Archive for January, 2014

by lizard

For in depth Ryan Zinke coverage, Don Pogreba is all over it. In the flurry of Zinke posts at Intelligent Discontent, one post I take issue with is the one declaring Ryan Zinke is wrong on the Keystone XL.

The problem with Pogreba’s selective partisan concern regarding the Keystone pipeline is the fact Montana Democrats, like our senior Senator, Jon Tester, will play a much more influential role in pushing for this disastrous project. Here is Tester in his own words, from his own website, explaining Why I support the Keystone XL pipeline. Here’s an example of Tester’s flawed rationale:

Building the Keystone XL pipeline will help Eastern Montana to reach its full economic potential. The pipeline would run through Montana and include an on-ramp in Baker for oil from the Bakken. The on-ramp will deliver up to 100,000 barrels of oil per day to market. Today, Bakken oil is getting less than market value because of shipping constraints — Keystone XL will help fix that.

I have voted to approve the Keystone XL pipeline three times. I am disappointed that Congress and the president cannot work together to support this common sense project. Built with respect for private property rights and to the highest safety standards, the pipeline will safeguard our most treasured places and increase our energy independence.

Energy security means economic and national security, and a responsibly-built Keystone XL pipeline will make us less dependent on unfriendly countries. We import less foreign oil than we have in decades, but we still have work to do to become energy independent. That’s why I am pushing to keep Bakken oil right here in the United States. After all, it makes sense to power American vehicles and industries with domestic oil instead of sending nearly $1 billion per day to countries that don’t like us.

People who are actually concerned about the impacts of this project continue to have an uphill battle in messaging the realities of what this pipeline will mean for Montanans and for the Earth’s climate. It doesn’t help that our local newspaper shills for this project and our former Governor enjoys eloquently blaming delays on “jackasses” in Washington.

Keeping the partisan crosshairs trained on candidates who will obviously parrot the talking points of the pipeline to get elected is nothing but preaching to the choir, and ignores the people who actually have the influence to push for this disaster to get built.

The pros of this project are lies, and they are being peddled from politicians across the political spectrum. It would be great if partisans like Don Pogreba could include that fact in his narrowly deployed critique of this project’s efficacy.

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by lizard

Like the Ukranian president, Viktor Yanukovich, I am home today on sick leave.

Unlike the Ukranian president, I don’t have to contend with a workplace dealing with fascist elements trying to violently take my job:

Recent months have seen regular protests by the Ukrainian political opposition and its supporters – protests ostensibly in response to Ukrainian President Yanukovich’s refusal to sign a trade agreement with the European Union that was seen by many political observers as the first step towards European integration. The protests remained largely peaceful until January 17th when protesters armed with clubs, helmets, and improvised bombs unleashed brutal violence on the police, storming government buildings, beating anyone suspected of pro-government sympathies, and generally wreaking havoc on the streets of Kiev. But who are these violent extremists and what is their ideology?

The political formation is known as “Pravy Sektor” (Right Sector), which is essentially an umbrella organization for a number of ultra-nationalist (read fascist) right wing groups including supporters of the “Svoboda” (Freedom) Party, “Patriots of Ukraine”, “Ukrainian National Assembly – Ukrainian National Self Defense” (UNA-UNSO), and “Trizub”. All of these organizations share a common ideology that is vehemently anti-Russian, anti-immigrant, and anti-Jewish among other things. In addition they share a common reverence for the so called “Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists” led by Stepan Bandera, the infamous Nazi collaborators who actively fought against the Soviet Union and engaged in some of the worst atrocities committed by any side in World War II.

While Ukrainian political forces, opposition and government, continue to negotiate, a very different battle is being waged in the streets. Using intimidation and brute force more typical of Hitler’s “Brownshirts” or Mussolini’s “Blackshirts” than a contemporary political movement, these groups have managed to turn a conflict over economic policy and the political allegiances of the country into an existential struggle for the very survival of the nation that these so called “nationalists” claim to love so dearly. The images of Kiev burning, Lviv streets filled with thugs, and other chilling examples of the chaos in the country, illustrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that the political negotiation with the Maidan (Kiev’s central square and center of the protests) opposition is now no longer the central issue. Rather, it is the question of Ukrainian fascism and whether it is to be supported or rejected.

I’m not sure if it’s much of a question for deluded warmongers like John McCain, who exhibited his delusions in a little hissy fit about how America was somehow winning the Syria catastrophe before his military intervention was so rudely taken away by the Russians. The link features a video clip where John McCain can be heard saying this to Alexei Pushkov, Chairman of Russia’s State Duma Committee for International Affairs:

We all know what happened in Syria. We were winning and then, of course, 5,000 Hizbollah came in…

Keep that attitude in mind as the previous article picks up:

For its part, the United States has strongly come down on the side of the opposition, regardless of its political character. In early December, members of the US ruling establishment such as John McCain and Victoria Nuland were seen at Maidan lending their support to the protesters. However, as the character of the opposition has become apparent in recent days, the US and Western ruling class and its media machine have done little to condemn the fascist upsurge. Instead, their representatives have met with representatives of Right Sector and deemed them to be “no threat.” In other words, the US and its allies have given their tacit approval for the continuation and proliferation of the violence in the name of their ultimate goal: regime change.

In an attempt to pry Ukraine out of the Russian sphere of influence, the US-EU-NATO alliance has, not for the first time, allied itself with fascists. Of course, for decades, millions in Latin America were disappeared or murdered by fascist paramilitary forces armed and supported by the United States. The mujahideen of Afghanistan, which later transmogrified into Al Qaeda, also extreme ideological reactionaries, were created and financed by the United States for the purposes of destabilizing Russia. And of course, there is the painful reality of Libya and, most recently Syria, where the United States and its allies finance and support extremist jihadis against a government that has refused to align with the US and Israel. There is a disturbing pattern here that has never been lost on keen political observers: the United States always makes common cause with right wing extremists and fascists for geopolitical gain.

Why do our political leaders keep aligning US foreign policy with fascists and other strains of violent extremists?

A childhood taunt comes to mind, deployed with great effect on the playground: takes one to know one.

by lizard

Yesterday, after a reactionary tweet to the news Jon Tester compared Max Baucus to Mike Mansfield at Max’s confirmation hearing, I figured maybe I should get a little wikipedia background on Mike. This got my attention:

After his ambassadorship, Mansfield served for a time as a senior adviser on East Asian affairs to Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street investment banking firm.

Maybe Mike Mansfield would understand the congressional actions Baucus has been busy with, described in this Truthout piece:

The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on January 16 on a bill that would renew Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) for the President, allowing trade treaties to be “fast tracked” through Congress. The measure was introduced by Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-MT) last week, just as far-reaching “free trade” agreements with Asian and European countries are nearing completion.

Shifting to Obama, who called for a YEAR OF ACTION in his state of the union speech last night, the pundits will likely focus on the meager concession of raising minimum wage while ignoring or downplaying Obama’s promotion of free trade—a cherished neoliberal weapon in the ongoing class war. Here’s John Nichols writing for The Nation:

There was nothing robust or exciting about Obama’s free-trade pitch. There was something entirely predictable, almost routinized about it. But like George W. Bush and Bill Clinton before him, Obama embraced an orthodoxy that no longer makes economic or political sense.

After arguing for “new trade partnerships with Europe and the Asia-Pacific,” Obama told Congress, “We need to work together on tools like bipartisan trade promotion authority.”

It is no secret that the president wants to cut the deals that are required to establish the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a sweeping new “NAFTA on steroids” trade pact with eleven Asian and Latin American countries. Nor is it any secret that he would like to clear the way for that agreement by getting Congress to give him the fast-track trade promotion authority that allows negotiations to go forward without congressional oversight or amendments that might address labor rights, human rights, environmental and development concerns.

The problem is that the constituencies Obama is hoping to rally in support of initiatives to address income inequality have come to associate multilateral arrangements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement with the collapse of industries, the shuttering of factories and the elimination of hundreds of thousands of well-paid jobs that once sustained middle-class families. The loss of those jobs—in combination with the related weakening of industrial unions and the depression of wages—is well understood to have contributed mightily to the growth of income inequality.

Nichols goes on to point out Obama, the 2008 candidate for president, put free trade agreements like NAFTA in their proper context while campaigning, but now—poof! The deceitful neoliberal in the seat of power actively undermines any shred of credibility when it comes to addressing income inequality by supporting what he campaigned against 5 years ago.

Obama’s selection of Max is more than just a cynical attempt to give John Walsh an edge in the battle for control of the senate—Max is ideologically aligned with Obama’s neoliberal agenda, and will make a perfect spokesperson for the corporate interests Max spent his political career protecting.

Unfortunately American workers don’t factor in these decisions.

by lizard

If I can find the stomach for it, I may tune in to the state of our union. At least the beginning, to see if Obama will adhere to the mostly consistent projection of confidence that the state of our union is strong.

I don’t expect president Obama to go all Gerald Ford circa 1975:

What I will be looking for is some presidential pushback against the congressional insurrection against Iran diplomacy. I’m also a little curious if Obama will drop any hints about the insidious Trans-Pacific Partnership. I try to avoid using RT as a source, but I’ll lazily reference this:

Congressional leaders on the US trade policy have introduced legislation that would grant President Barack Obama “fast-track authority” to enact three looming global trade accords, including the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership.

House Ways and Means Committee Chair Dave Camp (R) and top Senate Finance Committee members Max Baucus (D) and Orrin Hatch (R) on Thursday unveiled the Trade Priorities Act of 2014 that would require a simple up-or-down vote on major trade deals without the opportunity to offer amendments to pertinent bills.

The [Trade Priorities Act] legislation we are introducing today will make sure that these trade deals get done, and get done right,” Sen. Baucus said in a statement. “This is our opportunity to tell the administration – and our trading partners – what Congress’s negotiating priorities are.”

The Obama administration is seeking the heightened authority in trade deals, allowing the Executive Branch to smooth congressional negotiations on accords. The two major deals, both long in the works, that are likely to be subject to such legislation are the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the 28-nation pact with the European Union, the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA). The deals would establish the world’s largest so-called free-trade zones.

It would be cool if Obama gave a shout out to Jamie Dimon, like, hey Jamie, nice bonus you got there buddy! In the real world costing your company billions in fines doesn’t usually feature such lavish perks. If you are tempted to be perturbed by Dimon’s illogical compensation, just watch this convenient 60 Minutes gusher about Year Up.

I’m also curious to see if/how Obama spins austerity amidst the continued splurging on “defense”. Those two issues would of course never appear in proximity to each other, but both merit at least a mention.

Anyway, consider this a State of the Union open thread.

by lizard

I’ve sometimes wondered what allowed me to resist the suburban conditioning of my youth. Was it experimenting with mind-alerting substances? My appetite for reading? My anti-authoritarian tendencies?

