genuine.

Such is life for Griz Nation.

by lizard

Build it and they will come is a phrase commonly used by the bandwagon against revamping homeless services. I’d like to transpose that logic to Montana’s various court systems.

How are Montanans going to address the influx of statutory rapists and discontented bridal murderers in the aftermath of barely any jail time for either charges in those two cases (yet)?

I’m a big fan of old, white men judges retiring. I’m also a fan of judges who face election, like Kathleen Jenks.

Why reelect Judge Jenks? Here’s some messaging on that:

When I took the bench I told people that my goal was to leave Municipal Court in better shape than it was when I started. We all want to improve what is around us and make a lasting impact on our community, our profession, and our world. During my time on the bench, I have greatly improved Municipal Court, and by doing so, I have improved the community of Missoula. However, there is still much progress to be made. Missoula Municipal Court has come a long way, but I believe I can take it further.

So it is with pleasure and anticipation that I announce my candidacy for Missoula Municipal Court. I have been overwhelmed by the support I have already received and I thank you for your support in November.

For more of the backstory you can read:

Missoula Treatment Courts Got Jenks’d

Missoula Lockup

Judge Orders Municipal Court to Impose NO Jail time for Violating City Ordinances


How About Some Good News

Pinkman’s America

by lizard

Netflix caught me, and their bait was Breaking Bad. I’m nearly through season 2, and goddamn, what a perfect analogy for America.

I was able to ascertain, via an extensive wikipedia search, that Breaking Bad premiered January 20th, 2008, nine months before Lehman collapsed. That’s great timing for a narrative featuring a high school chemistry teacher with a bad cancer diagnosis who, because our health care system is broken, decides to use that justification to cook meth. For the Benjamin’s.

Though I’m just getting into it, there are obvious generational tensions at play. Walt’s millennial sidekick, Jesse Pinkman, certainly takes some warming up to. From the link:

Jesse Bruce Pinkman was born in September 1984 into an upper middle-class family in Albuquerque, New Mexico. At the time the series starts, he has long been estranged from his parents due to his drug abuse and lifestyle. After being forced to leave his parents’ residence, Jesse moved in with his Aunt Jenny, whom he cared for until her death from cancer; afterwards, he was allowed to stay in her home, whose ownership fell to Jesse’s parents.

The reason I’m using wikipedia to describe a fictional character on a tv show is because I think the narrative is important, though I doubt Jesse Pinkman took the time to vote, but if he did, a Moyers & Co piece by Peter Beinart is wondering Will Disillusioned Millennials Bring an End to the Reagan-Clinton Era?

From the link:

The argument between the children of Reagan and the children of Clinton is fierce, but ideologically, it tilts toward the right. Even after the financial crisis, the Clinton Democrats who lead their party don’t want to nationalize the banks, institute a single-payer health-care system, raise the top tax rate back to its pre-Reagan high, stop negotiating free-trade deals, launch a war on poverty, or appoint labor leaders rather than Wall Streeters to top economic posts. They want to regulate capitalism modestly. Their Reaganite Republican adversaries, by contrast, want to deregulate it radically. By pre-Reagan standards, the economic debate is taking place on the conservative side of the field. But — and this is the key point–there’s reason to believe that America’s next political generation will challenge those limits in ways that cause the leaders of both parties fits.

Why? Because this:

In 2001, just as the first Millennials were entering the workforce, the United States fell into recession. By 2007 the unemployment rate had still not returned to its pre-recession level. Then the financial crisis hit. By 2012, data showed how economically bleak the Millennials’ first decade of adulthood had been. Between 1989 and 2000, when younger members of the Reagan-Clinton generation were entering the job market, inflation-adjusted wages for recent college graduates rose almost 11 percent, and wages for recent high school graduates rose 12 percent. Between 2000 and 2012, it was the reverse. Inflation-adjusted wages dropped 13 percent among recent high school graduates and 8 percent among recent graduates of college.

But it was worse than that. If Millennials were victims of a 21st-century downward slide in wages, they were also victims of a longer-term downward slide in benefits. The percentage of recent college graduates with employer-provided health care, for instance, dropped by half between 1989 and 2011.

