Archive for November, 2014

by lizard

In yesterday’s post, JC pulls back the lens on Ferguson to examine the implications of an unchecked police state. Excerpted in that post is a piece by John Whitehead, writing for the Rutherford Institute. I finally got a chance to read the whole article and one of the things that jumped out was the massive expenditure of resources to catch the cop killer in Pennsylvania:

Just a few weeks after the Ferguson showdown, law enforcement agencies took part in an $11 million manhunt in Pennsylvania for alleged cop killer Eric Frein. Without batting an eye, the news media switched from outraged “shock” over the military arsenal employed by police in Ferguson to respectful “awe” of the 48-day operation that cost taxpayers $1.4 million per week in order to carry out a round-the-clock dragnet search of an area with a 5-mile-radius.

The Frein operation brought together 1,000 officers from local, state and federal law enforcement, as well as SWAT teams and cutting edge military equipment (high-powered rifles, body armor, infrared sensors, armored trucks, helicopters and unmanned, silent surveillance blimps)—some of the very same weapons and tactics employed in Ferguson and, a year earlier, in Boston in the wake of the marathon bombing.

The manhunt was a well-timed, perfectly choreographed exercise in why Americans should welcome the police state: for our safety, of course, and to save the lives of police officers.

Opposed to any attempt to demilitarize America’s police forces, the Dept. of Homeland Security has been chanting this safety mantra in testimony before Congress: Remember 9/11. Remember Boston. Remember how unsafe the world was before police were equipped with automatic weapons, heavily armored trucks, night-vision goggles, and aircraft donated by the DHS.

Contrary to DHS rhetoric, however, militarized police—twitchy over perceived dangers, hyped up on their authority, and protected by their agencies, the legislatures and the courts—have actually made communities less safe at a time when violent crime is at an all-time low and lumberjacks, fishermen, airline pilots, roofers, construction workers, trash collectors, electricians and truck drivers all have a higher risk of on-the-job fatalities than police officers.

In the comments JC reminded our readers of what a militarized police response looks like in Missoula. If you didn’t watch it, you should:

It was the summer of 2000, the month I actually moved to Missoula with my fiancé. I remember wondering why there was such a heavy police presence in a college mountain town. Sure, the Hells Angels were visiting, but did that really warrant out-of-state police officers patrolling Missoula streets?

It seems to me, looking back, that the show of force by the Missoula Police Department antagonized enough people into demonstrating. If you watch the video, you will see what abuses of police authority look like.

And if you go to 18:33 in the video you will hear Pete Lawrence, Missoula’s Chief of police at the time, say something that should be disturbing to any citizen. In describing the decision to let crowds disperse Saturday night after the bars closed, Chief Lawrence states that “we backed off, pulled our troops out of the Front Street area…” (my emphasis)

Remember, this is 2000, a full year before the 9/11 attacks provided the perfect excuse to greatly expand the police state.

Getting back to Ferguson, JC was quick to point out the perversion of the grand jury process in this case. Chris Lehmann, writing for Al Jazeera America, also takes a crack at this angle in an article titled A deafening liberal silence on Ferguson. From the link:

It speaks volumes about the anorexic state of liberal moral reasoning in today’s America that it has met the failure of a grand jury to indict Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson for the Aug. 9 killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown with little more than a procedural shrug. All appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, the system has worked, liberals intone.

This should not come as any great surprise. Liberalism, in its current technocratic guise, doesn’t possess any strong moral vocabulary for describing — let alone condemning — procedural abuses, for the simple reason that its most ardent apostles don’t imagine them occurring. Hence our first African-American president — a classic managerial liberal whose bona fides were minted in the academy’s most hallowed cathedral of neoliberalism, the University of Chicago Law School — greeted the outrage of Wilson’s non-indictment with the bland assurance that our impersonal institutions of justice were all in fundamental working order.

“First and foremost, we are a nation built on the rule of law,” President Barack Obama said in his address to the nation following the Nov. 24 grand jury decision. Never mind that the legal proceedings in question had forestalled the most basic protections that safeguard such rule — the opportunity to mount a public inquiry into a police officer’s grave trespass against a private citizen. Instead it produced something of a parody of due process, via a highly irregular grand-jury proceeding relying mainly on the contradictory and implausible testimony of the would-be defendant.

