Archive for May, 2014

Quick Hits

by lizard

Internationally, Nationally, Locally, it’s the same craziness over and over again. In Ukraine, the new president is already killing “pro-Russian” rebels. We haven’t heard anything from The Polish Wolf about Ukraine since April 13th, when he declared how The American Left has Failed on Ukraine. Now that PW’s assertion has been exposed for the crap it was back then, I guess he doesn’t have anything to say.

Nationally, our economy is Back in the Red and another disturbed young man killed a bunch of people with a gun. Regarding the latter, Ruth Fowler criticized the immediate media flurry around the cause du jour of this latest tragedy: misogyny:

Jessica Valenti in The Guardian makes the fatuous point that Elliot Rodger’s California shooting spree is “Further proof that misogyny kills”, as if the feminist movement and history has been lacking ample evidence up until this moment. She bolsters her argument by quoting her friends’ tweets, as if they too are the “further proof” that White Feminists have needed that they’re a peculiarly oppressed and tormented species. Delving onto twitter, other feminists resort to bad drama: When you are an affluent man who benefits from white supremacy, knowing how to talk to the police gets you a free pass… TO MURDER. @thetinavelazquez writes. In fact, everyone from Salon to The Guardian to The Atlantic to The New Statesman to The Huffington Post to Twitter, all basically say the same thing: Elliot Rodgers killed because he hated women, although they all seem to be conveniently missing each other’s articles and acting as if they’re the only ones drawing such a ‘radical’ conclusion.

Let’s cut the crap. Killers are not usually attracted to nonviolent philosophies, peaceful ideologies and challenging systemic oppression. Quit fucking acting like it’s a surprise Elliot Rodger was a misogynistic, racist, sex starved, white male privileged fuck either formed by, or attracted to, the kinds of ideologies expressed in his disgusting manifesto.

Locally, there’s another story about panhandling and this time, after admitting the ordinances aren’t working, the discussion seems to be centered around increasing the punishment to include jail time:

“The ordinance really hasn’t helped, and I’m not so sure it didn’t re-educate these guys,” said Worden’s Market owner Tim France. “They are more intractable, it seems. They’re clear about knowing where they can sit, and I’ve watched them sit for hours and hours and hours, even after multiple contacts by law enforcement.”

To deal with the problem, some have called for fines and possible jail time for repeat offenders. France has adjusted his business by monitoring liquor sales and types. Other downtown establishments that sell packaged liquor may do the same in an effort to forge their own solution.

France said he recently observed two intoxicated transients engage in a fistfight in the middle of the day with families nearby. It was one of several examples given to highlight the problems business owners and downtown shoppers face.

Why are physical assaults going unpunished? The article doesn’t get into that. Instead, we hear about a multimillion dollar investor telling city officials we need to clean up downtown Missoula:

Ellen Buchanan, executive director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, met recently with developers eying a high-priced project in the Riverfront Triangle.

After the meeting, one developer spent an evening downtown. Despite his worldly travels, he was less than pleased with the level of panhandling, aggressive behavior and inebriation he witnessed among Missoula’s transient population.

“He told me, ‘You’ve got some cleaning up to do in your downtown,’ ” Buchanan told the committee. “This is someone who’s looking at a multi-multimillion-dollar investment downtown. His concerns certainly caught my attention.”

I ran across an interesting article from Slate calling for a tripling of alcohol taxes because alcohol is a very dangerous drug:

Why would I, a great lover of the free enterprise system, want the alcohol market to be more heavily regulated? Precisely because I’m a believer in the power of the profit motive, I understand how deadly it can be when the product being sold is intoxication. For-profit businesses exist to increase sales. The most straightforward way to do that is not to encourage everyone to drink moderately, but to focus on the small minority of people who drink the most. That is exactly what liquor companies do, and they’ll do more of it if we let Big Liquor have its way. In Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know, the authors estimate that at current beer prices, it costs about $5 to $10 to get drunk, or a dollar or two per drunken hour. To get a sense of what the world would look like if that price fell significantly, go to a typical town square in England on a weekend night, where alcohol-fueled violence is rampant, or to Russia, where the ruling class has used cheap vodka as a tool to keep the population drunk, passive, and stupid for generations.

We shouldn’t be satisfied with keeping the per dollar cost of getting drunk where it is today. We should make it higher. Much higher. Kleiman and his colleagues Jonathan P. Caulkins and Angela Hawken have suggested tripling the federal alcohol tax from 10 cents a drink to 30 cents a drink, an increase that they estimate would prevent 6 percent of homicides and 6 percent of motor vehicle deaths, thus sparing 3,000 lives (1,000 from the drop in homicides, 2,000 from safer highways) every year. Charging two-drink-per-day drinkers an extra $12 per month seems like a laughably small price to pay to deter binge drinking. Then, of course, there is the fact that a higher alcohol tax would also raise revenue. If you’re going to tax tanning beds and sugary soft drinks, why on earth wouldn’t you raise alcohol taxes too? If anything, 30 cents a drink isn’t high enough. Let’s raise the alcohol tax to a point just shy of where large numbers of people will start making illegal moonshine in their bathtubs.

An interesting line of thinking, and probably a better approach than jailing addicts so chemically dependent to booze that going cold turkey could kill them.

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By Duganz

Long time and no see around these parts. What can I say? I moved away from Missoula a few years ago and with that came a sense of staying out of the conversation while Liz, JC and J-Girl continued bringing up progressive ideas in the blogosphere.

Not that I’ve been silent. I just haven’t been blogging here.

Recently I became involved in a the first ever Montana Secular Summit and I am really excited about it. Finally a bunch of secular Montanans will be gathering to talk about the issues facing our state, and how to keep the great wall of church and state present. I am so excited to be a part of it, and I really want to hear from 4&20 readers and hope to see a few in Helena on June 21st. Dr. David Orenstein will be there as a keynote speaker, and will surely be an entertaining guest. And then there will also be a lot of secular Montanans hanging out and being their lovely selves.

Well, why is that important? Because according to Pew Research, 20percent of Montana is without religion. That’s a lot of people in a state represented (currently, ick) by Steve “the world is 6,000 years old” Daines.

So, I hope that you’ll join me and a bunch of folks from around our great state as we celebrate being good without god, and just being humans.

If you’d like I will answer as many questions as I can about atheism, humanism and secularism should you leave comments on this post. Otherwise, have a nice day and please consider coming to Helena on June 21st to celebrate freedom and freethought.

by lizard

Memorial day is suppose to be a time where we, as a nation, remember the men (and women) who died in the violent theaters of war; the socially acceptable way to harness and direct the violent capacity of mankind.

This Memorial day weekend is different. Man’s capacity for violence is under the microscope thanks to a shooting rampage in Santa Barbara. The man pulling the trigger in this latest episode of horrific gun violence is Elliot Rodger, a 22 year old autistic rich kid who turned his inability to connect with women into a shooting spree that left 6 people dead and over a dozen injured. In the wake of this tragedy, the digital footprint of this disturbed young man has sparked a firestorm of criticism toward the mens rights movement (and subcultures of that movement, like pick-up artists). This from Slate:

On Friday night, a gunman killed six people in Santa Barbara, and the killer himself was found dead with a gunshot wound to his head. Soon after police began investigating the crime, 22-year-old student Elliot Rodger emerged as the main suspect. Like many modern mass murders, this one left a robust digital trail, including a video Rodger recently posted to YouTube where he parks his BMW in front of a bank of palm trees and describes his plan to seek retribution from the women who have rejected him. Rodger calls himself the “perfect guy” and a “supreme gentleman” who’s been overlooked by women who prefer “obnoxious brutes.” Then he lays out his plans to “enter the hottest sorority house of [the University of California, Santa Barbara], and … slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up blonde slut I see inside there.” To “all those girls I’ve desired so much,” he says, “you will finally see that I am the superior one, the true alpha male.”

Rodger’s language is familiar to anyone who’s spent time exploring the Pick-Up Artist or Men’s Rights Activist communities. Rodger was a “Nice Guy,” a man who feels he is entitled to sex based on positive personality traits known only to him. (“I’ve wanted love, affection, adoration. You think I’m unworthy of it. That’s a crime that can never be forgiven,” he said). He aspired to be an “Alpha,” the most attractive, dominant man in his group, but felt he’s been wrongly dismissed as an inferior “Beta.” Pick-Up Artists, by the way, refer to women they would like to have sex with as their “targets.”

On Twitter the hashtag #YesAllWomen quickly emerged as a way to catalogue the pervasive harassment women experience. Here’s a quote from the author Margaret Atwood:

“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” ~ Margaret Atwood #NotAllMen #YesAllWomen

Though the criticism of much of this men’s rights movement is very warranted, there is a longstanding crisis with the male identity that needs some more honest engagement. I think that engagement started happening with a book by the poet Robert Bly, titled Iron John: A Book About Men (1990). This book helped spark the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement:

Because most men no longer perform masculine rituals, mythopoets assert that men have mutated into destructive, hypermasculine chauvinists, or, in the opposite direction, have become too feminized. The mythopoetic men performed rituals at these gatherings, which were meant to imitate those performed by tribal societies when men initiated boys into a deeply essential natural manhood. The movement emphasized the importance of including multiple generations of men in the rituals, so that the men could learn about masculinity from those who were older and wiser.[1]

Characteristic of the early mythopoetic movement was a tendency to retell myths, legends and folktales, and engage in their exegesis as a tool for personal insight. Using frequent references to archetypes as drawn from Jungian analytical psychology, the movement focused on issues of gender role, gender identity and wellness for the modern man (and woman). Advocates would often engage in storytelling with music, these acts being seen as a modern extension to a form of “new age shamanism” popularized by Michael Harner at approximately the same time. The movement sought to empower men by means of equating archetypal characters with their own emotions and abilities. For instance, Michael Messner describes the concept of “Zeus energy” as emphasizing “male authority accepted for the good of the community”. Beliefs about the emotional system based in archetypes of great men, mythopoets sought to channel these characters in themselves, so that they could unleash their “animal-males”. This group primarily analyzed the archetypes of King, Warrior, Magician, Lover and Wildman.[1]

Here is a quote from Bly’s book:

”During the fifties, for example, the American character appeared with some consistency that became a model of manhood adopted by many men: the Fifties male. He got to work early, labored responsibly, supported his wife and children and admired discipline. Reagan is a sort of mummified version of this dogged type. This sort of man didn’t see women’s souls well, but he appreciated their bodies; and his view of culture and America’s part in it was boyish and optimistic. Many of his qualities were strong and positive, but underneath the charm and bluff there was, and there remains, much isolation, deprivation, and passivity. Unless he has an enemy, he isn’t sure that he is alive. The Fifties man was supposed to like football, be aggressive, stick up for the United States, never cry, and always provide…. During the sixties, another sort of man appeared. The waste and violence of the Vietnam war made men question whether they knew what an adult male really was. If manhood meant Vietnam, did they want any part of it? Meanwhile, the feminist movement encouraged men to actually look at women, forcing them to become conscious of concerns and sufferings that the Fifties male labored to avoid.”