The Great Recession hurt older Americans, too. But because they were more likely to already have secured some foothold in the job market, they were more cushioned from the blow. By 2009, the net worth of households headed by someone over 65 was 47 times the net worth of households headed by someone under 35, almost five times the margin that existed in 1984.

I don’t think giving Larry Summers the keys to the Fed will do anything positive to address the bleak Millennial landscape. Kudos to Jon Tester for signaling opposition to a Summers appointment.

by lizard

I know I’ve linked to Ron Silliman’s blog before, but I’ll do it again, because for writers and readers, it’s a great resource.

Two links caught my eye. The first: Football and the Fall of Jack Kerouac. It’s a really interesting article that is of course just speculation, but it makes sense. Here’s an excerpt:

If it were possible to examine Kerouac’s brain, the question could, perhaps, be answered definitively. We could learn, for instance, if he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the progressive neurodegenerative disease that has been found, so far, in the brains of more than fifty former football players. Because C.T.E.’s symptoms overlap with those of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, it can be diagnosed only by autopsy, and Kerouac didn’t leave his brain to science.

Still, he did leave his writing, which, along with the recollections of his friends and acquaintances, provides a certain amount of insight into his medical history. I assembled what I found about Kerouac’s head injuries and decline into a dossier and sent it to a handful of experts on the subject.

“Kerouac had all of the symptoms of C.T.E.,” Robert Cantu, a neurosurgeon and co-director of Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, told me. “I don’t think it’s possible, especially since you cannot be certain about the presence of C.T.E. without examining somebody’s brain, to other than speculate about whether he may have had some of his issues as a result of brain trauma. My gut feeling is he did.”

The other link is to a keynote address given by Amanda Lohrey at The Melbourne Writer’s Festival, titled Should Literature Be Political?.

Here is one chunk:

The first half of the twentieth century was characterised by fierce debates about the relationship between politics and art, largely inspired by militant Left movements throughout Europe. One thinks of Bolshevik agitprop on the role of art to enlighten and inspire the masses by unmasking false consciousness and modelling possible utopias. My generation of Left artists was influenced by debates between European Marxists on the politics of representation and the most politically effective genres of realism. Among the most robust of these was the argument between German playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht and the distinguished Hungarian theorist George Lukacs and the strategic nature of all literary forms was encapsulated in a checklist of questions posed by Brecht: Who is this sentence of use to? Who does it claim to be of use to? What does it call for? What practical action corresponds to it? What sort of sentence results from it? What sort of sentences support it? In what situation is it spoken? By whom? (Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic, trans John Willett 1977).

And here is another:

Fredric Jameson has written of the power of systems to co-opt and defuse even the most potentially dangerous forms of political art by transforming them into cultural commodities, especially in the case of case of modernist art but also in the domain of fiction. In his scarifying critique of the postmodern novel, The Postmodern Aura (1985) Charles Newman writes of ‘the redundancy of the adversary style’ in an era in which avant-gardism becomes fashionable and a consumer passion for novelty creates ‘an entire culture of short-term traders’. What is new and temporarily shocking soon passes into the banality of the over-exposed and in first world countries the ‘problem’ of art becomes not its repression but public indifference to it.

Food for thought.

by lizard

Um, this: 95 Percent of Recovery Income Gains Have Gone to the Top 1 Percent.

While the vast majority of Americans are getting their asses kicked, economically speaking, the parasitic wealth continues cashing in on its political ownership of DC.

Ownership of the president will be impossible to deny if Obama “chooses” Larry Summers to preside over the Federal Reserve.

Though I mentioned the Greg Palast bombshell about the Larry Summers “End-Game” memo, I like how Ellen Brown frames it in her piece titled Making the World Safe for Banksters:

In an August 2013 article titled “Larry Summers and the Secret ‘End-game’ Memo,” Greg Palast posted evidence of a secret late-1990s plan devised by Wall Street and U.S. Treasury officials to open banking to the lucrative derivatives business. To pull this off required the relaxation of banking regulations not just in the US but globally. The vehicle to be used was the Financial Services Agreement of the World Trade Organization.

