Archive for October, 2013

Our Invisible Revolution?

by lizard

What do you do when you can’t eat? What do you do when the food banks and the churches and the soup kitchens can’t fill the void left by slashing 5 billion dollars from the SNAP program?

One of every seven Americans will take a hit on Friday when a $5 billion cut in food stamps, the first across-the-board reduction in the history of the decades-old federal program, takes effect.

But if conservative Republicans in Congress get their way, this week’s pullback may be just a taste of what’s to come for some of the almost 48 million Americans who receive benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

What do you do when the combination of Republican obstruction of medicaid expansion merges with up to 20,000 Montana policy holders receiving notice their coverage has been discontinued by Obamacare?

What do you do when Congress refuses to do anything save wait for the next manufactured crisis and the president plays dumb about spying on world leaders?

I could keep going, but you get the point.

Chris Hedges also gets the point, and though I cringe when I read or hear the word revolution, Hedges’ latest piece—Our Invisible Revolution—is a must read. Because this:

It appears that political ferment is dormant in the United States. This is incorrect. The ideas that sustain the corporate state are swiftly losing their efficacy across the political spectrum. The ideas that are rising to take their place, however, are inchoate. The right has retreated into Christian fascism and a celebration of the gun culture. The left, knocked off balance by decades of fierce state repression in the name of anti-communism, is struggling to rebuild and define itself. Popular revulsion for the ruling elite, however, is nearly universal. It is a question of which ideas will capture the public’s imagination.

Revolution usually erupts over events that would, in normal circumstances, be considered meaningless or minor acts of injustice by the state. But once the tinder of revolt has piled up, as it has in the United States, an insignificant spark easily ignites popular rebellion. No person or movement can ignite this tinder. No one knows where or when the eruption will take place. No one knows the form it will take. But it is certain now that a popular revolt is coming. The refusal by the corporate state to address even the minimal grievances of the citizenry, along with the abject failure to remedy the mounting state repression, the chronic unemployment and underemployment, the massive debt peonage that is crippling more than half of Americans, and the loss of hope and widespread despair, means that blowback is inevitable.

The house of cards recovery is past teetering. The Fed is in a liquidity trap. And the rest of the world is slowly side-stepping away from the dollar.

There is some good news, America just surpassed Saudi Arabia in oil production:

While the White House spied on Frau Merkel and Obamacare developed into a slow-moving train wreck, while Syria was saved from all-out war by the Russian bell and the Republicrats fought bitterly about the debt ceiling… something monumental happened that went unnoticed by most of the globe.

The US quietly surpassed Saudi Arabia as the biggest oil producer in the world.

You read that correctly: “The jump in output from shale plays has led to the second biggest oil boom in history,” stated Reuters on October 15. “U.S. output, which includes natural gas liquids and biofuels, has swelled 3.2 million barrels per day (bpd) since 2009, the fastest expansion in production over a four-year period since a surge in Saudi Arabia’s output from 1970-1974.”

Instead of asking some rhetorical question like will that mean a break at the pump and immediate abandonment of the Keystone pipeline? I’d like to offer a poem about one of my most favorite petroleum products, Legos.  Happy Halloween! Continue Reading »

by lizard

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and his liberal majority in parliament are trying to push through secrecy legislation that will dramatically impact the ability of journalists to report on things the public needs to know about, like the world’s worst nuclear disaster ever:

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government is planning a state secrets act that critics say could curtail public access to information on a wide range of issues, including tensions with China and the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

The new law would dramatically expand the definition of official secrets and journalists convicted under it could be jailed for up to five years.

Japan’s harsh state secrecy regime before and during World War Two has long made such legislation taboo, but the new law looks certain to be enacted since Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party-led bloc has a comfortable majority in both houses of parliament and the opposition has been in disarray since he came to power last December.

I wonder if activists like Mochizuki, who writes the Fukushima Diary, will face jail time for his coverage if this draconian legislation gets passed into law.

We, the citizens of the world, need to know the extent of the threat we are facing. A government-imposed media blackout is a threat to all of us.

by lizard

I want to thank Mark Anderlik for providing a bit of perspective to counter the unfair pessimism that concluded my last post. Here’s the comment:

As someone who saw up close the Occupy Missoula movement I still come back to where social movements have been successful in the past – organizing. Not sexy, not easy, not quick. Other things are important too, but as our history has shown time and again that without organizing, change will not be sustained. The branches of the Occupy movement still active (including Missoula) have dug in to organize around specific issues that speak to larger problems. For example a group has been organizing in Missoula around foreclosures, another around the Citizen’s United decision. And now several groups facilitated by the Montana Organizing Project is organizing to create a partnership bank for Montana that has the potential to undermine the stranglehold the “too-big-to-fail” banks have on our economy. Hard work, few headlines, building the foundation for change. The proven way.

The headlines OWS generated can be seen (cynically) as mere commodities peddled by alleged originators, like Micah White, who is now moving on to the next product. Knowing that has some value, I think, but to say everyone who identified with OWS got conned is not helpful, and not accurate. I take JC’s point on this one:

As to Occupy being conned, I really don’t think so. Doesn’t really matter who, why or how a revolution gets kicked off. Once it is underway, it is out of control — it becomes an organic, amorphous mass. Which actually terrified many people — the reformers.

One of my favorite memes that emerged from the amorphous mass of OWS was the People’s Library, because apparently the physical presence of books is something that needs to be celebrated and protected against this evil reasoning: Is there any reason to own paper books beside showing off? Not really.

From that blasphemy I’d like to awkwardly jump to Paul Krugman’s piece on Poetry and Blogging. Seriously. Here’s how he does it:

A non-economics, non-policy post; I just want to give a shoutout to a book I’m reading, and really enjoying: Tom Standage’s Writing on the Wall: Social Media — The First 2,000 Years. I’ve been a big fan of Standage’s ever since his book The Victorian Internet, about the rise of the telegraph, which shed a lot of light on network technologies while also being great fun. Now he’s done it again.

Standage’s argument is that the essential aspects of social media — exchange of information that runs horizontally, among people who are affiliated in some way, rather than top-down from centralized sources — have been pervasive through history, with the industrial age’s news media only a temporary episode of disruption. As he shows, Cicero didn’t get his news from Rome Today or Rupertus Murdochus — he got it through constant exchanges of letters with people he knew, letters that were often both passed on to multiple readers and copied, much like tweets being retweeted.

Even more interesting is his discussion of the Tudor court, where a lot of the communication among insiders took place through the exchange of … poetry, which allowed people both to discuss sensitive topics elliptically and to demonstrate their cleverness. You could even build a career through poetry, not by selling it, but by using your poems to build a reputation, which could translate into royal favor and high office — sort of the way some people use their blogs to build influence that eventually leads to paying gigs of one kind or another. The tale of John Harington — of the famous “treason never prospers” line — is fascinating.

Incidentally, when and why did we stop reading poetry? Educated people used to read it all the time, or at least pretend to; that’s no longer the case. Frankly, I don’t read poetry except on very rare occasions. What happened?

That’s a good question, Paul. I’m working on it.

by lizard

When Glenn Greenwald announced he was leaving the Guardian to join a new journalism project, I was intrigued. What kind of journalistic endeavor could lure Greenwald away, I wondered? The answer: a seriously bankrolled project.

eBay billionaire, Pierre Omidyar, is dropping a quarter billion dollars to provide Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill, and others the cover of extreme wealth to do their adversarial journalist thing. Thank the penniless lord we simple consumers of adversarial journalism have a benevolent billionaire to insulate these journalistic brands from the dangers of speaking truth to power.

Something about this whole setup makes me very uncomfortable. Maybe it’s the class war Chris Hedges discusses in this piece from Truthdig. Here’s an excerpt:

The blanket dissemination of the ideology of free market capitalism through the media and the purging, especially in academia, of critical voices have permitted our oligarchs to orchestrate the largest income inequality gap in the industrialized world. The top 1 percent in the United States own 40 percent of the nation’s wealth while the bottom 80 percent own only 7 percent, as Joseph E. Stiglitz wrote in “The Price of Inequality.” For every dollar that the wealthiest 0.1 percent amassed in 1980 they had an additional $3 in yearly income in 2008, David Cay Johnston explained in the article “9 Things the Rich Don’t Want You to Know About Taxes.” The bottom 90 percent, Johnson said, in the same period added only one cent. Half of the country is now classified as poor or low-income. The real value of the minimum wage has fallen by $2.77 since 1968. Oligarchs do not believe in self-sacrifice for the common good. They never have. They never will. They are the cancer of democracy.

“We Americans are not usually thought to be a submissive people, but of course we are,” Wendell Berry writes. “Why else would we allow our country to be destroyed? Why else would we be rewarding its destroyers? Why else would we all—by proxies we have given to greedy corporations and corrupt politicians—be participating in its destruction? Most of us are still too sane to piss in our own cistern, but we allow others to do so and we reward them for it. We reward them so well, in fact, that those who piss in our cistern are wealthier than the rest of us. How do we submit? By not being radical enough. Or by not being thorough enough, which is the same thing.”

I expect this period of submission to the will of the oligarchs to continue. How bad it will have to get before people realize what the consensus of wealth has accomplished is an open question.

Meanwhile, check out Wendell Berry’s interview with Bill Moyers, which aired earlier this month. And if you watch it, try to ignore the icky feeling of watching a Goldman Sachs ad before viewing one of America’s most important poets.

by lizard

It’s good to remain skeptical, especially when celebrities are calling for revolution.

Russell Brand is using his celebrity to speak more intelligently about politics than any of his interviewers apparently expect. You would think after he ran circles around the Morning Joe talking heads that the BBC would at least be somewhat prepared. Apparently not.