Masculinity is not a de facto negative trait, but as the roles of providing and protecting are compromised by the ravages of late-stage capitalism, the angst of not being able to fulfill the conventional masculine roles seems to breed anger, resentment, and violence. While feminism has made impressive strides in redefining the role of women in society, I think the biggest failure of feminism has been the reluctance to acknowledge what that redefinition means for men.

By focusing attention on the negative aspects of masculinity, the gender reset that needed to happen but didn’t may actually be pushing men into seeking hyper-masculine identities to compensate for the confusion of a perceived cultural impotence, especially when it comes to the economic role as provider.

As the father of two young boys, I get to model my interpretation of masculinity for them. For me, that means making sure they understand it’s ok to experience the full range of emotions, especially those that make us cry. The relationship I have with my wife is also critical, because how my wife and I work together provides the social cues that our boys will take with them in their interactions with the opposite sex. It’s a tremendous responsibility.

It’s unfortunate that tragedy seems to be the driving catalyst for these conversations. I’m interested to hear what others think.

by lizard

Forbes has a cute title for an article about the 400 billion dollar gas deal between Russia and China: A Game of Spigots? The article describes the deal as an opportunity for both respective leaders to strengthen ailing national oil companies:

Russia to China gas deal is more than just a story of global markets and geopolitics (see my colleague Ken Medlock’s piece on the deal’s impact on global and Asian gas markets, and Jim Krane’s piece on global geopolitical implications of the negotiations). The gas pipeline between China and Russia also represents concrete personal achievements that Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping can point to in defending their authoritarian policies against criticism from home and abroad. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the gas deal is a game of spigots: a well-timed effort by both Russia and China to simultaneously inject resources in to ailing national oil and gas companies (NOCs) in exchange for new political control over these flagship state enterprises.

The idea of national oil companies might sound crazy to rabid Capitalists, but when you look at the lovely set-up Big Oil has in the states, the craziness is how American taxpayers subsidize the most profitable industry in the world:

US oil companies earn about $3 billion in profits every week, yet get $4 billion in taxpayer subsidies every year. In the first quarter of 2011, Big Oil’s profits were up 38% from the first quarter of 2010.

The industry’s outsize profits didn’t stop it from squealing like a stuck pig over proposals to trim $2 billion from its annual subsidies and use the revenue to reduce the deficit by about $21 billion over 10 years.

The oil companies tried to characterize the end of their subsidies as a “tax hike,” despite growing and widespread recognition across the political spectrum that tax breaks are just another form of government spending, one of several ways to provide direct support for an industry. Before becoming Speaker, John Boehner (R-Ohio) admitted that “tax deductions, credits, and special carve-outs . . . what Washington sometimes calls tax cuts are really just poorly disguised spending programs ….”

Subsidizing the oil industry is bad enough. Sending soldiers to Iraq to kill and die for the oil industry is beyond obscene. Here’s Mike Whitney’s latest, titled Iraq: the Biggest Petroleum Heist in History? Here’s an excerpt:

Dr Abdulhay Yahya Zalloum, an international oil consultant and economist …(said) he believes western oil companies have successfully acquired the lions’ share of Iraq’s oil, “but they gave a little piece of the cake for China and some of the other countries and companies to keep them silent”. (Aljazeera)

How do you like that? These guys operate just like the Mafia. The Bossman pays off China with a few million barrels, and China keeps its mouth shut. Nice. Everyone gets “their cut” so they don’t go blabbing to the media about the ripoff that’s taking place in broad daylight. The stench of corruption is overpowering.

And here’s something else you won’t see in the media. In a White House press release, the Obama administration announced that they would continue to support Iraq’s “efforts to develop the energy sector” in order to “help boost Iraq’s oil production.”….

According to Assim Jihad, spokesman for Iraq’s ministry of oil, “Iraq has a goal of raising its oil production capacity to 12m bpd by 2017, which would place it in the top echelon of global producers.” (Aljazeera)

“12 million barrels-per-day by 2017″?

That makes this the biggest petroleum heist in history. And we’re supposed to believe that the oil bigwigs didn’t know anything about this before the war? What a crock! I’ll bet you even money the CEOs and their lackeys figured out that Saudi Arabia was running out of gas, so they decided to pick up stakes and move their operations to good old Mesopotamia. That’s why they put their money on Bush and Cheney, because they knew that two former oil men would do the heavy lifting once they got shoehorned into the White House. The whole thing was a set-up from the get-go, right down to the 5 shady Supremes who suspended the voting in Florida and crowned Bush emperor in 2000. The whole thing was probably mapped out years in advance.

Big oil runs everything in America. People talk about the power of Wall Street and Israel, but oil is still king. They run it all, and they own it all. And “what they say, goes.”

Too simplistic? Maybe. But it’s hard to overstate the influence of Big Oil.

by lizard

In a Cowgirl post titled Extremist Legislators Left 50,000 in the Coverage Gap the failure of expanding Medicaid is placed solely on Tea Party legislators:

A faction of extreme right legislators banded together during the last session to refuse the federal funds to pay for 100% of the health care benefits for working poor Montanans.

What Cowgirl glosses over is the mistaken vote from Democrat Tom Jacobson that ultimately kept Medicaid expansion dead in committee. Here is how the Washington Post described how that disastrous vote got miscast:

“It was near the end of the session,” says Jacquie Helt, director of SEIU Healthcare 775 Northwest, who had lobbied hard for the expansion. “I can’t imagine the fatigue they’re all feeling at that point.”

This is when “the vote” — as many Montanans I spoke with described the mistaken ballot — occurred. When the Medicaid expansion bill came up, Republican House Speaker Mark Bladsel motioned for the legislation to be sent back to committee, where many observers expected that it would languish.

Here’s how Hunter describes what happened next. “It was tense,” he says. “I’m standing up, I’m appealing the speaker’s decision and he’s reading the rule [that says he can refer it to committee.].

“We had some procedural motions to challenge the speaker. One of our Democratic members pushed the wrong button. That procedural motion failed on a tied vote.”

That legislator was Tom Jacobson, a freshman from a central Montana town called Great Falls. Jacobson told local reporters that he got the vote wrong, although he did not respond to my phone calls and e-mail requesting comment.

Montana’s House rules do generally allow legislators to change their votes (Bangarter told me that these changes were generally accompanied by a $20 donation to charity, but I could not find anything about that in the statute). They do not, however, allow legislators to change their vote if “it would affect the outcome of legislation.” And in this case, it would change the outcome: One vote flipping would mean the Medicaid expansion would make it to the floor.

“We got very close to pulling this off,” Montana Hospital Association’s John Flink says. “If the person who made the mistake had voted the correct way, the bill would have gone to the floor. We had the votes there.”

So unlike the other 20+ plus states that saw a chance to figuratively punch poor people in the face, Montana has the dubious distinction of being the one state that turned its back on Federal Medicaid funds because a freshman legislator voted the wrong way, and this is part of the consequence of that vote:

In states that have opted not to expand, adults earning more than 100 percent of the poverty level, but less than the 139 percent or above required to be eligible for subsidies on the PPACA-administered exchanges, will find themselves in a health coverage no-man’s land.

In effect, millions of adults who otherwise would have qualified for coverage will find health care still out of their reach.

Mental health experts across the country warn that pulling the carpet from under the country’s poorest and most vulnerable — the mentally ill — will force them to turn to more costly, and less effective, channels such as emergency rooms.

In Missouri, “hospitals are decreasing their psychiatric beds because [those patients] are the highest percentage of non-payers,” says Diane Maguire, a director at Places for People, another community health center in Missouri. “Often the people we serve are not able to get services at more traditional agencies due to their active symptoms.”

It also will strain law enforcement, which is often forced to respond to emergencies involving the untreated mentally ill and typically needs to transport patients to distant centers. Prisoners with mental illness cost the nation an average of nearly $9 billion a year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Gee, I wonder if there is any common sense approach that could be both a more humane way of treating those in our community with mental illness, and also save money?

“The numbers are stunning,” Andrae Bailey, the CEO of the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, told the Orlando Sentinel. “Our community will spend nearly half a billion dollars [on the chronically homeless], and at the end of the decade, these people will still be homeless.”

Bailey is referring to numbers recently found by Creative Housing Solutions, which tracked public expenditures on local homeless people in the Central Florida region. Because of costs like frequent emergency room visits, hospital admissions and repeated arrests for homeless-related crimes, the analysis estimated each homeless person costs taxpayers $31,065 each year. To put that into perspective, providing the chronically homeless with permanent housing and case managers to supervise them would be about $10,000 per person each year.

As astounding as those numbers may seem, the data isn’t as groundbreaking as you might think.

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte released a study in March that found housing chronically homeless adults produced a 78 percent reduction in emergency room costs — a price tag that would have eventually been passed on to the taxpayer — the Charlotte Observer reported. The numbers also showed the previously homeless tenants in the study spent 84 percent fewer days in jail, largely due to a decrease in crimes like loitering and begging.

In lieu of a special session called by the Governor to grapple with expanding Medicaid coverage, there is the Healthy Montana Initiative (I-170). Across the state, Montanans will have the opportunity to voice their support for I-170 by providing signatures. If you are a registered Montana voter who sees the benefit of covering 70,000 people in this state and creating 20,000 jobs, we need your help.

By JC

“When is the war on terror over?”

So asked Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) today. And then he promptly answered himself:

I don’t know what the answer is to the question.”

When the head of the Senate Armed Service Committee asks a rhetorical question like this, and then has no answer, quite simply we are fucked.

Terrorism has been around since the dawn of time, and will be with the human species until we evolve socially and culturally beyond using war and violence to resolve our differences. 

Given the current climate in Washington, and all over the capitalist world, if we are going to maintain a permanent state of war via the AUMF until terrorism ends, then it will be a cold day in hell before we again see peace in, and being projected from, the United States.

Here’s Levin’s statement in context:

“We should be having a conversation about how to update the authorization of the use of military force, but we still have to protect the country while we’re having that discussion,” [Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas)] said. “Unfortunately, this puts the cart before the horse deciding to repeal [AUMF] before we know what will be used to replace it.”

“The world is still dangerous,” he added. “The terrorists are still coming for us. We need to keep this in place.”

Even if the measure had passed the House, the Senate is similarly ambivalent about taking on the AUMF, which also provides the legal basis for detaining terror suspects indefinitely in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) told HuffPost in an interview that his committee was not looking at a similar provision as it debates its own version of the NDAA bill this week.