The “end-game” would require not just coercing support among WTO members but taking down those countries refusing to join. Some key countries remained holdouts from the WTO, including Iraq, Libya, Iran and Syria. In these Islamic countries, banks are largely state-owned; and “usury” – charging rent for the “use” of money – is viewed as a sin, if not a crime. That puts them at odds with the Western model of rent extraction by private middlemen. Publicly-owned banks are also a threat to the mushrooming derivatives business, since governments with their own banks don’t need interest rate swaps, credit default swaps, or investment-grade ratings by private rating agencies in order to finance their operations.

Bank deregulation proceeded according to plan, and the government-sanctioned and -nurtured derivatives business mushroomed into a $700-plus trillion pyramid scheme. Highly leveraged, completely unregulated, and dangerously unsustainable, it collapsed in 2008 when investment bank Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, taking a large segment of the global economy with it. The countries that managed to escape were those sustained by public banking models outside the international banking net.

Of course, Obama could always avoid the obscenity of a Summers appointment and pick Janet Yellen to run the Fed instead, but I doubt that will happen, mostly because I doubt much actual autonomy exists in the executive office.

Timothy Geithner was the first clue I had that Obama represented no hope for change.

And the show goes on…

by lizard

The title of this post is taken from a pamphlet you can read here.

Basically, how you overthrow the Illuminati is by understanding how this all-encompassing theory of elite globalist dominance has evolved, especially in black communities.

I should note that the authors do NOT subscribe to Illuminati theory, but instead see it as a mode of thinking that filled the vacuum after the failure of the black power movement became apparent by the late 70’s. They also look at the appeal of illuminati theory in impoverished white communities as the manufacturing base of US labor was slowly dismantled and off-shored for maximum capitalist returns.

Class consciousness and the physical mobilizations against the ravages of capitalism, in many ways, has been subsumed by vast conspiracy theories like the one described in this pamphlet. When movements do suddenly spring into existence, like Occupy Wall Street did, silly bloggers like myself wonder about Soros money, provocateurs, and whether or not anything can genuinely oppose the systems we are trapped in.

Below the fold, I’m excerpting a selection that features 6 reasons why Illuminati Theory doesn’t work. I’ve touched on some of this stuff before, but I like this succinct, numbered account provided here.

Happy 9/11 NEVER FORGET day!!! Continue Reading »

by lizard

While driving back from Spokane last Sunday, I took the opportunity to gas-up in Alberton, but really the stop was a chance for me to check out the Montana Valley Book Store. From the link:

Keren says:
“My aim is to get as many books as possible into the hands of the people who will love them the most. Running a used book store with old books that are sometimes hard to find is a public service, like a museum or a library. There’s value in just having those books there for the public to look at, even if they don’t take them home.”

I took home two books, one I knew immediately I had to have, titled The Masks of Drought, by William Everson.

If you continue, the opening stanza, in italics, is Everson, and the rest is mine.

Continue Reading »

by lizard

The Senate vote to authorize military action against Syria has been postponed, so maybe it’s smart politics for Jon Tester and Max Baucus to remain mum on how they may vote. Steve Daines, on the other hand, is more than happy to get headlines aligning his NO vote with popular opinion. Good politics for Montana’s next Senator.

Almost every way you look at the various rhetoric supporting authorizing military force, it doesn’t make sense. The Polish Wolf has a post worth reading. In addition to asking if it’s prudent for Congress to set a precedent of using military force to address this particular international norm—a norm that sprang from a historical context of trench warfare that doesn’t exist today—PW also makes the good point that doing so could gift competing nations, like Russia and China, with a new template for targeted military intervention of their own.

Overwhelming popular opposition to this military intervention is buying time, and during this dangerous time period, it’s only going to get worse for those in and around Syria. Whatever is really going on in this geopolitical proxy war, the hell of it is unimaginable.

I’m also having difficulty trying to imagine what exactly the president is going to say tomorrow.

by lizard

I’ve never run for an elected office, but if I did, I’m sure I would make plenty of mistakes.