Brand also acted as guest-editor at the New Statesman, where he wrote this piece, which is worth reading. Here is an excerpt:

I have never voted. Like most people I am utterly disenchanted by politics. Like most people I regard politicians as frauds and liars and the current political system as nothing more than a bureaucratic means for furthering the augmentation and advantages of economic elites. Billy Connolly said: “Don’t vote, it encourages them,” and, “The desire to be a politician should bar you for life from ever being one.”

I don’t vote because to me it seems like a tacit act of compliance; I know, I know my grandparents fought in two world wars (and one World Cup) so that I’d have the right to vote. Well, they were conned. As far as I’m concerned there is nothing to vote for. I feel it is a far more potent political act to completely renounce the current paradigm than to participate in even the most trivial and tokenistic manner, by obediently X-ing a little box.

Russell Brand talks about being conned. He is also a supporter of the Occupy movement, which on the surface seems great. The problem with that, though, is my own increasing concern that everyone who got caught up in the Occupy movement got conned as well. Like I said, it’s good to remain skeptical.

Instead of reading Brand’s piece, which he only did “because it was a beautiful girl asking me,” I suggest reading something far more intriguing: an article that appears in Jacobin, written by Ramon Glazov, titled Adbusted: behind the bizarre ideology that fuels Adbusters.

The article focuses on the magazine’s odd support of Beppe Grillo, an out-there Italian politician described as follows:

This March, Adbusters jumped into what ought to seem like a marriage made in hell. It ran a glowing article on Beppe Grillo – Italy’s scruffier answer to America’s Truther champion Alex Jones – calling him “nuanced, fresh, bold, and committed as a politician,” with “a performance artist edge” and “anti-austerity ideas… [C]ountries around the world, from Greece to the US, can look to [him] for inspiration.” Grillo, the piece gushed, was “planting the seed of a renewed – accountable, fresh, rational, responsible, energized – left, that we can hope germinates worldwide.”

Completely unmentioned was the real reason Grillo is so controversial in Italy: his blog is full of anti-vaccination and 9/11 conspiracy claims, pseudoscientific cancer cures and chemtrail-like theories about Italian incinerator-smoke. And, as Giovanni Tiso noted in July, Grillo’s “5-Star Movement” also has an incredibly creepy backer: Gianroberto Casaleggio, “an online marketing expert whose only known past political sympathies lay with the right-wing separatist Northern League.” Casaleggio has also written kooky manifestoes about re-organizing society through virtual reality technology, with mandatory Internet citizenship and an online world government.

Adbusters could have stopped flirting with Grillo at that point, but it didn’t. Another Grillo puff-piece appeared in its May/June issue. Then the magazine’s outgoing editor-in-chief, Micah White (acknowledged by the Nation as “the creator of the #occupywallstreet meme”) recently went solo to form his own “boutique activism consultancy,” promising clients a “discrete service” in “Social Movement Creation.” Two weeks ago, in a YouTube video, White proposed that the next step “after the defeat of Occupy” should be to import Grillo’s 5-Star Movement to the US in time for the 2014 mid-term elections:

After the defeat of Occupy, I don’t believe that there is any choice other than trying to grab power by means of an election victory … This is how I see the future: we could bring the 5-Star Movement to America and have the 5-Star Movement winning elections in Italy and in America, thereby forming an international party, not only with the 5-Star Movement, but with other parties as well.

It might be cathartic to watch Russell Brand out-wit some stodgy BBC reporter, but his call for revolution, though probably well-intentioned, is, I think, very misguided. Same thing goes for the Occupy movement.

by lizard

There is a long, rich literary history of writers using pseudonyms. This Economist article describes three reasons writers have chosen to writer under an assumed name:

Many people write under an assumed name. Indeed all the columnists for The Economist—Bagehot, Lexington, Schumpeter and the like—write under inherited pseudonyms. For novelists this practice has long been widespread. In the 19th century Mary Ann Evans took on the name George Eliot in order to separate her novels, such as “Adam Bede” and “Middlemarch”, from flowery female-novelist stereotypes. In America around the same time Samuel Langhorne Clemens published fiction under the name Mark Twain (pictured above, with Eliot and Ms Rowling). Novelists who want to write crime fiction on the side have long masked their identities. John Banville, an Irish novelist who won the Man Booker prize in 2005, writes crime novels as Benjamin Black. Julian Barnes, another Man Booker-winning author, writes thrillers as Dan Kavanagh. And crime writers themselves may also take on different personas. When Agatha Christie, one of the masters of the dagger-and-cyanide genre, wanted to write romantic fiction, she did so as Mary Westmacott. Patricia Highsmith, the author of “The Talented Mr Ripley”, a gruesome thriller of swapped identities, published “The Price of Salt”, a lesbian romance, under the name Claire Morgan.

Three main reasons spurred these writers to take the name of someone else. A pseudonym gives them the liberty to write things they might not otherwise feel able to. It gives them an opportunity to be taken seriously, something especially important to female authors in a world of Victorian male critics, or to dabble in a genre that, despite the work of great crime writers like Raymond Chandler, is still not really considered to be proper literature. Most of all, a pen-name distances established authors from their previous work.

Anonymity online, specifically the anonymous comments on articles and blog posts, is a different creature, and I can understand why Don Pogreba would gravitate toward the conclusion that “…anonymity is an overall negative for online discourse” in a post titled The Psychology of Online Comments.

But if you read the whole post, it turns out that it’s not necessarily anonymity that Don has a problem with, but the cumulative negative tone anonymous commenters contribute to, something to do with a phenomenon called the disinhibition effect. After a quote, Don then says this:

While I have considered moving to the Facebook platform to make comments more likely to be associated with real identities, the most important issue seems to be one of climate, not one of anonymity or individual rude behavior. If the climate of the comments section is hostile, it will encourage more hostile comments—and I am simply tired of dealing with them. I’m also tired of getting drawn into fights that are a profound waste of my time—and embarrassing to be involved in.

It will be interesting to see how Don goes about changing the climate of his comment threads. Already two comments from Mark Tokarski have been removed, but perennial insult artist, Larry Kralj, who referred to John Walsh as a Nazi in this comment thread, still gets free reign.

I addressed Larry Kralj’s ravings at the Cowgirl in this post back in July, and it’s pretty entertaining to reread Don’s comments in that comment thread. Actually, the whole comment thread is worth reading.

I write as “lizard” and publish poems as “William Skink” because it gives me the liberty to write about stuff I wouldn’t necessarily write otherwise, topics like conspiracy culture and illegal drug use. I do take Don’s point that with anonymity comes a greater degree of responsibility, and that’s something I’m going to do my best to remember.

I’m also going to remember that criticizing those in power comes with risks, as one of my fellow contributors can attest to. People in power don’t like being held accountable for their actions, which means, for some people, anonymity provides protection against retribution.

Anyway, thank you to everyone who continues reading this little Montana blog. Without readers, the time I dedicate to keeping this space current and, I would hope, interesting, would be a waste.

by lizard

Over at Intelligent Discontent, Pogie decided to test my knowledge of how laws are made, and I’m sure I impressed him with my intimate knowledge of Montana’s unique process, which I shall reproduce here:

I know exactly how this process works. there’s a little bunker near the capitol where a fax machine spits out proposed legislation, then it’s carried by horse to the chief liberty inspector of the MT GOP, who rates it for freedom and patriotism. if it passes inspection, it’s reproduced on a scroll made of rawhide and passed around committee for everyone to look at. then, when particularly exciting legislation like this gets signed into law by the Brian, the victors pound whiskey, piss on an effigy of Obama, and shoot a wolf in celebration.

Kidding aside, I do appreciate Pogie’s attempt to saddle Republicans with Montana’s iteration of the Castle Doctrine law because it got me thinking about guns and what people like to do with guns in western states like Montana; use them for sport, for protection, to put food on the table, and whenever possible, to shoot wolves, even if it’s just a hybrid and probably someone’s pet.

Wolves are a touchy subject, I know. Either they’re saving the ecosystem from a terrible imbalance caused by human extermination, or they are part of the nefarious Agenda 21 plot to create forbidden zones where humans (the ones left, anyway) will be barred from accessing.

Wolves, like the Castle Doctrine, is a political issue where Democrats fail science and common sense in order to cover their western flanks from attack. Jon Tester exemplified that behavior when he proved that he was willing to blow up the Endangered Species Act to win an election.

A 3 year study reported on this summer calls into question the assumed impact of wolves on elk herds:

New research from the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Wyoming is starting to shed light on some of these questions. After three years of studying the Clark’s Fork elk herd (about 5,000 animals) in northwest Wyoming, lead researcher Arthur Middleton found that wolves might not be as detrimental to elk populations as many outdoorsmen think.

His research shows that the Clark’s Fork herd’s fate is based on a complex set of variables including habitat, weather, hunting, bears, and wolves.

Here’s another article worth reading by Christopher Ketcham titled Wolves to the Slaughter.

There is plenty of evidence that too often politics is a science-free zone. For wolves, with science out of the way, the hunt is on.

Good job Democrats.

by lizard

There are a few ways of going at the proliferation of Castle doctrine law, laws which create substantial barriers for prosecutors to actually bring charges when self-defense is invoked. Slate frames it like this:

One amazing thing about the recent spate of laws that make it easier to shoot people and get away with it is how much prosecutors hate them. “It’s an abomination,” one Florida prosecutor told the Sun Sentinel, referring to the state’s “stand your ground” law at the center of the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin. And now we’re hearing from Montana’s county attorneys, sheriffs, and police chiefs, all of whom oppose the 2009 law that expanded the “castle doctrine” to give homeowners more leeway to kill potential intruders.

The law is “a solution that had no problem,” the president of the Montana County Attorneys’ Association said. And earlier this month, the prosecutor for the town of Kalispell cited the newly strengthened castle doctrine in refusing to indict Brice Harper, a man who shot and killed Dan Fredenberg, the husband of the woman Harper was having an affair with. Harper didn’t kill Fredenberg at the end of a violent encounter. He killed an unarmed Fredenberg when he walked into Harper’s garage.