Nevertheless, the president pressed on with his alternate-universe version of events. “We need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make,” he announced — even though no one protesting was challenging the panel’s formal authority, any more than abolitionists or civil-rights activists had denied that the Supreme Court’s rulings in Dred Scott v. Sanford or Plessy v. Ferguson were the law of the land. What was in question, rather, was the actions of the grand jury, after its members had been prodded by St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch, a notoriously cop-friendly DA, to contort the basic purpose of a grand-jury hearing out of all recognition. Grand juries are not empowered to settle the momentous question of guilt or innocence, or finer-grained matters of motive, opportunity and state of mind. They’re only charged with establishing probably cause for a trial to proceed — to indict, rather than to exonerate or convict, a prospective criminal defendant.

This was the howling, first-order procedural abuse that permitted all the other, kindred trespasses of this inquiry to disfigure the routine operations of the legal system in the killing of Michael Brown. Since they’re formal path-clearing inquiries, grand juries typically don’t hear the testimony of more than a handful of witnesses. McCulloch, by contrast, called 60 witnesses, who testified for more than 70 hours. Wilson alone testified without cross-examination for four hours — an unheard-of span of time for a prospective defendant, even in a police murder inquiry. Likewise, grand-jury proceedings in any criminal case rarely go beyond a day or two — but McCulloch kept this body empaneled for more than 100 days.

The article goes on and is worth reading in full.

So where do we go from here? Considering there are differing opinions on what the core issues even are, that’s a difficult question to begin answering. Is institutional racism the main problem or is it the police state? Is reforming the system possible, and if so, by what means? Direct action? The ballot box?

Personally, I swing back and forth. I participate in the daily grind within the system, trying to make positive impacts wherever possible. And I have seen that there are possibilities. I know there are good members of law enforcement who do protect and serve our community. Change is slow and tedious, but it is possible.

But then there’s my cynical side, fueled by how politics distorts and destroys the potential for change.

Money in politics is one of those core issues that, if not addressed, will ensure the debilitating status quo is maintained. On that front, it was incredibly disappointing to read about Governor Bullock’s intention to chair the DGA:

Gov. Steve Bullock this week acknowledged his interest in serving in the top post at the Democratic Governors Association.

Politico reported Wednesday that Bullock, who in December 2013 was chosen to chair the group’s major donor program, is poised to succeed Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin in the organization’s top spot.

“Gov. Bullock is a Democratic governor who knows how to balance a budget, keep money in the bank for a rainy day and prioritize public schools,” Bullock’s spokesman, Dave Parker, said in a statement. “Folks have noticed what Gov. Bullock is doing out here and some of his colleagues have encouraged him to consider running. He’s doing that.”

The group convenes in Los Angeles on Dec. 8-9 for its annual meeting and holiday party, at which Bullock is expected to be picked as the next DGA chair.

If elected, Bullock would head an organization that primarily exists to elect Democratic governors, and does so by raising millions of dollars from corporate donors.

The DGA is a 527 tax-exempt political organization that can solicit corporate contributions in any amount.

In 2012, the DGA raised more than $50 million, much of that coming from unions, drug makers, insurance companies, energy companies and other corporate sources. That year, the DGA gave over $2.8 million to Montana Jobs, Education and Technology PAC, a political action committee that worked to get Bullock elected.

If Bullock is picked to be the next DGA chair, that will mean both our Governor and one of our Senators (Tester) will be dedicating a significant amount of their time in public office fundraising. Somehow I don’t think the interests of Montanans will be a top priority as Governor Bullock and Senator Tester involve themselves in corporate panhandling.

I guess that means it’s up to us. Unfortunately that notion reinforces my cynicism.

“Ferguson matters because it provides us with a foretaste of what is to come. It is the shot across the bow, so to speak, a warning that this is how we will all be treated if we do not tread cautiously in challenging the police state, and it won’t matter whether we’re black or white, rich or poor, Republican or Democrat. In the eyes of the corporate state, we are all the enemy.