After reading a fascinating article yesterday, there’s a new possibility I can add to the potential factors at play in my formative years: Fraggle Rock.

Elizabeth Stevens has a piece titled Why the Ideal Creative Workplace Looks A Lot Like “Fraggle Rock” published last month at The Awl, and it’s a great read. Here’s an excerpt describing Jim Henson’s vision for the show:

“Fraggle Rock” “was made in service of a compelling vision,” Stevenson said. When Jim Henson brought together the three people who would ultimately create the world of “Fraggle Rock”—head writer Jerry Juhl, designer Michael Frith, and writer Joceyln Stevenson—he told them he wanted to make an international show that would “help stop war.” His initial producer on the project, Duncan Kenworthy, said that everyone “almost laughed” at him, because “it’s such a—on the face of it—impossible, enormous, grandiose sort of idea.”

Henson not only made an anti-war show, he did it with a light hand and silliness. The episode “Fraggle Wars” deals with McCarthyism overtly (“My name is Mokey Fraggle, and I am not now nor have I ever been a member of the enemy Fraggles”). But most of the time, the message is imperceptible; it was written in the structure of the show’s universe. In the show there are three species that don’t see eye-to-eye, both figuratively and literally. The Doozers were “knee-high to a Fraggle,” and the Gorgs were sheer giants. In DVD interviews, Kenworthy explained that “Fraggle Rock” modeled how conflicts could be “loosened” by exploring each of the different points of view involved. Adults may be a lost cause, but “the children,” he said, “could understand the Gorgs… the Fraggles… the Doozers, and see why they couldn’t understand each other.”

“Fraggle Rock” was made a few years before the toppling of the Berlin Wall and aired in countries across the world (the United States, Canada, UK, France, Germany, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, and eastern Europe). It was key that the show rejected the “good versus evil” thinking of the Cold War, and introduced the idea of being a global citizen to an emerging Millennial generation during their most formative years. Did Henson stop war? No, but he may have helped change the attitude of the next generation. The very fact that the show had a compelling mission—this dream of peace—made it a peaceful place to work.

Read the whole article, it’s great. Stevens delves into Henson’s Fraggle Rock workplace to figure why literally everyone who worked on the show said it was the best job they ever had. What she finds is the antidote to corporate culture.

Another world is possible.

by lizard

In a 4&20 exclusive, I have obtained an early draft of President Obama’s State of the Union speech. According to one source inside the White House, this draft was hand written on a piece of notepad paper during a layover in Colorado. The source, who asked to remain anonymous, suggested the president may have been under the influence of mind-altering substances during the creation of this draft. You, dear reader, can judge for yourself:

My fellow Americans,

As your president, I’m required to tell you the state of our union is strong. Just ask the 25 year old who not only gets to live in his parents basement for free, he also gets to stay on his parents health care plan, which may have changed a little against their wishes, but hey, we’ll tweak it as we go.

Speaking of tweaking, I’ve heard the Alaskan Thunderfuck in Colorado burns so fine it’s flipping meth-heads. I think that’s great news for America. Maybe it’s time for a presidential decree to Eric to leash up his jackboots from raids and forfeitures as part of a federal campaign of terror against those who thought they were in compliance with state laws.

Dialing back my DoJ is just the beginning. Since every facet of my second term feels like a ten-ton weight around my neck, I’ve decided to make legalizing weed the main focus of my second term legacy. I’ve already gotten it cleared by the boys upstairs with the excessive taxation angle in return for eliminating taxes on capital gains. Weed isn’t a serious cartel product, so it won’t upset the CIA pipelines. I’m counting on old Boomers and young libertarians to give me the political cover I need to get it done. The left can celebrate one less tool to harass and oppress minority populations while continuing to ignore my terrible record on immigration.

Shifting to foreign policy, the central issue remains keeping Israel happy as they rev-up the apocalypse engines. This is going to take finesse. Thankfully I’ve turned PR for the state into an art-form. Strength can only be maintained through violence. It takes an artist to find comforting ways of conveying that necessity.

Basically, for me, it’s a new year dealing with the same old challenges of doing my thing while the real decisions get made somewhere else. Making it sound better than a hung-over frat speech is the job I ran for, and won. Trust me, it’s not easy.

But I go along because if I don’t, my family won’t get their seats on the alien escape pods hidden in the mountains of Colorado Springs.

by lizard

Last night I watched the documentary Park Avenue: money, power and the American Dream. It’s a maddening summation of American greed. It inspired a poem that I think stands on its own, but would make more sense after watching the documentary.

And here’s the poem:

ENOUGH

there are those who live above us
worship money like a god
certain words elude them
little words, like enough
billions on top of billions
piled on Park Avenue
the opulence insane
from gutting capital gains
the world doesn’t need
these greed-infested men
their tumor-pools of wealth
are slowly killing millions
somewhere there’s a doctor
scalpel at the ready
who knows before the healing
the cutting may get bloody
but to let the cancer go
is to consign the body to death
in whatever way we can
we must protect what’s left

—William Skink

by lizard

The Missoulian editorial board wants us to know that avoiding litigation should NOT be the main concern of city officials regarding the constitutionally dubious ordinance amendments rushed through last month. No, their main concern should be downtown businesses:

While litigation is always something to avoid whenever possible, Missoula’s city councilors should not let that be their overriding concern. Rather, they should keep foremost in their minds that downtown Montana has a legitimate problem with aggressive, vandalizing behavior – a problem that demands a legitimate solution. Whether that solution requires ordinance changes or enforcement changes, it ought to be one that respects the rights and civil liberties of all.

Missoula, like many cities, has long struggled with how best to respond to the unwanted behaviors that seem to concentrate downtown. They range from obviously unsanitary and unsafe activities like public urination and defecation, to less obvious things like repeated, increasingly insistent demands for money from passers-by.

The worse these behaviors are allowed to get, the harder it is on those who work, shop and visit downtown. And it hits downtown businesses hardest, because they’re the ones that see the cumulative effects of all these individual instances: frightened employees and fewer customers.

Despite the narrow framing of the Missoulian editorial board, the solution is neither ordinance changes or enforcement changes. People in Missoula might understand that if our local daily bothered including the cost of over-utilizing ER services and the county jail for people consumed with addiction and mental illness.

The only people that seem to matter in this conversation are shoppers, employees and business owners. That is obviously the interests the Missoulian editorial board represent, which is what I think people should keep in mind as the editorial board concludes their op-ed with this:

So this month, Mayor John Engen expressed his hope that Missoula could tweak the ordinances to avoid a lawsuit, and the item was moved back to committee for further discussion. In committee, Engen is expected to share some ideas he’s been hammering out with the ACLU for changing the ordinance.

But in public comment offered earlier this month, two active members of the downtown community – Dan Cederberg and Matt Ellis – reminded council members that the ordinances and subsequent changes made to them were brought about because of continued struggles over downtown’s cleanliness and safety.

It’s awfully soon to say whether ordinance changes would accomplish the intended goal of making downtown Missoula cleaner and safer – or cost the city an expensive lawsuit. However, it’s clear that allowing things to stand as they were was already costing Missoula plenty, and downtown businesses have been bearing the majority of these costs.

The city council ought to keep that in mind as well as it discusses ordinances designed to make Missoula’s downtown – indeed, all of Missoula – safe, clean and inviting for all.

This is absolutely NOT true. These ordinances are designed to insulate downtown from “those people” and in doing so, the proponents of these ordinances don’t appear too concerned that the probable result will be relocating problematic behavior to other parts of town, like parks and the surrounding neighborhoods.

And downtown businesses are not bearing the majority of the costs. St. Pat’s writes off around 4 million dollars annually by reacting to addiction and mental illness through the ER, and I’d like to see the court/jail costs quantified so Missoulians can better understand the real cost of our community’s failure.

This Missoulian op-ed on behalf of downtown businesses ran the day these ordinances were discussed in committee. Thanks to the second life of Bob Jaffe’s listserv, we have some commentary from Caitlin Copple and Jason Wiener to consider.

Caitlin Copple:

Administration & Finance
Adam now chairs this committee. Wet housing came up right away since we had just talked about the above-mentioned ordinances and were set to approve a contract regarding the 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness. Jason said CDBG and HOME funds will be set aside to do a small amount of permanent supportive housing but that they won’t be enough and that providers are working to get this off the ground. I find the pace frustrating. When will we actually see this project happen? I would support giving more money to providers if it means they can quickly and meaningfully solve the problems of bad behavior by drunk people downtown through housing that fills the true need.

Copple is frustrated? I can sympathize with that. I find the pace frustrating as well, but service providers don’t seem to command the kind of influence that makes things happen fast, like thinking up these amendments in early fall and getting them passed before the end of the year.

Here is what Jason has to say (the lead-in is a reference to the ADU issue, which is back in the headlines):

On the heels of discussioning whether to make it legal for someone to inhabit a private space, we returned to our ongoing discussion of laws regulating the degree to which downtown public space should be regulated. The mayor brought forward a number of revisions, and the summary is reprinted in Caitlin’s email. There was not consensus on a coupleof points: The ACLU objects to definition of solicitation (which bans silently holding a sign) and objects to the ban on sitting (As the mayor says, it would make the cost of soliciting in the CBD standing, however if someone can’t stand or is playing an instrument that requires sitting they are banned.) Dan Cederberg, representing the interests that supported the ordinance, objected to removing the sit, sleep, lie in tunnel provisions and removal of exclusion zones based on distance from a vendor and advised that they would like them back in the ordinance if we are facing litigation regardless. PSH has just Jon, who was running the meeting, Alex and me as well as the four new people. In order to get something going, I made a motion to advance the ordinance the mayor sent, with changes removing the provisions the ACLU objected to. We set a public hearing on Feb. 10. The revised ordinance is better in many ways than the one that was on the books before so I see some benefit in moving forward but this whole thing has left me with a very bad taste. The conversation has been consumed by fear, people describing how one thing or another they see or experience makes them afraid and some of the things that have been described are scary. But the insistence that the definition of soliciting include silently holding a sign? That’s not disturbing because it makes someone afraid. It’s disturbing because it confronts us with want and I think the emotion it evokes is guilt or shame, not fear. The same goes for people who are passed out cold or so far from sane that they are asleep in their own excrement. Guilt and shame don’t make consuming more fun; they can really put a damper on that stuff. It reminded me of the Women in Black vigil on the Higgins bridge for so many years. What a bummer it is to be reminded in the middle of our anticipation of a coming weekend about violence and deprivation half a world away but that was solicitation.

There will be more committee hearings and public comment opportunities and city council votes before this mess is figured out. There is also a chance that, despite the Mayor’s attempts to find a compromise, the ACLU may decide to sue anyways.