This is clearly bad policy, and in Montana, there are lots of fingerprints on this mess. That means making this a partisan thing instead of a policy thing is a bad idea; it’s automatically divisive and, for Democrats, disingenuous. Cue Don Pogreba’s discontent:

For a party that claims to represent law and order, the Montana Republican Party has certainly done some real damage to the ability of law enforcement officers to arrest and prosecutors to convict those who kill other people using firearms. As a result of 2009 Legislature’s passage of HB 228, it’s very difficult for prosecutors to convict anyone who asserts “self-defense” as a justification for killing someone else.

Here’s the problem with the partisan approach. From Pogo Possum in the comment thread:

Let’s begin by voting out the “macho middle-aged” Democrats still serving in the Legislature today that voted for the Castle Doctrine back in 2009. Here is a list to help you get started.
Bradley Hamlett
Larry Jent
Jim Keane
Carolyn Squires
Mitch Tropila
Dave Wanzenried
Shannon Augare
Anders Blewett
Carlie Boland
Frosty Boss Ribs
Chuck Hunter
Bill McChesney
Edie McClafferty
Bert Mehlhoff
Pat Noonan
JP Pomnichowski
Jon Sesso
Kendal VanDyk

HB 228, the Castle Doctrine, was hardly a partisan Bill. In 2009, the Montana House was evenly divided with 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans. 35 of those Democrats (70% of all House Dems) voted for HB228 on the final reading. The Montana Senate was split 23 Democrats and 27 Republicans. 13 of Senate Democrats (57% of all Senate Dems) voted for HB228 on final reading. In total, 58% of the combined Democratic Senate and House members voted for the Castle Doctrine. Don’t forget that then Governor Brian Schweitzer stuffed his Veto into the bottom drawer of his desk and signed the bill.

I look forward to your ridicule and denunciation of these still sitting Montana Democratic Legislators and wannabe presidential candidate Brian Schweitzer who, as you put it, did “some real damage to the ability of law enforcement officers to arrest and prosecutors to convict those who kill other people using firearms”, with the same passion and theatrics as you are directing at Republicans.

If the problem is policy, let’s stick with policy, because the problem of partisanship ensures nothing will happen to change anything.

Along that same vein, Trevor Hultner has a piece titled Liberals and the Libertarian “Contagion” describing the childish antics of “progressives” regarding libertarian participation at some Stop Watching Us rally going on in Washington DC.

by lizard

Malala Yousafzai, the teenage Pakistani girl nearly killed by the Taliban, has shown more courage than any Democrat ever has when it comes to Obama’s drone program. Malala transformed a photo-op into an opportunity to point out the reality of what Obama’s killing in Pakistan and Yemen produces: more terrorism.

In a statement released after the meeting, Yousafzai said that she told Obama that she is concerned about the effect of U.S. drone strikes in her country—a portion of the conversation that was omitted from White House statements so far.

“I [expressed] my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism,” Yousafzai said in a statement released by the Associated Press. “Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education it will make a big impact.”

On Tuesday, Amnesty International and Humans Rights Watch tepidly declared that some (not all) of Obama’s “surgical” strikes maybe warrant war crime designation:

The US stands accused of unlawful killing in several documented incidents, on the basis of first-hand witness evidence and official statements. The number of such incidents, in both countries, suggests they are are not “one-offs” but part of a systematic policy that appears inherently illegal.

If the US were to state that it is a party to an armed conflict in Yemen or Pakistan between the governments of those countries and terrorists, principally al-Qaida or al-Qaida-affiliated groups, its actions would be subject to international humanitarian law – the laws of war. But as Human Rights Watch points out, the US, denying the obvious, has not said it is a party to a war in either place, but is instead carrying out ad hoc operations to protect US interests.

Even if it did make such a declaration, the laws of war permit attacks only on enemy combatants and other military objectives, but not those who play a purely non-military role. Civilians are protected from attack.

Reporting on six unacknowledged US strikes in Yemen, Human Rights Watch states: “Two of these attacks were in clear violation of international humanitarian law – the laws of war – because they struck only civilians or used indiscriminate weapons. The other four cases may have violated the laws of war because the individual attacked was not a lawful military target or the attack caused disproportionate civilian harm, determinations that require further investigation. In several of these cases, the US also did not take all feasible precautions to minimise harm to civilians, as the laws of war require.”

Amnesty reaches similar conclusions in Pakistan. If the US is not in a war-fighting situation in either country, then international human rights law applies, meaning that lethal force may only be used if there is an “imminent risk” to human life. This law was also disregarded in several US attacks, Amnesty said.

The US is accused of acting in contravention of Obama’s own guidelines, set out in May, which emulated (but did not officially endorse) international human rights law. Obama said that to be legitimate, a target must pose an imminent risk to the US, cannot reasonably be captured, and can be attacked without putting civilians at risk. As the various cases investigated clearly indicate, these “rules” have been repeatedly and deliberately broken.

So, Democrats, what do you have to say about your war criminal president?

by lizard

I wrote this post July 1st, 2011, featuring several poems from an anthology called Atomic Ghost. I’m not sure the poem I wrote this morning rises to the caliber of those selections, but it’s certainly appropriate, considering the content.

You, dear readers, can judge for yourself.



won’t it be delightful
when we’re glowing in the dark
when we’re swimming with our tails
in the pools that once were parks
we will be amazing
translucent skin and teeth
and fingers fused with wiry tendons
buzzing underneath
do not fear the island, William
where tsunami swamped the land
where backup generators died
from the lethal stupidity of man
now the rods must be removed
now the fear descends
if not cooled by water
if not contained, the core
goes full-on China syndrome
melting through the floor
three-eyed fish, The Simpsons
a goddamn funny cartoon
which we’ll be watching longingly
from bunkers on the moon

—William Skink

by lizard

Isn’t it hilarious one transient beat another transient with a metal rod over a pork chop? Yeah, hilarious. For that kind of dangerous behavior, it’s immediate jail time and a felony assault with a weapon charge.

Smart criminals use different kinds of weapons, like mortgage-backed securities, and these days they hardly ever see the inside of the jail cells they belong in. For a great, infuriating 3 minute breakdown of the JPMorganChase settlement scam, you gotta check out Alexis:

And if you want to anticipate the likelihood of further neoliberal sellouts to the teasurgents, check out Shamus Cooke’s anticipation of The Coming Grand Bargain.

by lizard

Missoula’s city council voted 10-2 last night to give Mayor Engen the authority to enter into negotiations with the Carlyle Group for the opportunity to purchase what should never have been sold in the first place—our water. I am cautiously optimistic the Mayor can pull it off.

Dick Haines and Adam Hertz were the two dissenting votes, and the reasoning Hertz gave was a bit odd. From the link:

Councilman Hertz, who opposed the ordinance, said he felt like he was being asked to base his decision on feelings instead of figures. He wanted more details about a variety of the related costs before voting on a measure that might lead the city down a costly road of condemnation.

“I’d like to make a decision based on facts, and I haven’t seen any financial projections whatsoever come out of the administration,” Hertz said.

The reason I find this reasoning odd is the juxtaposition to Hertz’s shaming campaign against liberals regarding coal development on the Crow Reservation.

On October 18th, Hertz tweeted this:

Many liberals take pride in supporting tribes. Support the Crow tribe. Don’t block their coal-paved path away from 50% unemployment. #MTPol

Gideon Jones tweeted back several replies, including these:

@AdamHertzMT Several decades of coal mining on AZ, UT and NM reservations didn’t alleviate poverty there. #MTpol

@AdamHertzMT Coal mining did however destroy their aquifers, agriculture, and health. #MTpol

@AdamHertzMT No one buys this selective right wing ‘concern’ for the tribes. Transparent and disingenuous. #MTpol

Hertz’s response? This:

@GideonTJones I’m from the Flathead Indian Reservation. I genuinely care about the tribes. They’ll succeed through opportunity, not subsidy.

As I had suspected, the liberals are up in arms about the Crow people asking them to stay out of their business and stop blocking progress.

One of the problems with Hertz’s last statement is the idea that coal production is only the business of the Crow people. It’s not. It’s also the business of those who live along the transportation infrastructure that will carry the coal to the proposed port, and it’s the business of all us silly humans who breath air in order to live.

In China, where much of this coal will end up, a city of 11 million people was essentially shutdown Monday due to smog:

Choking smog all but shut down one of northeastern China’s largest cities on Monday, forcing schools to suspended classes, snarling traffic and closing the airport, in the country’s first major air pollution crisis of the winter.

An index measuring PM2.5, or particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5), reached a reading of 1,000 in some parts of Harbin, the gritty capital of northeastern Heilongjiang province and home to some 11 million people.

A level above 300 is considered hazardous, while the World Health Organisation recommends a daily level of no more than 20.

The smog not only forced all primary and middle schools to suspend classes, but shut the airport and some public bus routes, the official Xinhua news agency reported, blaming the emergency on the first day of the heating being turned on in the city for winter. Visibility was reportedly reduced to 10 meters.

Go to the Reuters piece for pictures of what this pollution crisis looks like.

Darrin Old Coyote makes his case for the tribe in this op-ed. Here is a small excerpt:

Opportunities for job creation and investment in Montana’s Indian Country are frustratingly scarce. Today, the Crow Tribe has a rare window of opportunity before it, and we are doing everything in our power to take advantage of it before that window closes.

What is this “window of opportunity” and why is there a need to rush this project through? Well, because Montanans may be inclined to support the expansion of an EIS (environmental impact statement) that could slow down the transportation and export of Crow coal:

But this opportunity depends, in part, on the construction of new export facilities on the West Coast. Asking the Army Corps to expand the EIS will certainly delay, and could possibly prevent, the construction of the Millennium port.

