Archive for December, 2013

End of the Year Round-up

By JC

Open thread to wring out the old year! This about says all that is needed to say about politics this year, from the delightful and brilliant Broad Comedy with Katie Goodman out of Bozeman:

by lizard

The biggest story of 2013 that got little to no attention by our corporate media is the ongoing nuclear crisis at Fukushima. Will that change in 2014?

Maybe the extreme radiation sickness of more than a half dozen US sailors, who provided assistance directly after the earthquake/tsunami, will push this story into the headlines. From Zerohedge:

Back in December 2012, we wrote that it was only a matter of time before Japan’s criminal lying about the radioactive exposure in the aftermath of the Fukushima catastrophe caught up with it, as well as with countless numbers of people who would soon succumb to radiation induced cancers and other diseases. What we found surprising back then, before the full scale of the Fukushima catastrophe become clear and before even Tepco admitted that the situation is completely out of control, is that those holding Japan accountable were not its own citizens but eight US sailors who have then filed a suit against semi-nationalized energy operator TEPCO – the company which repeatedly ignored internal warnings about the ability of the Fukushima NPP to withstand an earthquake/tsunami – seeking $110 million in damages.

What is sad is that while everyone in the alternative media was repeatedly warning about the radiation exposure being misrepresented by both TEPCO and various Japanese ministries, it was the mainstream media that was constantly complicit in disseminating official and unofficial lies that there is nothing to fear.

As I’ve written before, there needs to be a global response to this crisis because the Japanese government and Tepco cannot be trusted.

Adding to the concerns, there now appears to be problems with reactor 2:

TEPCO has found a record 1.9 million becquerels per liter of beta ray-emitting radioactive substances at its No.2 reactor. Also radioactive cesium was detected in deeper groundwater at No.4 unit’s well, as fears grow of a new leak into the ocean.

The level of beta ray-emitting radioactivity in groundwater around the crippled Fukushima reactor No. 2 reactor has been rising since November, NHK reported.

Previous the highest level – 1.8 million becquerels (bq/liter), of beta-ray sources per liter – was registered at reactor No.1 on December 13.

Bad press (from a Russian media source) for a president who picked a guy who loves himself some nuclear energy to run the energy department:

With the nomination of Ernest Moniz to be the next U.S. secretary of Energy, President Barack Obama has selected a man who is not only a booster of nuclear power but a big proponent of fracking, too. What happened to Obama’s call for “clean” energy in his 2013 State of the Union address?

Moniz, a physicist and director of the MIT Energy Initiative, heavily financed by energy industry giants including BP and Chevron, has long advocated nuclear power. He has continued arguing for it despite the multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant complex, maintaining that the disaster in Japan should not cause a stop in nuclear power development.

By ignoring this story, I’m afraid our media lapdogs are missing an opportunity to describe the compelling and innovative techniques being employed by Japan to clean up this nuclear disaster: use homeless people. This report comes from Reuters, so it must be legit:

Seiji Sasa hits the train station in this northern Japanese city before dawn most mornings to prowl for homeless men.

He isn’t a social worker. He’s a recruiter. The men in Sendai Station are potential laborers that Sasa can dispatch to contractors in Japan’s nuclear disaster zone for a bounty of $100 a head.

“This is how labor recruiters like me come in every day,” Sasa says, as he strides past men sleeping on cardboard and clutching at their coats against the early winter cold.

It’s also how Japan finds people willing to accept minimum wage for one of the most undesirable jobs in the industrialized world: working on the $35 billion, taxpayer-funded effort to clean up radioactive fallout across an area of northern Japan larger than Hong Kong.

What a great jobs program for homeless people. Maybe Missoula can send a few of our homeless people to North Dakota to clean up that explosive oil train collision.

And if that doesn’t work, we can always use felons.

Happy New Year!!!

by lizard

It’s probably early enough in the Walsh campaign to take the first real shot in what is sure to be a delightful primary—Report: Lt. Gov. John Walsh improperly used adjutant general position.

I don’t really care how this primary shapes up, so I won’t quote from the article. It’s just politics as usual—and for Democrats in Montana, it’s all about deciding who is going to lose to Steve Daines.

Instead I’m going to wade into some melodrama because I think it says something about what online political engagement is becoming.

Let’s start with Intelligent Discontent, specifically Don’s post about anonymous Republican blogs:

Other than denying women access to reproductive health care, nothing seems to unite Montana Republicans more than their hatred for anonymous political blogs attacking their candidates. They whine and caterwaul and complain about blogs like Montana Cowgirl and the Montana Streetfighter, but not without their typical hypocrisy. Despite their drumbeat of criticism on social media, they’ve repeatedly tried—and failed—to develop anonymous blogs of their own. I think they may just be bad at it.

The implication here is, unlike anonymous Republican blogs, anonymous Democrat political blogs, like Montanan Cowgirl, are good.

Back in July, I took a shot at Montana Cowgirl’s lack of moderation in the comment threads. The conversation that ensued is interesting (if you care about this kind of crap, and I totally understand if you don’t).

Baucus retiring his seat, then suddenly getting tapped for China, has been the biggest political news in Montana. And because there are national implications for control of the Senate, Montana politics is sure to get plenty of scrutiny.

And that’s why I think it’s interesting that Montana Cowgirl—Montana’s premier Democrat mouthpiece with proven chops validated by national media—is becoming such a joke.

Mark Tokarski, a possible victim of cyberstalking by a Cowgirl regular, is trying to make sense of the Cowgirl. Jack Ruby and myself both posted about our nostalgia for what the Cowgirl once was.

I’ve also caught whiffs of nostalgia for Matt Singer and Left in the West, an online forum that actually provided the launching pad for Cowgirl, who was asked to leave because of anonymity issues—meaning LitW decided to no longer allow anonymous posting (smart move, Matt). If I’m wrong on that, please correct me in the comments.

I have also contributed to the nostalgia, remembering online presences who added substance during what now seems like better days.

As evidence that Montana’s online better days are in the rear view mirror, a Cowgirl post titled Choices for Everyone currently has 239 comments, exposing, imho, what a total lack of direction and moderation emanates from Montana’s premier anonymous Democrat blog.

Does it matter? Probably not. Who actually reads this shit, right?

There should be some standards for what we allow to happen on the forums we oversee. Cowgirl is derelict in “her” duties.

There is one comment I remember making at Intelligent Discontent that Don deleted, and he absolutely should have. It crossed a line.

Maybe weekends means overtime the Democrat party can’t afford because Max has’t written any checks yet:

Sen. Max Baucus’ decision not to run for re-election in 2014 leaves the Montana Democrat with more than $4.8 million in campaign money — and no campaign to spend it on.

Baucus has several options for what he can do with all that cash, according to Federal Election Commission regulations. The only real restriction is that he can’t keep it for himself.

He could transfer any amount to national, state or local Democratic committees. He could donate to other candidates — within state and federal contribution limits. He could use some cash to defray travel costs and expenses related to winding down his office. He also could turn his campaign committee into a political action committee.

Baucus’ campaign organization will be closing in the coming weeks. Baucus officials say he intends to support the Montana Democratic Party, Democratic candidates and charities or foundations Baucus believes in.

 
Will that money get spent on a seemingly doomed campaign for Max’s seat? And if there is some extra cash laying around, please, give it to the Cowgirl. She obviously needs some support.

by lizard

Thanks to Netflix, I’ve had a crash course in the dystopian narratives that have dominated the American cultural landscape for the last 5 years. It started with Breaking Bad. From there, I moved on to The Walking Dead, House of Cards, and now Sons of Anarchy.

The popularity of these serial narratives suggests a collective catharsis for the anxiety I think most of us feel about the future. Corruption, violence, and deceit have become the bedrock of our institutions. The hope of 2008 has been obliterated. Where do we go from here?

For too many, we descend into fear and anger, potent emotions that suspend rational thought.

I watched the December 16th City Council meeting again on MCAT, and Dick Haines spoke at length about the fear of his constituents, and his own unsettling emotions when in the proximity of “those people” the council voted 7-3 to keep from sitting/sleeping/lying on the sidewalks of downtown Missoula. Fear seemed to be the dominant theme, something I tried to understand in this post written the day after the council meeting.

We are descending, as a country, into a very dark place. This descent is not unknown. Dr. Lawrence Britt, for example, describes 14 characteristics that are becoming unsettling familiar in America:

1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism

2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights

3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause

4. Supremacy of the Military

5. Rampant Sexism

6. Controlled Mass Media

7. Obsession with National Security

8. Religion and Government are Intertwined

9. Corporate Power is Protected

10. Labor Power is Suppressed

11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts

12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment

13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption

14. Fraudulent Elections

We are not immune in America from repeating the mistakes of countries like Germany, Spain, and Italy. I am intentionally not using the F-word the 14 characteristics describe because I think readers of this blog know what I’m talking about.

Take number 3. Fighting Communism used to be the unifying cause for America. When the Soviet Union collapsed, there was a real risk of losing that potent boogeyman, so terrorism—a tactic, not an ideology—took the place of Communism after the attacks of September 11th.

I think we, as Americans, need to pay closer attention to how a damaged economy and fear can combine to justify targeting specific populations for removal.

A few months ago I linked to this article about how Columbia, South Carolina, tried to address their chronic homeless population:

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.

Fear and economic decline can be exploited, and “good” citizens can be brought along to do awful things. If you are offended at my comparison of targeting homeless people for removal with Nazi Germany, good. Fear is opening a door that we are willingly walking through, without stopping and really thinking about the big picture dynamics creating the environment of joblessness and hopelessness where addiction and mental illness fester.

2014 will be more of the same, further descent into a dystopia of cruelty and exploitation. Sorry if that’s bleak and depressing, but that’s where I’m at right now. I don’t think anything can change the path we’re on. I hope I’m wrong.

by lizard

Today, December 27th, marks the 5th anniversary of Israel’s murderous rampage in Gaza, called Operation Cast Lead. This obscene military operation lasted just under a month, right up to Obama’s inauguration. Helena Cobban, who covered the atrocities at the time, writes about the intent and lasting lessons of the operation at her site Just World News (an extension of Just World Books).

Here is the context of the operation you won’t get by watching mainstream news sources:

On December 27, 2008, the Israeli government launched the might of its U.S.-supplied military against the 1.6 million people of Gaza and the leadership that they– along with their compatriots in the West Bank– had elected to power back in January 2006. The Israeli war aim was to inflict such pain on the residents of Gaza that they would rise up against the quasi-government that Hamas had been running in Gaza since 2006/7. (In June 2007, Israel and the U.S. had tried to use their allies in Mohamed Dahlan’s wing of the Palestinian movement to overthrow Hamas via a coup; but that coup attempt was aborted.)

The Israeli attack of December 2008 was given the stunningly accurate name ‘Operation Cast Lead’. By the time it ended 23 days later– and with Hamas still in power in Gaza– Israel had killed more than 1,400 Gaza residents and left many thousands more maimed or wounded. It had destroyed tens of thousands of homes, just about all of Gaza’s previously bustling network of small manufacturing and ag-processing businesses, and numerous schools, bridges, and other items of vital civilian infrastructure.

International law clearly defines as terrorism any attempt to use force or violence against civilians in order to try to prod them into effecting political change. But in 2008, 2009, as in all of the past 40-plus years, Israel has enjoyed the special protection of the United States. Thus, the Israeli leaders of the time (PM Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and the rest) were never called to account for the quintessentially terrorist attack of 2008-09.