“It’s a very complex issue,” Levin said. “If there’s no AUMF, what do you do with guys like Khalid Sheik Mohammed? If there is an AUMF, we have a right to keep people under the laws of war until that’s over.”

Levin admitted he was at a loss as to what to do.

“I’m the first one to acknowledge there’s a real intellectual problem here as to when is the war on terror over, or when does that authorization end,” Levin said. “It’s a huge issue. It needs to be debated. There needs to be hearings on it. I don’t know the answer to the question. Maybe if I knew the answer to the question I’d be a little more sure about an amendment. But I don’t know what the answer is to the question.”

He echoed Thornberry about the ongoing risk of terrorism.

“There continues to be a threat from the same threat or an associated source that existed when we passed the AUMF. That threat continues,” Levin said.

“A real intellectual problem here…”

I’d say. And I’d add that’s just the tip of the iceberg

by lizard

I’ve done my best to try and understand what motivations lurk behind US foreign policy. As wars of occupation under Bush shifted to semi-covert JSOC ops and R2P “humanitarian” interventions under Obama, I’ve searched out counter narratives and non-American news sources. I even invite ridicule by not automatically dismissing conspiratorial possibilities.

If I took foreign policy under the Obama brand straight, I’d say it’s incompetence bordering on lunacy.

The Arab Spring seemed like genuine sparks in countries like Tunisia and Egypt, sparks that quickly spread among people tired of being squeezed. Here is a really interesting article from May 19th, 2011 from the Guardian about how the Obama administration was choosing to respond. Almost exactly 3 years later, it reads much different than it did at the time:

Barack Obama’s speech on the Middle East was a belated response to extraordinary events over which the US has so far exercised precious little influence.

The president lavished praise on the spirit of people power that has animated this year’s “Arab spring” but also made clear that direct US involvement in the region would remain selective.

Billions of dollars in debt relief and loans for post-revolutionary Egypt and Tunisia will be a boost for troubled economies, though it will not erase the memory of long years of US support for their now deposed dictators, Hosni Mubarak and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

Strikingly, Saudi Arabia, one of the most repressive countries in the Arab world and a key US ally and oil supplier, got not a single mention in the 5,400-word speech.

The emphasis is mine; we now know what Obama meant when he said direct US involvement would remain selective. Look the other way as Saudi Arabia cracked down on the upheaval in Bahrain, a shrug of the geopolitical shoulders when Egypt’s democracy movement was stomped out.

And Libya? A NATO-backed demolition job Libya still hasn’t even begun to recover from. And Syria? Arming Al-Qaeda affiliated jihadists with weapons liberated from Libya.

After thoroughly fucking up the Middle East (with a little help from our good friend, Israel) Obama declared the US was going to pivot to Asia. Ostensibly this pivot was going to be about trade and security. That’s not happening.

First, there are serious tensions in the South China Sea (this coming from the council on foreign relations, mind you):

Territorial spats over the waters and islands of the South China Sea have roiled relations between China and countries like Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei in recent years, and tensions continue to escalate in the wake of U.S. President Barack Obama’s announced “pivot” of focus to the region. A handful of islands comprise the epicenter of the territorial dispute, making up an area known as the “cow’s tongue” that spans roughly the entire South China Sea. The region is home to a wealth of natural resources, fisheries, trade routes, and military bases, all of which are at stake in the increasingly frequent diplomatic standoffs.

Then there’s the ongoing coup still developing in Thailand:

Thailand’s army has declared martial law across the country to restore order following months of anti-government protests that have left 28 people dead and hundreds wounded.

An announcement on military-run television said martial law had been invoked “to restore peace and order for people from all sides”, stressing that the move “is not a coup”.

“The public do not need to panic but can still live their lives as normal,” it added.

The move, which gives the military control of nationwide security rather than the police, risks angering supporters of the government if it is seen as tantamount to a coup.

And to top things off, the clear US involvement in fomenting unrest in Ukraine, combined with those oddly timed indictments of Chinese state hackers seems to be pushing Russia into creating stronger alliances with China. At Moon of Alabama, b has a post up worth reading, titled The Non-Disastrous Russia-China Alliance. Here’s the opening paragraphs:

The President of the Russian Federation is in China and pursues various economic deals with the country. A huge gas deal, though it may not get signed yet, is in the making in which Russia will deliver natural gas and oil to China over a period of 30 years. The payments will be made in rubles and yuan leaving the dollar out of the business.

This is the long expected start of an Eurasian axis. Russia has plenty of natural resources, good basic industries and world class research and weapon productions. China has lots of people and high tech manufacturing capabilities. Together China and Russia would be a major powerblock that could exist, if needed, mostly independent of the “western” ruled global political and economic system.

Caged animals are dangerous. As the supremacy of the dollar is slowly challenged, how will western plutocrats respond?

by lizard

Oh American Government, sometimes you are simply hilarious, like when you indict 5 members of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army for economic espionage:

By indicting members of the People’s Liberation Army’s most famous cyberwarfare operation, called Unit 61398 but known among hackers by the moniker “Comment Crew,” the Obama administration is now using the legal system to make a case it has previously confined to classified briefings: that the Chinese military leadership is behind an enormous organized campaign to steal American intellectual property and designs for its own profit.

For two years now, President Obama and his aides have declared that when the United States spies on China, its goals are sharply different from those of the Chinese who engage in espionage. In public speeches and private conversations with Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, Mr. Obama has argued that it is far more pernicious to use the intelligence instruments of the state for commercial competitive advantage.

Obama can flap those deceitful lips all he wants, but actions speak louder than words. If Obama says using intelligence instruments of the state for commercial competitive advantage is pernicious, then how in the hell is he going to explain this:

The National Security Agency is secretly intercepting, recording, and archiving the audio of virtually every cell phone conversation on the island nation of the Bahamas.

According to documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the surveillance is part of a top-secret system – code-named SOMALGET – that was implemented without the knowledge or consent of the Bahamian government. Instead, the agency appears to have used access legally obtained in cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to open a backdoor to the country’s cellular telephone network, enabling it to covertly record and store the “full-take audio” of every mobile call made to, from and within the Bahamas – and to replay those calls for up to a month.

SOMALGET is part of a broader NSA program called MYSTIC, which The Intercept has learned is being used to secretly monitor the telecommunications systems of the Bahamas and several other countries, including Mexico, the Philippines, and Kenya. But while MYSTIC scrapes mobile networks for so-called “metadata” – information that reveals the time, source, and destination of calls – SOMALGET is a cutting-edge tool that enables the NSA to vacuum up and store the actual content of every conversation in an entire country.

This excerpt comes from an article put out this morning by First Look, via The Intercept. It’s a major story and it will be interesting to see how people respond to this latest disclosure of the rampant abuses perpetrated by the NSA (fun fact: Oprah and Bill Gates both have houses in the Bahamas) Wikileaks and Pando have already taken issue with the editorial decision by The Intercept to withhold the name of another country getting the full suck from the NSA, but I doubt that criticism will get much traction. What I’m more interested in is how the blatant hypocrisy will be explained by the Obama administration.

And if the NSA has the capability to do this to other countries, then one has to wonder to what extent this could be done in the States.

by lizard

The forced departure of Jill Abramson from the New York Times has caused a firestorm of speculation, and rightly so. Whatever ultimately led Arthur Sulzberger to make his decision, reports of a conflict over a pay discrepancy seems to be getting the most traction.

Abramson’s successor, Dean Baquet, is getting some interesting flak from Glenn Greenwald, who managed to carve out some time from his packed promotional appearances for his book launch to weigh in on the first black man replacing the first woman to preside, editorially, over the gray lady:

Glenn Greenwald joined HuffPost Live Friday to discuss Edward Snowden, the latest news on NSA spying and his recent book “No Place to Hide.” The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist weighed in on the turmoil at the New York Times this week and had some choice words for incoming executive editor Dean Baquet, who with the LA Times in 2006, was accused of killing a story about collaboration between AT&T and the NSA.

HuffPost Live host Alyona Minkovski asked Greenwald what kind of leader Baquet will be for the New York Times. “I think of all the executive editors of the New York Times,” Greenwald began, “at least in recent history, or I’ll say in the last 10 years since I’ve paying extremely close attention to how the New York Times functions, Jill Abramson was probably the best advocate for an adversarial relationship between the government and the media. I don’t know if she’s always been that way but in her stewardship of the paper as editor in chief I think that was definitely the case.”

Greenwald did not have kind words for incoming executive editor Dean Baquet. He said, “By contrast, her successor Dean Baquet does have a really disturbing history of practicing this form of journalism that is incredibly subservient to the American National security state, and if his past record and his past actions and statements are anything to go by, I think it signals that the New York Times is going to continue to descend downward into this sort of journalism that is very neutered and far too close to the very political factions that it’s supposed to exercise oversight over.”

Proximity to political factions when that political faction is a billionaire bankrolling “adversarial journalism” is something I was immediately weary of regarding First Look Media and The Intercept.

As Greenwald cashes in with his book/movie deals, Marcy Wheeler (the wikipedia info needs updating) has decided to leave the billionaire media boutique and I’m sure it has nothing to do with Ukraine:

Marcy Wheeler, one of the all-star launch line-up of Pierre Omidyar’s “The Intercept” has left her role as senior policy analyst at the site, even before it has officially launched.

According to Capital New York, which first broke the news, “Wheeler, who writes regularly about national security and civil liberties on her blog, has only published one article to date on the First Look Media.”

The departure comes after criticism (mainly from Pando, it should be noted) over Omidyar’s donations to Ukraine opposition groups and also the Intercept’s lack of updates in recent weeks. As I wrote here, Wheeler’s output had largely been limited to her own blog, Empty Wheel, and she appeared to have quietly dropped the Intercept from her official bio on other sites.

Here’s another take from TPM:

National security and civil liberties blogger Marcy Wheeler announced Firday she had left The Intercept, the digital news organization founded by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald and billionaire eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

Wheeler announced her “voluntary and amicable” split from the fledgling site on her blog.

She said her departure had nothing to do with her coverage of Ukraine, or the site’s relative inactivity that editor-in-chief John Cook addressed last month.

(Cook announced earlier this week that The Intercept is hiring, perhaps a sign that the site is awaking from its temporary slumber.)

Wheeler said her reasons for leaving “predate both of those things, to January.”

“I’ll have more to say–not about The Intercept, per se, but about things I’ve learned about my own journalism over the last 7 months, as the Edward Snowden story played out and the Intercept discussed hiring me–at some later point, after some reflection,” she wrote.

Man, I hope this doesn’t negatively impact Greenwald’s book sales.

by lizard

As I write this, there is a robust celebration going on across the alley behind our house, and I’m pretty sure at least one college-aged kid who just left the party is driving drunk. Graduation weekend is hitting full-crescendo tonight, so be safe out there Missoula.