Requesting that the scope of this EIS look at environmental impacts in Montana is an unprecedented move and outside the bounds of what most of us think should be included in an environmental review for a coastal port.

For our plans to create jobs and bring new investment to succeed, we must do all we can to see that the construction of new coal export facilities is not impeded unreasonably. I would respectfully request that you at least remain neutral on this issue and not encourage an EIS process that would obstruct important economic opportunities for the Crow Tribe and the state of Montana.

For those who understand the challenges humans will continue to face because of climate change, remaining neutral isn’t an option. More information about the potential environmental impacts should be welcomed by someone who claims to want facts and not emotion to inform his decision.

by lizard

It would be embarrassing to watch Brian Schweitzer run for president, and lord knows he is only criticizing Hillary Clinton to strengthen his own political brand. That said, I am praying to baby Jesus that Hillary Clinton doesn’t become president.

I hope those who support a(nother) Clinton candidacy can articulate why her brand of neoliberalism is worth voting for, and I hope those who support her have more of a reason than it’s a her, and not a him. We’re not electing a role model for girls.

I know, I’m a white male, so I’m probably not allowed to say that. My existence is one of privileges I have the privilege of not thinking about. I have this annoying preference, though, for substance over symbolism, which has led me to speculate how impactful our current president is for young black men when he’s enabling stop and frisk harassment, continuing the drug war, and protecting bailed out bankers who targeted minorities with subprime loans.

With Hillary Clinton, there are substantive concerns from the left about her ability to address the economic reality that is leading millennials to consider socialism. Here’s Richard Kim, writing for The Nation:

Here’s how I see it: America has a lot of problems, the most acute of which is the yawning gap between the rich and everyone else. According to Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez, the top 1 percent captured 95 percent of all income gains in the so-called recovery, while the bottom 99 percent barely gained at all. And the chances of anyone breaking into that uppermost echelon are dwindling. As a slew of recent studies have shown, America has less class mobility than it used to and less than Canada or Western Europe; an American child born in the lowest quintile has just a 6 percent chance of rising to the top quintile—42 percent will stay at the bottom.

These grim data are more than just an abstraction; they are, as Peter Beinart argues in a Daily Beast article on “The Rise of the New New Left,” the defining condition of the millennial generation, who face scarcer job prospects, lower wages, fewer benefits and a weaker social safety net than those before them. All that anger and discontent that boiled up at Occupy Wall Street two years ago wasn’t swept away with the encampments. It’s simmering, waiting, and even if elections aren’t always the conduit for youth insurrections, it’s hard to see a whole cohort sitting the next big one out as the American dream crumbles around them.

It’s also hard to imagine a Democrat of national stature more ill-equipped to speak to this populist mood than Hillary Clinton. Yes, her tenure at State gave her the rehabilitating Texts From Hillary Clinton Tumblr and the thickest diplomatic passport the world has ever known, but a taste for class warfare it most certainly did not. To wit: her decision to house her post-cabinet, pre-campaign apparatus at the foundation her husband started, now rechristened the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation. The organization, and the related Clinton Global Initiative, carries some lofty intentions—planting trees in sub-Saharan Africa, empowering women and girls, treating HIV and malaria, and saving endangered elephants. But as Alec MacGillis captured in a devastating feature for The New Republic, it also serves as a kind of global plutocrats’ social club—a Davos on the Hudson where corporate executives pledge millions for the privilege of rubbing elbows with celebrities and world leaders. They also, according to MacGillis, throw some lucre back to the Clinton apparatchiks who greased the wheels, like Doug Band, Bill’s former body man, who managed to turn his lowly position as jacket holder and BlackBerry keeper into a consulting business that afforded him $8.8 million in Manhattan real estate.

In glittering Clintonland, Band is now on the outs, but he was always small fry. The foundation counts among its major partners billionaires and corporate giants like Walmart, Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein, Mike Bloomberg, Hollywood mogul Steve Bing and Paychex chairman Tom Golisano, who habitually ran for New York governor until he moved to Florida in 2009 because, as he explained in a pique-filled op-ed, he’d save “$13,800 every single day” on taxes. Maybe HRC won’t solicit the advice of all these folks, but she surely will solicit their donations. And once she does, how keen will she be to tell them that their gains are ill gotten, that they’ll need to pay more, not in tax-deductible charitable contributions, but in taxes?

This continues to be a ridiculous conversation to be having 800+ days before the 2016 election. But there’s already money being generated, and if you think Hillary Clinton will raise a lot of money for her presidential bid, just imagine what a fundraising gift her candidacy will be for Republicans.

A De-Americanized World?

by lizard

I am so tired of hearing those on the right gnash their teeth about our national debt without acknowledging that simultaneously cutting taxes for the rich while waging trillion dollar wars on the national credit card was a bad idea. That disastrous combination came on the heels of other bad ideas, like Clinton-era financial deregulation, which gave us too big to fail.

The debt doesn’t exist in a vacuum, so until I see some accurate context from those on the right about how we have got to this point, then I’m going to continue not taking their concern seriously, because these right-wing debt warriors are simply manipulated foot soldiers for the 1% war against the rest of us.

Americans may think they still have the luxury of not caring about what the rest of the world thinks about us, but that will soon come to an end, because what we are seeing, at least according to Pepe Escobar, is The birth of the ‘de-Americanized’ world:

This is it. China has had enough. The (diplomatic) gloves are off. It’s time to build a “de-Americanized” world. It’s time for a “new international reserve currency” to replace the US dollar.

It’s all here, in a Xinhua editorial, straight from the dragon’s mouth. And the year is only 2013. Fasten your seat belts – and that applies especially to the Washington elites. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

America has had more than a half-century to lead by example, and that is precisely what our leaders have done. It’s just not the example many Americans thought, because in the states we are still buying the PR campaign of American exceptionalism our governing elite are feeding us. The Xinhua editorial cuts through the sparkly image we have been conditioned to believe by accurately describing the post-WWII behavior of America:

Emerging from the bloodshed of the Second World War as the world’s most powerful nation, the United States has since then been trying to build a global empire by imposing a postwar world order, fueling recovery in Europe, and encouraging regime-change in nations that it deems hardly Washington-friendly.

With its seemingly unrivaled economic and military might, the United States has declared that it has vital national interests to protect in nearly every corner of the globe, and been habituated to meddling in the business of other countries and regions far away from its shores.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government has gone to all lengths to appear before the world as the one that claims the moral high ground, yet covertly doing things that are as audacious as torturing prisoners of war, slaying civilians in drone attacks, and spying on world leaders.

Under what is known as the Pax-Americana, we fail to see a world where the United States is helping to defuse violence and conflicts, reduce poor and displaced population, and bring about real, lasting peace.

Moreover, instead of honoring its duties as a responsible leading power, a self-serving Washington has abused its superpower status and introduced even more chaos into the world by shifting financial risks overseas, instigating regional tensions amid territorial disputes, and fighting unwarranted wars under the cover of outright lies.

As a result, the world is still crawling its way out of an economic disaster thanks to the voracious Wall Street elites, while bombings and killings have become virtually daily routines in Iraq years after Washington claimed it has liberated its people from tyrannical rule.

Most recently, the cyclical stagnation in Washington for a viable bipartisan solution over a federal budget and an approval for raising debt ceiling has again left many nations’ tremendous dollar assets in jeopardy and the international community highly agonized.

Such alarming days when the destinies of others are in the hands of a hypocritical nation have to be terminated, and a new world order should be put in place, according to which all nations, big or small, poor or rich, can have their key interests respected and protected on an equal footing.

To that end, several corner stones should be laid to underpin a de-Americanized world.

The unipolar arrogance of American military might won’t cut it anymore, as evidenced by the significant diffusing of the impending Syria attack, but that won’t stop America’s billionaire-funded political insurgency from waging class war on the 99%, and they (the tea party) will continue to be useful idiot pawns for those wealthy funders because the 1% understand continued projection of American power relies solely on the vast killing potential of the strongest military in the world.

And that military is getting ready for wars in Africa, which this misleadingly titled NYT times piece describes—U.S. Army Hones Antiterror Strategy for Africa, in Kansas:

Here on the Kansas plains, thousands of soldiers once bound for Iraq or Afghanistan are now gearing up for missions in Africa as part of a new Pentagon strategy to train and advise indigenous forces to tackle emerging terrorist threats and other security risks so that American forces do not have to.

The first-of-its-kind program is drawing on troops from a 3,500-member brigade in the Army’s storied First Infantry Division, known as the Big Red One, to conduct more than 100 missions in Africa over the next year. The missions range from a two-man sniper team in Burundi to 350 soldiers conducting airborne and humanitarian exercises in South Africa.

Isn’t it great how this article works in “terrorist threats” and “humanitarian exercises” in the first two paragraphs? That’s some effective propaganda, NYT.

It’s bullshit, of course. The more relevant reason our tax dollars are funding these military exercises in Africa is containment of China.

I wish more Americans understood this. Destabilizing other countries is not a bug of US foreign policy, but a feature. The failed state of Libya, for example, gives the US a foothold in Africa. When Hillary Clinton becomes president, I’m sure she’ll be just as excited to “help” other African countries as she was when Gaddafi was sodomized and executed:

To ensure our elite have the military they need to bully the world and intimidate their competitors, they will need to continue the class war at home, using the debt to justify attacking the “entitlements” they’ve always despised.

Maybe some of the useful idiots who self-identify as Tea Party members will realize they’re being played for suckers. Or maybe, if the damage to the brand becomes serious enough, the funders may be forced to astro-turf a new political product-line of idiots.

Meanwhile, the world is actively looking for alternatives to an American empire that has violently exploited its position of influence for more than half a century.