This is the lesson of Ferguson.”
–John Whitehead, The Rutherford Institute


As usual, the discussion of the police killing of a young man has devolved into a morass of race relationships and retributions opening up old wounds, and feeding deep-seated feelings all the way around. So much of this is predictable, and the protests, riots, and counter-attacks all create pablum for a media more interested in controversy and sound bites for the 24 hour news cycle, than in examining what is happening to our country.

I’ve commented elsewhere on what I thought the grand jury process was all about. Ferguson was a perversion of what grand juries are, and how they should be used. If the prosecutor only wanted somebody to share the responsibility of his decision to not bring charges, he could have just impanelled a coroner’s jury to conclude the officer acted in self-defense. Or he could have just called a press conference and said he didn’t have the evidence to support a prosecution and left it at that.

In any case, what the prosecutor has done is to influence the public’s perception of what a grand jury is all about, allowing it to further be used as a shadowy substitute for real justice. Real justice being to allow for a cross examination of other witnesses, and the introduction of other evidence. The prosecutor used the grand jury in a way that bolstered his decision to not prosecute the police officer – he was a de facto defense attorney for the defendant. There are few that understand the grand jury system that would agree with his tactics.

On to today’s topic. This reading from John Whitehead, “We Are the Enemy: Is This the Lesson of Ferguson?” puts aside the notion that the importance of what happened at Ferguson is just another incident in a long litany of racial oppressions and its inevitable blowback:

However, the greater question—whether anything will really change to rein in militarized police, police shootings, lack of accountability and oversight, and a military industrial complex with a vested interest in turning America into a war zone—remains unanswered.

Yes, we are the enemy… since those first towers fell on 9/11, the American people have been treated like enemy combatants, to be spied on, tracked, scanned, frisked, searched, subjected to all manner of intrusions, intimidated, invaded, raided, manhandled, censored, silenced, shot at, locked up, and denied due process.

I chose Whitehead as a way to try and move the Ferguson discussion in a more productive direction. He is a respected, and somewhat conservative civil libertarian with a long record of not playing politics or the race card. I hope folks will read the whole article and think about the greater ramifications of what has happened to our nation, and how the “powers-that-be” continue to profit when the dialogue descends into an unproductive racial diatribe.

I’ll leave folks with one more excerpt, and leave this as an open thread on the greater meaning of the Ferguson debacle. Let’s try and not let this discussion divert into the usual left-right, dem-rep racial garbage that just avoids the real issue: how our country has devolved into one where the police are becoming less and less distinguishable from the military or the national guard, and all our civil liberties are trampled. If we cannot, then we are just reinforcing Whitehead’s message.

Ferguson provided us with an opportunity to engage in a much-needed national dialogue over how police are trained, what authority they are given, what weaponry they are provided, and how they treat those whom they are entrusted with protecting.

Caught up in our personal politics, prejudices and class warfare, we have failed to answer that call. In so doing, we have played right into the hands of all those corporations who profit from turning America into a battlefield by selling the government mine-resistant vehicles, assault rifles, grenade launchers, and drones.

As long as we remain steeped in ignorance, there will be no reform.

As long as we remain divided by our irrational fear of each other, there will be no overhaul in the nation’s law enforcement system or institution of an oversight process whereby communities can ensure that local police departments are acting in accordance with their wishes and values.

And as long as we remain distracted by misguided loyalties to military operatives who are paid to play the part of the government’s henchmen, there will be no saving us when the events of Ferguson unfold in our own backyards.

When all is said and done, it doesn’t matter whose “side” you’re on as far as what transpired in Ferguson, whether you believe that Michael Brown was a victim or that Darren Wilson was justified in shooting first and asking questions later.

What matters is that we not allow politics and deep-rooted prejudices of any sort to divert our efforts to restore some level of safety, sanity and constitutional balance to the role that police officers play in our communities. If we fail to do so, we will have done a disservice to ourselves and every man, woman and child in this country who have become casualties of the American police state.


by lizard

Evil smelling trolls stink-up the Flathead Beacon’s comment section. That is a lovely title to this post from James Conner, lamenting that the Beacon hasn’t abolished anonymous racists from making their racist opinions known.