Earlier this month, two rightwing Israeli strategic “experts”, Efraim Inbar and Eitan Shamir, published in Hebrew a study describing Cast Lead as just one example of what they say now constitutes a large part of Israel’s security doctrine: A strategy obscenely called “Mowing the Grass”, which they say, is designed to:

destroy the capabilities of [Israel’s] foes, hoping that occasional large-scale operations have a temporary deterrent effect in order to create periods of quiet along its borders.

Ultimately Israel failed to accomplish the goals of their operation, which is why the Israeli leadership has to now maintain their “lawn” with the occasional use of a “lawn mower” (what a sickening euphemism).

Israel has been collectively punishing Palestinians for electing Hamas back in 2006. Before Cast Lead, a 6 month truce was holding, and that was a problem, because it was allowing Hamas to fortify its position. As Israel engaged in a month-long slaughter, it was an open question about what triggered the attack. Here’s some context:

Prior to Operation Cast Lead, the devastating Israeli attack on Gaza in 2008-09, there had been six months of a truce which both sides claimed the other did not maintain in good faith. Still, the truce endured.

When Israel escalated the tensions on November 4, 2008, killing six Hamas men in an operation Israel said was meant to thwart a tunnel Hamas was building to abduct more Israeli soldiers, some people felt that Israel was intentionally raising the stakes because the truce was holding and Hamas was fortifying its position in Gaza.

Therefore, the thinking went, Israel struck hard at Hamas with an excuse knowing that Hamas would feel it had no choice but to retaliate.

Well, that line of thinking got quite a boost when Wikileaks released a cable earlier this week containing an American report on a meeting with Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak. Here is the relevant passage:

3. (S) Regarding the Tahdiya, Hacham said Barak stressed that while it was not permanent, for the time being it was holding. There have been a number of violations of the ceasefire on the Gaza side, but Palestinian factions other than Hamas were responsible. Hacham said the Israelis assess that Hamas is making a serious effort to convince the other factions not to launch rockets or mortars. Israel remains concerned by Hamas’ ongoing efforts to use the Tahdiya to increase their strength, and at some point, military action will have to be put back on the table. The Israelis reluctantly admit that the Tahdiya has served to further consolidate Hamas’ grip on Gaza, but it has brought a large measure of peace and quiet to Israeli communities near Gaza.

Israel will continue to undermine any efforts to create a lasting peace, and the US will continue enabling Israeli atrocities. It’s a sad state of affairs that ensures the world will keep spinning toward greater global conflict.

by lizard

Today is Jesus’ birthday. Last night we attended a church service because I want my kids to have a little more context than getting gifts, plus my parents really wanted us to attend. Considering how I approached church as an entitled suburban teenager who liked Pantera and Marilyn Manson, I figured I owed them. And it was nice to be in a church on Christmas eve. But there will always be a part of me that rebels against religious lip-service to peace and joy when so much awful, violent, evil shit goes down around the world.

First, the awful. Poverty and homelessness will continue to worsen in the coming year because there is no political will to do even meager things, like extend unemployment, expand social security, or raise the minimum wage. There are glimmers of sanity on the horizon, though. Phoenix, for example, is claiming to be the first city to end chronic homelessness for veterans.

Three years ago, a state coalition aimed at ending chronic homelessness among veterans identified 222 living in Phoenix. As of early November, 56 remained, but a $100,000 allocation of funds enabled the city to house them all as of midweek, winning what the mayor’s office described Wednesday as a friendly competition with Utah’s Salt Lake City to become the first U.S. city to do so.

“Phoenix can take its place as role model city for gratitude and care towards veterans,” Mayor Greg Stanton said in a release.

Nice to see a city tackle a tough issue without criminalizing sitting on the sidewalk, like Missoula did a few weeks ago, led by “progressive” LGBT advocate, Caitlin Copple. I don’t know if Caitlin reads this blog, but if she does, I would hope she would take a little time to read about how Jimmy Lee Ferguson—a homeless veteran—died on a sidewalk in Missoula two years ago.

Another article I think everyone everyone should read posted today at the LA Times, written by Montana native Les Gapay, and it opens with Les hearing about another homeless man dying of exposure:

Recently, in my old hometown in Montana, a man died of exposure. According to news reports, he was a Wal-Mart employee in the town of Miles City, homeless and living in his car when the weather plunged to 27 degrees below zero.

We tend to shrug off the homeless when we see them pushing their shopping carts or holding up signs asking for money. They’re mentally ill, we assume, or drug addicts. But I know from experience that a lot of the homeless are like that man in Montana: struggling to make it but not quite able to.

For the 6 1/2 years I was homeless, I never had a shopping cart, nor did I have a mental illness or a drug problem. I was just a regular guy out of work in a poor economy. I did writing work while living out of my pickup truck at campgrounds, but I never made enough to rent an apartment until I hit Social Security retirement age and qualified for low-income senior housing. When you don’t have much to start with, it’s easy to fall off the edge.

Now, for a totally obscene contrast, watch Alexis Goldstein break down the 91.44 BILLION dollars Wall Street has set aside this year for bonuses:

If that doesn’t turn your stomach, check out how enthusiastically Wall Street high rollers cheered the depravity depicted in Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. These people are monsters, and if there is a hell, Wall Street will be well represented.

As bad as our domestic situation is, at least we don’t have to worry about drones (yet) blowing us up. While most people take some time off to be with friends and family, the Great War on Terror plugs on with a Christmas drone strike in Pakistan. Last year America blew up people in Yemen for Christmas. I guess it’s a new tradition.

Israel is also in the midst of some Christmas-time killing. Last year I wrote a post titled Pillars of Lies, describing how Israel employed deceitful justification for enacting another Gaza slaughter. This year, IDF forces have killed a 3 year old Palestinian girl in retaliatory military strikes:

A three-year-old Palestinian girl has been killed in a series of retaliatory Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip.

The attacks came hours after an Israeli civilian was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper while repairing the border security fence.

Israel’s military said its aircraft and tanks had carried out strikes on several “terror sites”, including a weapons manufacturing base.

Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, said it was a “dangerous escalation”.

Hamas official Mushir al-Masri said on al-Aqsa television that Israel would “pay the price for these crimes” and he said Hamas and other Palestinian organisations were considering an “appropriate response”.

If Palestinians acted like Israelis for every violation of the post-Gaza-slaughter ceasefire, then maybe Israel would actually have something to worry about.

I wonder if our media would be more interested in this story if the 3 year old was an Israeli.

I sometimes wish I could just ignore this stuff, but I can’t.

I can hear my kids playing with their new toys in the background. We had a great feast tonight at my parents house, and tomorrow I’m going to do some shopping. I am incredibly blessed and privileged. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I feel compelled to pay attention to what’s happening to the people who don’t have the luxury of being born into a loving, supportive family in one of the richest nations on earth.

by lizard

Writing under a pseudonym is a joke. You don’t write about impeachable violations of our constitutional rights committed by America’s Chief Executive without the reasonable expectation doing so will get you flagged.

I have tremendous respect for writers who put their real names on the line, which is precisely what Dave Eggers did when he called for writers to take a stand against the surveillance state because ‘It’s going to get worse’.

I strongly recommend reading the whole article. For now I’ll highlight this paragraph, because I think it effectively describes what many of us have already internalized:

Think back to all the messages you have ever sent. All the phone calls and searches you’ve made. Could any of them be misinterpreted? Could any of them be used to damage you by someone like the next McCarthy, the next Nixon, the next Ashcroft? This is the most pernicious and soul-shattering aspect of where we are right now. No one knows for sure what is being collected, recorded, analysed and stored — or how all this will be used in the future. “Citizens of a democracy need a zone of privacy, and have control over it,” Levinson-Waldman says. “If you really don’t have control over it, you can’t become an actualised member of society.”

Language–and how we use it to communicate—is going to be more important than ever in the coming years. That’s why totalitarian states aren’t big supporters of the arts, like poetry. It’s a space they can’t completely control without fear—and for that fear to be credible, some degree of force is necessary.

Michael Hastings, for example, who obviously was the victim of poor car engineering by Mercedes.

Paranoia creeps in if you let it. That doesn’t mean we aren’t living in a panopticon of surveillance.

The Dave Eggers piece does a great job illustrating, in concrete terms, the chill effect already happening:

In an effort to get someone riled up about these troubling trends, PEN International, an agency that protects creative expression worldwide, surveyed its American members about their feelings about the NSA’s unbounded reach. The resulting report, “Chilling Effects: NSA Surveillance Drives US Writers to Self‑Censor”, reveals that 88% of the writers polled are troubled by the NSA’s surveillance programme, and that 24% have avoided certain topics in email and phone conversations. Most disturbingly, 16% of those answering the survey said they had abandoned a project owing to its sensitivity.

The survey is troubling on many levels. The gut-level response is dismay that any writer would give up so easily – that any writer would be so readily cowed into submission. After all, to date, the NSA’s surveillance hasn’t landed any writers in jail, and though there is no doubt a watchlist – and, by the way, any constitution-loving writer should want to be on such a watchlist – no one on PEN’s membership has so far been hauled in for questioning based on their phone calls, searches or internet activity.

Before jetting off to Hawaii, Obama had a press conference where he was asked some questions. One of the questions was about the NSA, and Obama assured us that in 2014 he is going to say something about it, because if there’s one thing Obama is good at, it’s opening his mouth and letting words tumble out:

The second question, from Reuters, is about the NSA and surveillance. Obama was asked to respond to the advisory panel’s recommendations, as well as a federal judge’s ruling that one of its programs is likely unconstitutional. And he’s asked, directly, if the NSA’s gathering of phone metadata has stopped terrorist attacks.

“I’m going to make a pretty definitive statement in January,” Obama said. He defended the NSA, saying that there has been no evidence they have abused their power.

“I have confidence in the fact that the NSA is not engaging in domestic surveillance or snooping around,” he said.

Too bad Americans don’t feel the same confidence in the president, as evidenced by his dropping approval rating, not seen this low since Nixon.

Since anything the president says can’t be trusted, we must look to the people tasked with managing the propaganda to get a sense of what 2014 has in store. When it comes to the NSA, Michael Morell, former acting director of the CIA, got the nod to do some of the heavy lifting on Sunday:

Michael Morell, the former acting director of the CIA and a member of President Obama’s task force on surveillance, said in an interview on Sunday that a controversial telephone data-collection program conducted by the National Security Agency should be expanded to include emails. He also said the program, far from being unnecessary, could prevent the next 9/11.

Morell, seeking to correct any misperception that the presidential panel had called for a radical curtailment of NSA programs, said he is in favor of restarting a program the NSA discontinued in 2011 that involved the collection of “metadata” for Internet communications. That program gets only a brief mention in a footnote on page 97 of the task-force report, “Liberty and Security in A Changing World.” “I would argue actually that the email data is probably more valuable than the telephony data,” Morell told National Journal in a telephone interview. “You can bet that the last thing a smart terrorist is going to do right now is call someone in the United States.”

Morell also said that while he agreed with the report’s conclusion that the telephone data program, conducted under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, made “only a modest contribution to the nation’s security” so far, it should be continued under the new safeguards recommended by the panel. “I would argue that what effectiveness we have seen to date is totally irrelevant to how effective it might be in the future,” he said. “This program, 215, has the ability to stop the next 9/11, and if you added emails in there it would make it even more effective. Had it been in place in 2000 and 2001, I think that probably 9/11 would not have happened.”