I hope the work being done to actually move toward solutions isn’t overshadowed by this colossal waste of time and resources. Just read the first paragraph of this boingboing article (h/t @KathleenMKimble):

A program in Salt Lake City decided that it would be smarter — and more humane — to spend $11K/year each to house 17 chronically homeless people and provide them with social workers than it would be to waste the average of $16,670/year per person to imprison them and treat them at emergency rooms. As Nation of Change points out, this commonsense, humane and economically sound way of dealing with homelessness works, unlike the savage approaches taken by other cities (like the Waikiki rep Tom Bowker who smashed homeless peoples’ carts with a sledgehammer, or cities like Tampa, which banned feeding homeless people).

Defenders of the amendments will say it’s about behavior, not homelessness. If I’m not mistaken, I think I read something about a BID study being used to back that up, but I don’t think that study has been made available to the public.

If it’s only about aggressive behavior, I have yet to hear a good explanation about why statutes like disorderly conduct don’t address the threatening behavior proponents of these amendments have described. Maybe I’ll hear a better explanation in the coming months as this process of reconsideration plods along.

by lizard

I wonder what the humanitarian interventionists think about the result of their advocacy regarding Libya? Are they still paying attention? Do they feel guilt, remorse? Or is it on to the next contrived state crisis?

Back in November, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan went on television and ordered all militias to leave Tripoli. How that was going to be accomplished remains unclear. From the link:

At least 31 people have been killed and 235 injured in clashes in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, officials say, after militiamen opened fire on protesters.

The demonstrators had marched to the headquarters of the Misrata militia to demand that it leave Tripoli.

Hours after the incident, armed men returned to storm the compound, where militiamen are still holed up.

The Libyan government has been struggling to contain numerous militias who control many parts of the country.

Prime Minister Ali Zeidan gave a televised address in which he said all militias had to leave Tripoli without exception.

However, it is unclear how the authorities plan to dislodge them, the BBC’s Rana Jawad reports from Tripoli.

For more context to why the US used NATO for Libyan regime change, I put up this post last September. For a current depiction of the chaos Libyans are facing, Eric Draitser writes about The Secret War in Libya for Counterpunch. Here’s an excerpt:

Despite the high-minded rhetoric from Western interventionists regarding “democracy” and “freedom” in Libya, the reality is far from it, especially for dark skinned Libyans who have seen their socioeconomic and political status diminished with the end of the Jamahiriya government of Muammar Gaddafi. While these peoples enjoyed a large measure of political equality and protection under the law in Gaddafi’s Libya, the post-Gaddafi era has seen their rights all but stripped from them. Rather than being integrated into a new democratic state, the black Libyan groups have been systematically excluded.

In fact, even Human Rights Watch – an organization which in no small measure helped to justify the NATO war by falsely claiming that Gaddafi forces used rape as a weapon and were preparing “imminent genocide” – has reported that, “A crime against humanity of mass forced displacement continues unabated, as militias mainly from Misrata prevented 40,000 people from the town of Tawergha from returning to their homes from where they had been expelled in 2011.” This fact, coupled with the horrific stories and images of lynchings, rapes, and other crimes against humanity, paints a very bleak picture of life in Libya for these groups.

The situation in Libya is important to keep in mind as regime change in Syria stumbles forward with the Geneva II peace talks. Those efforts didn’t get off to a good start:

Syria’s government and main political opposition have traded bitter accusations on the first day of a major peace conference in Switzerland.

The opposition and US said President Bashar al-Assad had no legitimacy and must step down from power.

Syria’s foreign minister had a terse exchange with the UN’s Ban Ki-moon over the length of his speech and said only Syrians could decide Mr Assad’s fate.

The conflict has left more than 100,000 dead and millions displaced.

The leader who has no legitimacy when it comes to Syria is Obama. Though it didn’t make big headlines in the states, it’s worth noting that Seymour Hersch nailed Obama for being purposefully deceitful last August when trying to pin the Sarin attacks on Assad:

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.

This farce continues because Americans have been systematically lied to while our corporate media is complicit in sticking to the cover story.  Not even MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry countered the lies peddled by Obama regarding the Sarin attack in Syria when the topic came up on her show last weekend.  Instead, she let a comment from a guest pass as fact that Assad was behind the attack.

Those of us paying attention know better.

by lizard

Steve Bullock is reasserting Montana’s non-compliance with the Real ID Act:

Gov. Steve Bullock reasserted his opposition Friday to stringent federal driver’s license rules resulting from a 2005 anti-terrorism law, telling Homeland Security officials that Montana already has increased the security of its licenses and identification cards.

In a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, the Democratic governor asked federal officials not to restrict Montanans’ from using their driver’s licenses as Homeland Security begins its first phase of enforcing the REAL ID Act.

Bullock’s letter was in response to a December notice from Homeland Security officials that said Montana, 12 other states and two U.S. territories were not compliant with the law or had not received extensions delaying its implementation.

The law set standards for licenses and identifications as a way to fight terrorism and prevent identity theft. Real ID-compliant driver’s licenses would have layers of security, such as verification of birth certificates, Social Security numbers and immigration status.

Here is an area of Federal policy where many Montanans across the political spectrum will find common ground. I think the general sentiment toward our government when it comes to protecting our privacy can be expressed with this: fuck off, Feds.

Why would any sane individual trust a government that is violating our constitution rights on a daily basis through NSA surveillance and bulk data storage?

What about fighting terrorism? When that motivation is invoked, don’t we Americans let the Feds do anything?

In a Counterpunch article titled Your Rights Aren’t Worth Crap, Chris Geovonis takes a look at the prosecution of the NATO3:

Public trials are one of the fundamental tenets of American democracy. And they’ve been cancelled in Chicago, at least for the trial of the NATO 3 — three defendants battling terrorism charges for alleged ‘crimes’ wholly instigated, manufactured and advanced by undercover cops in a blatant case of entrapment. But you’ll be hard pressed to determine this for yourself, since you’re essentially banned from the courtroom unless you’re willing to surrender your right to privacy, your right to even a glimmer of free expression, or your right as a non-corporate reporter to cover the case in real time like your corporate colleagues can.

Government officials are forcing every member of the public seeking to observe the NATO 3 trial to ‘pre-register’, produce a government-issued ID, submit to a criminal background check — and, of course, trust them with your data.

This last bit is spectacularly hard to swallow, as news continues to come out about the extent of government spying and data-mining on perfectly lawful activity like talking on the phone. Government agencies have surveilled and disrupted the Occupy movement, to which the defendants had a loose affiliation, simply for existing, and we’ve barely begun to plumb the depths of cop spying in the run-up to Chicago’s NATO protest — and beyond. For Chicagoans, this comes in the wake of the Chicago cops’ notorious history of political spying, disruption and assassination going back to the days of the infamous COINTELPRO Red Squad.

We will see how Montana and the other states bucking Federal compliance will be dealt with. Will Montanans face commercial airline restrictions? Will we be banned from entering Federal buildings? I guess we’re going to find out. Stay tuned.

by lizard

I don’t pay close attention to football. I initially intended to not watch this season at all, but the surprising success of the Chiefs eroded my righteous resolve (and then the Chiefs failed epically like only the Chiefs can). Now I’m very interested to see how this contest plays out.

The subtext of marijuana will be good for a few jokes, but there is another subtext lurking beneath the match up of the best offense going against the best defense: the southern gentleman vs. the Compton thug.

After Richard Sherman, the thug in this epic battle, displayed what is commonly being referred to as a lack of “class” for his post-game trash-talking, I looked around for a little backstory. Bay Area Sports Guy has a decent analysis of the 49ers loss that includes this:

Then there was the interception caused by Sherman, who minutes later said, ”When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s what you’re going to get.” Again, Kaepernick forces a pass to Crabtree in the corner. This is not Crabtree’s fault. It’s Kaepernick’s for continuing to force an unlikely play, especially over a cornerback with great ball skills like Sherman.

Sherman is an ass of epic proportions, which we already knew. But to me it’s still surprising. I covered a game for Comcast several years back at Stanford Stadium, and after the Cardinal won I talked to Sherman on the field. Up to that point and for a while afterward, he was probably the nicest, smartest, most engaging interview subject I had ever encountered. Perhaps Crabtree’s refusal to label Sherman as the league’s best cornerback during his press conference on Thursday led to his postgame outburst, which caused some debate (as pretty much everything does these days).

This isn’t about being a “thug.” It’s about actively trying to rankle the guys you just beat. Maybe I’m getting old. I find trash talk before and during games to be quite entertaining, but afterward I don’t see the point. I also wouldn’t throw food at an injured All-Pro while he’s carted off the field either, so what do I know?

This depiction of Sherman is interesting, because the writer appears to be trying to reconcile a direct experience he had interviewing Sherman with the image that is now being solidified by sports writers of Sherman as a loud-mouthed thug.

For a direct repudiation, Dave Zirin at The Nation has the best take, and it’s worth reading in full. Here’s a good portion of it:

Get ready for two weeks of stories that pit the polished Peyton Manning against his supposed antithesis, Richard Sherman. Get ready for two weeks of interesting coverage about how the best quarterback in the game and probable 2013 MVP takes on the best cornerback in the game and the probable Defensive Player of the Year at the Super Bowl. Also get ready for two weeks of utterly uninteresting coverage that paints Peyton as a Southern gentleman in shining armor who will hopefully slay Richard Sherman, Compton’s “loudmouth” dread-locked dragon. There will be more articles, tweets and commentaries from the media bemoaning Richard Sherman’s lack of “class”. There will be even more tweets from so-called fans that sound like press releases from a White Citizen’s Council. There will be a running loop of Sherman’s already “insta-classic” WWE-infused “promo” rant after Sunday’s victory over their rival the 49ers.

There will be more stomach-churning racial coding than an episode of Fox N Friends featuring Ann Coulter and Billy Packer. There will be right-wingers like John Podhoretz on Twitter, the very people who always whine that the culture is becoming “too soft”, “too feminized” and “too PC” who are as aghast as plantation belles stumbling toward the fainting couch over his behavior.

There will be less discussion about why so many of the chattering classes demand “class” from a game where people’s legs are broken in half and then replayed endlessly for our entertainment. There will be less discussion about the hypocrisy of demanding that “perfect gentlemen” play a game so dangerous that its own players, and even the president, wouldn’t want their own children on the field. There will be far too many sportswriters not admitting what Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel tweeted: that Richard Sherman is a welcome relief from pre-programmed athletes who “play one game at a time, good lord willing, play one game at a time… good lord willing.”

Sherman is the embodiment of what sports writing legend Robert Lipsyte once said to me was his true initial attraction to Muhammad Ali. “He made my job so incredibly easy,” Lipsyte said. “I just had to write down what he said and the copy was gold.” In fact Sherman has pointed to Ali as an inspiration, saying, “[Ali] understood how to manipulate the world. When he said, ‘The champ is here,’ he probably wasn’t that cocky. He created a persona. He was a leader, an entertainer, and he knew how to break people down in the ring. I didn’t really care about boxing, but I wanted to be like Ali.”