Featured is a screenshot of a comment from AndrewInterrupted: Those white guilty idiots in that Whitefish council meeting should take a bus ride to Ferguson for a little research.

Below this comment, this picture:

Censoring this comment does what exactly? Make obvious racists disappear? No, it just cleans up the aesthetics for someone like Conner who doesn’t want to think too much about the conditions black people deal with every day in places like Ferguson.

The “Evil Troll” post was put up November 21st. Three days later, this is the title of the post: Ferguson grand jury does not indict cop, lawlessness begins. Here is the opening paragraph:

Protests, some violent, began after the grand jury investigating the death of Michael Brown decided not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for murder or any other crime. Brown’s parents asked that protests be kept peaceful. So did Attorney General Eric Holder and President Barack Obama. Their words had little or no effect. The rampage began and is still on as of the time of this post.

Ah yes, the rampage of angry, vengeful black folks begins. It’s too bad they don’t act like those good negroes, Obama and Holder. Here’s more:

A good many of the protesters who are breaking windows, setting fires, tipping over police cars, and menacing reporters, tonight may say, indeed may even believe, they’re seeking justice. But they’re not. They’re seeking revenge. They want Darren Wilson punished regardless of whether he actually broke the law. They’re taking advantage of the situation to express outrage over grievances accumulated over years, placing their faith not in law or government but in hammers and torches and destruction. And some, I suspect, don’t much care whether anyone is injured or killed.

Whoops, sorry about the picture. It’s not of angry black people destroying their own community like a bunch of animals. It’s a picture from the pumpkin riots, where privileged young white people were just out having a little fun. From the link:

It’s easy to make jokes about what has already come to be known as the Great Pumpkin Riot of 2014. Events in Keene, New Hampshire this past weekend read like an Onion article: The annual Pumpkin Festival in the sleepy college town ended with riot cops and tear gas as students and young people flipped cars and started fires in the street. Pumpkin-spiced madness! Smashing Pumpkins!

But there’s good reason to take the riot seriously.

This was not a riot over pumpkins, of course. It was a riot over nothing, young people gathered in small town streets en masse and inebriated, then buoyed into further riotousness by overzealous SWAT policing. Mask Magazine rightly contextualizes the incident in the canon of nihilistic “party riots,” à la the Bellingham, Washington student riots last year, which featured a young woman twerking on a cop car. But just because these riots weren’t necessarily about anything — not pumpkins, not sporting events, and certainly not police shootings — is not evidence they’re devoid of content or meaning.

The playful levity with which the media, if not the local police, are treating the riot seems as much to do with who was behind the destruction as it does with the seasonal theme. It was white youth who pulled down street signs and flipped over cars, and as a result they were described as “rowdy” and “boisterous.” In Ferguson, where property damage and confrontations with cops were no more extreme, the rioters were deemed “violent” and “criminal.” Black riots, it seems, get read as somewhat more threatening.

The difference was adeptly highlighted by Twitter comments about how the platitudes typically applied to black communities following a riot seemed absurd when applied to the Keene riot. “Why are they tearing up their own community,” quipped one Twitter user. “Where are the leaders in the white community? They need to speak out #pumpkinfest,” wrote another.

These were pointed riffs on the charges leveled at black communities in the wake of protests turned riotous. They highlight how blacks are forced to account, as a whole, for unruly behavior in a way that is never demanded of whites as a community. Black behavior is scrutinized and vilified. When white youth behave the same way — even without the significant imprimatur of protesting the police killing an unarmed teen — the response is so different it is risible.

There is a sense of relief from some people that the righteous hopes of those who still see a need to fight for civil rights were placed on an un-perfect victim. Mostly it’s from conservative people, but James Conner has shown how even those who would prefer to expunge nasty, racist comments from online news stories are eager to use the grand jury’s decision not to indict as proof Michael Brown deserved to die.

by lizard

I may be a critic of the police state mentality that keeps creeping into our domestic psyche, and wonder why small towns need armored vehicles with .50 caliber guns, but that doesn’t mean I think law enforcement is not a needed component of our social organization.