Tomorrow, when a good percentage of tonight’s partygoers emerge from their stupors, their hangovers will be just hangovers. If I was tasked with giving a commencement speech today, I’d be tempted to use the hangover as a metaphor for the post-graduate reality of the debt-load graduates will carry into an anemic job market.

I bet regular readers of 4&20 can all agree “William Skink” would give a terrible commencement speech. I’d expand the hangover metaphor to include the post-WWII opportunity the Boomer generation wasted, trying to incite rage from Millennials over the short-sighted, greed-driven squandering of their future that occurred during the 80’s and 90’s. Not very inspiring.

Today’s graduating class is leaving the green expanse of campus and entering a world barely keeping up appearances. Nothing is assured and everything should be questioned (on a side-note, if you have any questions, or just want to drop me a message, you can now reach me at William_Skink@yahoo.com).

Good commencement speeches make use of other voices. I went to my shelves tonight and found a poem from the anthology Poets Against The War, edited by Sam Hamill. This is less a collection of poems and more a collective outcry against the impending Iraq disaster, which happened despite literally millions of people taking direct action to protest the media campaign of inevitability which paved the path to war.

Before that poem, a little shameless self-promotion. I finally re-formatted my collection of poems, titled Full Size Pattern (Lulu.com). I’m hoping that means I’ll finally get copies to a handful of people I said I’d give copies to, but haven’t yet because I was annoyed at my choice of font size and lack of introductory framing. I’m liking the tweaks and desperately needing to get my shit together.

Enough about me. Tonight’s poem comes from Judy Platz. Enjoy!

*

MARKERS

for Mort Krahling (1944-1998)
brother Bill and poets everywhere

The mystery is
that we are still here at all—
still beating our owl wings
under curved moon;
star-nose moles digging, digging
in the dark, toward light
bones, teeth, bits of hair to identify the others—
words left behind on pages for channel markers
in the deep ocean of soul;
our temporal homes that see us invisible
with pen and hand and paper to create
artifacts, for those yet who will search.

The journey unrelenting, absolute;
but look! Seed tendrils walks beside us
in damp darkness
toward the light, always toward the light.

—Judy Platz

by lizard

The micro(brew) can seem so simple. It’s just trade and markets, supply and demand. Take this headline: Hong Kong Official Touts Trade, Business Opportunities for Montana:

Craft beer and beef from Montana could find an eager market in Asia, according to the most senior representative of the Hong Kong government in the U.S.

Clement Leung, Hong Kong commissioner for economic and trade affairs, was at the University of Montana on Tuesday to speak at a luncheon hosted by the Missoula Economic Partnership and the Montana World Trade Center. He addressed a crowd of local business leaders, lawmakers and academics about business opportunities, trade relations and the economic importance of Montana to Hong Kong and vice-versa.

There is nothing overtly nefarious in how this kind of business is navigated. Luncheons are very orderly. But beyond the luncheons, economic activity requires energy, and energy is the driving force behind all the proxy wars of the over-extended US Empire.

Enter Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, who just got into the Ukrainian natural gas business by joining the “team” of Burisma Holdings:

Burisma Holdings, Ukraine’s largest private gas producer, has expanded its Board of Directors by bringing on Mr. R Hunter Biden as a new director.

R. Hunter Biden will be in charge of the Holdings’ legal unit and will provide support for the Company among international organizations. On his new appointment, he commented: “Burisma’s track record of innovations and industry leadership in the field of natural gas means that it can be a strong driver of a strong economy in Ukraine. As a new member of the Board, I believe that my assistance in consulting the Company on matters of transparency, corporate governance and responsibility, international expansion and other priorities will contribute to the economy and benefit the people of Ukraine.”

Mark Tokarski put up a post about this great opportunity for Hunter Biden and Ukraine, and in the comment thread JC quickly makes some connections absolutely worth reading. I won’t quote it now because I’m hoping JC will turn his comments into a post ;)

Keeping this whole charade going is the Federal Reserve, possibly through covert bond-purchases laundered through Belgium. Why? Because the Fed is fighting an undeclared currency war to preserve the status of the dollar as the global reserve currency. That is a complex claim that comes with two bylines, one of them Paul Craig Roberts. here’s an excerpt:

Washington’s power ultimately rests on the dollar as world reserve currency. This privilege, attained at Bretton Woods following World War 2, allows the US to pay its bills by issuing debt. The world currency role also gives the US the power to cut countries out of the international payments system and to impose sanctions.

As impelled as the Fed is to protect the large banks that sit on the board of directors of the NY Fed, the Fed has to protect the dollar. That the Fed believed that it could not buy the bonds outright but needed to disguise its purchase by laundering it through Belgium suggests that the Fed is concerned that the world is losing confidence in the dollar.

If the world loses confidence in the dollar, the cost of living in the US would rise sharply as the dollar drops in value. Economic hardship and poverty would worsen. Political instability would rise.

If the dollar lost substantial value, the dollar would lose its reserve currency status. Washington would not be able to issue new debt or new dollars in order to pay its bills.

Its wars and hundreds of overseas military bases could not be financed.

That is the backdrop to the anti-dollar maneuverings. Now this from Zerohedge:

That Russia has been pushing for trade arrangements that minimize the participation (and influence) of the US dollar ever since the onset of the Ukraine crisis (and before) is no secret: this has been covered extensively on these pages before (see Gazprom Prepares “Symbolic” Bond Issue In Chinese Yuan; Petrodollar Alert: Putin Prepares To Announce “Holy Grail” Gas Deal With China; Russia And China About To Sign “Holy Grail” Gas Deal; 40 Central Banks Are Betting This Will Be The Next Reserve Currency; From the Petrodollar to the Gas-o-yuan and so on).

But until now much of this was in the realm of hearsay and general wishful thinking. After all, surely it is “ridiculous” that a country can seriously contemplate to exist outside the ideological and religious confines of the Petrodollar… because if one can do it, all can do it, and next thing you know the US has hyperinflation, social collapse, civil war and all those other features prominently featured in other socialist banana republics like Venezuela which alas do not have a global reserve currency to kick around.

Or so the Keynesian economists, aka tenured priests of said Petrodollar religion, would demand that the world believe.

However, as much as it may trouble the statists to read, Russia is actively pushing on with plans to put the US dollar in the rearview mirror and replace it with a dollar-free system. Or, as it is called in Russia, a “de-dollarized” world.

In seemingly unrelated news, it’s nearly the 100 year anniversary of the event that sparked World War I: the assassination of Franz Ferdinand (and his wife, Sophie) on June 28th, 1914. To conclude this post, I’ll end with a quote from Albert Einstein:

I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.

by lizard

Over at MT Cowgirl, Lynn offers a link about how some awful nonprofits compensate their CEO over a million dollars, and because of that outrageous compensation, the state of New York may try to place limits on compensation:

More than 20 nonprofit groups, from New York Presbyterian Hospital and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America to Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, paid top executives more than $1 million a year in 2010 and 2011, the Chronicle of Philanthropy found.

The tally, an increase from 15 such pay packages in the previous study, showed chief executive officers or other leaders at 23 nonprofit charities and foundations had taxable compensation exceeding $1 million, the Chronicle said in a study to be released today.

“By far the most comments we get have to do with CEO salaries and a general outrage and shock at some of the salaries that they see,” said Ken Berger, president of the nonprofit watchdog group Charity Navigator. “There are even donors shocked at the notion of a six-figure salary.”

As protest movements such as Occupy Wall Street have brought more focus on the richest 1 percent of Americans, high pay for nonprofit executives has prompted New York and other states to suggest limits on compensation. Nonprofit watchers such as Berger say it may also prompt additional U.S. oversight or public policy changes for the $2.5 trillion industry.

“To assume that you’re going to become a millionaire or a multimillionaire, running a public charity that’s supposed to provide a public benefit, is just absurd as far as we’re concerned,” Berger said.

Yes, let’s address excessive compensation of top-paid positions within organizations, but why stop with non-profits?

For a crazy data point, the Economic Policy Institute shows how worker vs. CEO pay has increased since 1978, and the comparison is astonishing.

Increase in WORKER annual compensation from 1978-2011: 5.7%

Increase in CEO annual compensation from 1978-2011: 726.7%

Last year a report showed how S&P 500 CEOs made 354 times more than their average worker:

The ratio of CEO-to-worker pay at companies in the S&P 500 was 354-to-1 last year, according to the AFL-CIO, the umbrella organization for many of America’s unions. That’s up from 281-to-1 in 2002 and 42-to-1 in 1982, the organization found.

This news probably comes as little surprise to regular readers of HuffPost Business. We’ve highlighted other reports in the past indicating that the ratio between worker and CEO pay is pretty out of whack at many American companies. For example, Walmart’s CEO earns 1,034 times that of the company’s median worker, according to a March analysis from PayScale.

The same analysis found that the CEO-to-worker pay ratio at Target was 597-to-1, and that the ratio at Walt Disney was 557-to-1. Other studies have found that CEO pay is growing at three times the rate of everybody else’s, and that CEO pay grew 127 times faster than worker pay over the past 30 years.

Income inequality has grown obscene over the past 4 decades. Whatever corruption exists within the nonprofit sector pales in comparison to the trends in the greed-sector of exploitive, for-profit crony capitalism.

by lizard

Democracy is something we Americans are allegedly in possession of, and it’s such a great form of political participation that some people argue America can improve the world by exporting this amazing thing called Democracy to other countries.

As reports of Gaddafi bombing his own people came in during March of 2011, The Polish Wolf mentioned America’s commitment to Democracy in a brief post titled On the table?:

Apparently that’s where we are keeping all our options currently. There is talk of a no-fly zone, because it is known that Gaddafi has bombed the opposition and will probably do so increasingly as things become more dire for him. The US has moved assets into the area, but it’s unknown whether we’ll have to use them.

I can see both sides – on the one hand, we certainly don’t want foreign intervention to undermine the populism of the revolt and taint any future regime with the scent of imperialism.

However, the West has clearly thrown their collective hats in with the opposition. If they are crushed, there is no reconciliation possible with Libya for years, probably decades. Moreover, Libya is neither Egypt nor Tunisia – the forces arrayed against the opposition are not an army of the people but a network of secret forces and mercenaries. More people have already died in Libya than in Tunisia and Egypt combined. What would it say about our commitment to Democracy if we watch from our aircraft carriers, loaded up with jet planes, as pro-Democracy forces are bombed and massacred?

This is interesting to bring up in the context of Ukraine, a country where the West has clearly thrown their collective hats in with Neo-Nazi Fascists who exploited a sniper turkey shoot to enact a coup in Kiev.