There will also be less discussion of who Richard Sherman actually is, and the genius of both his preparation and style of play. In fact, when it comes to smarts, skills and psychological gamesmanship, Sherman, is in many respects the cornerback version of Peyton Manning. Just as Manning treats every trip to the line of scrimmage like he’s Hannibal Lecter trying to get into the head of Clarice Starling—OMAHA!—Sherman has a deeply cerebral method to his perceived madness. Read Lee Jenkins’ profile of the Stanford graduate in the July 2013 issue of Sports Illustrated, titled Warning: Don’t Take The Bait. As Jenkins writes, “Whether you think cornerback Richard Sherman of the (NFC champion?) Seahawks is a smacktalk poet laureate or just another loudmouth doesn’t matter. He’s a shrewd, dedicated lockdown defender who doesn’t mind getting on his opponents’ nerves—in fact, he prefers it that way.”

However the pundits and writers try to breakdown this match-up, the weed state showdown is shaping up to be one hell of a Super Bowl.

by lizard

America continues to face a dangerous internal threat, and some events over the weekend have shown America’s culture warriors that there is a great need to remain vigilant against…marijuana.

It’s bad enough that America’s most celebrated sporting event—the Super Bowl—will be mocked for the next two weeks as the Ganja Bowl because both teams come from the only two states to legalize recreational use of marijuana. We all know football is the undisputed territory of excessive alcohol consumption, a tradition that is under attack by buzzkill activists who actually advocate ending alcohol advertisements. Can you imagine Super Bowl Sunday without the family-friendly marketing campaign of Budweiser?

Well, now that America’s football tradition is at risk, enter our socialist stoner president, Barak Obama. In an unbelievably reckless move that will push our youth into the den of iniquity, the president has made a wild claim that Marijuana is no worse than alcohol:

President Barack Obama said in an interview published Sunday that he believes smoking marijuana is no more dangerous than drinking alcohol. And he suggested it’s even less dangerous “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer.”

It’s clear what’s going on here. Alcohol represents capitalism—units of consumption (bottles, cans, etc.) intended for individual consumers. Marijuana represents communism—units of consumption (joints, glass bowls, etc.) intended for groups of consumers to pass around, collectively sharing the intoxicating effect of a substance that simply grows from the ground.

The only way to save America now is to impeach the president for essentially hand-rolling joints and delivering them to our nation’s youth, then, in two weeks, get annihilated on booze. Vomiting seven-layer dip into your toilet before the sun goes down is not just fun, but your patriotic duty as Americans. I hope people in Montana are ready to do their duty in two weeks.

by lizard

In order to inspire the leaders of tomorrow, I’m going to highlight some recent examples of exemplary leadership that could provide a blueprint for future success.

First up, senatorial candidate John Walsh. By continuing to run a non-existent campaign, headlines like Report prevented Walsh from promotion to Army general fill the empty space.

Bide your time, future leaders of America.

Next up, Carl Ibsen, aka The Mustache. The lesson here is when you have a mustache there are certain expectations you have to live up to, like enacting proactive retribution against your underlings political ambitions. It’s just how things go with stiff, manly facial hair.

Mother Jones has our next example of local Montana leadership with Fred Van Valkenburg’s mighty stand against the prying eye of the DoJ. This one is worth quoting:

“Missoula County Attorneys Office does not need to enter into an agreement with DOJ to protect victims of sexual assault, [we have] actively assisted victims for years,” Van Valkenburg wrote, arguing that the two federal statutes that the Justice Department cites—one of which deals with gender discrimination—do not legally justify imposing changes on his office. The prosecutor is correct that the Justice Department can’t force recommendations on the office, says Christopher Mallios, an attorney adviser for AEquitas, which receives funding from the Department of Justice to help local prosecutors better handle sexual-violence cases. But he adds, that if the Justice Department is able to prove civil rights violations in court, a judge could enforce them. Van Valkenburg says that his office is already meeting many of the Justice Department’s demands, and even if he had the funding, he wouldn’t add the three new staff members the feds want, because they’d represent “a duplication of services” provided by other city units. Van Valkenburg says if the Justice Department doesn’t back off in the next two weeks, he will take the issue to federal court.

“I’m not aware of another case where a prosecutor said we would rather litigate and go to trial than make some changes,” Mallios says. And other experts say the prosecutor’s response is unusual: “No prosecutor wants to admit that they have shortcomings, especially on such a sensitive issue,” says Sarah Deer, who worked for the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women in the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. “But there is a culture in some offices that sexual assault is sort of overstated or victims tend to lie. That might be what’s going on here—a culture of indifference.”

One leadership quality this story highlights, according to earlier reporting, is be prepared. In this case, that meant saving money for the potential cost of litigation. From the link:

Missoula County Commissioner Michele Landquist said she expects the meeting to serve as a status update on the dispute.

She said the county has tucked away funds over the past few budget cycles to help cover a lawsuit, if the DOJ filed one.

Our final example of Montana leadership (another aging white man, go figure) comes from the judiciary, the honorable former Chief U.S. District Judge, Richard Cebull. Here’s the gist:

A review of four years’ worth of emails from former Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull’s federal email account found “hundreds” of emails “related to race, politics, religion, gender, sexual orientation and politically sensitive issues that were inappropriate for Judge Cebull to have sent from his federal email account.”

The focus here will be on Judge Cebull, the sender of emails. What about those who received them? How does this pervasive, unethical conduct trickle down the ladder of power?

Leadership in Montana…?

by lizard

Local poet Mark Gibbons turned me on to a little jagged piece of the Missoula literary scene that flashed from 1974-1977, called Montana Gothic. This short-lived publication of poetry, literature and graphics (edited by Peter Rutledge Koch) is now available in a complete edition. For more information, you can check out peterkochprinters.com.

Not knowing much about this project, I started reading some of the essays. If I was a poet during this time in Missoula, this is the kind of publication I would gravitate to. Though I love the poetry of Richard Hugo, I find the well-articulated opposition to what Hugo represents—a regional writer who built the foundation of a dominant western-aesthetic drunk on landscape that has become the darling of eastern literary elitists—to be compelling. Here is an excerpt from Peter Koch’s declaration, Deadstart:

We have here in Montana a sterling example of the repression of the imagination by what can fairly be judged an unconscious agent, the Writing Program at the University of Montana. The program, a state supported nursery under the direction of Richard Hugo, turns out writers by a licensing process that achieves a predictable degree of success as measured by standards previously established by other schools. Examining What Thou Lovest Well Remains American, a book of poems by Hugo, one can discern a distinct aversion to nearly all forms of the imagination, an unfortunate example largely accepted by his students. Hugo’s poetry elevates defeat, despair & self-pity to an aesthetic level—an aesthetic infestation wherein all that is base in teh “American” character finds an eloquent voice; eloquent as tabloid journalism which exploits paranoia by describing, in lurid fashion, just what you are afraid of. The impression that I get from Hugo and the school that he has created is that they have established a right-wing phalanx of anti-oeneric poetry to complement their inverted cowboy-realism. The state supports writers who express desire and dissatisfaction within a christian framework of good and evil that any Zane Grey novel will acquaint you with: GOOD (writ large) is found in traditional company (the Missoula Mercantile the Episcopal Church for instance) while EVIL is approached only with a bottle of whiskey in an obscure tavern. The season of the drunken poet whining about loneliness and persecution evolves predictable into a wedding and the “GOOD FAMILY at last” confession. We can also predict that institutionalized writers will eventually earn their measure of the good life if they can suppress their imaginations and obsessions and desire only what is either academically correct or tailored to the criteria of mass consumption.

Beyond the imagination of the academic poets we can envision ourselves, like the Grizzly bear in Yellowstone Park, sitting upon a veritable magma of faultily suppressed potential that once allowed to escape could radically re-organize consciousness and its material attributes. There are and have been in Montana unprecedented extrusions of the marvelous that deserve our attention.

Thank you, Mark, for putting this bug in my ear (and I will drop off a copy of my little book, I’ve got to re-tool it first and print new copies).

I wrote a poem this morning about Missoula, partly with Montana Gothic in mind. Also in mind is this recent story about the fact downtown parking meters apparently speed up time when cold, screwing parking motorists out of money. Will the Parking Commission do something about this? Eventually (there’s currently no money after building the giant new parking garage) but until that happens, nada. It’s the responsibility of each ripped-off Missoulian (or out-of-town visitor, who won’t know any better) to contest the fraudulent tickets.

*

HOBBING MISSOULA NOB NOSERS

the meters run fast
and the drunks move slow
on the sidewalks of downtown
Missoula

a gentrified air
from lofts up above
possess particles of high-end
refinement

breathe deeply the scent
of designer boot leather
and you will know there is no
denying

exquisite dry flies are flying!
beyond the windows of fine dining!

to protect glossy images
they turn laws into brooms
to sweep the dirt people
away

into jail cells, hospital rooms,
lean-tos and tents
because it takes deep pockets
to pay rent

and we wonder why the rivers
whisper suicide

—William Skink

by lizard

Mental illness is an incredibly difficult issue to even approach, but avoiding the issue increases the likelihood of awful things happening. In Missoula an elderly woman was beat to death with a chair by her 25 year old grandson. In Orange County, California, a jury somehow came to the conclusion that police weren’t acting criminally when they beat a homeless schizophrenic man to death, despite graphic video evidence (which I haven’t watched and won’t link to).

Getting angry at the police in the Kelly Thomas case is understandable. That said, it’s a broken system of support and treatment that makes violent interactions with police more likely.

I know Missoula likes to think of itself as “progressive”, but when it comes to mental health services, we are way behind. I wrote this post last December in response to a Missoulian editorial, because the members of the editorial board said they wanted a discussion. That discussion is sputtering along with an article that touches on something Idaho is going to try because it seems to be working in Billings: crisis centers:

Idaho is looking to neighboring Montana for inspiration in the creation of a trio of crisis centers designed to serve the state’s mentally ill.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and Gov. C. L. “Butch” Otter are asking the Legislature to approve a $5 million budget for the centers.

That’s enough money to get them up and running in three cities by the end of the year.

The facilities are planned for Boise, Idaho Falls and Coeur d’Alene. They are patterned after the Community Crisis Center in Billings, Mont., which has proven successful in the years since it opened in June 2006.

Idaho mental health advocates say the centers will keep more mentally ill people out of Idaho’s jails and emergency rooms.

That’s the whole article. Pretty bare-bones, if you ask me.

We desperately need a substantive discussion about mental illness so people can be informed. Maybe then we, as a city, won’t waste time watching our city council debate, pass, then reconsider unconstitutional ordinances.

At Intelligent Discontent, Sheena Rice reacts to 3 high school kids committing suicide in her hometown, Butte America, in a post titled Montana’s Failure in Addressing Mental Illness.