While most people get to take a break from their routine, police and other first responders are on the clock, responding to the messiness that can ensue when people are in forced proximity to family and intoxicants. For that, I am thankful.

But talk is cheap. Missoula’s population and infrastructure continue to grow, which means more people to police. As demands on local law enforcement increase, Missoulians need to be aware that we get the services we pay for. If we want well-trained officers with the skills to de-escalate situations and therefore be effective protectors of the peace, then we need to pay for it.

Instead of allocating more resources to law enforcement, Missoula wants to pay tens of millions of dollars for soft ball fields with no plan for how to pay for long-term maintenance. And while any voter had the ability to vote for the Parks and Trails Bond that passed earlier this month, it’s property owners that will be forking out the loot.

This recent letter to the editor makes the case for why the passing the Bond was a mistake:

It stinks that the Parks and Trails bond passed, not because money for parks and trails is bad, and not because money for softball and soccer fields is bad. It stinks because of how it was done and what it will do.

The rider (see dirty, underhanded congressional trick) titled Parks and Trails should have been a separate bond called the Fort Missoula Complex Bond. The audacity to call it something that many people would vote for without researching is backdoor political maneuvering that has no place in Missoula. Those responsible and the organizations involved should be embarrassed.

It stinks that every registered voter got to vote for it but only homeowners have to pay for it. That shouldn’t be legal. The folks that use those fields should have bake sales and car washes to pay for their hobbies; that’s what honest, hard-working people do. They don’t slap a fake label on to get someone else to pay for it.

What are we paying for: the renovation of a beautiful, natural feeling park; removal of four functional softball fields to be replaced by five, addition of ugly, costly concrete and cinderblock structures, re-arrangement of other fields, addition of a turf field, and a bunch of lights. I guess we trust the price to be good (though it’s an outdated bid) and the plan well-thought out and fiscally smart (even though it doesn’t include maintenance/operating costs). It certainly isn’t apparent when you walk the existing complex and see the design posted. The fields are also only usable only six months a year.

Parks and Trails was a deceiving $34 million bond to build a high maintenance complex for a portion of the community that will lure more tourists to a city with growing crime, traffic and housing epidemics.

Tim Zalinger,

Missoula gentrifies downtown then expects law enforcement to follow around alcoholics and ticket them for panhandling so that shoppers aren’t put off by the visibility of addiction, poverty and mental illness. We fill the jails then the jail gets sued when people die from alcohol withdrawal. Some businesses sell single cans of gut-rotting malt liquor then complain when police can’t make the resulting public intoxication disappear.

It’s easy to point fingers when police abuse their authority. We see disturbing instances all across the nation, increasingly caught on camera, of police doing terrible things, with too often lethal results. Unfortunately the need for policing isn’t just going to go away tomorrow. The hard work is moving beyond the blame game and working collaboratively to improve the conditions on the ground.

To all the amazing people doing this work without recognition, thank you.

by lizard

Chuck Schumer just threw his entire party under the bus by claiming Democrats blew it by focusing on health care reform. Why, Chuck? Because it wasn’t the single-payer fix that could have actually addressed the problem? No, that’s not Chucky’s reasoning. Instead, the third-ranking Democratic Senator points out those uninsured people only represent around 5% of registered voters, so why do anything to help them? From the link:

“After passing the stimulus, Democrats should have continued to propose middle-class-oriented programs and built on the partial success of the stimulus, but unfortunately Democrats blew the opportunity the American people gave them,” Schumer said. “We took their mandate and put all of our focus on the wrong problem—health care reform.”

The third-ranking Senate Democrat noted that just about 5 percent of registered voters in the United States lacked health insurance before the implementation of the law, arguing that to focus on a problem affecting such “a small percentage of the electoral made no political sense.”