This is utter crap. 9/11 could have been stopped if Bush had taken the warnings he received seriously, but he didn’t:

The direct warnings to Mr. Bush about the possibility of a Qaeda attack began in the spring of 2001. By May 1, the Central Intelligence Agency told the White House of a report that “a group presently in the United States” was planning a terrorist operation. Weeks later, on June 22, the daily brief reported that Qaeda strikes could be “imminent,” although intelligence suggested the time frame was flexible.

But some in the administration considered the warning to be just bluster. An intelligence official and a member of the Bush administration both told me in interviews that the neoconservative leaders who had recently assumed power at the Pentagon were warning the White House that the C.I.A. had been fooled; according to this theory, Bin Laden was merely pretending to be planning an attack to distract the administration from Saddam Hussein, whom the neoconservatives saw as a greater threat. Intelligence officials, these sources said, protested that the idea of Bin Laden, an Islamic fundamentalist, conspiring with Mr. Hussein, an Iraqi secularist, was ridiculous, but the neoconservatives’ suspicions were nevertheless carrying the day.

In response, the C.I.A. prepared an analysis that all but pleaded with the White House to accept that the danger from Bin Laden was real.

The 9/11 terrorist attack is getting some new scrutiny, focusing on 28 pages that still remain classified because they apparently reflect poorly on Saudi Arabia:

For more than a decade, questions have lingered about the possible role of the Saudi government in the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, even as the royal kingdom has made itself a crucial counterterrorism partner in the eyes of American diplomats.

Now, in sworn statements that seem likely to reignite the debate, two former senators who were privy to top secret information on the Saudis’ activities say they believe that the Saudi government might have played a direct role in the terrorist attacks.

“I am convinced that there was a direct line between at least some of the terrorists who carried out the September 11th attacks and the government of Saudi Arabia,” former Senator Bob Graham, Democrat of Florida, said in an affidavit filed as part of a lawsuit brought against the Saudi government and dozens of institutions in the country by families of Sept. 11 victims and others. Mr. Graham led a joint 2002 Congressional inquiry into the attacks.

His former Senate colleague, Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, a Democrat who served on the separate 9/11 Commission, said in a sworn affidavit of his own in the case that “significant questions remain unanswered” about the role of Saudi institutions. “Evidence relating to the plausible involvement of possible Saudi government agents in the September 11th attacks has never been fully pursued,” Mr. Kerrey said.

The NSA spying programs are not about stopping terrorists. No, the surveillance state is about fear and control, which is what the plutocrats will need as they continue pursuing policies that will decimate our domestic economy and security.

Obama won’t make any waves in 2014, or 2015, or 2016, because doing so would compromise his lucrative, post-presidency speaking gigs. Instead he’ll give a few deceitful speeches about cosmetic adjustments.

How much worse will it have to get before Americans realize how damaged our constitutional rights have become? I don’t know, but Americans do seem exceptional in their capacity for delusion, so I suspect it will have to get much, much worse, and by then it will probably be too late.

Winter Solstice Playlist

by lizard

They’re called playlists now, and they are so much easier to make than the mix-tapes I made on cassettes, back in the day.

I actually had some time today to assemble a lineup of songs that resonate well together. Here’s the playlist:

The World—Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi
Look…The Sun is Rising—The Flaming Lips
Gold on the Ceiling—The Black Keys
Chase Scene—Broken Social Scene
The Guillotine—The Coup
In the Lion—Edwarpe Sharp and the Magnetic Zeroes
Jesus of the Moon—Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Hard Sun—Eddie Vedder
Me and Lazarus—Iron and Wine
On Melancholy Hill—Gorillaz
I don’t Wanna Pray—Edwarpe Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes
Ghost—Neutral Milk Hotel
The Mall and Misery—Broken Bells
Lost in my Mind—The Head and the Heart
Down the Line—Jose Gonzalez
It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)—Arcade Fire

I’ll see how many videos I can find on Youtube below the fold (which is kind of funny considering I watched the LET’S TAKE BACK OUR MTV episode of Portlandia last night). Anyway, Happy Solstice! Continue Reading »

Having Faith

by lizard

After God created the mountains and rivers and stars above and fossil fuels below, He created little girls like Dasani, an 11 year old homeless girl living in New York. Asked about this girl, who was featured in a compelling New York Times series, Mike Bloomberg offered this profound comment: “That’s just the way God works.

Lucky for Bloomberg, there is a Good Book that actually outlines how God works, and it says stuff like this:

1 John 3:17-18

If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

I think this one may also be appropriate for Bloomberg:

Luke 11:39-42

Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you. “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God

Greed and wickedness brings to mind Harris Himes, the Hamilton Pastor who should be asking his Lord for forgiveness after his sentencing this week.

But that’s not how Harris Himes rolls. No, instead this despicable person is trying to use homeless people and Christmas as a shield:

On Friday, Himes continued his plea of innocence and claimed the jury had been forced to convict him based on faulty jury instructions.

Tucker accepted none of that.

“There wasn’t a conspiracy,” Tucker told Himes. “The jury made their determination. These folks did not even know you before the trial. This was not a vendetta to blacken your good name.”

Himes spoke at length during the four-hour sentencing hearing in an attempt to persuade the judge that he had been wrongly convicted and argue for a lenient sentence.

A number of character witnesses at the hearing, including several who had either spent time or were still living at his Big Sky Christian Shelter for the homeless spoke on Himes’ behalf.

Himes said that without his income, the shelter would close.

“Real people will be out on the street,” Himes said. “They won’t have a place to go, and it is cold and it’s Christmas.”

This is second hand information, but I’ve heard the Big Sky Christian Shelter takes money from those using their shelter services. That would not be altogether unusual, but taking that step has proven controversial. Bloomberg discovered that three year ago:

The Bloomberg administration has abandoned a controversial decision to charge rent to working homeless families living at city shelters, officials announced on Friday.

Instead, under a new agreement that could start in September, such families would be required to set aside a part of their monthly earnings in a savings account that they can have access to once they leave the shelter system.

Of course, two years later, Bloomberg was all like, Dude, maybe we should have analyzed what this class war was going to cost us:

The NYC Independent Budget Office estimates that Mayor Bloomberg has under-budgeted $76 million for shelters next year in the face of rising homelessness and the Mayor’s refusal to provide housing assistance for homeless families – on the same day that administration officials admitted at an oversight hearing that they never did their own analysis.

Now for the good news. Screw New York. The future is Utah:

Utah has reduced its rate of chronic homelessness by 78 percent over the past eight years, moving 2000 people off the street and putting the state on track to eradicate homelessness altogether by 2015. How’d they do it? The state is giving away apartments, no strings attached. In 2005, Utah calculated the annual cost of E.R. visits and jail stays for an average homeless person was $16,670, while the cost of providing an apartment and social worker would be $11,000.

Each participant works with a caseworker to become self-sufficient, but if they fail, they still get to keep their apartment. Other states are eager to emulate Utah’s results. Wyoming has seen its homeless population more than double in the past three years, and it only provides shelter for 26 percent of them, the lowest rate in the country. City officials in Casper, Wyoming, now plan to launch a pilot program using the methods of Utah’s Housing First program. There’s no telling how far the idea might go.

Yes, Utah, a state that is both solving homelessness and being forced to allow men to marry men and women to marry women if they so choose.

Apparently the consensus reaction is this: Utah?!?

Despite my sometimes overly bitter sarcasm, I am actually quite hopeful. This year I’ve met some amazing people from different faith communities, people who have helped me redefine my own concept of faith. I don’t say that lightly.

Who knows what the hell any of us can expect from 2014. Maybe we’ll keep boiling the frog, or maybe we’ll leave the spoon in the microwave.

by Pete Talbot

And here I thought Sen. Max Baucus was retiring from the U.S. Senate so he could spend more time in Montana with his lovely, young wife.  He’s even building a home in the Bozeman area.

It looks like I was wrong.  The blogs are awash with the news that Max will most likely be the next U.S. Ambassador to China.  I won’t link to them all — they range from kudos to criticism — and you’ve probably already read them.  Here’s the NY Times story, though.

Now China will be his legacy since tax reform is off the table and the Affordable Care Act isn’t exactly being warmly embraced.

The big question: who will be appointed by Gov. Bullock as Baucus’ place holder until the 2014 election?

Ahh, to be a fly on the wall in those smoke-filled back rooms (although not as smokey as they used to be thanks to anti-tobacco trends).  Who to pick: Lt. Gov. John Walsh, Brian Schweitzer, Pat or Carol Williams, one of our Tier-B women (Juneau, McCulloch, Lindeen)?

Now former Baucus/Obama staffer Jim Messina is being mentioned.  How the hell did he get in the mix?

And if Bullock appoints Walsh, who will he then appoint as lieutenant governor?  (Bohlinger?  That would be ironic, n’est pas?)

I’m sure all these questions were hashed out and answered many months ago by the powers that be.  The rest of us are just along for the ride.

UPDATE: It’s official.  Obama nominates Baucus for Ambassador to China position.  Max’s appointment should sail through Senate hearings.

by lizard

Back in February of 2011, I wrote this post about Ray Davis, an American who was being held in Lahore, Pakistan, for shooting and killing two motorcyclists. I thought it was a significant event, in part because President Obama decided to put his own credibility on the line, publicly declaring Davis a diplomat, which later turned out to be not true.

I also thought it was important because Davis’ phone contained contacts with Al-Qaeda-linked groups—you know, that terrorist franchise we, as a Nation, are allegedly at war with across the globe.

I don’t think many Americans know much, or even care, about what the President’s para-militarized CIA is doing around the world, but they should, because it makes all of us much less safe, fueling justified hatred of our country’s actions.

Obama continues accidentally blowing up wedding parties in Yemen, for example:

Anger over the American drone campaign against militants in Yemen swelled Friday with word that most of those killed in a strike a day earlier were civilians in a wedding party.

The death toll reached 17 overnight, hospital officials in central Bayda province said Friday. Five of those killed were suspected of involvement with Al Qaeda, but the remainder were unconnected with the militancy, Yemeni security officials said.

U.S. drone strikes have become commonplace in Yemen, where government measures have proven ineffectual against what is considered one of the most virulent Al Qaeda offshoots in the region.

However, civilian deaths like those in Thursday’s strike have inflamed popular sentiment against both the U.S. and the fragile central government.

If Americans waded into the deep, confusing waters of American foreign policy—where we kill militants in one country, and give them weapons in another, like Syria, the cognitive dissonance would probably be too potent to absorb.

For those of you who do care what kind of dangerous actions our Commander-in-Chief is overseeing in places like Pakistan, Dave Lindorff has an important article at Counterpunch today that examines why Pakistan has outed three CIA stations chiefs in the last three years.

Now back to your regularly scheduled outrage over the ignorant quacking of Ducks.

by lizard

I was going to write a post about how Democrats and Republicans are trying to blow up diplomacy with Iran, but I decided to turn it into a Christmas Carol instead. Enjoy!

HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM YOUR FRIENDLY AIPAC SPONSORED CONGRESS CRITTERS

It’s the most wonderful time of the year
With votes saber-rattling
And Congress prattling that new sanctions are here
It’s the most wonderful time of the year

It’s the hap -happiest season of all
With AIPAC threatening and Bob Menendez fretting
When “friends” come to call
It’s the hap -happiest season of all

There’ll be parties for boasting
Iranians for toasting
And caroling out in the snow

There’ll be scary ghost stories
and lies told in flurries of
CIA coups long ago

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

by lizard

So, Dr. Evil exists, and he’s Chinese. Just close your eyes and imagine America’s squinty-eyed nemesis stroking his fu-manchu before hitting the kill switch. This is serious, and totally not some fictionalized, racist caricature of China. Not at all.

The reason I know this to be true is because 60 Minutes. Here’s the exchange that amazingly discloses how this dastardly plot was thwarted by the noble and absolutely patriotic NSA:

John Miller: Could a foreign country tomorrow topple our financial system?

Gen. Keith Alexander: I believe that a foreign nation could impact and destroy major portions of our financial system, yes.

John Miller: How much of it could we stop?

Gen. Keith Alexander: Well, right now it would be difficult to stop it because our ability to see it is limited.

One they did see coming was called the BIOS Plot. It could have been catastrophic for the United States. While the NSA would not name the country behind it, cyber security experts briefed on the operation told us it was China. Debora Plunkett directs cyber defense for the NSA and for the first time, discusses the agency’s role in discovering the plot.

Debora Plunkett: One of our analysts actually saw that the nation state had the intention to develop and to deliver, to actually use this capability—to destroy computers.

John Miller: To destroy computers.

Debora Plunkett: To destroy computers. So the BIOS is a basic input, output system. It’s, like, the foundational component firmware of a computer. You start your computer up. The BIOS kicks in. It activates hardware. It activates the operating system. It turns on the computer.

This is the BIOS system which starts most computers. The attack would have been disguised as a request for a software update. If the user agreed, the virus would’ve infected the computer.

John Miller: So, this basically would have gone into the system that starts up the computer, runs the systems, tells it what to do.

Debora Plunkett: That’s right.

John Miller: —and basically turned it into a cinderblock.

Debora Plunkett: A brick.

John Miller: And after that, there wouldn’t be much you could do with that computer.

Debora Plunkett: That’s right. Think about the impact of that across the entire globe. It could literally take down the U.S. economy.

John Miller: I don’t mean to be flip about this. But it has a kind of a little Dr. Evil quality—to it that, “I’m going to develop a program that can destroy every computer in the world.” It sounds almost unbelievable.

Debora Plunkett: Don’t be fooled. There are absolutely nation states who have the capability and the intentions to do just that.

John Miller: And based on what you learned here at NSA. Would it have worked?

Debora Plunkett: We believe it would have. Yes.

While the NSA is wrapping up America in a warm blanket of safety against Chinese cyber-suicide bombers, Barack Obama has a plan to go on the offensive.

And that plan’s name is Max Baucus:

A Democratic official said Mr. Obama settled on Mr. Baucus to succeed Gary Locke, the current ambassador, for reasons that include his efforts to bring down trade barriers between China and the United States and his insistence that “China play by internationally accepted rules” regarding currency, intellectual property, labor and human rights.

The senator’s departure would also remove a Democrat who has been a thorn in his party’s side, and would clear the way for Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana to appoint a fellow Democrat, most likely Lt. Gov. John Walsh, as interim senator. Mr. Walsh, who has already declared for Mr. Baucus’s seat, would be a strong candidate next November in a race crucial to the party’s continued control of the chamber.

While I’m sure the giddiness of Max’s early departure will fuel speculation for days, here at 4&20 we have exclusive insight into the secret plan behind Max’s appointment.

Max Baucus is a weaponized corporate contagion sent to China to assimilate their population into the health-care dystopia his industry worker bees crafted for us in the states. To tantalize the Chinese leadership, he can share terrible stories like this:

A North Carolina mother is accusing security guards at a local hospital of forcibly ejecting her son from the hospital for being “uncooperative” — despite the fact that he was either dying or already dead.

Deborah Washington says her son A’Darrin Washington suffered from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and had been a patient at Cumberland County Hospital for ten years leading up to the November 2011 incident.

As a result of his disease, A’Darrin had frequent bouts of pneumonia, for which he was regularly hospitalized.

He was admitted on Nov. 14 for what doctors initially believed was bacterial pneumonia.

It wasn’t until a few days later that test showed he had been misdiagnosed, and was actually suffering from fungal pneumonia.

Being given multiple doses of the wrong medicine caused A’Darrin’s condition to worsen severely, but on Nov. 21, the same day he had finally been given a dose of the correct medicine, doctors ruled him stable enough to be discharged.

A’Darrin’s mother says her son was still too ill to leave, but hospital staff insisted.

So much so, that the following morning, a nurse called for security to escort A’Darrin out as he was being “uncooperative” and “refusing to talk or move.”

According to Washington, A’Darrin was being “unresponsive” because he was dying and had lost the ability to function.

In her complaint, Washington states that, before becoming unresponsive, A’Darrin “sought not to be discharged…[based] upon information and belief.”

But security guards from AlliedBarton Security Services hauled him out to the street just the same, according to the lawsuit filed by Washington against the security company.

As two hospital staff members “expressed concerns” for A’Darrin, the guards proceeded to load his body into a taxi and cross his legs for him.

Washington says the taxi driver believed A’Darrin may already be dead, but nonetheless drove him the 45 minutes it took to get him back home.

A’Darrin arrived “unresponsive and cold to the touch,” his mother alleges. He was officially pronounced dead a short while later.

Buzz all you want about Bullock’s next move, Obama just dealt a decisive blow to China.

Discuss.

by lizard

Jon Tester is in the news this week, first making an appearance on CNN’s Crossfire where he was asked about economic populism on the left. Tester gave an essentially empty answer because that’s what politicians do.

The reason I suspect Tester is getting some cable news face time is the coming vote his forest bill will get this week:

Sen. Jon Tester’s bill authorizing more logging and more wilderness in Montana goes before a Senate committee review on Thursday, four years after it was introduced.

“This is the first time the bill has been voted on anywhere in Congress,” said Paul Spitler, wilderness campaign director for the Wilderness Society in Bozeman. “It’s a pretty important day for this legislation for it to see a vote.”

For some great context about the sausage making process of this legislation, John S. Adams has a great piece, titled Collaboration conundrum Wilderness advocates sharply divided on ‘consensus’ proposals:

At a June 8, 1997, gathering in Kalispell, former U.S. Forest Service Chief Jack Ward Thomas foretold a vision of the future for national forest management in Montana.

According to a newspaper account of Thomas’ address to the Montana Logging Association, President Bill Clinton’s former forest chief predicted a “golden decade of conservation” in which environmental groups and timber interests would work side by side to reach “consensus” on the future of management of federal forest land.

Thomas predicted those collaborative projects on the national forests would break down the barriers to logging on public lands and “marginalize extremists.”

“I don’t see any other game in town,” Thomas said in a report in the Daily Inter Lake.

Yes, the business of politics is a game that our two political teams play. The problem (as I see it) is the manner in which our species uses the planet’s finite resources is not a game; it’s a cancer that will one day render the earth we rely on to live uninhabitable.

That day may be much closer than the moderate climate scientists have claimed. Here’s an article from The Nation, titled The Coming ‘Instant Planetary Emergency’:

“We as a species have never experienced 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” Guy McPherson, professor emeritus of evolutionary biology, natural resources, and ecology at the University of Arizona and a climate change expert of twenty-five years, told me. “We’ve never been on a planet with no Arctic ice, and we will hit the average of 400 ppm…within the next couple of years. At that time, we’ll also see the loss of Arctic ice in the summers.… This planet has not experienced an ice-free Arctic for at least the last three million years.”

For the uninitiated, in the simplest terms, here’s what an ice-free Arctic would mean when it comes to heating the planet: minus the reflective ice cover on Arctic waters, solar radiation would be absorbed, not reflected, by the Arctic Ocean. That would heat those waters, and hence the planet, further. This effect has the potential to change global weather patterns, vary the flow of winds, and even someday possibly alter the position of the jet stream. Polar jet streams are fast flowing rivers of wind positioned high in the earth’s atmosphere that push cold and warm air masses around, playing a critical role in determining the weather of our planet.

McPherson, who maintains the blog Nature Bats Last, added, “We’ve never been here as a species and the implications are truly dire and profound for our species and the rest of the living planet.”

Instead of seeing dead trees as an opportunity for timber companies, Jon Tester could explain that dead trees are a result of climate change, but we all know that will never happen. From the link:

The recent large-scale dieback of piñon (Pinus edulis Engelm.) and ponderosa pine (P. ponderosa Dougl. ex Laws.) and associated bark beetle outbreaks in the Southwestern United States has been linked to the ”climate change type drought” (e.g., dry and warm) that occurred in this region in the early 2000s. Several bark beetle species, including piñon ips (Ips confusus Leconte), Arizona fivespined ips (Ips lecontei Swaine) and the western pine beetle (Dendroctonus brevicomis LeConte), responded to the vast landscapes of drought-stressed trees, contributing significantly to the widespread tree mortality. Because elevated temperatures potentially influence the number of generations of these species reproducing in a single year, similar outbreaks could occur again as precipitation and temperature patterns continue to shift.

Instead, Jon Tester will shill for extractive industry because that is the path that will lead him toward re-election.

Too bad it’s also the path that’s leading us to an environmental crisis.

By JC

not-in-my-town

In a stunning vote of 7-3, Missoula’s City Council amended Missoula Municipal Code Title 9, entitled “Public Peace, Morals and Welfare,” Chapter 9.34 entitled “Pedestrian Interference”. The amendment included the following definition of “sit”:

H. “Sit” means to be in a position in which your bottom is resting on a chair, the ground, etc. with your back upright.

The Council then applied the new definition of “sitting” to the following activities:

A. It is unlawful for any person to sit, lie or sleep on a sidewalk within twenty (20)  feet of an entrance to a building, or to sit, lie or sleep upon any street or alley, within the city limits.

B. It is unlawful for any person to sit, lie or sleep on a public sidewalk, or upon a blanket, chair, stool, or any other object placed upon a public sidewalk during the hours between 6:00 am and 11:00 pm in the Downtown Business Improvement District of Missoula;

While the Council did make exceptions for certain things like medical emergencies and when they “authorize” protesters to exercise first amendment rights (how nice of them!), and permitting restaurants that want to expand their occupancy numbers by allowing sidewalk seating, it appears that the baby stroller lobby didn’t have enough clout to grant them an exemption to the new ordinance.

But fear not, babes sitting with their “bottoms” resting on a chair with wheels (or will strollers be grandfathered in under a disability provision to use a “wheelchair”?), you are in good company with Missoula’s finest of homeless citizens. You have been added to the list of obstructionists getting in the way of “upstanding” citizens utilizing their lawful right to walk the sidewalks of Missoula unimpeded by strollers.

Cyclists, be aware that your sitting on the seat of your bicycle while on a sidewalk may be interpreted as a violation of this ordinance, too. Let’s see how the local police determine to proceed with that apparent violation.

It will be interesting to see if Missoula’s men in blue understand all citizens’ rights to Equal Protection under the Constitution’s 14th Amendment by fairly implementing the law. If we can get enough baby strollers ticketed, maybe the City can escape the inevitable charges of selective enforcement, and violating homeless peoples’ civil rights to occupy public space. Or for violating homeless peoples’ rights under the 8th Amendment to sleeping on the streets and sidewalks of Missoula.