It’s unfortunate the stories we hear about mental illness usually occur after something tragic has happened. Because of confidentiality, the stories of daily struggles and successes are much more difficult to tell. I’m not sure those in the service provider realm can effectively advocate for the necessary funding without some examples of how our current approach to addressing mental illness is failing miserably.

And to be effective, the examples need to be more specific. Stories like this one and this one don’t even tell half of it.

The Role of Government

by lizard

The role of government. A fun topic. Some people want to destroy it. Some people want a realignment of priorities. And a small, very wealthy percentage want to continue using it to enrich and protect their investments.

Ravalli County is offering a stark example of the destroy it end of the spectrum. The beginning of the Missoulian article is generous:

Help is on the way for Ravalli County towns and facilities facing immediate financial challenges due to a months-long tax disbursement backlog in the county treasurer’s office.

On Tuesday, the county’s finance department bypassed the treasurer to cut checks for 17 towns, libraries, fire districts and other entities to ensure their doors remain open.

“We want to be able to get them some cash so they can pay their bills,” said Ravalli County’s chief financial officer, Klarryse Murphy. “I’ll have them done by 5 p.m. today.”

One role of government: cut checks. I know that must be difficult for some of the more exuberant anti-government folks running the show down there, but firemen don’t work for free. Cowgirl has a bit more on this malfeasance worth reading.

Another role of government is being highlighted right now in West Virginia: regulating dangerous chemicals like 4-methylcyclohexane methanol. This piece is a must read. The part under the subheading “Under the Radar” is particularly disturbing:

Freedom Industries — which was actually a conglomerate of smaller companies owned and operated by at least one convicted felon — had managed to escape the oversight of not only West Virginia’s DEP, but also the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The reason? Various juries are still out. But consensus has grown around the idea that Freedom Industries’ chemicals were not considered “a hazardous material,” a DEP cabinet secretary told the Associated Press, so “it flew under the radar.”

The impact of these multiple regulatory failures is the sudden exposure of 300,000 people to some mystery chemical used to lube coal. The human interest part of the article is compelling. We should all give much more thought to water as the anti-government pawns facilitate atrophy.

But not all parts of government are decaying. In our brave, new, post-Snowden world we get to find out all kinds of cool things the NSA can do, like devise radio pathways into computers:

The technology, which the agency has used since at least 2008, relies on a covert channel of radio waves that can be transmitted from tiny circuit boards and USB cards inserted surreptitiously into the computers. In some cases, they are sent to a briefcase-size relay station that intelligence agencies can set up miles away from the target.

The radio frequency technology has helped solve one of the biggest problems facing American intelligence agencies for years: getting into computers that adversaries, and some American partners, have tried to make impervious to spying or cyberattack. In most cases, the radio frequency hardware must be physically inserted by a spy, a manufacturer or an unwitting user.

The N.S.A. calls its efforts more an act of “active defense” against foreign cyberattacks than a tool to go on the offensive. But when Chinese attackers place similar software on the computer systems of American companies or government agencies, American officials have protested, often at the presidential level.

I think active defense is my new favorite term, unseating disposition matrix.

On second thought, I don’t know, that’s a tough call. I think the language they use may be too astounding for me to fully appreciate.

2014: We Must Do Better

by lizard

It’s not even a full 2 weeks into this lovely new year, and I’m already questioning whether it’s worth tracking the insane trajectory of this country. Our mostly millionaire representatives in Congress presiding over this insanity are not responsive to the hell they keep shrugging their shoulders at, putting on a loud charade to hide how well they are serving their real constituency.

Paul Craig Roberts tears apart the December jobs numbers, and finds a troubling canary for the hilariously titled Affordable Care Act:

In America the unemployment rate is a deception just like everything else. The rate of American unemployment fell, because people can’t find jobs. The fewer the jobs, the lower the unemployment rate.

I noticed today that the financial media presstitutes were a bit hesitant to hype the drop in the rate of unemployment when there was no jobs growth to account for it. The Wall Street and bank economists did their best to disbelieve the jobs report as did some of the bought-and-paid-for university professors. Too many interests have a stake in the non-existent recovery declared 4.5 years ago to be able to admit that it is not really there.

I have been examining the monthly jobs reports for a decade or longer. I must say that I was struck by the December report. Normally, a mainstay of jobs gain is the category “education and health services,” with “ambulatory health care services” adding thousands of jobs. In December the net contribution of “education and health services” was zero, with “ambulatory health care services” losing 4,100 jobs and health care losing 6,000 jobs. If memory serves, this is a first. Perhaps it reflects adverse impacts of the ripoff known as Obamacare, possibly the worst piece of domestic legislation passed in decades.

Locally that rings true, with St. Patrick Hospital “restructuring” to save 5 million by March, and Community Hospital laying off staff and reducing hours. Not good, and a direct result of a bunch of ideological assholes in our state legislature turning down Medicaid dollars—their right to do so a gift bestowed by the Supreme Court.

But where do we, as a country, spend the most tax dollars? On a military to police the globe, of course. Wouldn’t it be nice if we got a quality product in return for our money? You know, something that would actually make the world a safer place to exist?

Instead we get Fallujah back in the headlines and stories about rogue Libyan militias selling the oil they now control.

Oh yeah, and let’s not forget how Democrats are helping Republicans help Israel (h/t larry kurtz) undermine the tentative diplomacy with Iran:

The White House has invited the entire Senate Democratic caucus to meet privately with the president on Wednesday evening, a Dem aide confirms, adding that Dems expect one of the topics to be Iran.

Which raises a question: Where are all the Senate Democrats on the bill to impose sanctions on Iran that is being pushed by Senators Robert Menendez and Chuck Schumer? How many of them are really prepared to support this bill, and how many oppose it? By my count, more than half the Democratic caucus have been mum on where they stand.

Will the announcement that the six month deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program is moving forward undercut the momentum of those pushing for a new sanctions bill? The White House says such a bill could derail negotiations and make war more likely, right at the moment when the process is showing preliminary signs of working.

Considering the slowly emerging reality of how bad Fukushima is, maybe the potential to kill millions of Iranians with a similar nuclear catastrophe could entice the zionist loyalists to sign off on diplomacy. Without an Iran resolution of some kind, that Asia pivot Obama wants to make probably won’t happen.

Trillions wasted in futile wars which leaves lasting chaos in its wake, and a domestic budget deal that continues the neoliberal class war here at home:

Voted on and passed by the House without debate, questions from the public or opportunity for adjustments, the Senate dutifully followed, quickly passing the agreement that was then signed into law by President Obama from his holiday vacation retreat.

When the details of the deal began to emerged, it became obvious that the agreement was yet another frontal assault on the working class and the poor that has characterized state policies over the last three decades. For the millions of people knocked to their knees by the economic crisis created by the robber barons of finance capital, the neoliberal fiscal priorities of the budget obliterated any hope that they would get relief from the insecurities and fears of living in an economy that seems aligned against them.

Not only was there no plan to use the power of the state to create or stimulate jobs, but the Christmas gift to the 1.3 million long-term unemployed left out of the deal was the elimination of their unemployment benefits on December 28.

The deal does not raise real revenue by closing tax loopholes for wealthy. It does not restore food stamps cuts for the 47 million receiving this assistance or cuts to Medicare and other vital public services like special education programs, Head Start and nearly $2 billion slashed from housing aid.

And because the deal lacks mechanisms for raising revenues, it places the burden for funding the deal squarely on the backs of working people by requiring federal workers to take another hit on their wages and benefits. This hit to federal workers is in addition to the increase in taxes that all workers experienced in January 2013 when the payroll tax cut was rescinded while the $4 trillion in Bush tax cuts for the wealthy were allowed to continue for another decade.

Furthermore, while poll after poll demonstrated that the public was no longer in favor of costly military adventures around the world and wanted to see a reduction in military expenditures, Congressional representatives still increased military spending by $20 billion.

This is the big picture context I think about when our city council, at the “request” of our downtown business community, rushes through ordinance amendments in a misguided attempt to control the behavior of a handful of “transients”. Tonight, the new city council will begin the process of reconsideration because, if they don’t, the city will get sued, and lose.

Money for things that matter are scarce. Things are tough, and the trajectory ain’t good. We must do better.

by lizard

Hippiecrite is a word I just made up. Here’s the definition of a hippiecrite: environmentalists who complain about stuff they benefit from. Like, if you complain about the Keystone XL pipeline, but you drive a car and take warm showers, then you might be a hippiecrite.

That’s the gist of this Missoulian article, titled While coal trains draw Missoula protests, coal money doesn’t.

Activists have protested coal trains coming through Missoula.

The many projects that coal money support here are another matter.

Coal is the source of the Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund, which has provided millions of dollars in economic support for some of Missoula’s homegrown businesses since its creation by the Montana Legislature in 2005. Think TerraEchos and Rivertop Renewables.

“I think that the funds Missoula receives are extremely important in terms of economic development,” said City Councilwoman Caitlin Copple, who has sought Big Sky funds to support the council’s economic development efforts. “Does that mean I’m a big fan of fossil fuels? No. But the reality is we live in a state where energy is a really important part of our economy.”

Notice the nice quote from Copple. Fresh off her failed effort to push unsightly homeless alcoholics out of downtown and into parks and neighborhoods (so people without penises can feel safe) Copple is positively framing the coal money that makes any Missoulian concerned about toxic coal dust a hippiecrite.

Maybe Caitlin Copple isn’t informed about the recent history of coal in Montana. Luckily this is a topic covered extensively here at 4&20, mostly by jhwygirl. Here is some suggested reading:

If Coal is Such an Economic Superman…

Big Sky High Students Stage Walkout over Otter Creek Coal

Will Otter Creek Coal Become More Corporate Welfare?

Corporate Welfare Reigns Supreme: Land Board Votes Yes to Lower Bid Price on Otter Creek Coal

The Schizophrenia Within our Montana Coal Cowboy Governor Brian Schweitzer

Montana Coal Porn Spring 2011

First Jobs Report on Pro-Coal Legislation at the Legislature

What Will Coal Exports Mean for Bozeman Montana?

Water and Coal and Conflicting Sentiments from a Missoula City Council Person

Of Course Tim Fox Shills for Coal, He’s a Montana Politician

As you can see, there is a lot to be critical of when it comes to coal in Montana. But if you do, then you’re a hippiecrite, even you Northsiders who live along the tracks.

Luckily for a “progressive” politician like Caitlin Copple, people who live along railroad tracks don’t have the economic clout to derail her bid to get money for economic development. Let them breathe toxic dust while our local politicians figure out how to spend the coal cash.

Hey, I know, maybe the city of Missoula can use coal money for the legal defense of the unconstitutional ordinances the Montana ACLU will litigate over?

by lizard

Because he’s now dead, the poet Amiri Baraka will get some attention that most poets—even relatively famous ones—don’t get while alive.