I’ll transpose the same logic PW uses above for Ukraine: if the Federalists in Eastern Ukraine are crushed, then there will be no reconciliation possible with Ukraine for years, probably decades. I will also point out that the forces arrayed against the opposition are not an army of the people but a network of secret forces and mercenaries.

There were votes cast yesterday in Eastern Ukraine. Of course they won’t be taken seriously, but there are some actual mainstream news reports that there is wide support for more autonomy from Kiev expressed by Eastern Ukrainians.

Moon of Alabama has another great post with links, titled Ukraine: Serious Media Confirm Donetsk Poll Results (if the post appears in an awkward format, try the main page).

If these reports are true, then it sounds like some primo Democracy is happening in Eastern Ukraine. I have no idea the necessary contortions it will take for someone like the Polish Wolf to justify continued violence from fascist thugs against Eastern Ukrainians who want more autonomy in how their lives are governed. Maybe PW can take a break from Facebook and write up something at Intelligent Discontent to enlighten us.

by lizard

It appears Greg Strandberg, a candidate for HD 98, has doubled-down on stupid with a guest post at Montana Cowgirl inquiring Are Nonprofits Good for Montana? This is how he begins his inquiry:

I’ve said repeatedly on this site that nonprofits aren’t really worth much. This angers a lot of people.

Why is that? Why is it that we think nonprofits are such a good thing?

Think about that for a moment. I’m willing to bet you have no idea what a nonprofit is, what it does, or why on earth it wouldn’t be trying to make a profit.

It’s that last point that really gets me. I mean, if there’s no profit incentive, what incentive is there to do anything? After all, this isn’t communist China, right?

Let’s take a look at nonprofits and why you might want to think twice about them and their role in our national economy, and right here in Montana.

I’m not sure if this is a serious position Strandberg is taking, or if it’s an extended piece of concern trolling. Strandberg is running as a Democrat.

Luckily there is a much better choice for HD 98, and her name is Heather Cahoon. You can read her bio here. Here is a part of it I found appealing:

After completing my undergraduate degree in Native American Studies and English, I enrolled in the University of Montana’s MFA in Poetry program where I was the recipient of the Richard Hugo Memorial Scholarship. I later received the Merriam-Frontier Award for publication of my MFA thesis, a collection of poems titled, Elk Thirst.

After completing the MFA program I indulged in other interests and pursued an interdisciplinary PhD in History, Anthropology and Native American Studies. My PhD research explored the evolution of tribal sovereignty in the U.S. from its roots in international law and human rights to the current federal policies of Self-Determination and Self-Governance. A primary focus of my study was on how and why particular policies are conceived of and by whom (or for what purposes or goals), how those policies are structured and then implemented and the disparities between the expectations and reality.

Yeah, if I was voting for this House District, I’d vote for the poet and not the jackass who can’t fathom why an organization would even exist if not to make money.

By JC

Talking over the latest revelation with my German SO — after reading today’s news report in the Missoulian on the alleged deliberate homicide of German national Diren Dede — about German Consul Peter Rosen putting the Governor and prosecutors on notice that he expects that the law will be fully applied and he trusts that:

“justice will be done by not letting go unpunished the shooting of an unarmed juvenile … German penal law also applies for crimes committed against German nationals abroad, enabling German state prosecutors to open investigations in such cases.”

…it became painfully obvious that if Markus Kaarma’s charges for deliberate homicide hold, then why hasn’t his wife Janelle Pflager been charged as an accomplice or co-conspirator? The charging document contains enough evidence to implicate her, as she assisted in baiting the garage trap for the next burgler, set the motion detector and video surveillance system, took a photo on her phone camera once the surveillance had been tripped, and accompanied her husband out to the garage to shoot Diren Dede. It’s called “premeditation.”

My SO mentioned that in Germany they already are wondering why Pflager hasn’t been charged, and that as the German Consul noted, Germans can and will take the matters in their own hands and charge Pflager, and in case of an acquittal, Kaarma.

It would behoove Missoula prosecutors and city officials to look at the severity of this injustice and once Kaarma gets arraigned on Monday, May 12th in Missoula District Court, to assure that “justice will be done” and charge Pflager. If not, Montana’s reputation as a tourist destination to Europeans will definitely suffer when there is a trial in Germany for Kaarma and/or Pflager. Governor Bullock seems little concerned about the international attention such a trial might bring:

In response to a question, Bullock said he doesn’t believe international news coverage of the shooting will hurt Montana tourism, which last year experienced a record year. 

Unfortunately, that isn’t what Germans are thinking about Montana at the present. They already are dumbfounded that Pflager’s being an accomplice has been ignored by prosecutors and the press. Sad that our press and Governor need to look to the financial impact to the state when considering how to respond, or whom to charge. Or what the impact of an ugly extradition proceedings and foreign trial with all the accompanying media attention might have on their bottom line.

Of course, we only need to look at the impact of letting the actions of Grizzly football players dictate public relations for the University of Montana to know that no one will ever admit that the huge decline in students and associated budget cuts are a result of prosecutorial misconduct. Why would reactions to a murder trial be any different?

Castle Doctrine? There are real castles in Germany, and none of them are being used to justify the murder of unarmed teenagers, even if they are trespassing. Justice should be swift and merciful.

by lizard

Politicians are increasingly forced to utilize social media. Often times that means delegating Twitter accounts and Facebook posts to young interns or political aides who actually know what they are doing. While that may be easiest for a campaign, some of the advice out there suggests politicians should take on that role themselves:

While aides and PR people are great for managing many dimensions of your communications, they shouldn’t be managing the bulk of your social media presence. The reason? Social media inherently blurs the line between public and private, and exists at the fulcrum of what you want the public to see and what they will see. This might sound disconcerting to a politician who’s used to having iron-fisted control over her image, but letting go of some of the carefully scripted dialog and picture-perfect hair might just make you more real, and more vote-able, to the public.

There are inherent risks, of course. I’ve been watching one particular candidate, Greg Strandberg (running for HD 98) incessantly commenting all across the Montana blogosphere. Strandberg does maintain a campaign blog but it’s his commenting presence at other blogs that I find most interesting.

Strandberg might do well to read up on the advice at the previous link. Here is some particular advice I’ll draw his attention to:

Again, because of that grey area between public and private that social media inhabits, it can be difficult to navigate what’s “right” to post and what should remain offline. There is no easy answer, as each situation calls for a different response. But a good rule of thumb is to be yourself – insert your opinions, your personality, and some tidbits from your daily life that voters might want to know – without going overboard. Generally, avoiding overly negative comments, even those that you think might help to smear your opponents, is best on social media. You just can never tell how your followers will react.

I’ve noticed several comments made by Strandberg that—if he was a serious candidate—will probably come back to haunt him. The most glaring mistake Strandberg made was calling Montanans stupid. Unfortunately I can’t remember which blog he made that comment at, but I have a feeling someone like Craig Moore could find it pretty easily (Craig is quite good at finding old statements and reminding us bloggers that writing online sticks around and can be used against us down the road).

Another more recent comment Strandberg made at Montana Cowgirl ensures I will never vote for him. Here it is:

You have to realize people that work for non-profits, political groups, and other ‘organizations’ often can’t do anything else. It doesn’t matter what party they adhere to and take money from – they can’t contribute to society in meaningful ways. —Greg Strandberg

If Strandberg wants to actually inform himself about how nonprofits absolutely do contribute to society in meaningful ways, he should read this op-ed by United Way CEO Susan Hay Patrick. I wrote about this topic recently. If Strandberg took the time to, you know, actually read the posts instead of just rubbing out comments all the time, maybe he would be a better informed candidate for office.

I know Strandberg isn’t shy about giving advice, considering he had this to say in response to my post about buying a gun:

If you’re so concerned about the fate of society’s future, why not try to take some constructive actions to change it, not what would only lead to destructive outcomes?

Writing a blog doesn’t really cut it. Sure, you can get your ideas out, but mainly your just preaching to the converted. I don’t know what your traffic is, but I don’t think there’s any substantive policy changes coming about because of it.

Wouldn’t running for city council be a more concrete step toward ensuring violence doesn’t reach your family? If you do a good job there you might be able to move up to a higher office.

Of course that’s not as easy as buying a gun, now is it?

I’m just returning the favor ;)

by lizard

There are serious questions that need to be asked about what happened in Odessa, where dozens of people allegedly died in a deliberate building fire.

The absurd claim coming from the Ukrainian government is that someone got dropsy with a molotov cocktail, as reported by Fox news:

A horrific fire last week that killed dozens in a hulking Odessa building where pro-Russian protesters had taken cover was likely sparked by rebels on the roof who accidentally dropped Molotov cocktails, according to a preliminary investigation by the government.

The finding is likely to further anger separatists in eastern Ukraine who view the new government in Kiev with deep suspicion. It comes as authorities said the situation on the border with Russia has grown increasingly tense, and France warned of the prospect of “chaos and civil war” if the presidential election set for this month is upended.

Actually, the finding will anger “separatists” because it’s complete bullshit.

It’s been nearly a week since the fire in Odessa, and some very disturbing details are beginning to emerge. Michael Whitney has another piece out, and I should warn readers some of the descriptions are quite graphic:

Photos of the victims of the Odessa fire which have been circulating on the Internet have cast doubt on the official version of events. It’s now clear that many of the anti-junta activists who occupied the Trade Unions House were neither burned to death nor died of smoke inhalation, but were savagely shot at point-blank range by agents and thugs who had infiltrated the building to kill as many of the occupants as possible, burn the corpses, and then slip away without notice. Some of the victims–like a young woman who was eight months pregnant –were strangled with an electrical chord and left slumped backwards over her desk in a room that shows no sign of fire or smoke damage. In another case, a woman was stripped naked from the waste down, raped, killed, and set ablaze.

In still other cases, victims with bullet-holes through their skulls, had flammable fluid dumped on their heads and were incinerated, leaving a charred head atop a corpse whose clothes were untouched by fire. The sloppily-executed killing-spree proves that the fire was not the result of a spontaneous clash between pro and anti-Kiev demonstrators, but a carefully planned black-op that likely involved foreign Intel agencies working hand-in-hand with the fascist junta government in Kiev. Did we mention that the CIA has taken up residence in the Ukrainian capital?

The brutality hints at intent: a slaughter awful enough to trigger a Russian response.

What’s that? Impossible because our benign empire is pure of purpose? If you’re into that kind of stuff, there’s a conveniently timed sudden interest in kidnapped Nigerian school girls, hashtag BringOurGirlsBack, endorsed by the first lady. Only a total cynic would imply there’s something less-than genuine about the Obama administration’s concern over the nightmare of being abducted by scary, murderous zealots.