Welcome to the expansion of the nanny state in Missoula. Outraged? Here’s a good place to start…

Fear

by lizard

After finally getting some sleep last night (legally, inside my home) I’ve tried to remind myself that it’s counterproductive to hold on to anger.

In his comments to city council, Dan Cederberg tried to put the expansion of the panhandling ordinance and the ban on sitting/sleeping/lying into a broader context, explaining that these ordinances were merely one part of a three-part approach to addressing the negative behavior businesses believe is hurting their bottom line by keeping shoppers from coming downtown.

The ordinances are the consequence piece, and the other two pieces are compassion and education. The compassion piece includes the services designed to help people and the donors who keep those services afloat. When Caitlin Copple warned of “compassion fatigue” if these ordinances didn’t pass, service providers who can’t afford to offend donors knew exactly what she meant.

Instead of being pissed off I’m trying to understand what motivates the downtown business community to use local government and tax-supported services, like the police, to insulate their investments from the societal problems of addiction and mental illness.

The answer, I think, is fear—but not fear of the people these ordinances are designed to impact. The real fear is economic uncertainty.

Here is where I think everyone involved in this process could use a little more education about why people don’t have as much discretionary money in their pockets to spend.

Michael Whitney has another great article worth reading, titled Did Someone Say “Crash”?, where he takes a critical look at why net investment in America is down. I think he summarizes the situation pretty succinctly:

Bottom line: Net investment is down because there’s no demand. And there’s no demand because unemployment is high, wages are flat, incomes are falling, and households are still digging out from the Crash of ’08. At the same time, the US Congress and Team Obama continue to slash public spending wherever possible which is further dampening activity and perpetuating the low-growth, weak demand, perma-slump.

So, tell me: Why would a businessman invest in an economy where people are too broke to buy his products? He’d be better off issuing dividends to his shareholders or buying back shares in his own company to push stock prices higher.

The ordinances make perfect sense when you keep in mind most people have yet to recover from the global financial crisis that burst with the housing bubble 5 years ago. That economic fear heightens concern over anything that might detract from businesses making money downtown, like scary homeless people and a deficit of sandwich board signs.

So as we talk about consequences for homeless people that offend us by begging for money and acting inappropriately, maybe we should also be talking about the consequences of denying medicaid for poor Montanans and the consequences of peddling alcohol as the drug of choice instead of much less-harmful substances, like cannabis.

Or we could talk about the consequence of failing to hold Wall Street accountable for the widespread economic damage their reckless greed has had on a majority of Americans.

Those would be much more productive conversations to have. The conversation last night was just sad because it was so incredibly misguided.

by lizard

The last Missoula City Council meeting of 2013 was a 5 hour marathon that, were I carrying a gun, I may have been tempted to shoot myself in the head to end the misery.

What happened? Well, some very important things, like the passage of an urgency ordinance regarding sandwich board signs.

Businesses, for a trial period of 90 days, will be allowed to have 2 sandwich board signs instead of one, and the poor, non-Higgins located businesses will finally be able to entice shoppers to their stores by placing sandwich board signs in a location not directly in front of their stores, which is currently prohibited by this unfair regulation.

What else? A conditional use permit was passed for an exciting new micro-distillery on Main and Pattee. I know what you’re thinking. Downtown Missoula doesn’t have enough places that sells booze, so this will be a welcome addition to the diverse composition of downtown.

Next, or maybe first (I’m writing this directly after, so am a bit loopy) the people who want to spend their own money to light up our bridges are back with a new proposal. Apparently their first proposal was bonkers, with dancing lights (according to Jon Wilkins) or some other kind of light-associated action, like color themes for Griz games. From what I gathered, they wanted the bridges to do this:

Voicing his opposition to any escalation of light, good old Ross Best made an impassioned appeal about rivers and moons and being able to gaze at the scenic majesty of our fair town. In looking at my totally not-crazed notes, I see Dick Haines said something about a dark, snowy night. It was pure poetry, but those damn light pollutionists are going to screw it up with their bridge light bullshit! I think the Missoulian is breaking this news as I write this.

At some point there were also reports about bike ambassadors biking around talking about biking to anyone who would listen, and some budget stuff flubbed by the staff person giving the report, because her first comment was a correction of a miscalculation, which doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.

But really the main reason our city council chambers was packed tonight was a chance to comment on the Russell bridge project. This has been an issue, according to the public comments, that’s been going on for something like 14 years. Alternative transportation folks were, of course, well represented, and a lot of concern about the scope and speed of the project was communicated. The comments dragged on and on.

I think it was at that point I scribbled fucking fucky fuck in my notepad.

The last item of business before council adjourned for the year (and a new council takes its place) was a vote on enhancements to the language of the aggressive solicitation ordinance and the pedestrian interference ordinance. When these ordinances were first being proposed in 2009, JC wrote posts like this one taking a critical look at the potential impacts.

I guess four years of these ordinances on the books haven’t produced the outcomes downtown businesses were hoping for, so the changes aim to streamline the footage distances for AGGRESSIVE SOLICITATION and PEDESTRIAN INTERFERENCE to a uniform 20 feet. Also, no sitting, sleeping, or lying down on sidewalks, alleys, tunnels or walking bridges between the hours of 6am-11pm.

Unless it’s a parade, or some other legitimate reason for non-homeless people to engage in the behavior specifically prohibited.

Public comment was mostly supportive of amending the language of these ordinances. There was one comment from an employee of a downtown business that drastically deviated from the fear-mongering, so thank you Tom for sharing your perspective about growing up in Chicago where fear about behavior is just a little more justified than the horrors of downtown Missoula.

Oh, and he also called out City Council for being privileged white people, which made the torture of the previous 5 hours almost worth it.

In responding to the privileged white people comment, Caitlin Copple took the opportunity to point out people without penises experience the fear factor differently, which is a fair point. Dick Haines also talked a lot about the fear of his female constituents in his supportive comments for these amendments.

I wonder what Dick thinks about the equality ordinance, and the role of fear that was expressed during that fun fight for equality?

Back on topic, I appreciate the perspective of Anna Conley from Montana’s ACLU. She explained why falling back on the “Seattle-did-it” justification from our city attorney—that comparable ordinances upheld in other states will insulate these Missoula ordinance enhancements from court challenges—is NOT as solid as supporters of these enhancements would have you believe.

I also appreciate Jason Wiener stating that silence from key social service providers does not equal consent.

Speaking of consent, here is how the vote broke down:

Strohmaier: Yes
Wilkins: Yes
Childers: Yes
Marler: Yes
Jaffe: No
Hertz: Yes
Taft: No
Copple: Yes
Haines: Yes
Wiener: No

I don’t think anyone had an easy time deciding how to vote. Looking on the bright side, the difficulty of this vote could mean better things down the road.

Tonight, downtown businesses, you got more sandwich board signs and less homeless people. Please remember that when the need doesn’t go away and people on the front lines explain what must happen next, in terms of services.

Near the end of this marathon, before the final vote, councilors expressed their discomfort. One of ’em, I can’t recall who, acknowledged they didn’t know what to do, but they had to do something, and this was something.

And so it passed.

The Dark Side of Colorado

by lizard

He was born in the summer of his 27th year
Comin’ home to a place he’d never been before
He left yesterday behind him, you might say he was born again
You might say he found a key for every door

He climbed cathedral mountains, he saw silver clouds below
He saw everything as far as you can see
And they say that he got crazy once and he tried to touch the sun
And he lost a friend but kept the memory

—John Denver, Rocky Mountain High

~

I moved to Colorado Springs a few months after the Columbine shooting. My then-girlfriend’s parents had a house there, about 10 miles away from NORAD, right up against the front range. We only lived there for 9 months, but in that brief time I experienced enough to be unsettled by the energy there. If that sounds kinda new age, well, keep reading.

Stephen King picked Boulder, Colorado, as the setting for the good guys, led by Mother Abigail, in The Stand. I’m a big Stephen King fan; I think he’s one of those writers with a tremendous gift that allows him to tap into a source most aspiring writers don’t have access to. Some people call it “the muse” but it’s much more than that.

I believe there is a spiritual aspect to reality that we humans have a very poor grasp of, though I don’t think that was always the case. I think indigenous cultures have had a much healthier understanding of the spirit world.

Surfing the old internet today, I came across The Legend of Manitou Springs, which is the name of a little town next to Colorado Springs, where I worked as a dishwasher for those 9 months.

The gist of the legend is that two hunters from different tribes came to the crystal springs to quench their thirst. One hunter had been successful, and the other had not. Seeing this disparity, the unsuccessful hunter grew envious and picked a fight, which escalated to murder. Here’s what happened next:

Over the body stood the murderer, and no sooner was the deed of blood consummated than bitter remorse took possession of his mind where before had reigned the fiercest passion and vindictive hate. With hands clasped to his forehead he stood transfixed with horror, intently gazing on his victim whose head still remained immersed in the fountain. Mechanically he dragged the body a few paces from the water, which, as soon as the head of the dead Indian was withdrawn, the Comanche saw suddenly and strangely disturbed. Bubbles sprang up from the bottom, and rising to the surface escaped in hissing gas. A thin vapory cloud arose and gradually dissolving, displayed to the eyes of the trembling murderer the figure of an aged Indian whose long, snowy hair and venerable beard, blown aside by a gentle air from his breast, discovered the well-known totem of the great Wau-kau-aga, the father of the Comanche and Shoshone nation whom the tradition of the tribe, handed down by skilful hieroglyphics, almost deified for the good actions and deeds of bravery this famous warrior had performed when on earth.

Stretching out a war club toward the affrighted murderer, the figure thus addressed him:

“Accursed of my tribe ! this day thou has severed the link between the mightiest nations of the world, while the blood of the brave Shoshone cries to the Manitou for vengeance. May the water of thy tribe be rank and bitter in their throats.”

Thus saying, and swinging his ponderous war club (made from the elk’s horn) round his head, he dashed out the brains of the Comanche, who fell headlong into the spring, which from that day to the present moment remains rank and nauseous, so that not even when half dead with thirst, can one drink of the foul water of that spring.

When I worked in Manitou Springs, I had a couple of strange experiences. One day after work one of my co-workers took me on a hike up a ravine. He showed me a little trail that climbed the ravine wall to a ledge where there was what looked like a cave opening closed off by a metal door. The door was chained from the inside, which you could see through a hole where a knob should have been. It was creepy. My co-worker, Nate, was also the first person to clue me into the reputation Manitou Springs had of being a hotbed of occult activity.

In June of that year, I went home to visit family in Kansas City. When I came back, Nate informed me that the owner of the liquor store in Manitou—Robert Walter Dunn—had apparently murdered his 7 year old daughter by slitting her throat. When the police arrived to this awful scene, this is what Robert told them:

With his hands soaked in the blood of his 7-year-old daughter, Robert Walter Dunn turned to a police officer seconds before he was handcuffed and said: “I killed the devil. She was possessed; I killed the devil,” according to court records.

I found another piece about this area worth noting at examiner.com, titled Unseen Conflict. Here is how the topography is described:

Sitting at an elevation of over 6,000 feet above sea level, the city of Colorado Springs, Colorado faces the front range of the southern Rocky Mountains, staring up at Pike’s Peak. It is the home of a strong defense industry, along with high tech corporations, and Christian ministries, such as Compassion International and Focus On The Family. It is an incredibly scenic and beautiful city, with mountain views from nearly any location. It’s not surprising that ‘the Springs’, as it’s often referred, is known for it’s family atmosphere. Beyond these demographics, the city’s population are evidence of a deeper struggle. It is a struggle that is deeply embedded, and that many choose not to openly acknowledge, and that others are not even aware of.