In the span of 70 years, Baraka moved from Beat to Black Nationalist to Marxist and—some would say—an anti-semite. Here’s a little peek from the Poetry Foundation:

Baraka did not always identify with radical politics, nor did his writing always court controversy. During the 1950s Baraka lived in Greenwich Village, befriending Beat poets Allen Ginsberg, Frank O’Hara, and Gilbert Sorrentino. The white avant-garde—primarily Ginsberg, O’Hara, and leader of the Black Mountain poets Charles Olson—and Baraka believed in poetry as a process of discovery rather than an exercise in fulfilling traditional expectations. Baraka, like the projectivist poets, believed that a poem’s form should follow the shape determined by the poet’s own breath and intensity of feeling. In 1958 Baraka founded Yugen magazine and Totem Press, important forums for new verse. He was married to his co-editor, Hettie Cohen, from 1960 to 1965. His first play, A Good Girl Is Hard to Find, was produced at Sterington House in Montclair, New Jersey, that same year. Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note, Baraka’s first published collection of poems appeared in 1961. M.L. Rosenthal wrote in The New Poets: American and British Poetry since World War II that these poems show Baraka’s “natural gift for quick, vivid imagery and spontaneous humor.” Rosenthal also praised the “sardonic or sensuous or slangily knowledgeable passages” that fill the early poems. While the cadence of blues and many allusions to black culture are found in the poems, the subject of blackness does not predominate. Throughout, rather, the poet shows his integrated, Bohemian social roots. The book’s last line is “You are / as any other sad man here / american.”

With the rise of the civil rights movement Baraka’s works took on a more militant tone. His trip to Cuba in 1959 marked an important turning point in his life. His view of his role as a writer, the purpose of art, and the degree to which ethnic awareness deserved to be his subject changed dramatically. In Cuba he met writers and artists from third world countries whose political concerns included the fight against poverty, famine, and oppressive governments. In Home: Social Essays (1966), Baraka explains how he tried to defend himself against their accusations of self-indulgence, and was further challenged by Jaime Shelley, a Mexican poet, who said, “‘In that ugliness you live in, you want to cultivate your soul? Well, we’ve got millions of starving people to feed, and that moves me enough to make poems out of.’” Soon Baraka began to identify with third world writers and to write poems and plays with strong political messages.

And here’s an excerpt from the poem that got him in hot water—Somebody Blew Up America:

Who the fake president Who the ruler Who the banker

Who? Who? Who?

Who own the mine Who twist your mind Who got bread Who need peace Who you think need war

Who own the oil Who do no toil Who own the soil Who is not a nigger Who is so great ain’t nobody bigger

Who own this city

Who own the air Who own the water

Who own your crib Who rob and steal and cheat and murder and make lies the truth Who call you uncouth

Who live in the biggest house Who do the biggest crime Who go on vacation anytime

Who killed the most niggers Who killed the most Jews Who killed the most Italians Who killed the most Irish Who killed the most Africans Who killed the most Japanese Who killed the most Latinos

Who? Who? Who?

by lizard

Got it.

Those two little words carry an immense weight right now because they acknowledge that Chris Christie’s presidential aspirations could be DOA.

Now stories are coming out about delayed emergency response times because of this petty political retaliation. Christie is done, probably. Regardless of the outcome here, it might be worth spending a few minutes thinking about how another self-grooming presidential hopeful wielded his political power of the purse.

Jhwygirl reminded me tonight (via Twitter) about Brian Schweitzer’s classy move to coerce fealty for coal back in March of 2010:

Critics fumed and local officials were dumbfounded Monday when Gov. Brian Schweitzer affirmed he’ll tie the release of frozen state grants to local support for Otter Creek coal tract leases in southeastern Montana.

The executive director of the Montana Environmental Information Center called it a tactic that smacks of Third World dictatorships.

“This money is supposed to be used for schools and he’s trying to issue it as a slush fund to spread around the state to curry favor for his administration and essentially buy or blackmail communities’ support for coal,” said Jim Jensen of MEIC.

The Button Valley Bugle was more blunt about it:

Emperor Schweitzer has announced that he will allow Montana communities to repair their roads and sewers, but only if they kowtow to his agenda and kiss his ring. 135 cities and counties were scheduled to receive more than $3 million in stimulus monies, but the Governor was forced to stop those payments due to budget concerns and he began talking about a 5% across-the-board spending cut. Enter the Otter Creek coal tracts; Following a sweetheart deal with giant Arch Coal, the state is due to receive a one-time $86 million paycheck for its 570 million tons of state-owned coal. In order to drum up support for mining the coal, Schweitzer first threatened to halt $600,000 in funding for the disabled. Now that the coal money looks more like a sure thing, the Governor is talking about releasing frozen stimulus money one community at a time, but only if community leaders first sign loyalty oaths supporting his plans for Otter Creek. In Missoula,

“Schweitzer told a room of three dozen that he wanted to see letters of support from community leaders, including the county commissioners, Missoula Mayor John Engen and state legislators, not only for the Big Flat Road project but for the use of coal money to pay for it. “The potential revenue from the sale of Otter Creek coal might allow for your project/projects to be funded,” Schweitzer said in a letter he signed at the end of his visit. “Please return a letter confirming that you ‘support the use of coal money for the completion of your project/projects.’”

When you get tired of hearing about bridges and late school busses and a really old lady who died, you can read some fun history about how political grudges have been pursued through the IRS throughout the years, titled Is There No Cure for the IRS’s Perpetual Political Outrages?

by lizard

The low-hanging fruit of right-wing wing-nuttery is abundant in Montana. This Cowgirl feature on Jennifer Fielder, for example, includes a full-on HAARP Agenda 21 conspiracy ridicule smear.

In covering conspiracy culture here at 4&20, I’m willing to go out on a limb and state, for the record, that Jennifer Fielder is accurately representing her constituents. People believe all kinds of crazy shit these days, so all you smug liberal bloggers, get with the program: 12 million Americans believe lizard people run the USA.

I know what you’re thinking, but I am not one of those lizard people.

Which is not to say I couldn’t be some form of interstellar humanoid, according to a former Canadian Defense Minister:

There’s nothing quite like a former high-ranking official giving credence to conspiracy theories to kick off a work week.

Over the weekend, Paul Hellyer, former Canadian defense minister, went on television and declared that not only do aliens exist but that they walk amongst us and are responsible for some of our modern technology. Among these tech gifts are the microchip, LED light and Kevlar vest.

Hellyer, who served as Canada’s Minister of National Defence in the 1960s, went on Russia Today’s program SophieCo to speak more about extraterrestrials. The interview, seen below, is a little on the long side but it’s totally worth it, particularly because he’s the first high ranking politician to publicly state that aliens are real.

Here’s a quote from Hellyer’s interview:

“We spend too much time fighting each other, we spend too much money on military expenditures, and not enough on feeding the poor and looking after the homeless and the sick, and that we are polluting our waters and our air and that we’re playing around with these exotic weapons, thermonuclear weapons and atomic weapons, which have such devastating effects both on Earth and other areas of Cosmos.”

Apparently, if we weren’t such assholes to each other, we’d be getting the good alien technology, and not just LED lights and Kevlar vests.

I like Canadian politicians who believe in conspiracy theories. American politicians who believe in conspiracy theories don’t want to stop wars, they want to overthrow the American government:

Conservative activists including Jim Garrow, Erik Rush and Paul Vallely are pushing a rally called Operation American Spring demanding the overthrow of President Obama. Of course, in November, Larry Klayman held a similar rally calling for Obama’s ousting that he hoped would draw millions of people, but only drew about one hundred Tea Party activists.

The organizer, Harry Riley, predicts that “millions of Americans will participate” but warns that “patriots may be killed, wounded, incarcerated” and harassed by the government. After successfully overthrowing Obama, the group hopes to install a right-wing tribunal led by the likes of Allen West and Ted Cruz.

“[I]t will be painful, and some people may die because the government will not be non-violent; some of us will end up in a cell, and some may be injured,” writes the organizer. “If that’s what it will take to save our nation, do we have any choice? Freedom loving Americans will say there is no choice, we must begin the second American Revolution.”

While I think Obama has committed impeachable acts while president, overthrowing his administration is not a very good idea. Right Montana Republicans?

Aliens, you can intervene any time. America is going insane. We need help.

The Brian Schweitzer Show

by lizard

Brian Schweitzer has good populist instincts for a politician, something on full display in a recent interview with Slate’s David Weigel, an interview where Brian Schweitzer says he doesn’t trust politicians. Agreed, Brian.

If it wasn’t for the distrust, I’d say there’s some good stuff in this interview. There’s also some tells about the continuing feud between Schweitzer and Tester:

Democrats inside and outside of Montana loved Schweitzer. The liberal “netroots” held him up as a model for other candidates, a bolo-tied Neo who’d cracked the culture-war code. Schweitzer gave a rolling, mocking speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention that won more praise than the official keynote address. He won re-election with a vote margin that he can recite from memory.

“Sixty-five-point-six percent,” says Schweitzer, talking on the phone this weekend before heading to Washington to appear on ABC’s This Week. “Sen. Jon Tester won re-election [in 2012] and didn’t get 50 percent of the vote. I didn’t have that problem. … If I wanted to be in the Senate, there was a pretty clear path to get there.”

The path Schweitzer abandoned was far from clear. JC wrote a damn good post speculating why, titled Of Judges, Tycoons, Lawyers and Politicians: the Undoing of Brian Schweitzer and the Yellowstone Club? (one of 4&20’s most-read posts of 2013).

After taking his little jab at Tester, the interview moves to clemency for Edward Snowden, which Schweitzer supports. From there Weigel steers toward foreign policy, where Schweitzer has some actual first-hand knowledge from his time spent in Libya and Saudi Arabia. In a populist challenge to the coronation of Hillary Clinton, her vote for the Iraq war will continue to make her a ripe target. It worked for Obama, right?

Weigel moves from discussing the religious nuances and unforeseen consequences of the Iraq invasion (and how it relates to Iran) to America’s longest war, Afghanistan. Here’s the exchange:

DW: There isn’t any danger in letting the Taliban take over the country?

BS: Take over what? This is the biggest joke in the whole world. What you do when you go to war is destroy enough of the other side’s infrastructure, and demonstrate you can destroy even more, that they decide they can’t keep it up or they’ll have nothing left. But to the extent that people in Afghanistan have anything, it’s been built by us. They live in stone houses. They have no infrastructure. What the Russians put there and what we’ve put there are the only things of any value. Oh, apart from the poppies they’re growing.

DW: I suppose the question is whether we should worry about blowback, years later, after leaving the country.

BS: If it all goes to hell in a handbasket, that’s fine. That happened after Alexander the Great left; that happened after the Russians left. Who cares? They live in the Stone Age. If you ask generals whether we should stay in a war a little longer, that’s like asking a barber whether you need a haircut.

Yeah, who cares, right? I mean, these fucking heathens used to poke their stone-age sticks in the dirt and grunt like neanderthals all day before the glorious development of invader infrastructure.