John Engen is facing three candidates who would like to take his office: Michael Hyde, Dean McCollom, and Peggy Cain.

The Missoulian article gives brief accounts of pet issues and experiences. Take Peggy Cain:

Cain, who has recently been active in the effort to preserve the golf course at the University of Montana’s South Campus site, decided to run against the mayor because she wants to see discussions about city matters such as finances and traffic flows this campaign season.

“I thought it was so important that he (Engen) would be challenged this time and engaged in a dialogue that it was worth it to file,” Cain said.

She enters politics by way of her work to save the golf course and her five years as a volunteer at the Poverello Center. Cain also traveled with Missoula Medical Aid on its trips to help impoverished communities in Honduras in 1998 and 2000.

“I want to give back to Missoula because this town has given so much to me,” said Cain, who has lived here since 1958. “I love my town.”

Using media is a conventional way for a candidate to get their message out there. But new media, that’s a different creature, and for a candidate, the ease in which a comment can be made is tempting.

Peggy Cain apparently couldn’t resist using the comment thread of this Missoulian letter to the editor to declare her intentions to take this city back from, well, if you want to read her political calculations, misspelling and all, click continue. It’s not front page material. Continue Reading »

by lizard

In the frequent posts these last two weeks, maybe something has been missing. There have been a few things coalescing, so I’ll do my best to piece some stuff together.

First, I’d like to start with legitimate concerns that the most recent and most deadly alleged chemical attack is a Gulf of Tonkin event constructed to force US intervention. This is from AP’s The Big Story, Doubts Linger Over Syria Gas Attack Responsibility:

The Obama administration, searching for support from a divided Congress and skeptical world leaders, says its own assessment is based mainly on satellite and signals intelligence, including intercepted communications and satellite images indicating that in the three days prior to the attack that the regime was preparing to use poisonous gas.

But multiple requests to view that satellite imagery have been denied, though the administration produced copious amounts of satellite imagery earlier in the war to show the results of the Syrian regime’s military onslaught. When asked Friday whether such imagery would be made available showing the Aug. 21 incident, a spokesman referred The Associated Press to a map produced by the White House last week that shows what officials say are the unconfirmed areas that were attacked.

The Obama administration maintains it intercepted communications from a senior Syrian official on the use of chemical weapons, but requests to see that transcript have been denied. So has a request by the AP to see a transcript of communications allegedly ordering Syrian military personnel to prepare for a chemical weapons attack by readying gas masks.

Later in the same article, a discrepancy in the casualty count is cited:

The Obama administration says 1,429 people died in 12 locations mostly east of the capital, an estimate close to the one put out by the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition. When asked for victims’ names, however, the group provided a list of 395. On that list, some of the victims were identified by a first name only or said to be members of a certain family. There was no explanation for the hundreds of missing names.

In Ghouta, Majed Abu Ali, a spokesman for 17 clinics and field hospitals near Damascus, produced the same list, saying the hospitals were unable to identify all the dead.

Arguing body counts is gruesome. Does it really matter how many people experienced violent spasms and choking until they died? I traded a few tweets between jhwygirl yesterday that touches on this lack of humanity. She asks (in two tweets):

Does humanity include a moral obligation?

or is our conscience only required to keep us from shopping at walmart. Atrocities of chemical weapons are too big, so ignore?

My response was (and is) to filter atrocity into the geopolitics of the situation. The corpses are numbers, and when they become more, like pictures, then it’s just propaganda. That is how I try to insulate myself from the horrific scenes of mass-casualty gassing.

In the comments of the post A War the Pentagon Doesn’t Want? a portion of a comment from feralcatoffreedom pointed me to a commonality that caused her husband to change his attitude toward the plight of the Syrian people:

And, by the way, when my rancher husband found out about their drought and depleting their wells, he changed his attitude. Around here, water is everything and we are making decisions on selling cows based on that. It helped him to see a Syrian farmer as somebody like him.