What a nice sentiment coming from a powerful Democrat the day before Thanksgiving.

by lizard

There is something comforting for those of us who benefit from our white privilege in pointing out obvious racism, like the Whitefish “anti-racist” battle Cowgirl covered a few days ago. What I thought a bit curious was the first comment, from James Conner, who argues for a more tolerant approach to white supremacy:

Richard Spencer’s views are reprehensible. He’s also a law abiding resident of Whitefish. Trying to run him out of town because he holds unpopular beliefs is an act of intolerance, not love.

The situation is approaching a point where some will think it wise to erect on the city limits a sign saying “Welcome to Whitefish — but only if you’re a liberal.”

Before getting to Conner’s views on Ferguson, I’d like readers to give some thought to what constitutes a law abiding person of any municipality. To achieve this status, does that mean one never jaywalks? How about running a red light, or speeding? There are a lot of laws on the books. At some point, even the most diligent citizen will find himself/herself in non-compliance of some law.

I bring up petty offenses because the chain of events that led to Michael Brown being shot dead in the street by officer Wilson was a petty offense. Whether or not Wilson addressed the two black youth walking in the street in a civil, professional manner is still contested. But James Conner is satisfied with the decision by the jury, comprised of 9 white people and 3 black people, as evidenced by this post, titled Ferguson: so far, no injuries or deaths, just vandalism:

President Obama called for calm. So did Attorney General Holder. The people protesting the grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson paid the President and his chief law enforcement and civil rights officer no heed. They took to the streets with their matchbooks and hatchets, breaking windows, setting fires, not just in Ferguson, MO, but around the country. So far, no one has been injured or killed, but that luck probably won’t hold.

There was always the possibility that the facts of the shooting in Ferguson would support the policeman’s version of the events. That seems to be the case. Reports in the New York Times and elsewhere suggest that Brown, a powerful young man who stood 6-foot-four and weighed almost 300 pounds, had just robbed a convenience store, roughing up the clerk, then swaggered down the middle of the street, where, confronted by Wilson and told to move to the side of the road, he slugged Wilson through the police car’s open window. Wilson, fearing great injury to himself, shot Brown in the hand. A few tens of seconds later, Brown, apparently amok, charged Wilson, who shot Brown dead.

I doubt the fact that Brown was black and Wilson white had anything to do with how the incident went down; that Brown said to himself, “I’m gonna punch-out that honky pig,” or that Wilson said to himself, “Gonna kill me a nigger; self-defense.” Brown’s color didn’t matter. He was a huge person, belligerent and enraged, who stupidly provoked a life and death confrontation with a man with a gun. No one should be surprised at the outcome.

Now I don’t think James Conner is an obvious racist, but this three paragraph reaction to the rage being expressed over the non-indictment of Wilson reeks of white privilege and perpetuates a willful, ignorant denial of the racial aspects of this shooting.

Conner is echoing the depiction of Brown by Officer Wilson, who described feeling like a 5 year old holding on to Hulk Hogan when he grabbed Brown’s arm. James Conner describes “a powerful young man who stood 6-foot-four and weighed almost 300 pounds” because it’s that mortal fear of Brown’s physical presence, combined with the allegation (disputed) that Brown “charged, apparently amok”, that ultimately convinced the jury not to indict.

Not mentioned by Conner is that the other party in this fatal altercation, Officer Wilson, is also 6-foot-four, and was inside a sturdy police car with his gun when whatever physical altercation initially took place.

I can’t for the life of me understand how Conner can say he doubts the fact that Brown was black and Wilson was white had anything to do with how the incident went down. Wilson’s own words literally demonizes Brown, bestowing super-human strength on this 18 year old to bulk up after being shot to charge like some crazed animal.

These are Wilson’s own words:

“He looked up at me and had the most aggressive face,” Wilson testified. “The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked.”

James Conner is usually capable of reasoned analysis, but his response to what’s happening in Ferguson and across the nation is truly reprehensible.

Bob McCulloch, the prosecutor who chose to give his disastrous press conference Monday night, provided a perfect example of exactly what not to do if one doesn’t want to exacerbate an already volatile, racially charged situation. Maybe there would have been property damage anyway, but McCulloch’s prosecutorial defense of Wilson, and his calling into question certain witness accounts of what happened, guaranteed it.