I do give Schweitzer credit for not being clueless about the geopolitics of the Middle East. I mean, he speaks arabic, and I especially appreciate his dropping of the Oh, apart from the poppies dig, because it creates a nice little space for Weigel to wiggle a weed segue in, albeit with no teeth:

DW: You mentioned poppies, which is as good of a segue I can think of to what’s happening in Colorado. Do you think that state’s made the right move in legalizing marijuana? Should the rest of the country go that way?

BS: Well, here’s what I can say. Each society has to make choices about what’s against the law. You have a large percentage of the population that’s already using this. The war on drugs is another war that appears to have been lost. This experiment with prohibition of marijuana doesn’t seem have to been working. Colorado might have it more right than the rest of us.

DW: One reason I ask is that when you ran in 2004, when you won the governor’s race, there were gay marriage and marijuana issues on the ballot, and Republicans thought they’d set “family values” traps for you.

BS: Oh, yeah, name these Republicans. The ones cheating on their third wives while they’re talking about traditional family values? Those ones?

Blam, Weigel got out-wiggled with a colorful BS deflection. Good stuff. He could have pressed Schweitzer on a moment when he didn’t use a cattle brand on the Capitol steps. In fact, he didn’t even use a pen:

Gov. Brian Schweitzer said Friday that he will let a controversial medical marijuana bill take law without his signature.

He made it clear that he’s not wild about the bill but said he can’t support the status quo. Earlier in the session, Schweitzer vetoed a bill calling for an outright repeal of Montana’s medical marijuana law.

“So I will hold my nose and allow this to be law until the Legislature gets back to session (in 2013),” he said. “I’m not going to sign it.”

Schweitzer announced his plans for the bill at a late-afternoon press conference.

As a result, Senate Bill 423 will become law. It repeals Montana’s 2004 voter-passed law that allows some people to use marijuana for certain medical reasons.

Instead, SB423 puts into place a much tougher law with stricter regulations on the business and is intended to make it much harder for people claiming “severe chronic pain” to get medical marijuana cards. Bill supporters have said that will help close a big loophole that has allowed many people claiming severe and chronic pain to obtain cards now.

I just recently watched Code of the West. I don’t know why it took me so long to finally watch it, but I’m glad I did.

And I can understand why Schweitzer would rather talk about Republicans bonking mistresses.

What I’m having trouble understanding is the conclusion of this interview. It’s basically a specific question about the neoliberal wealth sucking dream team’s continued reign, to which Schweitzer responds by riding some weird Fleetwood Mac baby king we’re not England analogy. Judge for yourself:

DW: And how did Bill Clinton rank? Do you have any worries about the economic team than ran the place at the end of the ’90s, for example—about them coming back?

BS: Clinton had a very good run. It was eight years of peace and prosperity. But do you recall what the music was, blaring, after they were elected?

DW: It was “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow.”

BS: Right. Fleetwood Mac, “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow.” So what do we play next time? The Beatles, “Yesterday”? In England, a baby’s born and they know he’ll grow up to be king someday. We’re not England. We’re America.

Maybe someone doesn’t want to  ruffle all the feathers of the Clinton apparatus.  After all, the presidency price-tag is over a billion dollars to bag.

by lizard

In highlighting some of the best political blog posts of 2013, the discontent that bills itself as “intelligent” is hosting spillover from the mess of Cowgirl, a blog Don Pogreba loyally describes as “the best insider coverage of Montana politics in the state.”

I’ve been pretty clear about my opinion regarding the melodrama emanating from the Cowgirl. As national attention prepares to descend on Montana politics this year, the one blog that has received a few stabs of the national spotlight will probably be the go-to source for pundits trying to gauge the political climate of our state. I hope they don’t read the comment threads.

I’m going to bring up (again) the problematic behavior of the primary commenter at Cowgirl, Larry Kralj. Maybe I don’t understand because, like Larry has pointed out, I’m an out-of-stater who has only lived in Montana for 13 years (my response to Larry never made it beyond the intelligent discontent “moderation”).

The notorious environmental ranger has been doing his schtick for a long time. I poked around the 4&20 archives and found this post from seven years ago. From that same time period, I also found an entire post from David Crisp, titled Corraling Kralj. Here is how Crisp opens his post:

I’ve been lax about letting Larry Kralj use this space to insult and demean other visitors here. Frankly, I find his stuff so painful to read that I skip nearly all of it, and I have been letting things get by that shouldn’t. This is my house, and people who comment here are my guests. When one of those guests becomes rude and abusive, it’s my job to stop him.

Don Pogreba and whoever pens the Cowgirl these days obviously have different ideas about what their role is regarding moderating comments. As long as you’re a party loyalist, rude and abusive comments are just fine.

In the Cowgirl’s most recent post, Looks Who’s Back, Larry has made a comment that I think warrants a little extra scrutiny. Here it is:

Can I be serious for a moment? You see, I don’t like to talk about it, but it is a serious topic. Yes, the Rangers have been threatened a time or two, and it’s not pleasant. But we had a very unique way of dealing with it. You see, when someone threatened a Ranger, we went straight to the person that we thought was most responsible, in person, and informed that person that even though you weren’t the one the pulled the trigger, you would be the first to go! And we meant it! For you see, the bad guys have lots of psycopaths, and we have some very tough guys who mean business. They are NOT guys you want to cross! So, when I read something like this, I wish that they had some Environmental Rangers back there by Georgetown U. It’s a whole LOT harder to call for the assassination of the president when you KNOW that you will be next to go! Think about it. It makes one a whole lot more accountable for treasonous remarks!

At the end of this invective, Larry links to this story about a Georgetown professor making some very dangerous comments regarding president Obama. I’m assuming a combination of testosterone and alcohol inspired Larry Kralj’s response.

If Larry was a Republican making these kinds of incendiary comments on an anonymous Republican blog, I guarantee people like Don Pogreba would be outraged.

I don’t expect principled consistency from partisans, so I assume the selective tolerance and the selective outrage will continue. Whatever. We’re just bloggers, anyways, so I doubt anyone takes any of this petty crap seriously.

Why should they?

by lizard

Something shocked me tonight, and it wasn’t the goddamn Chiefs blowing a 28 point lead to the goddamn Colts. It was this article from the Missoulian describing why our City Council is apparently reconsidering their December vote to amend the Aggressive Solicitation ordinance and Pedestrian Interference ordinance.

What happened?

It wasn’t a change of heart, that’s for sure. Disappearing the incorrigibles from downtown remains the ideal outcome for such carefully crafted ordinances. From statements at the December 16th council meeting, it was clear the potential for court challenges had been taken into consideration, and that a Seattle ordinance served as a court-tested model for Missoula’s ordinance. From the link:

In 1993, Seattle, Washington, enacted an ordinance that forbids lying or sitting down on a public sidewalk, or upon a blanket, chair, stool, or other object between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. in certain areas of the city. Homeless residents of Seattle alleged due process and First Amendment violations, but the Ninth Circuit upheld the sidewalk ordinance, finding that sitting and lying are not integral to, or commonly associated with, expression. Today, any person lying or sitting on the sidewalk in violation of this ordinance can be fined $50 or be instructed to perform community service. In Cincinnati, Ohio, however, an ordinance that prohibited sitting was found to infringe on a person’s freedom of speech and thus was held unconstitutional by the District Court.

Here’s what happened: a recent court decision in Boise:

On Thursday afternoon, a U.S. district federal court judge ruled the City of Boise cannot enforce much of a new panhandling ordinance while a lawsuit is heard about the city code. The ordinance went into effect the same day.

The ACLU of Idaho, along with other plaintiffs, filed the lawsuit in November in hopes of overturning the city’s anti-solicitation measure, saying the ordinance violates the U.S. and Idaho Constitutions.

The ruling stops the City of Boise from enforcing a portion of its new anti-solicitation ordinance that took effect Thursday. The preliminary injunction will remain in place while the case is litigated.

As written, the code prohibits soliciting in places like public transportation vehicles (like city buses), and within 20 feet of an ATM, bank, sidewalk cafe, food truck, public bathroom, bus stop or taxi. Those are the types of restrictions U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge says the city can’t enforce for now.

Other parts of the ordinance restrict aggressive panhandling and asking for or taking money while standing in the street. Those parts are not part of the judge’s preliminary injunction. The ACLU is specifically challenging restriction of non-aggressive panhandling in public places, saying it is too broad unlawfully restricts freedom of speech.

If the city of Missoula gets sued by the ACLU, they will probably lose. That is why there is a sudden scramble to avoid litigation. From the Missoulian link:

On Friday, Councilman Adam Hertz said he requested the Administration and Finance Committee discuss reconsideration on Wednesday, Jan. 8, and possibly take up the motion at the following Monday’s full council meeting. He said the outcome for Boise raises concerns for Missoula.

“I think we ought to go back and take a look at this before we potentially take on a lawsuit from the ACLU that they already have proven essentially they can win,” said Hertz, who supported the amendments but with reservations. “I think that would be a big waste of taxpayer dollars and government resources.”

Kudos to Hertz for suggesting that council step back and take another look at what has been set in motion by their hasty decision.

Too bad Caitlin Copple wasn’t available for comment.

It’s really unfortunate two supporters of the ACLU—Caitlin Copple and Dave Strohmaier—took votes that essentially set up the city for an expensive lawsuit it probably won’t win. Again, from the Missoulian link:

City Councilwoman Caitlin Copple proposed the ordinance changes in Missoula, but she could not be reached for comment. However, Copple and many other supporters of the ordinance have been strong allies of the ACLU on other matters.

Just three years ago, the ACLU of Montana honored Councilman Dave Strohmaier with a civil liberties award. In this case, Strohmaier said he did not find the ACLU’s legal analysis compelling, but he is interested in seeing the ways Boise’s ordinance compares with Missoula’s.

“It pains me to be on opposite sides of the fence of the ACLU in this particular instance, since I have certainly worked for and supported the causes of the ACLU in the past,” said Strohmaier, an outgoing council member running for the Montana Legislature.

Actually, Dave, it looks like the legal analysis is compelling. What a terrible final vote to make for someone who was specifically rewarded for his positions on civil liberties.

Thanks to this ill-conceived vote the city may get sued and lose. What a great way to spend taxpayer money. And while city council discusses getting sued next week, Missoula County is also preparing for litigation over Fred Van Valkenburg’s obstructionism against the DoJ. Maybe Problembear will have more to say on this one.

It would be great if the city of Missoula (and our Mayor) can admit these amendments were a mistake, and save us the time and money it will take to fight this flawed approach in the courts.

by lizard

Sean Azzariti, an Iraq combat vet, was the first person to legally purchase marijuana in Colorado (an eighth of Bubba Kush and some cannabis-infused chocolate truffles).

I’ve written quite a bit on the inevitable de-criminalization of cannabis, including a personal experience of white privilege in midwest suburbia.