One need not look very far to notice that Colorado Springs is a popular location for followers of new age, pagan beliefs, and the occult. It is an area of intense spiritual warfare. Non-Christian spirituality has a strong undercurrent in this area, along with various cults and followers of witchcraft. Just a few minutes from Colorado Springs is the small city of Manitou Springs. Although a beautiful place, it is believed that Manitou was at one time dedicated to Satan, and is the wiccan capital of the nation. Many people may call this foolishness, but it’s interesting to note that the word Manitou means ‘a supernatural being that controls nature, or an object that possesses supernatural power.’

What got me thinking about all this is, of course, another Colorado tragedy, this time at Arapaho High School (located just 12 miles from Columbine and 14 miles from the theater in Aurora):

Carrying a shotgun, a machete, a bandolier of ammunition and a backpack with three incendiary devices, Karl Halverson Pierson entered Arapahoe High School and launched 80 seconds of terror as he hunted his debate coach, who was also the school librarian.

New details emerged Saturday as authorities described the country’s latest school shooting.

As soon as he entered the building Friday, Pierson fired a round down the hallway and another from point-blank range that critically injured one student. He fired a third round down the hall and entered the library, where he fired again and set off one of the Molotov cocktails, igniting bookshelves.

As fire and smoke poured through the room, Pierson fired a fifth round and went into the back corner of the library, where he fired his last shot, killing himself.

As an agnostic, I believe there is more going on in this world than can be explained. That belief has led me down some strange paths. High in the Rocky Mountains, I’ve wondered what’s hiding below. Some knowledge, though, comes with considerable risk. Stay tuned.

by lizard

Two months ago I wrote about Adversarial Journalism in the Age of the Oligarchs. At the time I was merely uncomfortable with Glenn Greenwald’s new quarter-billion dollar relationship with eBay billionaire Pierre Omidyar. Greenwald was such a nicely cultivated commodity for a person with my political leanings that I was hesitant to see the utility of the whole Snowden affair for those in power.

There are some pretty serious concerns being raised about that relationship by Sibel Edmonds. It appears the billionaire benefactor may be implicated by the documents he now has a direct financial stake in controlling. This is really bad:

The 50,000-pages of documents obtained by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden contain extensive documentation of PayPal Corporation’s partnership and cooperation with the National Security Agency (NSA), according to three NSA veterans. To date, no information has been released as to the extent of the working relationship and cooperation between the two entities- NSA and PayPal Corporation. What’s more, the billionaire owner of PayPal Corporation has entered into a $250 Million business partnership with two journalists-Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, a journalist duo who possess the entire cache of evidence provided by Edward Snowden. Despite earlier pledges by the journalists in question, only one percent (1%) of Snowden’s documents has been released.

Among other accusations, Greenwald is being accused of monetizing secrets. There are book deals and Hollywood movies, we are told. Sibel Edmonds muddies her own assertions with disparaging personal attacks in her post titled Checkbook Journalism & Leaking to the Highest Bidders:

Imagine a major government whistleblower who leaks his evidence and obtained documents to the highest bidders in the mainstream media and mega corporations. Does that sound awful, disgraceful and despicable? Okay. Now, imagine a pseudo journalist who obtains over 50,000 documents from a government whistleblower, and then takes some of this information and puts it out for bid, reserves a certain portion for a lucrative book deal, and saves the rest for a mega corporation that has a record of screwing whistleblowers. How does that sound? This is what I mean by the title of this commentary: Checkbook Journalism & Leaking to the Highest Bidders.

It’s ugly, and there’s no telling who is truly playing what angle. My gut feeling is Edmonds is more or less accurate, and Greenwald is, to some degree, compromised. Edward Snowden, who knows. Double agent, triple agent, limited hangout, blah blah blah.

A few years ago I thought an incident in Pakistan where an American by the name of Raymond Davis shot and killed two motorcyclists was a big deal. I was naive. An American President lying about the status of some intelligence asset caught up in a messy situation abroad is barely noteworthy, just fodder for some obsessed blogger to self-reference.

The reason I was naive is because lying is no big deal.  When it eventually dribbles out, no one will care. Take, for example, the 7 year imprisonment of Robert Levinson by Iran:

Revelations that the CIA made a $2.5-million cash settlement to CIA agent Robert Levinson’s family in order to forestall an embarrassing lawsuit marks the return of public claims about the CIA’s status as a rogue elephant.

When Robert Levinson was first kidnapped in Iran seven years ago, the CIA asserted that he had no ties to the agency, that he was merely a private citizen on a business trip. A leaked internal CIA paper trail showed otherwise. In 2010, the Associated Press learned that Levinson was, in fact, on a CIA mission when captured, but the AP withheld publication as efforts were made to secure his release.

Now, with news of the CIA’s $2.5-million settlement with Levinson’s family, the CIA publicly admits Robert Levinson was a CIA agent, but the agency claims he was in Iran as a rogue agent, sent by rogue analysts who had no authority to deploy him on a field operation. But these claims are difficult to evaluate.

The article that excerpt is taken from goes on to challenge the notion of agents going rogue. The historical context is interesting:

The roots of claims that the CIA is fundamentally a rogue agency can be traced back to the mid-1970s congressional investigations of CIA illegal activities–following the disclosure of the “Family Jewells Report.” Perhaps the most significant difference between the Senate’s Church Committee findings, and those of the

House’s Pike Committee, was the Church Committee’s interpretation of illegal CIA activities as being those of a rogue agency, while the Pike Committee found that the CIA was not a rogue agency pursing an unchecked covert agenda on its own, it was instead a covert arm of the Executive Branch.

At the time, I didn’t understand why America’s executive would put his credibility on the line for some op in Pakistan going bad. Maybe it was an acknowledgment of accountability.

At the end of the day, who really has time for all this? Who cares if the CIA has become a paramilitary arm of the Executive? Who cares if Glenn Greenwald is, at best, an opportunist cashing in on Snowden’s proof we live in a creepy 1984 police state?

by lizard

I got a fresh batch of my book of poems the other day—Full Size Pattern—and decided to make a few copies available for the bargain price of $5 dollars. The local book seller where you can find my books is The Bird’s Nest downtown. I donated the copies, so the money goes to the bookstore.

I haven’t done a poetry post in awhile. When it comes to writing, I’ve also been experiencing a dry spell. Poems, that is, not posts. I harass y’all daily with blog posts.

I finally wrote something new, though, so I’ll share it here. It’s untitled. Enjoy!

*

KILLING FROSTY

war against the snow
use chemicals and sand
use shovels, trucks, and salt
use anything you can

I don’t trust your snowman
the dark coal of his eyes
that pointy carrot nose
and stick arms reaching high

look away, snowman
or I will stand my ground
reveal what I carry
then bravely shoot you down

that’s just how it is
that’s simply how it goes
when the white stuff falls
war against the snow

—William Skink

by Pete Talbot

When Montana Rep. Steve Daines votes to the right of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan on a budget bill, well, that says it all.

Please keep in mind that Ryan was selected as Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential candidate in 2012, basically to placate the Republican fringe because Romney was too “moderate.”

The budget bill, hammered out by Ryan and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, is a deal designed to avoid future government shutdowns.  To say that it’s moderate legislation would be an overstatement.  There are curbs on federal workers’ pensions; there are no tax increases for anyone or extensions of benefits for 1.3 million unemployed, or relief for kids on the WIC program or families on food stamps or … but it’s probably the best we’ll get out of this congress.

The final tally was 332-94 in favor of the compromise bill.  Daines voted “no” with just 62 of the most far-right members of the U.S. House.

If Ryan is a tea party darling, what does that make Daines?

The Cold War Never Ended

by lizard

Before getting into this post, I’d like to say a few things about my biases. I am a knee-jerk critic of US foreign policy. My geopolitical sniffer is geared toward detecting the prevalent deceit wafting from our politicians and the clever propaganda packaged by corporate media. That doesn’t mean I think the leadership of other countries are honest, well-intentioned people.

In this post about revolutionary pawns, I’ve had a back-and-forth with the Polish Wolf about the protests in Ukraine. My “knee-jerk anti-Americanism” makes me very suspicious of Ukraine cozying up with the EU. Not the wolf. Here is a portion of one of his comments:

The EU offers far better conditions for a growing economy than Russia. Thousands of Ukrainians are already illegally working in Europe (you can find signs advertising temporary work written in Ukrainian all over Western Europe). Closer work with the EU could put them closer to on par with the Poles who have become some of the most successful immigrants in many EU countries, especially Britain. More generally, the structures of the EU have proven well-suited to the development of post-communist countries; there’s really no way Poland, Lithuania, or Hungary would look like they do now without the assistance provided by the EU (indeed, one could argue that EU structures were key in transforming post-fascist countries too, and that they only miss-stepped in included them in the Euro zone). Moreover, the Russian economic model has produced some of the greatest wealth disparities and worst human development conditions per GDP found anywhere on earth; the EU economic model is truly middle-class centered and progressive.

Regarding the Russian economic model, this Business Insider article looks at the claim PW makes about wealth disparity, and while it seems to back up his assertion, there is a link to a Washington Post article that suggests the US is actually worse than Russia when it comes to income inequality.

Regardless, calculating this kind of stuff isn’t easy, and all the data should be looked at with skepticism, like the fact 6 members of the Walton family own as much wealth as the bottom HALF of the US population—that’s 150 million people.

But the relationship Ukraine is experiencing unrest over isn’t with the US, but the EU, which PW claims offers “far better conditions for a growing economy” than Russia. Really? Here is a little more unvarnished context to what the EU model offers: IMF loans with severe austerity requirements:

After negotiations with the European Union, and a parallel effort by Ukraine to secure loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) broke down, the Ukrainian government blamed the collapse of the agreement on the IMF’s push for severe austerity measures. Announcing the end of the negotiations, Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov called the IMF’s austerity demands the “last straw.” IMF requirements listed by Ukraine include a wage freeze for public employees and large increases in home utility costs.

KVPU members unanimously adopted a resolution at their November congress calling for the government to sign the EU agreement, but also expressed dismay at the IMF’s austerity demands. KVPU President Mikhailo Volynets said, “We strongly believe that closer ties to the EU will benefit our members. Unfortunately, the IMF demanded economic reforms that would hurt average families in Ukraine, and undercut worker and human rights.

“The problem in Ukraine is not that a teacher or nurse makes 3000 UAH ($365 USD) a month,” Volynets said. “The problem is that a few oligarchs control everything for their own profit and that teachers and nurses only make 3000 UAH a month.”

Volynets urged Ukrainians to keep up the pressure on the government, and also asked for international solidarity.

“The KVPU calls on our European Union friends and the IMF to clearly articulate economic reform proposals that support the average Ukrainian family. We call on the government to sign the Association Agreement without delay. Economic reforms must address the vast income inequality and corruption at the top, and not target average working Ukrainians. Does the IMF want to send the message that austerity at the expense of average Ukrainians was more important, at the end of the day, than democracy?”

Yes, that has always been the message coming from the IMF. Maybe PW should read Klein’s Shock Doctrine to understand this better.