Back to the provocation that didn’t work. How Russia responds to the brutal tragedy Odessa is incredibly important. For now, it appears Putin is trying to deescalate the situation. You can read a transcript of his recent statements here. Putin took questions, and this question/response is worth highlighting:

QUESTION: President Putin,

The Ukrainian government has made recent statements to the effect that they are ready to begin broad decentralisation in the country. First of all, does this decentralisation suit you?

Second, we hear that the violence must end and we must settle the conflict. We already heard similar words in Geneva.

My question therefore is what concrete steps can you take, because the experts all say that Moscow holds the key to resolving the conflict. How can you influence people in eastern Ukraine, the so-called separatists? What concrete steps are needed to de-escalate the conflict?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: First, the idea that Russia holds the key to resolving the problem is a trick thought up by our Western partners and does not have any grounds in reality. No sooner do our colleagues in Europe or the US drive the situation into a dead end, they always say that Moscow holds the keys to a solution and put all the responsibility on us.

The responsibility for what is happening in Ukraine now lies with the people who carried out an anti-constitutional seizure of power, a coup d’etat, and with those who supported these actions and gave them financial, political, information and other kinds of support and pushed the situation to the tragic events that took place in Odessa. It’s quite simply blood-chilling to watch the footage of those events.

Russia will take every necessary step of course and do everything within its power to settle the situation. I can understand the people in southeast Ukraine, who say that if others can do what they like in Kiev, carry out a coup d’etat, take up arms and seize government buildings, police stations and military garrisons, then why shouldn’t they be allowed to defend their interests and lawful rights?

As for whether proposed measures suit Russia or not, we are not a party to this conflict; the parties to the conflict are in Ukraine itself. We were told repeatedly that our forces by the Ukrainian border were a source of concern. We have withdrawn our forces and they are now not on the Ukrainian border but are carrying out their regular exercises at the test grounds. This can be easily verified using modern intelligence techniques, including from space, where everything can be seen. We helped to secure the OSCE military observers’ release and I think also made a contribution to defusing the situation.

It might be too late to stop the violence from escalating. I appreciate this blunt analysis from Moon of Alabama:

Russia decided to not intervene, for now, and to leave the poison cocktail the “west” created boiling and in the “west’s” responsibility.

Putin’s offer from yesterday was not accepted within the Ukraine. The coup government announced to continue its “anti-terrorism” campaign against federalists in the east and the federalists in Donetsk and Lugansk announced not to cancel their referendum.

Elsewhere Putin’s offer was somewhat accepted. It had, as Putin had announced, already been coordinated with the German chancellor Merkel and today the OSCE as the relevant organization presented a yet to be published roadmap to Russia.

If there is no serious offer of federalization in the roadmap Russia will let the Ukraine issue boil on a lower flame. The social-economic upheaval that is sure to come will in due time swamp away the coup government. Russia can always use its economic and energy leverage to hasten or slow down that process.

The whole case of Ukraine is now likely to be a longer run issue and, unless some unforeseen massacre takes place, I expect no further immediate action from the Russian side.

If the coup government in Kiev is willing to unleash this kind of brutality on its own people, what else could they be planning (with a little help from the CIA)?

Diane Johnstone has an article up at Counterpunch that may, in part, answer that question:

On this occasion, Putin announced that he had pulled back Russian forces from the border with Ukraine. He indicated that this was to ease concerns over their positioning, meaning claims that Russia was preparing an invasion. He also advised against holding referendums for greater autonomy in the Russophone areas until “conditions for dialogue” can be created.

However, news reports indicated that this reported military pullback caused new concerns among some Ukrainians, who felt Russia was abandoning them in their hour of need, and among some Russians, who feared the President was backing down under Western pressure.

It is not impossible that the pullback order was linked to a Novosti RIA report dated May 6, which indicated that the Ukrainian secret service was planning an imminent false flag operation in order to accuse Russia of violating the border with Ukraine.

Novosti said it had learned from security circles in Kiev that the Ukrainian secret service SBU had secretly shipped about 200 Russian army uniforms and some 70 forged Russian officer ID into the Eastern Ukrainian protest stronghold of Donetz, to be used to stage a false attack on Ukrainian border patrols.

Novosti said the reports were unconfirmed, but they could nevertheless be taken seriously by the Russians. “The plan would be to simulate an attack on Ukrainian border troops and to film it for the media”, the report said. In connection with the plan, a dozen or so combatants from the ultranationalist Right Sector were to cross the border and kidnap a Russian soldier in order to present him as “proof” of Russian military incursion. The operation was scheduled for May 8 or 9.

False Flag attacks have been the modus operandi for the western-backed Ukrainian fascists. NATO cheerleaders, like The Polish Wolf, can downplay that fact, claiming the left has “utterly failed to come to correct decisions”, but that doesn’t negate the dark reality lurking behind the blatant propaganda. Maybe PW has finally come to understand this, which would explain his conspicuous absence at Intelligent Discontent as this crisis deepens.

by lizard

The temperature in Wichita, Kansas hit 102 degrees last Sunday, the earliest 100+ temperature reading in 126 years of record keeping. Heat and no rain are combining to potentially reduce Kansas’ wheat crop by 18% this year. Climate change is here, and it will only get worse.

In Montana, thanks to the Farm Bill, the effect of climate change on our forests has produced opportunities for fast-tracking logging projects. Groups like Trout Unlimited are working with the Governor to identify and expedite those projects. When the secretive process was called out by George Ochenski, which I wrote about here, those participants got a little miffed.

The executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited, Bruce Farling, pushed back yesterday in a guest column which you can read here.

Farling offers the following justification for his organizations participation in a process that excluded the public:

Here’s the deal. The Farm Bill provided a 60-day window for governors to nominate to the nation’s secretary of agriculture national forest landscapes with documented insect infestations where logging might occur. Ochenski and crew conclude these nominations, which have yet to be accepted, automatically mean 5 million acres of Montana will be hideously logged. Hardly.

I can’t speak for the governor, but it seems a lengthy public process probably didn’t seem necessary given the deadline and the fact Montanans are already acutely aware of the bark-beetle infestations and other forest conditions targeted in the Farm Bill. So instead the governor sought advice, mainly through a few phone calls, from a balanced group representing a range of forest interests.

I wonder if Montanans are also acutely aware of the fact that the bark-beetle infestation and the threat of worsening forest fires are symptoms of climate change. Maybe groups like Trout Unlimited should bring some awareness to the underlying crisis we are facing instead of facilitating more projects for the logging industry.

Unfortunately the earth doesn’t donate money to conservation groups.

by lizard

Normally gun advocates jump on any attempt to impose limitations on what kind of gun a person may want to buy. Not so with smart guns. The fierce backlash against any individual, business, or manufacturer that dares to bring a smart gun product to the “free” market has been impressive. Just ask Andy Raymond, who was quickly death-threatened into compliance:

In a 12+ minute video posted to the store’s Facebook page (NFSW, due to language), Maryland gun dealer Andy Raymond of Engage Armament says that he has reversed his decision to carry the Armatix iP1 pistol.

Raymond says that he was unaware that if he stocked the pistol, that he would trigger a dormant law in New Jersey that requires everyone in that state to convert to so-called “smart guns” once they are offered for commercial sale in any state.

Raymond said that he wanted to stock the gun to introduce “fence-sitters” to shooting, thereby expanding the number of people supporting Second Amendment rights.

It’s also worth watching Chris Hayes’ segment on how effective the response to Andy Raymond has been.

While it might be satisfying to point out the obvious hypocrisy, the paranoia of “they are coming for our guns” that’s fueling this crazy backlash against smart guns is not totally without merit.

There is an insidiousness lurking beneath the surface of keeping Americans safe in our post-9/11 world. For example, there really seems to be no limits to the ever-exanding surveillance state. Just read about the technology the LA County Sheriff department tested back in 2012:

In a secret test of mass surveillance technology, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department sent a civilian aircraft* over Compton, California, capturing high-resolution video of everything that happened inside that 10-square-mile municipality.

Compton residents weren’t told about the spying, which happened in 2012. “We literally watched all of Compton during the times that we were flying, so we could zoom in anywhere within the city of Compton and follow cars and see people,” Ross McNutt of Persistence Surveillance Systems told the Center for Investigative Reporting, which unearthed and did the first reporting on this important story. The technology he’s trying to sell to police departments all over America can stay aloft for up to six hours. Like Google Earth, it enables police to zoom in on certain areas. And like TiVo, it permits them to rewind, so that they can look back and see what happened anywhere they weren’t watching in real time.

If it’s adopted, Americans can be policed like Iraqis and Afghanis under occupation…

Were people informed about this testing of technology to keep them safe? Yeah, right. More from the link:

Sgt. Douglas Iketani acknowledges that his agency hid the experiment to avoid public opposition. “This system was kind of kept confidential from everybody in the public,”he said. “A lot of people do have a problem with the eye in the sky, the Big Brother, so to mitigate those kinds of complaints we basically kept it pretty hush hush.”

And here’s another gem of a quote from Sgt. Douglas Iketani:

“Our first initial thought was, oh, Big Brother, we’re going to have a camera flying over us. But with the wide area surveillance you would have the ability to solve a lot of the unsolvable crimes with no witnesses, no videotape surveillance, no fingerprints.”

What kind of technological intrusions are Americans willing to accept in order to be safe?

by lizard

This is from Michael Whitney’s latest, posted today, titled Obama’s Bloodbath in Odessa:

Members of the fascist Right Sector set fire to Odessa’s Trade Unions House on Friday killing 40 anti-coup activists who had retreated to the building to escape escalating street violence. Witnesses say that members of the Ukrainian security forces withdrew from the scene allowing the rightwing radicals to block the exits and firebomb the building forcing many to jump from open windows to the pavement below where they died on impact. The few who survived the fall were savagely beaten with clubs and chains by the nearly 300 extremist thugs who had gathered on the street. Much of the murderous provocation was caught on video including footage of the terrified occupants leaping to their deaths.

Just hours after the bloodbath took place in Odessa, President Obama praised the brutal crackdown in a joint-press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Obama announced that, “The Ukrainian government has the right and responsibility to uphold law and order within its territory.” The president made no mention of the 40 victims who were burned alive or who jumped to their death trying to escape the fire. Nor did Obama offer his condolences to the families who lost loved one’s in the Nazi-ignited blaze. Instead, the president demanded that heavier penalties be levied on Moscow for its ‘defiance’ in Crimea where people were allowed to choose their own future through a referendum. Here’s a clip from the press conference transcript:

“We are united in our determination to impose costs on Russia for its actions, including through coordinated sanctions….And as Ukrainian forces move to restore order in eastern Ukraine, it is obvious to the world that these Russian-backed groups are not peaceful protesters. They are heavily armed militants who are receiving significant support from Russia. The Ukrainian government has the right and responsibility to uphold law and order within its territory, and Russia needs to use its influence over these paramilitary groups so they disarm and stop provoking violence… if the Russian leadership does not change course, it will face increasing costs as well as growing isolation, diplomatic and economic.” (Wall Street Journal)

None of the victims of the tragedy were armed. None of them were Russian nationals. All of the people who were killed were identified as locals. There is no factual basis for Obama’s allegation that the “protestors… are heavily armed militants who are receiving significant support from Russia.” Obama’s claims are uncorroborated nonsense, fabrications and outright lies.