That is a very timely observation. Not long after that comment, I ran across a link to a Moyers piece looking at precisely that angle, titled Drought Helped Spark Syria’s Civil War—Is It One of Many Climate Wars to Come?. Here is how Francesco Femia describes Syria’s drought:

Francesco Femia: Essentially, a massive, five-and-a-half-year drought. From 2006 to 2011, 60 percent of Syria’s land experienced, in the words of one expert, the worst long-term drought and most severe set of crop failures since agricultural civilizations began in the Fertile Crescent many millennia ago. That, on top of natural resource mismanagement by the Assad regime — subsidizing water-intensive wheat and cotton farming and unsustainable irrigation techniques — led to a large amount of devastation.

There are some quite frightening numbers. Herders and farmers in the north and south had to pick up and move. Nearly 75 percent of farmers in the northeast suffered total crop failure. Herders in the northeast lost around 85 percent of their livestock, which affected about 1.3 million people. That was happening before the civil war in Syria broke out.
Many international security analysts were saying, right up to the day before protest broke out in the small rural town of Daraa, that Syria was immune to the Arab Spring and to the grievances that other Arab publics had brought to bear on their leaders. And that clearly wasn’t the case.

For more, here is another conversation with Francesco Femia, from a piece titled Climate Change: Secret Inflamer of the Arab Spring.

Instead of putting the social unrest of the Arab Spring in its proper context of global climate change, the sparks have been fanned and exploited for geopolitical advantage. And the flames of hyperbole exposed more confirmation of Godwin’s Law when Kerry proclaimed this is our Munich moment:

Secretary of State John Kerry told House Democrats on Monday that the decision whether or not to authorize a military response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime’s use of chemical weapons was a “Munich moment” for the United States, Politico reported.

Democratic sources on the 70-minute conference call told Politico that Kerry called Assad a “two-bit dictator” who will “continue to act with impunity.” The secretary of state urged lawmakers to support President Barack Obama’s decision to use force against Syria in the form of “limited, narrow” strikes, reminding them that Israel would back a U.S. military response, according to the sources.

John fucking Kerry. Here are some other things this botox monster said over forty years ago in his testimony to the Senate on April 22nd, 1971:

In our opinion, and from our experience, there is nothing in South Vietnam, nothing which could happen that realistically threatens the United States of America. And to attempt to justify the loss of one American life in Vietnam, Cambodia or Laos by linking such loss to the preservation of freedom, which those misfits supposedly abuse, is to use the height of criminal hypocrisy, and it is that kind of hypocrisy which we feel has torn this country apart.

The president will speak to us on Tuesday. Sometime early next week there will also be congressional votes. Maybe we can all try to remember that, regardless of what is said by our vacuous leadership, we have more in common with the people being killed in Syria than with the leaders of competing nations positioning themselves to leech more blood and treasure from their people.

by lizard

In October of 2001, the Carlyle Group decided to nix their relationship with the Bin Laden Group, because to continue that relationship would be bad PR for an entity that stood to profit handsomely off of the perpetual war 9/11 ushered in.

For a little history, this piece by Jeffrey St. Clair from 2004 is worth reading.

On September 9th, Hillary Clinton will be getting a cool $200,000 bucks to speak to Carlyle Group investors. Those who profit from human carnage probably want some assurances that a Clinton presidency wouldn’t disrupt those profits.

Part of those gargantuan profits comes from the security state. At the beginning of Obama’s presidency, Carlyle invested in Booz Allen. That investment really paid off:

In 2008, the Carlyle Group made a large $910 million investment to buy a majority stake in Booz Allen’s government consulting business. The deal saw Booz Allen’s big government advisory unit, which produced most of the firm’s revenue, split off from its corporate consulting group, on the eve of the financial crisis.

But Washington-based Carlyle, which has a long and successful history doing deals involving government contractors, has really made the Booz Allen deal work. It has been an amazing transaction for Carlyle. The private equity firm has made $2 billion in realized and unrealized profits on the Booz Allen Hamilton deal so far. Its $910 million investment is now worth $3 billion.