The situation in Ukraine could get dangerous. An article in The Nation describes why:

The last thing that President Obama needs right now, as he struggles to finalize an accord with Iran and get the peace conference on Syria up and running next month, is a showdown over Ukraine. But he might just get one. The three-week-old crisis there is teetering on the brink of something far worse, as protesters vow to expand their demonstrations and security forces threaten a general, violent crackdown. Despite signs that the government in Kiev may be trying to negotiate a resolution to the standoff, and despite nationally televised talks between Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovich and his three predecessors, there’s enormous potential for uncontrolled violence.

The right in the United States, especially the neoconservative anti-Russia lobby, is in a lather, perhaps intoxicated by the toppling of a statue of V.I. Lenin in Kiev by anti-government protesters. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Edward Lucas, author of The New Cold War: Putin’s Russia and the Threat to the West, urges the United States and the Europeans to expand the confrontation from Ukraine to Russia itself. If Ukraine “falls into Russia’s grip,” he warns, “Europe’s own security will also be endangered.”

I guess the Cold War never ended. 50 years ago it could have, but that hope died with John F. Kennedy. Now, the game goes on, and people across the world will continue to suffer.

by lizard

I know there are serious things happening in the world, like Obama shaking hands with a Castro, and protestors in Ukraine getting the police-state howdy-do in Kiev.

There is also a flurry of activity to effigize (effigy + eulogize) Nelson Mandela, and you better believe there is a little bit of something for everyone.

Predictably I’m going to go with 7 Nelson Mandela Quotes You Probably Won’t See in the US Media. And for this post, I would like to highlight two quotes, one about Israel, and one about Palestine:

On Israel: “Israel should withdraw from all the areas which it won from the Arabs in 1967, and in particular Israel should withdraw completely from the Golan Heights, from south Lebanon and from the West Bank.”

On Palestine: “The UN took a strong stand against apartheid; and over the years, an international consensus was built, which helped to bring an end to this iniquitous system. But we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”

Mandela’s death is producing some serious inconveniences for the apartheid state of Israel. For example, Netanyahu hilariously claimed he can’t afford to make an appearance at Mandela’s memorial.

The link is from a Daily Beast piece, and it puts Netanyahu’s ridiculous excuse in context:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a little problem balancing budget concerns with statecraft: Back in May, he spent $127,000 on “an in-flight rest chamber” for his trip to Margaret Thatcher’s funeral (in addition to the $300,000 El Al was already set to receive for transporting him).

Cut to this weekend, when Netanyahu announced he would be begging off of Nelson Mandela’s memorial service, because attending would be too costly.

Now, to be sure, the projected bill for getting to and from Johannesburg—between the flight itself and all the special planning and security apparatus involved—was mindboggling: $1.9 million, all told. Flying heads of state around the globe and making sure they complete the journey in one piece is not cheap.

But it’s worth considering just what Netanyahu is willing to spending Israel’s money on (in addition to a super-fancy bed): $2,700 a year on ice cream. $18,000 on clothes, hair, and makeup (double the outlay of just a few years ago). $940,000 on three separate residences. $52 million on compensating settlers for not being allowed to build in the course of a settlement freeze that was more Potemkin’s village than freeze—not to mention billions in the settlements that have already been built and those that are on the way. Suddenly, expensing $1.9 million to pay his nation’s respects to one of history’s greatest men sounds like a bargain, doesn’t it?

It’s not just money making it difficult for Netanyahu to pay his respect to Mandela. Israel is also very busy discussing how to cleanse 70,000 Beduins from their native lands. The Prawer-Begin bill is how the apartheid state of Israel plans on enacting ethnic cleansing:

On 24 June 2013, the Israeli Knesset approved the discriminatory Prawer-Begin Bill, with 43 votes for and 40 votes against, for the mass expulsion of the Arab Bedouin community in the Naqab (Negev) desert in the south of Israel. If fully implemented, the Prawer-Begin Plan will result in the destruction of 35 “unrecognized”Arab Bedouin villages, the forced displacement of up to 70,000 Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel, and the dispossession of their historical lands in the Naqab. Despite the Arab Bedouin community’s complete rejection of the plan and strong disapproval from the international community and human rights groups, the Prawer Plan is happening now.

One of the problems is the Bedouin people supposedly agreed to this. Well, that was apparently a lie. Now passage of the bill may not happen without changes.

At that link, there is an interesting exchange that shows how the apartheid state of Israel is hoping to do to the Bedouin people what America did to Native Americans. Here is part of a tense exchange in which Arab Knesset members were ultimately removed:

Arab Knesset members were very upset during the hearing, and some were removed from the hall for disorderly conduct. UAL-Ta’al MK Taleb Abu Arar said that Begin’s comments were “proof that you are a racist – hate Arabs.”

“The law will cause an intifada in the Negev,” he pronounced.

“You want to transfer an entire population,” MK Hanna Swaid (Hadash) said.

Committee chairwoman MK Miri Regev (Likud) responded, “Yes, as the Americans did to the Indians.”

So what does John Kerry think about Israel doing a little American-inspired ethnic cleansing? Here are some official remarks from Kerry delivered at the Saban Forum:

Now, I want to come back to the peace process for a moment, because there is another existential threat to Israel that diplomacy can far better address than the use of force. And I am referring to the demographic dynamic that makes it impossible for Israel to preserve its future as a democratic, Jewish state without resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a two-state solution.

Force cannot defeat or defuse the demographic time bomb. Israel’s current state of relative security and prosperity does not change the fact that today’s status quo will not be tomorrow’s or the future’s.

So, as handshakes and police-state beat downs make international headlines, Israel is planning an ethnic cleansing. How to respond?

Boycott, Divest, Sanction the apartheid state of Israel.

by lizard

Montana Democrats are struggling because environmentalists are obnoxious hippie job killers alienating themselves from the base of labor, who have been scooped up by the right. That seems to be the conventional wisdom, as evidenced by this comment from Rob Kailey:

For 20 some years, the Montana Democratic party has been relying on a base that is dying out. It doesn’t mean they don’t have power; they obviously do. But that power is tenuous at best. Progressives, which in Montana often always means environmentalists, have a megaphone but no one that really appeals to the common Democratic voter. Republicans have captured enough of the union vote that the Democratic base is even more split than it ever was before. Without Labor, Montana Democrats have squat. Yes, they will win Butte. But Billings? Great Falls? Missoula favors ‘progressives’ who don’t appeal to the common Montana voter. We can argue why until the cows come home, but it still won’t change the voting dynamic.

This Nation article from May of last year echoes that sentiment:

At the height of the Keystone debate, four unions stood with the titans of the fossil fuel industry to lambaste progressive environmentalists as extremist job killers. The Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) president, Terry O’Sullivan, went so far as to describe unionists who opposed the climate-destroying pipeline as being “under the skirts of delusional environmental groups which stand in the way of creating good, much needed American jobs.”

This January, when President Obama again rejected the expedited construction of the pipeline, O’Sullivan doubled down, saying, “We’re repulsed by some of our supposed brothers and sisters lining up with job killers like the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council to destroy the lives of working men and women.”

It was clear who O’Sullivan was talking about: the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) and the Transport Workers Union (TWU), which had dared to stand with environmental allies against Keystone. O’Sullivan’s vicious attacks on his fellow unionists were not even acknowledged by other labor officials until LIUNA and the building trades unions began running advertisements in Midwestern swing states attacking the president. It was only then that AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka noted the tension, explaining that “unions don’t agree among ourselves.”

By that point, the industry had succeeded in casting the entire house of labor in the Keystone XL camp, with American Petroleum Institute’s Jack Gerard declaring, “We will stand shoulder to shoulder with labor unions that have backed the pipeline, including the Teamsters and the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Department.” The public perception of unified labor support for the pipeline persists—bolstering the industry’s fearmongering about the threat to the economy posed by environmentalists and their penchant for job-killing regulations, and souring labor’s relations with progressive allies in the environmental movement at a moment when unions are under broad assault and desperately need support.

Why, after decades of talk about the importance of a labor–environmental alliance, can’t the blues and the greens get it together?

This is classic divide & conquer, and it’s been tremendously successful in undermining the green/blue alliance. It doesn’t help that we have media whores like the Missoulian editorial board shilling for a pipeline, blaring the jobs trumpet as one factor that makes this project necessary. In that post I linked to an article citing a state department report that put the number of permanent jobs at a whopping 35.

I’m fairly certain that if people in this state were actually informed about the pros and cons of projects like the Keystone XL pipeline, pitting labor against environmentalists would be much more difficult to do.

Even the coal cowboy, Brian Schweitzer, sees the populist opportunity to rail against a big oil company when the inevitable oil spills happen to jewels of our Treasure State like the Yellowstone River.

Have disasters like the Yellowstone oil spill reinvigorated the blue/green alliance? Maybe, but it’s too early to tell. Despite victories like the Nez Perce stopping the transport of megaloads, the desperate economic situation of too many Montanans will continue making divide & conquer a powerful strategy for the moneyed interests who refuse to spend money to make their projects safer for those who will suffer when things go wrong.

And things will inevitably go wrong.

I think it’s fair to say Big Sky Country is at an environmental crossroads, which is the title of an article written by Nate Schweber for Aljazeera America (yes, the Nate Schweber who used to electrify the airwaves of KBGA many years ago).

Here’s an excerpt:

In the kitchen of a small white farmhouse down a corrugated dirt road, through a sea of grass, Irene Moffett pointed at chalky buttes on the blue horizon. For generations, her family has worked this land. Now, one mile from her property, a Canadian company hopes to lay the Keystone XL pipeline, which would siphon crude oil from Canada’s tar-sand mines to a seaport on the Gulf of Mexico.

“Most jobs won’t last after the pipeline’s built, and what happens if there’s a spill?” said Moffett, 77. “Why should we put up with the pollution, the disruption of agricultural lands? What’s in it for Montana?”

Across this massive state, with scenery ranging from snowy mountains to virgin prairies, a diverse collection of Montanans, in love with their land, is opposing new transportation infrastructure for coal and oil.

Three proposed projects — the Keystone XL pipeline, a new coal railroad and a trucking route for mining equipment the size of apartment buildings — have triggered protests in different regions of the state, and not just from people who dislike fossil fuels.

Ranchers, Native Americans, farmers and environmentalists say they don’t want the industrialization of the land that comes with moving the fuels and with the equipment needed for their extraction.

“A certain amount of that has to happen,” said Moffett’s husband, Donald Moffett, 84, standing on tawny fields his grandparents homesteaded in 1909. “But I’d just as soon it stay agriculture.”

I think, if the facts were known, a majority of Montanans would agree.

We’ll see.

by lizard

Seymour Hersch has a very important article out, titled Whose Sarin, but you won’t find it in the New Yorker or the Washington Post. Instead it’s tucked away in the London Review of Books.

The reason I think it’s important is because it validates the sources that were skeptical about the Sarin attack in Syria last August, and it exposes the deceit that came from Obama as he made his case for another Middle East war:

Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack. In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.

In his nationally televised speech about Syria on 10 September, Obama laid the blame for the nerve gas attack on the rebel-held suburb of Eastern Ghouta firmly on Assad’s government, and made it clear he was prepared to back up his earlier public warnings that any use of chemical weapons would cross a ‘red line’: ‘Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people,’ he said. ‘We know the Assad regime was responsible … And that is why, after careful deliberation, I determined that it is in the national security interests of the United States to respond to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons through a targeted military strike.’ Obama was going to war to back up a public threat, but he was doing so without knowing for sure who did what in the early morning of 21 August.