It appears I’m not the only one who decided to write about their youthful experiences with weed, because David Brooks wants us all to know that he’s been there, and done that:

For a little while in my teenage years, my friends and I smoked marijuana. It was fun. I have some fond memories of us all being silly together. I think those moments of uninhibited frolic deepened our friendships.

But then we all sort of moved away from it. I don’t remember any big group decision that we should give up weed. It just sort of petered out, and, before long, we were scarcely using it.

Before I go any further, I want to mention that I think this is pretty typical of how young people experience cannabis—as a phase that eventually becomes uninteresting or counterproductive. And David Brooks essentially says the same thing.

But because he’s David Brooks, he concludes his piece with this moralizing heap of garbage regarding the experiment Colorado is embarking on:

The people who debate these policy changes usually cite the health risks users would face or the tax revenues the state might realize. Many people these days shy away from talk about the moral status of drug use because that would imply that one sort of life you might choose is better than another sort of life.

But, of course, these are the core questions: Laws profoundly mold culture, so what sort of community do we want our laws to nurture? What sort of individuals and behaviors do our governments want to encourage? I’d say that in healthy societies government wants to subtly tip the scale to favor temperate, prudent, self-governing citizenship. In those societies, government subtly encourages the highest pleasures, like enjoying the arts or being in nature, and discourages lesser pleasures, like being stoned.

In legalizing weed, citizens of Colorado are, indeed, enhancing individual freedom. But they are also nurturing a moral ecology in which it is a bit harder to be the sort of person most of us want to be.

Moral ecology? That sounds serious. I better consult another white, privileged columnist from a major news publication, to better flesh out the perils of legalized pot:

On balance, society will not be better off with another legal mind-altering substance. In particular, our kids will not be better off with another legal mind-altering substance.

As the American Medical Association concluded in recommending against legalization in November, “Cannabis is a dangerous drug and as such is a public health concern.” It added: “It is the most common illicit drug involved in drugged driving, particularly in drivers under the age of 21. Early cannabis use is related to later substance use disorders.”

And this point, for me, is the most convincing: “Heavy cannabis use in adolescence causes persistent impairments in neurocognitive performance and IQ, and use is associated with increased rates of anxiety, mood, and psychotic thought disorders.”

Yes, totally agreed. Pot may be the mind-altering substance that pushes us over the edge. Let’s stick to legal depressants and stimulants, like booze and Adderall (“properly” prescribed, of course).

David Weigel does a fine job putting Ruth and David in their place. Read the whole thing, it’s spot-on.

I began this morning making a mistake I haven’t made in awhile: watching Morning Joe. I watched Joe hem and haw in a sorta folksy over-simplification of an actually serious issue, and it was the perfect start to what turned out to be a really shitty day. Here’s a good summation of the clown show:

The rolling out of legalized recreational marijuana in Colorado has sparked endless cable news filler (and probably a befuddling uptick in traffic to The Blaze), including the occasional revelatory moment. For example, on Friday morning’s Morning Joe, host Joe Scarborough made the shocking revelation that he’s never tried the stuff, because it “makes you dumb,” then predictably defended his recreational substance of choice on the basis that weekend binge-drinking never leaves you an incapacitated moron come Monday morning.

After some banter about regional price differences, which Mark Halperin explained has to do with “quality, I’m told” (ha, ha, get it?), Scarborough offered that he doesn’t “get the legalization thing. I don’t want to get too deep into it, but seriously. It makes you dumb. Pot just makes you dumb.”

Scarborough explained that he used to hang around with people who smoked a lot of weed, then, in his best Chick Publications Bible tract character voice, said “Never once did I say ‘Hey, man. That looks like something I want to do.’”

Willie Geist then enacted the next scene in this familiar conversation with your dad in the 70s, asking “Does drinking make you dumb?”

“In large amounts, yeah, it makes you dumb,” Scarborough allowed, but observed that he never saw any of his weekend-drinking high school buddies hurting come Monday morning, unless they “wrapped their tree around a car.”

Ha fucking ha ha, Joe Scarborough. For those of us who have had people we care about killed by drunk drivers, your idiotic comparison is duly noted.

There are simply no compelling arguments against ending cannabis prohibition.

by lizard

I’m starting to think the leaked report from the Army’s inspector general regarding John Walsh’s misuse of his adjudant general position came from the Walsh campaign itself. Hear me out.

First, let’s look at a comment from Ellie Hill in this week’s Indy, where Hill acts as a “guest prognosticator” for 2014:

Sen. Max Baucus announced his retirement, surprising many with the news—even longtime staffers—and leaving Montanans with seemingly no succession plan. Gov. Steve Bullock and Sen. Jon Tester’s pick for Baucus’ replacement is Lt. Gov. John Walsh. For those who follow the dysfunctional inner-workings of Montana’s Democratic Party, they won’t be surprised to find out that former Gov. Brian Schweitzer has picked someone else—his administration’s lieutenant governor, John Bohlinger.

This comment was seized on by Aaron Flint on Twitter, where he asked Hill if Schweitzer backs Bohlinger. Hill’s response:

I was just guessing. I don’t think Schweitzer’s endorsed & my son’s Magic 8 Ball ain’t always 100% reliable.

Schweitzer may not have officially endorsed Bohlinger, but he made a pretty bold prediction that Bohlinger would win the primary if it was held in November (2013).

Now that Walsh is getting some scrutiny about his leadership ethics, the guy who hired Walsh, then boasted about throwing away the inspector general’s report, is being forced to defend Walsh, something I know Walsh supporters like Don Pogreba are giddy about.

Here’s a portion of the Hill article quoting the Brian:

Former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) said he dismissed an Army independent investigator’s report on then-Adjudant General John Walsh, now the state’s lieutenant governor and Democratic Senate candidate.

“I treated it with the respect it deserved,” Schweitzer told the Helena Independent Record. “I put it in the round file.”

The Army’s inspector general concluded in 2010 that Walsh had improperly used his position for personal gain by pressuring some Montana National Guard troops into joining the National Guard Association of the United States, a private organization that advocates for more equipment for the National Guard which Walsh was a board member of.

Schweitzer, who appointed Walsh as Montana’s adjudant general and director of military affairs, derides the report as “much ado about nothing” and “a completely partisan end run in the National Guard attempting to embarrass [Walsh].”

It was essentially Schweitzer’s responsibility to do something if he found merit in the report. Now that it was leaked, Brian, to protect his folksy political brand, has to come to Walsh’s defense.

This report was going to come out somehow. If I was running the Walsh campaign, it would make sense to get it out early and use the cover of the holidays all while leveraging Schweitzer into a little self-interested support of John Walsh.

In another post from Don Pogreba, he rhetorically asks Why in the world would Montanans be cynical about politics?. Before launching into an attack on the political opportunist, Bob Brigham (who I’m assuming is the main “strategist” working for Bohlinger) Don said this:

When people talk about their cynicism about politics, it’s typically their perception that those involved in campaigns will say and do almost anything to get elected.

I totally agree. I would add the constant hypocrisy displayed by both teams when it comes to the functional, selective outrage used to score political points.

Again in the most recent Indy, the Etc. column features a chilling message for journalists in this state, and it’s coming from the Bullock administration. I’m going to include the whole thing, because I think it’s really important to raise awareness about what it’s going to take for journalists to get us, the public, the information we have every right to know about our public officials. Please go to the link or click continue to read the piece in full.

Continue Reading »

by lizard

The Winter Olympics in Sochi officially ignites February 7th, but tensions over a number of issues have been simmering for months.

For those looking to make the games a stage for shaming Russia over LGBT rights (among other things), the IOC (International Olympic Committee) has provided some clarification about how to do that without breaking their rules:

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has made it clear to nations competing in February’s Winter Games in Sochi that athletes will be free to speak out against Russia’s controversial anti-gay laws, as long as they do so away from accredited areas.

The British Olympic Association (BOA) said it had received a letter from the IOC clarifying its rule 50, which says “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted”. The IOC has been under pressure to clarify its position since Russia introduced the new laws, which prohibit the “promotion” of homosexuality to under 18s, earlier this year.

This prompted calls for a boycott of the Games from some, including the actor Stephen Fry, and led others to condemn the new laws. The BOA, which expects to send up to 55 athletes to the Winter Olympics, said it had received a letter from the IOC this week, after last week’s executive committee meeting, clarifying the rules.

The IOC has also said that Sochi organisers will provide “protest zones”, as in Beijing, where demonstrations would be permitted. Human rights groups are concerned not only about the anti-gay laws but a wider chilling effect on freedom of speech under Vladimir Putin. The BOA said it would not stand in the way of any athletes who wanted to speak out on gay rights or any other issue, as long as they comply with the Olympic charter.

Protests zones, how dare they! Just for fun, I googled “University of Montana free speech zone” and found this:

The area between Mansfield Library and the University Center is designated as the Free Speech Zone. Use of the Free Speech Zone may only be restricted in terms of speaking time and volume.

The Oval may be used for other speech purposes upon approval of the President. Request to use the Oval is done through the University Center Event Planning Office. Speakers in the Oval may not interfere with The University’s educational mission by being too loud and disrupting classroom activities.

The authoritarian policies of the Russian state will be receiving lots of righteous indignation by all kinds of do-gooding western advocacy groups, most of it well-intentioned and genuine, I’m sure (I’m not trying to sound sarcastic here).

My worry is that those using their time, energy, and resources will be doing so without giving enough thought to the geopolitics of homosexuality.

In that post, the country I chose to contrast the Olympic concern-trolling of Russia was Saudi Arabia, assuring readers that it’s been a long time (12 years) since our Saudi friends have beheaded one of their subjects for being gay.

The brutality of the Saudi monarchy—especially Prince Bandar—is taking on a sinister tone after the Volgograd bombings. That link is CNN, and trots out Chechen separatists. A more likely Saudi Arabian perp won’t get CNN’s interest unless directed from above. That link is from b at Moon of Alabama, a perspective I’m thankful to have.

Russian citizens are getting blowback for something, and it might have something to do with oil and the proxy war in Syria.

Speaking of Syria, there are some headlines coming in under the holiday radar that may be used down the road—like Syria misses deadline to remove chemical weapons.

Israeli leaders are also expressing their displeasure at US foreign policy by trying to humiliate John Kerry, again. From Mondoweiss:

A top minister is scheduled to attend a Thursday dedication ceremony for a new Israeli neighborhood in a Jordan Valley settlement while US Secretary of State John Kerry is to be in the region, a move that could threaten to further complicate the ongoing peace process. Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar and other lawmakers are scheduled to visit the Jordan Valley community of Gitit and attend a ceremony during which “actual construction… on a new neighborhood” will take place, according to the organizers.

Add Iran to the mix, and the counter threat from the Iranian parliament to accelerate enrichment if Congress passes new sanctions, and we’ve got quite a few brewing headaches that could go aneurysm.

2014, here we go.




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