And this is from ClubOrlov, posted yesterday, titled Statecraft or Witchcraft?:

On Ukraine so far, it’s Russia 1, US Oligarchy 0: Crimea is once again Russian, the transfer of sovereignty happened peacefully and in accordance with the internationally recognized principle of self-determination, and this defeat is so embarrassing that nobody even wants to talk about Crimea any more. It’s a done deal.

More defeats follow, as the boomerang effect of sanctions imposed on Russia. The US will not be able to withdraw from Afghanistan via the safe northern route that runs through Russia; instead, the endless convoys will have to run the gauntlet through Pakistan where the locals, incensed by endless drone attacks on their weddings and funerals, will do their best to blow them up. The US will not be able to launch military satellites, because the Atlas V rockets won’t fly without the Russian-built RD-180 engines, for which there is no replacement. Nor is it likely that, as things escalate, US astronauts will still be able to get up to the International Space Station, since that requires a trip on the Russian Soyuz.

Not that the Russians have a lot of time for this nonsense. They are busy negotiating deals, like the oil barter deal with Iran which neatly circumvents the sanctions; like the long-term natural gas supply deal with China; and quite a few others. For example, Russia and China agreed to build a canal through Nicaragua, which will supplant the Pentagon-controlled Panama canal. Nicaragua will also get a GLONASS ground station (Russian-Indian replacement for the Pentagon-controlled GPS system), plus a Russian military base, to make sure that the US doesn’t decide that it can do something about any of this. Nearby, Russia forgave $90 billion of Soviet-era Cuban debt, reestablishing close relations between Russia and Cuba and opening up Cuba to large-scale Russian investment. Russian companies will be developing Cuba’s offshore oil and gas fields.

No doubt, the US would love to counter these moves, but it can’t because it doesn’t have the talent. Most of the experienced, professional diplomats quit in disgust during Bush Jr.’s reign, when they were forced to continually lie to the whole world about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now the diplomatic corps is loaded with incompetents whose only credentials are that they raised lots of money for Obama’s election campaigns. At the next changing of the guard they will be replaced with the next crop of amateurs. It is little wonder that they are losing.

America is losing this western-provoked showdown with Russia, and that harsh reality makes the fascist-loving western plutocrats more dangerous than ever.

The US empire is about to get a whole let less benign.

by lizard

A year and a half ago, Kevin Drum wrote a fascinating article for Mother Jones examining the connection between crime rates and leaded gasoline. I wrote this post looking at the potential impact of Drum’s article on a social theory of policing that has spread across the country known as Broken Windows. This theory got some more attention last January when New York city Mayor Bill DeBlasio brought William Bratton on to oversee the NYC police department:

William J. Bratton, tapped by Bill de Blasio to head the NYPD, was previously Rudy Giuliani’s first police commissioner in 1994—and before that, the head of the New York City Transit Police. Together with Giuliani, “America’s Top Cop” (as Bratton called himself in his 1998 memoir) oversaw the adoption of a “zero tolerance” policy for petty crimes, and a renewed focus on “quality of life” issues. Bratton established the controversial CompStat system, still in use today, and he has been called the “architect” of stop-and-frisk.

Many of Bratton’s tendencies to uncover and punish low-level crimes so aggressively can be traced back to his guiding philosophy, the broken windows theory. It’s a concept that social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling first described in their 1982 article in The Atlantic. They argued the significance of the link between disorder and crime. The “broken window” is a symbol of unaccountability. If one window in a building is broken and left unfixed, they argued, it is likely that the rest of the windows will be broken soon, too.

The idea is that people—specifically potential criminals—take cues from their surroundings and calibrate their behavior based on what they see. If a city block is litter-free and its buildings are well-maintained, people will be less likely to litter or vandalize there, because they will sense that they will be held accountable if they do so. “Window-breaking does not necessarily occur on a large scale because some areas are inhabited by determined window-breakers whereas others are populated by window-lovers,” Wilson and Kelling write, “rather, one unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing.”

Bratton and others expanded the meaning of this metaphorical window to include the common, victimless but troublesome crimes that occur every day in urban areas. Order begets accountability, the theory goes; disorder begets crime. So, enforcing the smallest laws could prevent the large ones from being broken.

In Los Angeles, the “quality of life” approach to criminalizing benign behavior, like sitting on a sidewalk, has been challenged, but not in court. Instead it’s a homeless grandmother’s stubborn refusal to comply that has exposed the limitations and, more importantly, the cost of enforcing low-level ordinances:

Here’s an interesting use of public resources: as part of a decade-long effort to “clean up” Skid Row in Los Angeles (i.e. run the homeless out of the area to ease development), the city of LA has spent at least a quarter of a million dollars arresting, prosecuting and jailing just one homeless woman, 59-year-old Ann Moody, mostly for sitting on a public sidewalk.

Moody has been arrested 59 times in six years, reports the Los Angeles Times. She’s spent 15 months in jail since 2002. As the article points out, Moody has been arrested more than any other person in the entire city of Los Angeles.

The 59-year-old grandmother earned that distinction by flouting part of the municipal code that restricts sleeping, lying or sitting on a public sidewalk between 9pm and 6am, although she’s also been bagged for selling cigarettes. She explained her bad behavior to the Times: “We’re human beings, not to be pushed around like cattle,” she said. “We have a right to be stationary.”

Police and local business leaders disagree with Moody’s interpretation of her human rights. Emails between members of a business association and LAPD officials refer to efforts to roust her as “Operation Bad Moody.” In the emails they pat each other on the back for sending her to jail and seem to delight in the fines she racks up. There’s even a hilarious joke about an Ann Moody Halloween costume. Police officials detail their Moody-fighting strategies, like tracking her to make sure she’s in exact compliance with a court order that she stay 200 yards from a particular street.

A quarter of a million dollars spent on ONE woman? That’s insane. So is doing the same thing and expecting different results. Ordinances, no matter how they are crafted, will NEVER make poor homeless people disappear. Here’s more from the article:

In 2006, the city launched the Safer Cities Initiative. Brainchild of then-Los Angeles police chief William Bratton, Safer Cities sent 50 extra officers to Skid Row with instructions to bust people for pretty much everything, from jaywalking and open containers to prostitution and drug crimes. Safer Cities was inspired by the “broken-windows” theory of crime fighting (Bratton has been a career-long booster), which claims that busting people for nuisance and low-level crimes helps prevent more serious criminal activity.

An assessment of Safer Cities conducted by Blasi and the UCLA School of Law Fact Investigation Clinic found that the LAPD handed out 12,000 citations in the first year. Most were for pedestrian violations. Blasi points out that the inability to pay fines, or show up to court on time due to mental illness or substance abuse, tends to lead to arrest warrants, shuttling the indigent away from homelessness resources and into the jails.

“The goal of the Safer Cities Initiative is to force poor people of color to move,” says Blasi. “When they don’t move, they go into the criminal justice system.”

Even before the official launch of Safer Cities, Bratton’s LAPD made use of a strict anti-camping ordinance to break up homeless encampments in the area, confiscating property and busting homeless people for laying or sitting on the sidewalk. In 2006, a federal appeals court ruled that the city could no longer arrest people for sleeping and sitting in public, especially given the city’s lack of adequate shelter for the homeless. Under an eventual court settlement, the homeless were allowed to sleep in the street at night, but can be busted for illegal lodging between 6am and 9pm.

Although Skid Row’s homeless population dropped when the Safer Cities Initiative was first introduced, it went right back up after the financial collapse. “There are more people living on Skid Row now than when [the program] began,” says Blasi. “Some people move, some recover. But Skid Row is replenished with a vast pool of incredibly poor people.”

Sending them off to jail does not appear to have solved the area’s homelessness problem.

Maybe it’s time to try something else.

by lizard

As I drove to my parents house today, I couldn’t help notice the balloons and ribbons at the entrance of their subdivision featuring the colors of the German flag. Most of the homes also have ribbons on their mailboxes with the same colors because this is the neighborhood where Diren Dede, the 17 year old German exchange student, was killed in a deliberate trap set by homeowner Markus Kaarma.

After dinner my mom told me about an alleged road-rage incident that happened the day of the shooting between a woman and Markus Kaarma. According to this KPAX report a woman described driving behind a van in the Prospect neighborhood when the driver of the van suddenly reduced speed to below 10 mph. When the woman tried passing, the van veered left, cutting her off. A man then allegedly got out and began shouting profanities at her. This woman later called police and reported her encounter once she saw the picture of Markus Kaarma on the news.

Because the victim was a German exchange student, this shooting is getting international media attention. The BBC covers it here and Al Jazeera interviewed state Rep. Ellie Hill regarding her legislative crusade to take on the Castle Doctrine.

When it comes to the spirit of the laws that have percolated across the states, I agree with Rep. Hill. When you extend the justifiable use of lethal force to the protection of “occupied structures” a culture of assholes who assume vigilante justice is permissible becomes inevitable.

I also agree with the grieving father:

The father of a 17-year-old exchange student shot dead in Montana departed the U.S. on Thursday after criticizing the nation’s gun culture and arranging for his son’s body to be flown back to Germany.

Celal Dede flew out of Missoula after securing the release of Diren Dede’s body, which was transported from Montana on Wednesday afternoon, German consulate spokeswoman Julia Reinhardt said.

Before he departed, Celal Dede told the German news agency dpa that he had never imagined his son could be shot for simply entering somebody’s property.

“America cannot continue to play cowboy,” Celal Dede said.

Those words reverberate far beyond the tragedy of a dude who appears to have totally lost his shit and murdered a teenager in his garage.

This week, Merkel stopped by the White House to try and get the Obama administration to stop spying on Germany. No agreement happened. The official line went something like this:

The leaders of the US and Germany have admitted that the two governments have failed to reach a no-spying agreement.

US President Barack Obama met with German chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday, months after Edward Snowden, a former US surveillence agency contractor, revealed that Washington was spying on German officials, including Merkel.

Efforts to reach a deal preventing Washington from gathering intelligence on German soil have faltered.

Merkel said on Friday in a joint news conference with Obama at the White House that they had “a few difficulties yet to overcome”.

Obama pledged to have “cyber-dialogue” on the issue, but said the US did not have a blanket “no spy” agreement with any country and that was not accurate to say Washington offered and withdrew a deal with Germany.