I hope the US response to this de-Americanization isn’t WWIII.

by lizard

Greg Collett, a loser Idaho tea party politician, hates the evil collectivist tentacles of government, but that hasn’t stopped him from utilizing medicaid for his 10 children.

Collett’s use of the government services he would like to destroy has produced some fast online notoriety. Of course those on the left have labeled him a raging hypocrite, but Collett’s peers are also disgusted with his hypocrisy.

Collett, twice a candidate for the Idaho Legislature in Canyon County, isn’t surprised he’s been excoriated on left-wing websites including Gawker, BuzzFlash, Daily Kos and Americans Against the Tea Party.

But he’s also heard criticism from those who share his anti-government views for having taxpayers foot medical bills for eight adopted and two biological children, ages 4 to 17.

In contrast, Collett and his wife, Kelly, say they will pay the fine rather than buy insurance for themselves under the Affordable Care Act.

“I attracted all the attention of all the people who hate Republicans and the tea party,” said Collett, a 41-year-old freelance software developer and University of Idaho alum. “I’ve also attracted the attention of a lot of people in the liberty movement that don’t want to see anybody on welfare.”

Things got so bad, Collett said, he had to clean up his Facebook account and remove contact information from his campaign website. “The level of hatred is just absolutely incredible,” he said. “Messages on my website, emails, I’ve even had phone calls. It’s been pretty intense.”

In an effort to address the haters, Collett wrote up a delicious, 2,900 word response that contains some amazing material, like this:

Let me set the record straight. Yes, I participate in government programs of which I adamantly oppose. Many of them, actually. Am I a hypocrite for participating in programs that I oppose? If it was that simple, and if participation demonstrated support, then of course. But, my reason for participation in government programs often is not directly related to that issue in and of itself, and it certainly does not demonstrate support. For instance, I participate in government programs in order to stay out of the courts, or jail, so that I can take care of my family; other things I do to avoid fines or for other financial reasons; and some are simply because it is the only practical choice. With each situation, I have to evaluate the consequences of participating or not participating.

By way of example, here are a few government programs and policies that I oppose because they do not conform to the proper role of government, yet I participate in them: I am against marriage licenses, but I still got one to get married; I am against the foster care program, but I became a foster parent; I am against property taxes, but I own property and pay the tax; I am against federal ownership of land by the Forest Service and BLM, but I use the land for hiking, backpacking, camping, and fishing; I am against national parks, but I visit them; I am against driver’s licenses, vehicle registration, license plates, and mandated liability insurance, but I comply with all of them to drive; I am against public funding of transportation systems, but I still use them; I am against building permits, fees, and inspections, but I get them as needed; I am against public libraries, but my family uses them; I am against public schools, but I occasionally use their facilities; I am against occupational licensing, but I use the services of individuals and companies that comply with those requirements; I am against USDA inspections, but I still use products that carry their label; I am against the Uniform Commercial Code and designated legal business entities such as corporations, but I use the services of such entities and have set up several of them for myself; I am against the current structure of our judicial system and courts, but I still use them; I am against the 17th Amendment, but I still cast my vote for Senators; and the list could go on and on.

What would Greg Collett do if he gets his ideological way and destroys the evil collectivist government programs he directly benefits from? What fills the void, post-destruction?

Greg Collett doesn’t have any answers, because he’s just a useful idiot dancing for the billionaire funders keeping the Tea Party alive.

by lizard

*public comments are not currently being displayed because of some WordPress glitch. I noticed the same issue on another blog. Sorry for the inconvenience*

I can’t match the Ryan Zinke coverage coming from Intelligent Discontent, because Don really has produced some great coverage of Zinke and the Neil Livingstone, a candidate Mother Jones described as The Most Interesting Gubernatorial Candidate in the World.

That said, I do have some BREAKING NEWS! to share with our readers. Ryan Zinke is a poet! I wasn’t sure at first, but after several glasses of wine at a Missoula fern bar (h/t LK), I realized Ryan Zinke’s ode Restore truth, justice to America, printed as an op-ed in the Missoulian, contained a poem inside it.  And here it is.




America in crisis
our enormous debt
danger of losing trust
faith and trust

truth, intent
and purpose do matter
Hillary Clinton exclaimed
it does not matter

killed in Benghazi
a cover-up story
brutal rape and torture
our ambassador

Susan Rice quietly rewarded
what are we thinking?
is the sun setting on America?

lies…strength and resolve
American people take action
I remain an optimist

the best days of America
are not behind us
our democracy exceptional in honesty

liberty and justice for all
truth does matter
the Republic for which it stands

by lizard

This post isn’t about the averted crisis everyone will be talking about today because there is no actual resolution to the political psychosis we’ve been subjected to the past couple weeks. After a cost of 24 billion dollars, we’ll be watching the same insanity unfold in February.

No, what this post is about is a crisis that could impact the ability of humans to live in the northern hemisphere, maybe the planet, because if the equivalent of 14,000 Hiroshima bombs is released, life as we know could drastically change.

In November, Tepco will begin removing 1,331 spent fuel assemblies from the damaged cooling pond in reactor 4. If something goes wrong, this could happen:

“There is a risk of an inadvertent criticality if the bundles are distorted and get too close to each other,” Gundersen said.

He was referring to an atomic chain reaction that left unchecked could result in a large release of radiation and heat that the fuel pool cooling system isn’t designed to absorb.

“The problem with a fuel pool criticality is that you can’t stop it. There are no control rods to control it,” Gundersen said. “The spent fuel pool cooling system is designed only to remove decay heat, not heat from an ongoing nuclear reaction.”

The rods are also vulnerable to fire should they be exposed to air, Gundersen said.

The fuel assemblies are situated in a 10 meter by 12 meter concrete pool, the base of which is 18 meters above ground level. The fuel rods are covered by 7 meters of water, Nagai said.

The pool was exposed to the air after an explosion a few days after the quake and tsunami blew off the roof. The cranes and equipment normally used to extract used fuel from the reactor’s core were also destroyed.

Tepco has shored up the building, which may have tilted and was bulging after the explosion, a source of global concern that has been raised in the U.S. Congress.

The utility says the building can withstand shaking similar to the quake in 2011 and carries out regular structural checks, but the company has a credibility problem. Last month, it admitted that contaminated water was leaking into the Pacific Ocean after months of denial.

The first question the global community should be asking is this: why the hell is Tepco still in charge? They have admitted lying about contaminated water seeping into the Pacific. Tepco has no credibility. There must be an international effort to add whatever resources/expertise exists in the global community, because if this goes wrong, we are all in serious trouble. And things have a really good chance of going wrong:

Removing the rods from the pool is a delicate task normally assisted by computers, according to Toshio Kimura, a former Tepco technician, who worked at Fukushima Daiichi for 11 years.

“Previously it was a computer-controlled process that memorized the exact locations of the rods down to the millimeter and now they don’t have that. It has to be done manually so there is a high risk that they will drop and break one of the fuel rods,” Kimura said.

Under normal circumstances, the operation to remove all the fuel would take about 100 days. Tepco initially planned to take two years before reducing the schedule to one year in recognition of the urgency. But that may be an optimistic estimate.

“I think it’ll probably be longer than they think and they’re probably going to run into some issues,” said Murray Jennex, an associate professor at San Diego State University who is an expert on nuclear containment and worked at the San Onofre nuclear plant in California.

“I don’t know if anyone has looked into the experience of Chernobyl, building a concrete sarcophagus, but they don’t seem to last well with all that contamination.”

Corrosion from the salt water will have also weakened the building and equipment, he said.

And if an another strong earthquake strikes before the fuel is fully removed that topples the building or punctures the pool and allow the water to drain, a spent fuel fire releasing more radiation than during the initial disaster is possible, threatening about Tokyo 200 kilometers (125 miles) away.

When asked what was the worst possible scenario, Tepco is planning for, Nagai said: “We are now considering risks and countermeasures.”

Reading about this sent my wife into a panic attack yesterday. Maybe there really is no benefit in broad media coverage of what could happen, since there is nothing we can do about it.

How much money did Tepco save putting these reactors next to the Pacific? And speaking of money, I’ll conclude this post with probably the most disturbing thing I’ve read about this disaster. Stunning Story from a Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Worker By OSHIDORI MAKO:

On April 11, I talked with a Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant worker and a young professor of theUniversityofTokyo.

Why skimp on money and time in the management of a level 7 nuclear accident?
Worker: I think that leaks here and there are a normal thing.

– Are you serious? Why?

Worker: Because it was a situation of emergency in which a lot of facilities were built in a rush. After the accident, facilities were being built in such a speedy fashion that it did not matter if they had to last for only one year or so.

Some constructors have even put the sentence “Quality is not guaranteed” in the contract. Facilities built and supposed “to last for only one year” are still being used. It is normal that their condition deteriorates.

– Shocked…

Worker: In addition the effort to secure “cheaper commissions in order to cut down expenses” is also a problem. The government allocates funds to TEPCO for the management of the nuclear power plant accident, but the money is not a grant. It is a debt and must be refunded in the future.
Since the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is not expected to generate profit in the future, it is normal that TEPCO seek to reduce its debt as much as possible.

That is the reason why “cutting the budget, reducing the cost, and using lower price materials” for constructions and facilities in the management of the nuclear power plant accident is the order of the day.
On the ground, there are no such attempts as to gather the brains of the World in order to effectively deal with the nuclear accident.

– That is quite far from gathering the brains of the World. It’s just a get-together of stingy people, right?

Worker: It is stinginess not only with money but with time, too. Orders such as “It is the fiscal year-end. So hurry up and complete the construction work!” are common. Sometime you hear things such as “It is the fiscal year-end, there is no more funding available”. Why should the “fiscal year-end” take priority over any other matter in an unsettled situation of a Level 7 nuclear disaster?