Ultimately that war didn’t happen (though the very real refugee crisis continues to happen without much concern from the Obama administration) but it should be noted that, while on the brink of launching military strikes against the Assad regime, Obama was willing to face the American people and lie to us in order to justify a war that Saudi Arabia and Israel desperately wanted the US to start.

I doubt many Americans will read the Hersch article, so the deceit won’t be widely known or remembered the next time Obama tries to rally the American people for a military attack, and that’s too bad. Democrats especially should pay attention, because it’s their desire to be global humanitarians that has been cynically exploited by the Obama administration to topple unfriendly regimes, like Gaddafi in Libya.

Skepticism should always be deployed when it comes to how internal opposition is organized and funded across the globe. I read an article last week that exposes how a globally renowned activist collaborated with Stratfor. The activist’s name is Srdja Popovic, a Serb who has globe-trotted for revolution. Here is how the article describes Stratfor’s perception of Popovic’s value:

Stratfor saw Popovic’s main value not only as a source for intelligence on global revolutionary and activist movements, but also as someone who, if needed, could help overthrow leaders of countries hostile to U.S. geopolitical and financial interests. So useful was Popovic to Stratfor that the firm gave him a free subscription, dubbed “legit sources we use all the time as a company” by Papic.

In a June 2011 email, Papic referred to Popovic as a “great friend” of his and described him as a “Serb activist who travels the world fomenting revolution.”

“They…basically go around the world trying to topple dictators and autocratic governments (ones that U.S. does not like ,” Papic says in one email. Replying to a follow up to that email, he states, “They just go and set up shop in a country and try to bring the government down. When used properly, more powerful than an aircraft carrier battle group.”

Known sometimes as Colour Revolutions, this strategy is once again on display in Kiev, Ukraine, where protesters recently toppled a statue of Stalin. Here’s the New York Times’ take:

Public protests thundered into a full-throttle civil uprising in Ukraine on Sunday, as hundreds of thousands of protesters answered President Viktor F. Yanukovich’s dismissiveness with their biggest rally so far, demanding that he and his government resign.

At the height of the unrest on Sunday night, a seething crowd toppled and smashed a statue of Lenin, the most prominent monument to the Communist leader in Kiev. The act was heavy with symbolism, underscoring the protesters’ rage at Russia over its role in the events that first prompted the protests: Mr. Yanukovich’s abrupt refusal to sign sweeping political and free-trade agreements with the European Union.

After an electrifying assembly in Independence Square in the center of Kiev, the main focus of the protests, the huge crowd surged across the capital, erecting barriers to block the streets around the presidential headquarters and pitching huge tents in strategic intersections. They were not challenged by the police, who have largely disengaged since their bloody crackdown on a group of protesters on Nov. 30 sharply increased outrage at the government.

International concern over the unrest in Ukraine appeared to deepen on Sunday, as the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, telephoned Mr. Yanukovich and Western leaders continued to call on him to respond to the demonstrators’ demands. The European Union has been eager to draw Ukraine, a nation of 46 million, into closer alliance with the West, while Russia has sought to safeguard its major economic and political interests in its close neighbor. Making the crisis more acute, Ukraine is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy and is desperate for financial assistance from abroad.

I’m sure a closer relationship with the EU will work out well for your average Ukranian. Free trade has done such great things for American workers, for example, it’s no wonder there are thousands of people in the streets clamoring to get cozy with an economic system that has helped countries like Spain and Greece succeed.

What is really sad about these manipulated revolutions is that the people in these countries end up risking their lives to further the agendas of western elites who will exploit any success for their own interests. Essentially the pawns of revolution must choose between which rapist will ravage their domestic space, which doesn’t make it much of a choice at all.

Lip-Service Progressivism

by lizard

In the primary fight between the two Johns to see who will lose to Steve Daines, the term “progressive” is being scrutinized in regards to Bohlinger. Pogie’s latest post is a good example of trying to protect the progressive turf from what looks like an opportunistic re-branding by Bohlinger.

It might help to try and define what we mean by the term progressive. I found this list of policy positions useful:

So who is a progressive? You might be one if

• You think health care is a basic human right, and that single-payer national health insurance is a worthwhile reform on our way toward creating a non-profit national health care service.

• You think that human rights ought always to trump property rights.

• You think U.S. military spending is an obscene waste of resources, and that the only freedom this spending protects is the freedom of economic elites to exploit working people all around the planet.

• You think U.S. troops should be brought home not only from Afghanistan and Iraq, but from all 130 countries in which the U.S. has military bases.

• You think political leaders who engage in “preemptive war” and invasions should be brought to trial for crimes against humanity and judged against the standards of international law established at Nuremberg after World War Two.

• You think public education should be free, not just from kindergarten through high school, but as far as a person is willing and able to go.

• You think that electoral reform should include instant run-off voting, publicly-financed elections, easy ballot access for all parties, and proportional representation.

• You think that electoral democracy is not enough, and that democracy must also be participatory and extend to workplaces.

• You think that strengthening the rights of all workers to unionize and bargain collectively is a useful step toward full economic democracy.

• You think that as a society we have a collective obligation to provide everyone who is willing and able to work with a job that pays a living wage and offers dignity.

• You think that a class system which forces some people to do dirty, dangerous, boring work all the time, while others get to do clean, safe, interesting work all the time, can never deliver social justice.

• You think that regulating big corporations isn’t enough, and that such corporations, if they are allowed to exist at all, must either serve the common good or be put into public receivership.

• You think that the legal doctrine granting corporations the same constitutional rights as natural persons is absurd and must be overturned.

• You think it’s wrong to allow individuals to accumulate wealth without limits, and that the highest incomes should be capped well before they begin to threaten community and democracy.

• You think that wealth, not just income, should be taxed.

• You think it’s crazy to use the Old Testament as a policy guide for the 21st century.

• You believe in celebrating diversity, while also recognizing that having women and people of color proportionately represented among the class of oppressors is not the goal we should be aiming for.

• You think that the state has no right to kill, and that putting people to death to show that killing is wrong will always be a self-defeating policy.

• You think that anyone who desires the reins of power that come with high political office should, by reason of that desire, be seen as unfit for the job.

• You think that instead of more leaders, we need fewer followers.

• You think that national borders, while sometimes establishing territories of safety, more often establish territories of exploitation, much like gang turf.

• You are open to considering how the privileges you enjoy because of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and/or physical ability might come at the expense of others.

• You believe that voting every few years is a weak form of political participation, and that achieving social justice requires concerted effort before, during, and after elections.

• You think that, ideally, no one would have more wealth more than they need until everyone has at least as much as they need to live a safe, happy, decent life.

• You recognize that an economic system which requires continuous expansion, destroys the environment, relies on rapidly-depleting fossil fuels, exacerbates inequality, and leads to war after war is unsustainable and must be replaced. Score a bonus point if you understand that sticking to the existing system is what’s unrealistic.

So with these positions in mind, let’s take a look at another supposedly progressive politician, the mayor-elect of New York city, Bill de Blasio; a man who has claimed he will be “aggressive” in implementing progressive reform:

After a full week without public events, Bill de Blasio emerged Saturday morning at Rev. Al Sharpton’s weekly National Action Network rally in Harlem, where the new mayor-elect rallied cheering supporters with a promise of “aggressive” progressive change.

And in order to effect change, Mr. de Blasio stressed that he would need the audience to stick with him in the fight.

“I’m going to need you every step of the way,” he told the crowd, citing his plans to tax-the-rich and curtail the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk tactic. “The Rev is my witness: I will not be shy about coming back here and saying, ‘Now it’s time. I need you to make your voices heard.’ Because we are going to get on with a very, not only progressive, but aggressive agenda.”

Mr. de Blasio nevertheless cautioned that there would be “powerful forces” mobilizing against him and that enacting his progressive agenda would not be easy. (Speaking to reporters after the event, Mr. de Blasio said getting elected was “in many ways the easy part” of the process.)

“We have seen too many times that we achieve a great election victory and then forget that it’s just the beginning of the work,” he told the audience. “Progressive change is not easy. It’s not supposed to be easy. It’s called ‘progressive change’ for a reason. Implicitly, it means we’re moving away from the status quo and that status quo has a lot of people invested in it–and powerful people and powerful forces.”

This is nice sounding rhetoric from Bill de Blasio, but it’s just that, rhetoric. To actually be a progressive, one should probably try and match progressive rhetoric with progressive action. When it comes to curtailing the racist policy of stop and frisk, for example, selecting William Bratton to once again lead the NYPD is a tremendous slap in the face to those who hoped de Blasio wasn’t just another lip-service progressive. Under Bratton’s tenure with the LAPD, for example, the use of stop and frisk tactics has continued to expand:

The use of stop-and-frisk surged under Bratton in Los Angeles. The new NYPD head defends its use but has likened it to chemotherapy, saying that it must be utilized in proper doses.

“We have a situation in this city at this time that is so unfortunate,” Bratton said. “At a time when police and community should be so much closer together, that there should be a bond of legitimacy and trust between them, it’s not the case in so many communities in this city. It’s unfortunate. But it can be corrected.”

To illustrate his commitment to improving relations with the community, Bratton displayed the children’s book “Your Police,” which he said he began checking out regularly from the Boston Public Library as a youth.

“I’ve taken this book everywhere I’ve ever gone, every department, it’s always proudly displayed because it had such profound influence on me,” he said. “On the last page of this book, it reads, ‘We must always remember that whenever you see a policeman, he is your friend.'”

William Bratton is a big believer in the Broken Windows theory of policing, a theory credited for the reduction of crime rates New York experienced in the 90’s. Last January, I wrote a post highlighting a fascinating Mother Jones article correlating drops in crime rates with the removal of lead.

The findings of the research questions whether Broken Windows policing should get all the credit, which is incredibly important, considering Broken Windows policing has proliferated across the country. In Missoula, for example, Broken Windows has provided the justification for criminalizing panhandling and pedestrian interference. The idea is to aggressively go after petty crimes, like vandalism and panhandling, because if you don’t, then crime will escalate to more serious offenses.

It appears Bill de Blasio is just another disingenuous politician who talks the talk, then walks back the walk without fighting for progressive principles.

Progressivism needs to be more than a branding tool for political campaigns. The politicians who claim to adhere to these principles, but then sell out the first chance they get, are doing tremendous damage to the principles that stand in stark contrast to the Washington consensus of rampant corporatism.

Problem Solved

by lizard

Nature isn’t making it easy for economic activity to happen here in Missoula. December’s First Friday was tonight, and tomorrow it’s Griz football and a Parade of Lights. The weather will be brutal, as it has been all week, so I doubt those who brave the elements will linger downtown for too long, which is bad news for downtown business.

Much to the dismay of my kids, I watched a good portion of this week’s city council meeting on MCAT. The topic being discussed was sandwich boards—or, more specifically, the rules governing sandwich boards downtown. Apparently there is a BIG PROBLEM that necessitates throwing those onerous sandwich board regulations out the window. Because Christmas.

I hope a win for more sandwich boards doesn’t create clusters of signage, impeding pedestrian traffic. Also, there are those notorious transients to contend with.

A perfect storm of sidewalk congestion?

You see where I’m going with this, right? Toward solutions.

Use sandwich boards to cover homeless people.

Problem solved.




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