German relations with the US are very rocky right now. In Ukraine, the US has gone total cowboy, and early on edged out Germany’s preferred political puppet, Vitali Klitschko. Regular Counterpunch contributor, Michael Whitney, sees US fingerprints all over the mess in Ukraine, including this veiled threat by the IMF. His latest, Obama’s New Ukraine, pulls no punches. Here is a particularly potent dose of anti-propaganda most people here in the states half-watching this crisis escalate will never be exposed to. It’s a response to this editorializing from the New York Times.

Putin didn’t topple the Ukrainian government. The US State Department did. (Victoria Nuland’s hacked phone calls prove it.) And Putin didn’t violate the Geneva agreement less than 24 hours after the deal was signed by launching a crackdown on civilian protestors in the east. That was US-puppet Yatsenyuk. Nor did Putin deploy the military to surround cities, cut off their water supplies and deploy helicopter gunships to fire missiles at civilian infrastructure and terrorize the local population. That was the work of Obama’s fascist junta in Kiev. Putin had nothing to do with any of the trouble in Ukraine. It’s all part of the US “pivot to Asia” strategy to encircle and (eventually) dismember Russia in order to seize vital resources and control the flow of energy to China. Washington wants to reduce Ukraine to Mad Max-type pandemonium to justify establishing NATO bases on Russia’s perimeter. It’s all part of the plan to control Central Asia and rule the world.

Yep.

What will this insane imperial overreach mean here at home? When will the Mad Maximizing of chaos start ramping up domestically?

It’s sad my cynicism has, in part, informed my decision to buy a gun. I’m reminded of the justification Democrats use for swimming in the dark waters of dark money: we can’t unilaterally disarm ourselves. Same reasoning that led Obama to reject public financing during his 2008 campaign.

Taking corporate money came up in the only debate either party will have in the closely scrutinized Senate race here in Montana. I’m more than likely voting for Dirk Adams in the primary despite his banker background. I’ll leave it to the more astute observers of state politics to tell me why I should vote for the guy mulling over Social Security privatization schemes.

I vote as a way of keeping the light on against total nihilism. But the choices we have make it difficult. If there is seriously another showdown in 2016 between a Bush and a Clinton, will there really be anything left to say?

The answer is yes. The question is, will they listen?

by lizard

I’m not going to link to the pictures of charred bodies coming from Odessa. News of ‘dozens’ dead—actually 43 and counting—in a building fire is enough.

Who knows what this means, who did it, who died.

Thinking Odessa, I consulted Ilya Kaminsky’s book Dancing in Odessa (Tupelo Press, 2004) and I’ll let the first poem speak for itself.

*

Author’s Prayer

If I speak for the dead, I must leave
this animal of my body,

I must write the same poem over and over,
for an empty page is the white flag of their surrender.

If I speak for them, I must walk on the edge
of myself, I must live as a blind man

who runs through rooms without
touching the furniture.

Yes, I live. I can cross the streets asking “What year is it?”
I can dance in my sleep and laugh

in front of the mirror.
Even sleep is a prayer, Lord,

I will praise your madness, and
in a language not mine, speak

of music that wakes us, music
in which we move. For whatever I say

is a kind of petition, and the darkest
days must I praise.

by lizard

I read a great op-ed yesterday (h/t problembear) from Missoula’s United Way CEO, Susuan Hay Patrick, titled Montana Nonprofits: The Economic Engines That Could. Here’s some of the more impactful info about Montana nonprofits:

Nonprofits employ 45,000 people throughout Montana, making our sector one of the largest in the state. We’re bigger than the for-profit finance, insurance, real estate, and arts & entertainment sectors combined. According to the Montana Nonprofit Association, Montana’s 2,000+ charitable nonprofit employers contribute over $1.5 billion annually to our state’s wage base.

But our reach extends beyond our payroll. The work of nonprofits ripples out into the state’s economy. People want to live, work, play and go to school in a place that offers strong cultural, recreational, and educational opportunities; where we care for our kids and our seniors and our parks and trails and pets; where folks can find meaningful volunteer opportunities and a chance to give back. A vibrant nonprofit sector helps ensure a high quality of life – and that’s good for Montana’s economy.

Nonprofits do an awful lot for very little. Eighty-one percent of Montana nonprofits have budgets of less than $100,000. Despite these meager resources, nonprofits are mighty “little engines that could,” achieving results far beyond what they spend to do do.

Nonprofits that have the 501(c)(3) designation are prohibited from engaging in political activity. That means they can’t:

  • endorsing a candidate for public office
  • contributing money to political campaigns
  • making verbal or written public statements supporting or criticizing candidates
  • distributing statements prepared by others that favor or oppose any candidate
  • allowing a candidate to use an organization’s assets or facilities (unless other candidates are given the same opportunity)
  • criticizing or supporting candidates on nonprofit websites or through links to other websites, and
  • placing signs on nonprofit property supporting or opposing candidates.

Robert Egger, founder of the DC Central Kitchen, thinks that should change. Last summer Egger wrote an intriguing post, titled Does Sexism Keep Nonprofits Out of Politics? Here’s why Egger thinks the Nonprofit sector needs to change:

Late last week, in response to a report from the Commission on Accountability and Policy for Religious Organizations (advocating for nonprofits and churches to be able to directly engage in partisan politics), Diana Aviv, the CEO of Independent Sector, issued a rather predictable statement “Urging Public Officials to Reject Recommendations to Allow Political Activity by Charities.”

I understand this historic point of view, but rather than call for open debate about our role, she shut the door with this definitive closing sentence, “501(c)(3) organizations, as the public trust demands, should remain above the political fray, advocating and informing leaders, but never engaging in political activity.”

Needless to say, I disagree.

Before you say it, I will….YES, it would be messy. YES, it would change the very nature of our sector. YES, it would open the door for conflict and collusion. But we don”t have a choice. Here’s why:

First, businesses now have unfettered ability to engage in politics, and can help elect leaders who create laws and policies that affect our work, the communities we serve, and the economy that binds us together. Democracy isn’t easy, and it’s patently undemocratic for our sector to not have that equal right. For those who suggest we trade those rights for “tax-deductions,” I would counter with: corporate America solicits and receives tax breaks too, on a level equal or greater than those afforded to nonprofits, and that does not disqualify them.

Second, our role in the economy is undeniable. We are the third largest employer in America, pay payroll taxes, and attract significant financial investment into every community we touch. Our work sets the social stage for traditional businesses (and cities) to thrive. This should give us equal rights and political voice as we debate the future.

Third, as my friend Joel Berg was quick to point out in a discussion about Independent Sector’s statement, “In a democracy, there should be no activity more noble than political activity. This idea that non-profits are pure and righteous — and that somehow evil, slimy, politics is beneath them — is both an insult to democracy, and absurd self-aggrandizement on behalf of the nonprofit sector.”

Egger goes on in his post to explain the role he claims sexism has played. It’s interesting and worth considering.

Nonprofits have incredibly beneficial impacts on local communities. Maybe someday nonprofits will be allowed to engage in the political activity the for-profit sector currently dominates.

by lizard

I remember the day Occupy Missoula launched. People gathered under the Higgins bridge, by the fish sculptures. It was an unscripted passing of the megaphone, and when I got my chance I defended the anti-TARP origins of the Tea Party.

It’s easy to look back now and see how public reaction to the economic crisis was brilliantly channeled into an Occupy vs. Tea Party binary.

In an attempt to counter this binary, Ralph Nader has a book coming out suggesting Left-Right alliances are forming. From the link:

This week, my new book is coming out with a daring goal. It is to break through the corporate imposed gridlock that prevents those on the left and right from realizing they actually agree on and can activate new directions for our country. The book’s title – Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State – reflects the direction of this desired action-driven dialogue.

Appearing on C-SPAN last Sunday, a widely syndicated columnist for the Chicago-Tribune – Clarence Page — said that he’s “writing a lot these days about left/right coalitions.” He was referring to such coalitions for prison reform, a review of the war on drugs and the passage of legislation in numerous states regarding juvenile justice reforms.But there are many more long-overdue redirections of our nation that receive left/right convergence at various stages from the verbal to parallel activities to outright coordinated action. In defiance of their respective political leaders, Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a large combination of Republicans and Democrats came stunningly close (217 to 205) on July 24, 2013, to passing through the House of Representatives a ban on NSA dragnet snooping on the American people.

A comprehensive whistle-blowing bill protecting federal employees who want to speak out on waste, fraud and corruption overcame corporate opposition with an overwhelming congressional vote in 2013. The formidable lobby of corporate contractors delayed the bill’s passage but, in the end, left/right convergence made this reform possible.

Public opinion polls regularly reflect left/right concurrence. From 70 to 80 percent of the people support a restoration of the minimum wage to reflect the erosions of inflation. Higher percentages want the “too big to fail” big banks to be broken up. Even higher numbers object to the non-prosecution of corporate crooks, especially those responsible for the Wall Street crash of 2008-2009 that drove the economy into a severe recession, cost savers trillions of dollars and led to a huge taxpayer bailout.

Called crony capitalism by the right and corporate welfare by the left, there is a rising tide of revulsion against the rich and powerful freeloading on the backs of ordinary taxpayers.

If our political system wasn’t so dependent on the campaign contributions of the rich and powerful, maybe it would be easier for politicians to tap into the populist angst that exists across the political spectrum.

But why listen to Nader? He is, after all, the great Democrat spoiler who delivered the US presidency to Bush in 2000, right?

And why try to find common ground when a feel-good crusade against standing one’s ground is presented?

Rep. Hill is getting a lot of media right now regarding her pledge to take on the Castle Doctrine, which you can read about here and here and here.

I think taking on this issue right now is a huge mistake for Democrats. Despite the awfulness of a Missoula homeowner entrapping and murdering a foreign exchange student, the ability to protect one’s home from external threats is a popular sentiment that in part stems from the economic uncertainty that persists thanks to the continued predation of Wall Street.

Back to Nader, who concludes his book announcement with this:

There are latent majorities on numerous issues that do not see the light of day because the corporatists’ toadies — the political leaders in Congress — make sure there are no hearings, no floor debates or votes. Predictably, pollsters do not poll questions that are not on the table, such as long-time majority support for full Medicare for everybody, so the public is kept from having its voice reflected. By the same token, politicians, marinated in commercial campaign money, do not campaign on these convergences between the left and right.

It is a neglected responsibility of the mainstream media to expand reporting on left/right concurrences, especially where they move into action around the country. It is our responsibility as citizens to more visibly surface these agreements into a new wave of political reform. Guess what? It starts with left/right conversations where we live and work. Not even corporatists can stop you from getting that train moving.

This is political terrain I will continue to write about. Stay tuned.




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