Is it alright to entrust the management of a nuclear power plant accident to just one business entity such as TEPCO? As long as TEPCO is a business entity, it is in pursuit of profit and book closing at the year-end is part of that. So, I think that things won’t work if the management of the accident and the decommissioning project of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant are not separated from TEPCO and entrusted to an ad hoc specialized team.


by lizard

I have some information that is sure to get Republicans excited, because it entails turning the screws on poor, destitute individuals who get the exorbitant base amount of $700 dollars a month in disability. If the social security administration figures out you, as a disabled individual, are homeless (not paying rent), then your check gets cut nearly in half, to around $400 dollars a month. And guess what, staying in a motel doesn’t count. Isn’t that fantastic?

So let’s say there’s a guy who spends over $200 dollars for the luxury of staying in a nasty motel room for a week, and when he doesn’t have that luxury, he’s pounding malt liquor and shitting himself in the alleys of downtown. This hypothetical dude gets his check slashed. Isn’t that just awesome?

This is clearly the fiscally responsible thing to do, like when Montana Republicans denied their poor constituents that evil government plan to expand medicaid. Poor people are really taking advantage of us taxpayers, and we are lucky to have Republicans looking out for us, keeping the entitled poor in check.

And then there’s food stamps, where poor people are eating like kings, like surfer dude Jason Greenslate eating lobster. Can you believe that? 47.5 million Americans surfing and eating lobster. America has truly lost its way.

Please, Republicans (especially you assholes reaping farm subsidies) believe everyone on food stamps is Jason Greenslate, and stay far away from people like Bill Moyers, because if you expose yourself to Moyers’ blowing up 6 myths about food stamps, then you might have a crisis of conscience, and we wouldn’t want that.

No, fiscally responsible Republicans who never take government handouts, we definitely wouldn’t want that.

by lizard

The economic warfare that’s been waged against the third world for decades is being fully implemented here in the states. Self-described economic hit man, John Perkins, had his personal account of his role in this warfare published in 2004, titled Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. Here’s the wikipedia summary:

According to his book, Perkins’ function was to convince the political and financial leadership of underdeveloped countries to accept enormous development loans from institutions like the World Bank and USAID. Saddled with debts they could not hope to pay, those countries were forced to acquiesce to political pressure from the United States on a variety of issues. Perkins argues in his book that developing nations were effectively neutralized politically, had their wealth gaps driven wider and economies crippled in the long run.

Sound familiar?

The main trial balloon for how this will work is Detroit:

Detroit’s state-appointed emergency manager says a $350 million loan has been secured to help the city pay its way out of a complicated deal involving major creditors.

Kevyn Orr said Friday that the money committed by Barclays will help with Detroit’s reconstruction as he tries to take the city into the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.

The loan still has to be approved by a bankruptcy court judge.

About $230 million would be used to pay off some obligations related to its pension debt. The rest would be used to improve basic city services and technology infrastructure.

The city says the loan is secured with pledges of casino and income tax revenue, and cash from the potential value of assets that exceed $10 million.

Remember, the “state-appointed emergency manager” is an unelected person given sweeping powers by Michigan’s truly disturbing and potentially racist emergency manager law.

If you want to hear from Perkins, this Democracy Now interview is worth checking out.

Knowing all this, what can we do about it? There’s enough brainwashing on the right regarding debt to provide cover for the austerity attacks, and enough fecklessness on the left to provide reliable failure. Third party alternatives just get absorbed and politically weaponized by one side or the other.

Maybe shutdown is the answer. Maybe the “radical” environmentalists had it right with sugar in the tank and spikes in the trees. Maybe we can wed government hatred from the tea party with the sentiment expressed by Mario Savio:

There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels…upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!

I should note that quote came from a speech given at Sproul Hall on the Berkley campus on December 2nd, 1964.

It’s too bad that kind of post-WWII campus radicalism got effectively derailed by hippie hedonism, but I think it’s coming back, as evidenced by the growing Millennial appreciation for socialism.

Or we could keep pretending that we have a representative government capable of countering the influence of obscene wealth concentration and the political influence that wealth can purchase.

by lizard

America doesn’t have troops in Iraq not because president Obama wanted it that way, but because Maliki kicked us out:

The claim that President Obama met a campaign promise today is technically true – but only because Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki forced him to. Obama was seeking to keep troops in Iraq, perhaps as many as 15,000 of them, beyond the Dec. 31 withdrawal date.

Despite the best efforts of Obama, it was the Bush SOFA (status of forces agreement) that gave al-Makiki the grounds to reassert Iraq’s sovereignty. Now this exact dilemma is being replayed in Afghanistan, and once again our Nobel Peace prize winning president is trying to extend a US troop presence beyond 2014:

The United States and Afghanistan agreed Saturday on a draft deal that would keep some U.S. forces in Afghanistan past next year, but only if Afghan political and tribal leaders agree to a key U.S. demand that American troops not be subject to Afghan law, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the framework security agreement meets his demands regarding counterterrorism operations on Afghan soil and respects Afghan sovereignty. The U.S. demand to retain legal jurisdiction over all remaining U.S. forces will be put before a loya jirga, Karzai said. He plans to convene the Afghan tribal consultation body next month.

Did you catch that? Karzai isn’t making this decision unilaterally. What about the Obama administration? Does Congress or the American people count in the decision making process to make America’s longest war even longer? Here’s an excerpt from the end of Ochenski’s column in the Missoulian today (I suggest reading the whole thing):

First, Kerry isn’t telling Congress what bargains he’s making, nor asking their approval. Instead, he’s been talking with Obama appointees, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and national security adviser Susan Rice, neither of whom is elected nor represents the American people.

In short, America, which lauds itself as the greatest democracy in the world, is using an undemocratic secret process to extend an unpopular and expensive war. Were we the democracy we claim to be, any bargain Kerry strikes should first be submitted to Congress and the American people for approval before it is enacted.

The Obama administration is undoubtedly still smarting from the overwhelming rejection of its plans to militarily intrude in Syria. The lesson it should have learned is that the American people are tired of futile foreign wars. Instead, they are now trying to wage war in secret. Obama says he is comfortable with the pullout of all American troops by the end of 2014. Kerry ought to heed his boss and drop all plans to keep another 10,000 Americans killing and dying in Afghanistan indefinitely into the future.

Ochenski is being very generous here, assuming what Obama has said in public about ending the Afghanistan war correlates to his actual wishes. Personally, I don’t think any statement from the president should be taken at face value.

For a non-American perspective, Moon of Alabama has a post titled The Afghan SOFA Farce. The question concluding the post is worth contemplating:

What is the significance of Afghanistan that makes the Obama administration seek a continued U.S. participation in the war? After twelve full years no success has been achieved in Afghanistan while hundreds of billions have been spent on it. Why continue for longer at such immense costs?

There are a few reasons I can think of, but none of them have a thing to do with fighting terrorism. There is the vast mineral wealth publicized three years ago waiting to be exploited, there are pipelines to build, and there is also the “golden crescent” of opiate production, specifically heroin, which has greatly expanded, post-invasion/occupation.

It’s understandable the American public is focused on shutdowns and debt default, but while we are focused on the class war being waged within our borders, we are ignoring what the warmonger in the White House is trying to achieve abroad.

Empire of Corruption

by lizard

I am eight episodes from finishing Breaking Bad. There is a key moment (spoiler) where Walter gives a delayed answer to a question from his partner, Jesse: are you in the meth business or the money business? Jesse asks. Neither, says Walt. I’m in the empire business.

With America five days away from default, the empire business isn’t doing very well. I have no idea what the farce/threat ratio might be, but as far as “the market” is concerned, it might not matter. Here’s Michael Whitney with an article that takes a closer look, titled A Repo Implosion:

Absent a debt ceiling deal, the repurchase market–known as repo–would undergo another deep-freeze as it did in 2008 when Lehman Brothers defaulted triggering a run on the Reserve Primary Fund which had been exposed to Lehman’s short-term debt. The frenzied selloff sparked a widespread panic across global financial markets pushing the system to the brink of collapse and forcing the Federal Reserve to backstop regulated and unregulated financial institutions with more than $11 trillion in loans and other obligations. The same tragedy will play out again, if congress fails lift the ceiling and reinforce the present value of US debt.

Repo is at the heart of the shadow banking system, that opaque off-balance sheet underworld where maturity transformation and other risky banking activities take place beyond the watchful eye of government regulators. It is where banks exchange collateralized securities for short-term loans from investors, mainly large financial institutions. The banks use these loans to fund their other investments boosting their leverage many times over to maximize their profits. The so called congressional reforms, like Dodd Frank, which were ratified after the crisis, have done nothing to change the basic structure of the market or to reign in excessive risk-taking by undercapitalized speculators. The system is as wobbly and crisis-prone ever, as the debt ceiling fiasco suggests. The situation speaks to the impressive power of the bank cartel and their army of lawyers and lobbyists. They own Capital Hill, the White House, and most of the judges in the country. The system remains the same, because that’s the way they like it.

There is so much system failure, it can be overwhelming to track. I don’t expect unpaid bloggers to post as doggedly as I’ve tried to do recently, but I was looking forward to Intelligent Discontent’s new contributor, Sheena Rice, get into the mix on a weekly basis, like she said she was going to do in her introductory post.

It’s been awhile, but Sheena has a new post up, titled Scarier than Citizen’s United?. It’s a good read, but I’d like to highlight this section:

In every campaign finance case before the Roberts Supreme Court, some part of campaign finance regulations have been struck down. And honestly I would be shocked if this case was the exception. If aggregate limits are struck down by our friends the Supremes, as a violation of free speech, this would of course lay the groundwork for further attacks against campaign finance laws. Moreover, a decision in favor of McCutcheon could be interpreted to broadly eliminate campaign finance regulation, opening up federal elections to unlimited money.

Awesome right???