Last year, it was reported by Market Watch that Carlyle was hunting for investments in Saudi Arabia and Turkey:

Private equity giant Carlyle Group L.P. is on the hunt for more investments in Turkey and Saudi Arabia, betting that economic growth in those countries will remain shielded from euro zone debt problems and political turmoil in the wider Middle East, one of the firm’s top regional executives said.

Interesting bet.

This is all background to the current focus of the perpetual war machine on Syria. I linked to an article in the comments thread of another post, but it needs repeating because We Need to Talk About Prince Bandar. I highly recommend reading it, because it provides an interesting perspective. Is Prince Bandar pushing the Obama administration into war?

Good question, but I doubt we’ll get anything that resembles answers before the bombs start dropping.

by lizard

Dave Lindorff writes about the violent arrest of a female Iraq war vet at an anti-Syria-intervention rally. Here is the video of the arrest:

These particular agents of the police state are National Park Rangers policing the Independence Mall in Philadelphia. Here’s Lindorff describing the landscape:

Independence Mall is a three-block piece of property run by the National Park Service in Philadelphia. A favored spot for tourists from all over the nation and the world, with the restored Independence Hall at one end, where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were written and where the Bill of Rights was passed into law, protecting freedom of speech and assembly, and the Constitution Center at the other end, where the US Constitution and its guarantees of freedom are celebrated, it is also a favored locale for protest actions, such as the protest and march against a US attack on Syria, which took place just before Yates’ arrest.

The brutal assault on this peaceful folksinger offers a stark view of the reality of America’s burgeoning police state, set as it was against the image of the building where America’s founding documents offered the hope for such a different kind of state. The park’s rangers Saturday certainly sent many foreign tourists home with a whole different view of the “Land of the Free” not to mention the “Home of the Brave.”

Among the majority of Americans opposing this intervention are veterans who know all too well what the reality of war means. A retired major general, Robert H. Scales, articulated his perception in the Washington Post yesterday regarding why this war is a war the Pentagon doesn’t want. Here is Scales describing the general sentiment of the soldiers he has talked to:

They are embarrassed to be associated with the amateurism of the Obama administration’s attempts to craft a plan that makes strategic sense. None of the White House staff has any experience in war or understands it. So far, at least, this path to war violates every principle of war, including the element of surprise, achieving mass and having a clearly defined and obtainable objective.

The opposition to intervention is overwhelming. The polls, town hall meetings, and military personnel tasked with carrying out this intervention don’t want to do it.

What is finally being understood (I hope) is that the War on Terror declared after 9/11 is total bullshit. There is no other explanation for why our supposed dreaded enemy—Al Qaeda-affiliated jihadists—were somehow transformed in Syria to freedom-fighting rebels.

The justification for intervening in Syria has become surreal and incoherent, changing like the colors of a chameleon. I wonder what Tester thinks, being such an advocate for our veterans. Are you going to vote for war, Jon? I’m sure Max will have no problem voting yes, and it sounds like Steve Daines is a no.

We will see, next week, if overwhelming public sentiment against a US military intervention is enough to give Tester cover for a no vote.

by lizard

One of the most important anthologies of poetry, IMHO, is Against Forgetting: Twentieth Century Poetry of Witness, edited by Carolyn Forché (W. W. Norton & Company, 1993)

This week’s poetic selection comes from that anthology, from a poet who calls himself Adonis:

Adonis, the pseudonym of Ali Ahmad Sa’id, was born in a village in Syria. He attended the lycée in Tartus, studied law and philosophy at the University of Damascus, and began writing poetry early. After emigrating to Lebanon in 1956, he founded the journal Shi’ir, which was pivotal in establishing modern Arabic poetry. He was an influential member of the first generation of Arabs to break with the traditional Arabic forms and write free verse. His work is also marked by a strongly nontraditional sense of social commitment.

Here is a section from a longer poem titled Elegy for the Time at Hand:


Chanting of banishment,
exhaling flame,
the carriages of exile
breach the walls.

Or are these carriages
the battering sighs of my verses?

Cyclones have crushed us.
Sprawled in the ashes of our days,
we glimpse our souls
on the sword’s glint
or at the peaks of helmets.
An autumn of salt spray
settles on our wounds.
No tree can bud.
No spring…

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