What I am really surprised by is the silence in Montana about this case. Montana has been at the forefront of battle of money in politics, and we’ve been there since the early 1900s and the days of Copper King corruption*. Voters overwhelmingly supported a citizen’s initiative to overturn Citizen’s United (well… at least to show support for it being overturned, problem with toothless resolutions.) So where is the discussion about McCutcheon?

I’m partly to blame for this. I have a platform, albeit a neglected one, here and I have not talked about it (or anything for that matter, sorry guys!). There is a lot going down right now; government shutdown, crappy judges, a US Senate race that finally has some life in it, and oh yeah the country may go into default. But we need to be talking about the impacts of corruption, and what that means for our future. Every election cycle means more and more money being spent, at the same time income inequality is increasing at significant rates. If the good old Supremes side with McCutcheon, fair elections will take another giant step backwards.

Sheena shouldn’t be surprised, Montana politics is as corrupt as it has ever been, and that includes Democrats. That’s the problem. The corruption conversation is almost always steered through partisan lenses, and those who don’t go along get marginalized (dropped from blogrolls, for example).

I agree with Sheena, we definitely should be talking about the impacts of corruption, and what that means for our future. If that conversation includes dark money and Brian Schweitzer, then so be it. If that conversation includes opposing the Baucus underling, John Lewis, from attaining a higher foothold in the Congressional feeding trough, then so be it.

Unfortunately, in our current political system, honest conversations about corruption won’t win elections.

I guess all we can do is wait for the failure to become even more obvious.

Congress and Dog Crap

by lizard

Who can be where, and when. That seems to be a big issue right now, on a few different fronts.

First, there’s Congress, more despised than ever; more despised than dog crap and hemorrhoids. Because of this idiotic shutdown, there are a lot of places American citizens can’t go.

When my in-laws get in town in a few weeks, for example, we were planning to go to the Bison Range. I didn’t realize it would be closed until I read this article about waterfowl areas reopening.

There are much more serious impacts, obviously, but as this second week of shutdown wraps up, there continues to be a widening ripple-effect of little personal realizations of where we can’t go, places we are being barred from accessing.

On a different front, if you’re a homeless person in Missoula, downtown may become a no-go zone:

According to counts conducted by Missoula Downtown Ambassadors, the city’s urban core hosted more panhandlers this year than at any time since 2010. Law enforcement and city officials attribute the influx in part to this summer’s Rainbow Gathering held outside Jackson. The gathering drew nearly 10,000 people, a portion of whom stayed in Missoula before and after the event.

Smith isn’t so much worried about how the transients landed on her doorstep, but rather how to curb their troublesome behavior. That’s why she supports a proposal unveiled during an Oct. 1 meeting of Mayor John Engen’s Downtown Advisory Commission that aims to further limit loitering and panhandling in the city’s urban core. Specifically, the proposal seeks to ban sitting, sleeping or lying on downtown sidewalks between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.

“I love that idea,” Smith says.

C’mon, Missoula, let’s just go full internment camp.

And finally, tonight, after a long week, I’m taking a walk in the neighborhood with my kids, heading toward St. Joseph Elementary school to play a little before bed, and this:


If you can’t read the sign, it says:  due to the reoccurrence of dog waste on our fields, SJS playground is now closed to the public.

So thank you, asshole dog owners, for persistently not picking up your dog’s excrement where kids play kickball. The only thing more despicable than your dog’s pile of crap are the piles of crap in DC.

Climate of Alarm, or Not

by lizard

***sarcasm alert***

First it was GLOBAL WARMING!!!, then CLIMATE CHANGE!!! The CAPS indicates all of that bullshit science stuff is just shrill alarmism. Clearly.

Forbes puts it like this: As Its Global Warming Narrative Unravels, The IPCC Is In Damage Control:

Struggling to keep a discredited global warming crisis afloat, United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) chair Raj Pachauri this week denied the well-documented plateau in temperatures during the past 15-plus years. Pachauri’s denialism contradicted his own admission earlier this year that there has been a 17-year plateau in global temperatures.

The IPCC is in full damage-control mode after it leaked advance copies of an upcoming Summary for Policymakers to what it assumed would be friendly journalists. The journalists, however, quickly realized the IPCC Summary for Policymakers contained several embarrassing walk-backs from alarmist statements in prior IPCC reports.

Two of the most embarrassing aspects of the Summary for Policymakers are (1) IPCC’s admission that global warming has occurred much slower than IPCC previously forecast and (2) IPCC is unable to explain the ongoing plateau in global temperatures. IPCC computer models have predicted twice as much warming as has occurred in the real world, and virtually none of the IPCC computer models can replicate or account for the recent lack of global warming.

This is great news. Human activity is totally off the hook. So let’s create jobs, mandate logging, send coal to China, frack everything, and dredge coastlines. Because, you know, that consumption can just go on forever.

And then there’s Japan. More alarmism? I sure hope so.

Japan’s pro-nuclear Prime Minister has finally asked for global help at Fukushima.

It probably hasn’t hurt that more than 100,000 people have signed petitions calling for a global takeover; more than 8,000 have viewed a new YouTube on it.

Massive quantities of heavily contaminated water are pouring into the Pacific Ocean, dousing workers along the way. Hundreds of huge, flimsy tanks are leaking untold tons of highly radioactive fluids.

At Unit #4, more than 1300 fuel rods, with more than 400 tons of extremely radioactive material, containing potential cesium fallout comparable to 14,000 Hiroshima bombs, are stranded 100 feet in the air

All this more than 30 months after the 3/11/2011 earthquake/tsunami led to three melt-downs and at least four explosions.

No, we can’t have any awareness of this brewing catastrophe. Instead we’re being force-fed a manufactured domestic crisis that’s hard to ignore, because the designed pain is very real.

Be prepared for earthquakes, dear citizens.

by lizard

The Festival of the Book is starting tomorrow in Missoula, and will run for three days of literary delight. You can see the full schedule here.

In the spirit of this great event, I’m going to fill this post with goodies, including an original William Skink poems at the end.

Up first is Love, True Peace and Political Poetry, the final installment of a five part series called the Political Poetry series, written by Doug Valentine.

The featured poet is Sam Hamill, a poet I first became aware of when I picked up his anthology Poets Against the War, a collective poetic outcry against the building momentum of the impending Iraq war.

The Valentine article looks at a powerful poem Hamill wrote about self-immolation, which was strange to read last Friday right before the self-immolation on the National Mall, which apparently isn’t something our media is very interested in covering.

There is also an interview which is very worth reading. I will highlight two of the Q/A:

DV In January 2003, you founded “Poets Against War” online, and edited an anthology with the same name, “Poets Against the War” (Nation Books, 2003). There was quite an outpouring of political poems. And yet many people, even some poets, think of poetry as being above or separate from politics. Is there a line between the two? A way of balancing between political poetry and Zen?

SH Only in America could someone suggest that poetry be apolitical. There is no such tradition anywhere in the world. Zen was born in Vietnam, when most of Vietnam was under Chinese rule. “Engaged Zen Buddhism” is the only kind that interests me as a practitioner. The politics of the person becomes the politics of the family; family politics become community politics; community politics become state politics. That’s elementary Confucius, “The Great Learning” that has been essential to all my work. There’s no “balance between” Zen and poetry. They are not two things. They are two aspects of one’s practice, each informing the other, two threads in a fabric of many threads.

DV You taught for over a decade in prisons, and worked for many years with battered women and children. How did those experiences shape your world view and poetry? (Please cite a few lines from a poem that illustrates your comments.)

SH More like two decades. I was a battered child, so grew up with machismo values and was abusive toward those I loved: “family values” every battered child learns. An outsider, a lonely adopted child, a non-believer in Mormon Utah, alienation is my true home. But through the imagination, one can indeed transform family and cultural values and begin to inhabit a better world, a world of compassion and meaningful engagement with fellow revolutionaries.

Think of the revolutionary transformations of Malcolm X, who began reading seriously while in prison. They could not lock up that heart’s mind. He eventually transcended even his own innermost (and understandable) rage and came to embody nonviolence.

Think of how many men have struck their wives or children, but never for a moment considered themselves “batterers.’ But they are. If you want to change a violent world, true change begins within. You are the driver of the vehicle of the mind. You can make it a train wreck or a luxury liner. But you have to begin by “calling things (and emotions) by their proper names,” as Confucius says, “because all wisdom is rooted in calling things by their right names.”

Here are the other installments in Doug Valentine’s Political Poetry series: part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4.

Sherman Alexie is another writer who doesn’t shy away from the political, and Missoula is lucky to have him at the Festival of the Book. The Indy did a great interview, which you can read here. One thing Alexie supports is Independent Bookstores, because Amazon is evil and must be stopped. Couldn’t agree more.

When it comes to buying books, the most dangerous website that exists for me is AbeBooks; dangerous because you can find all kinds of rare, out of print books.

I have a book heading my way right now, a children’s book written by the poet Robert Duncan and illustrated by his partner, the artist Jess, called The Cat and the Blackbird. I liked the idea so much, the original William Skink poem employs a conversation between a cat and a blackbird.

There is another book a friend of mine recently told me about, and damn him, because now I’m obsessed and considering spending way too much money. The book, titled Codex Seraphinianus, is comprised of a made up language and full of strange, Bosch-esque pictures. Instead of $500 dollars, this bizarre book (the author is still alive, by the way) will be republished later this month for about $75 dollars.

Anyway, how about that poem. Enjoy!



kitty said to blackbird
I see you in that tree
wind and shifting weight
the wings of what will be
a swoop beneath the power lines
a dart, then bank, then dive
kitty said to blackbird
if you want to stay alive
be my eyes up in the air
while I prowl the ground
you won’t get a better deal
in this vulture-ridden town

blackbird said to kitty
I see you in the grass
twitching tail, and whiskers
ready for the grab
my jump will be toward the sun
a bank, then flapping rise
blackbird said to kitty
if you want to stop the lies
simply retract your claws
while I fly away
then maybe I will warn you
when trouble comes your way

—William Skink

by lizard

When I asked Is Blogging a Waste of Time? the hint I think the answer is no is the fact I wrote a post about it. On a blog.

There’s a new blog I would like highlight, because I know reading it will definitely not be a waste of time. The blog— {Letters from a dad}—is a new offering from former 4&20 Blackbird contributor, Patrick Duganz. Duganz is a great writer and his lovely wife, Alisia, is a talented photographer, and they are about to be new parents, and they’re gonna be great at it.

And by great I mean constantly worrying about how badly you’re already screwing it up ;)

Congratulations, Duganz clan!!!

Securing the Homeland

by lizard

If you’ve never been exposed to the FEMA concentration camp meme, then I suggest starting with the RationalWiki depiction:

Though exact claims about the purpose and nature of the camps vary from one crank to another, a common theme is that they will be used to detain dissenting US citizens after the consolidation of the North American Union in preparation for the establishment of a one-world government. The camps allegedly come complete with boxcars for moving people around and plastic coffins for burying them. (Why not just burn the corpses Nazi-style?)

Establishing that this meme is crank terrain is standard operating procedure when it comes to any subject covered by Alex Jones and the other circus animals that populate conspiracy culture, thus ensuring any examples of actual, albeit temporary, internment spaces can be easily dismissed.

And there are examples.

Last November, post-Superstorm Sandy, some refugees of the storm ended up in a creepy tent city. The source of this link is Reuters, not Prison Planet:

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

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

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

The article goes on to say that, although FEMA had a presence, the internment camp was being run by the state of New Jersey. I say internment camp because of how folks were “relocated” to this space:

Sabol, who is unemployed and whose rental home was washed away in the hurricane, remembers being woken up on Wednesday at the shelter she was staying in at Toms River High School. Conditions there were “actually fine,” said Sabol.

Sabol was told that she had half an hour to pack: everyone was getting shipped to hotels in Wildwood, New Jersey, where they would be able to re-acquaint themselves with showers, beds and a door.

Sabol and about 50 other people boarded a New Jersey Transit bus, which drove around, seemingly aimlessly, for hours. Worse, this week’s Nor’easter snow storm was gathering force, lashing the bus with wind and rain.

After four hours, the bus driver pulled into a dirt parking lot. The passengers were expecting a hotel with heat and maybe even a restaurant. Instead they saw a mini city of portable toilets and voluminous white tents with their flaps snapping in the wind. Inside, they got sheets, a rubbery pillow, a cot and one blanket.

There was no heat that night, and as temperatures dropped to freezing, people could start to see their breath. The gusts of wind blew snow and slush onto Sabol’s face as her cot was near the open tent flaps. She shivered. Her hands turned purple.

For me, it’s not the space these people ended up in, but the effort to compel relocation that I find extremely unsettling. But in the aftermath of a natural disaster, the capacity of federal/state authorities to reimpose law and order is on constant creep.

In August of this year, another example of an internment camp was introduced, this time by the city council of Columbia, South Carolina. The main population targeted was Columbia’s homeless population, but the camp also accepted people getting discharged from prison:

City council members in Columbia, S.C., recently voted unanimously to criminalize homelessness.

Concerned that Columbia has become a “magnet for homeless people,” and that businesses and the area’s safety are suffering as a result, council members agreed on Aug. 14 to give people on the streets the option to either relocate, or get arrested, according to the city’s “Emergency Homeless Response” report.

Cooperative homeless people will be given the option to go to a remote 240-person bed emergency shelter, which will be open from September to March. The shelter will also be used as a drop-off for people recently released from prison and jail, too.

A hotline will be set up for passersby to “report” a homeless person that needs to be removed, additional police will be dispensed to monitor the streets and vans will escort the homeless to the shelter.

While some advocates have decried the decision, council members say it’s a “temporary” solution that will eventually lead to a more sound resolution.

Luckily the backlash to this was enough to cause the council to rescind their plan to force homeless people into an internment camp.

Maybe they realized there are no sound resolutions to homelessness because there are no sound resolutions to address unemployment, addiction, mental illness, access to health care, stuff like that. Those simply aren’t priorities in our slowly collapsing crony capitalist system. Keeping zombie banks from collapsing is the priority, and because that is the number one concern to those in positions of power, the methods of keeping people under control must be properly funded.

And, according to this piece by Ellen Brown, it looks like that is what is happening with the Department of Homeland Security:

Reports are that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is engaged in a massive, covert military buildup. An article in the Associated Press in February confirmed an open purchase order by DHS for 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition. According to an op-ed in Forbes, that’s enough to sustain an Iraq-sized war for over twenty years. DHS has also acquired heavily armored tanks, which have been seen roaming the streets. Evidently somebody in government is expecting some serious civil unrest. The question is, why?

Read Brown’s article, and you’ll get the picture. It’s not pretty.

by lizard

Harry Reid is having trouble understanding what’s going on with House Republicans. Why can’t reasonable Republicans do to their base what reasonable Democrats did to theirs after the 2006 elections? I mean, it’s not like Democrats pulled this kind of hostage taking extremism when it came to the Iraq war, right? Charles Davis, in this op-ed, makes a good point about that. Why the hell not, Harry?

When Democrats swept back to power in 2006, and took control of both houses of Congress, they promised to end a bloody and unpopular war in Iraq that bankrupted the country both morally and financially. And then, of course, they didn’t.

In an October 2 letter to House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reminds everyone of that. In the correspondence, Reid notes that while he “hated the Iraq war” – after voting for it – his opposition never manifested itself in anything more tangible than a press release, much less a government shutdown.

“There were many gut-wrenching nights when I struggled over what I needed to do to end the carnage,” Reid writes, claiming to have hated the war he voted for “as much as you hate the Affordable Care Act,” the health care law popularly known as “Obamacare” that mandates the purchase of health insurance while requiring insurers to cover preexisting conditions. That law is at the center of the budget fight that recently led to a partial shutdown of the US government, with national parks closed and federal employees taking mandatory unpaid vacations to catch up on “Breaking Bad”.

“I could have taken the steps that you are taking now to block Government funding in order to gain leverage to end the war,” Reid continues. “I faced a lot of pressure from my own base to take that action. But I did not do that. I felt that it would have been devastating to America. Therefore, the Government was funded.”

Sure, stopping a war that was started on false pretenses would have really screwed up America. Devastating, to use Harry’s word. Davis, though, uses pesky numbers to show what actual devastation means, and it means this:

The last US soldier did not leave Iraq until the end of 2011. And even that belated withdrawal, which left behind an army of private military contractors, was required as a result of an agreement signed by President George W. Bush – and, sort of importantly, demanded by Iraqis. Numerous Democratic fundraising letters were no doubt written around opposition to the war, but only an Iraqi refusal to grant US troops legal immunity for their acts on Iraqi soil compelled the US government to finally leave.

In the meantime, between the Democrats’ return to power in 2007 and the 2011 almost-full withdrawal, more than 48,000 Iraqis died violent deaths, according to an extremely conservative estimate from the group Iraq Body Count; by other estimates, perhaps a quarter-million. Two Reuters journalists and a dozen or more Iraqis, including the father of two young children, were killed in a US helicopter attack made infamous after video of the incident was leaked by US Private Chelsea Manning to the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks. The two young children were wounded. And more than 1,400 US soldiers died pointless deaths fighting a war everyone basically knew was unwinnable.

So the thinking goes, if Harry Reid can endure some sleepless nights over Iraq without shutting down the government, then how dare Republicans let this anarchist insurgency neuter Boehner.

There’s of course plenty of speculation about why this is happening, and who is to blame. Ochenski’s column in the Missoulian tomorrow makes some interesting observations:

It is considered radical that the Republicans blatantly say they won’t fund the government until certain provisions of Obamacare are delayed by a year. Specifically, they’re talking about the mandate that all citizens buy health insurance or face fines from the federal government.

But it was Obama himself who unilaterally decided to not implement other provisions of the law and now provides a classic, if ironic, case of the pot calling the kettle black. For some reason, the president believed he could simply ignore the law’s requirement that small businesses provide health insurance for their employees and delay that section of the law for a year. There is, however, no provision in the law whatsoever to allow the president to pick and choose what would or wouldn’t be implemented.

And how strange is it that this is the issue over which Obama and the Democrats decided to make their great stand? Although its real name is the Affordable Care Act, Montanans know well, since our own Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., was the chief architect of the measure, that Obamacare should more accurately be called the “Insurance Industry Enrichment Act.”

It won’t take much straining of the memory to recall that only a few weeks ago, Democrats did not have the courage to say no to war in Syria – despite overwhelming public opinion against new military aggression there. Now that would have been a stand worth taking and actually been in line with their constituents’ wishes. But no, despite significant public objection to Obamacare – and its Rube Goldberg complexity which may not work at all – this is what the Democrats decided to fight over.

Taking this a cynical step further, it’s tempting to see this whole thing as scripted, both sides playing predetermined roles. I’m leaning toward the jeanie-out-of-the-bottle theory, considering finance executives have felt the need to prominently say, don’t mess with default:

“There’s precedent for a government shutdown. There’s no precedent for default,” Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein told reporters after he and 14 other financial industry executives met with President Obama at the White House on Wednesday.

“We’re the most important economy in the world. We’re the reserve currency of the world,” Blankfein said. “Payments have to go out to people. If money doesn’t flow in, money doesn’t flow out.”

How many trillions have the zombie banks sucked down already? Yeah, keep it coming, Fed. It’s October, and the vampires are hungry.

A lot of what we are seeing right now is a charade, but it will have real impacts on real people, and for those who are the collateral damage, it doesn’t matter if this is a carefully crafted deception or a jeanie let free to destroy the awful bondage of government.

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