Racism isn’t just the obvious white supremacist stuff. It’s also the privilege of a white guy in Montana saying Michael Brown being black had nothing to do with how this incident went down.

by lizard

Friday is a good day to dump news. Astute observers of politics know that. Another good time period to exploit for political purposes is the week before Thanksgiving, which is precisely what the Obama regime has done. The grand jury in Ferguson may also be trying to dump their non-indictment of Darren Wilson. If that happens, then news today of Chuck Hagel’s resignation will get the kind of non-coverage our war-mongering-Nobel-peace-prize-winning president was probably hoping for.

Oh, and that Afghanistan war? The one that’s been going on for a really long time and supposedly winding down next year? Yeah, apparently not, as reported Saturday. The Nation is all over this coincidental about face in foreign policy and the Hagel resignation:

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s surprise resignation—reportedly at the strong urging of the White House—will dominate Beltway news in the coming days. But perhaps the much more significant foreign-policy news came early Saturday morning.

The New York Times reported that the United States will expand its mission in Afghanistan in 2015, with US troops participating in direct combat with the Taliban while American airpower backs Afghan forces from above. The shift, leaked anonymously to reporters ahead of a holiday week, is a big “oh, nevermind” to Obama’s very public announcement six months ago in the Rose Garden that US troops in Afghanistan would be shifting into a training and advisory role next year.

The president didn’t even make a glancing reference to the Afghanistan reversal in his remarks announcing Hagel’s departure. The administration would clearly prefer a limited public debate, and based on the media coverage so far, it is getting its wish.

But it is against this new hawkish posture that Hagel’s departure should be understood and discussed. It is possible that it was the subtext to his resignation: Hagel came aboard to help manage a withdrawal from Afghanistan and shrink the Pentagon budget, and an anonymous US official told the Times Monday that “the next couple of years will demand a different kind of focus.”

I sometimes wonder what a military coup in America would look like, or at least a broad insurrection from within the ranks led by some rogue high-ranking officer.

What are the objectives of Obama’s new military escalation in Afghanistan? Why strategically disclose this dramatic shift the week before Thanksgiving? Why should American soldiers continue killing and dying half a world away? Is there any appetite within Congress to make this an issue? This seems to be a tailor made opportunity for some Rand Paul grandstanding.

The season of feast and spending is not the time for worrying about such things.

by lizard

Obama’s quick, decisive use of his Executive Authority to provide a short-term, partial fix for millions of people who don’t have legal status to be here will undoubtedly improve the lives of those who have been living in fear. The president promised to act, and he delivered. I’m sure some Democrats are hoping Republicans go berserker with impeachment fever. That will certainly help Tester raise fear-cash for senatorial candidates in 2016.

There also seems to be more movement with prisoners held, some without charge, at GITMO. A Saudi prisoner was just released back to Saudi Arabia. Is Obama trying to make good on one of his first presidential promises? Is this a part of crafting his legacy?

A significant part of Obama’s legacy will be his unwavering fealty to Wall Street. The latest betrayal by the Obama administration has Senator Warren saying Enough is Enough:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren is not pleased that President Obama, once again, has called on a longtime Wall Street insider—especially one who has played a prominent role in controversial corporate “inversion” deals that allow U.S. companies to shed their nationality in the wake mergers—to take a powerful post at the Treasury Department.

Warren’s ire was raised by Obama’s nomination last week of Antonio Weiss, head of global investment banking for the financial giant Lazard, to become Under Secretary for Domestic Finance in his adminstration and the senator from Massachusetts said almost immediately that she would oppose the nomination. On Wednesday night, however, Warren made her disappointment—and not a little outrage—known in a piece published on the Huffington Post, saying that though she’s tried to “give deference” to the president over his choices for the economic team this latest choice goes too far. “Enough is enough,” she wrote.

Obama may be fixing the immigration status of millions living here illegally, lifting the cloud of fear hanging over their heads, but the people he picks to oversee economic policy ensures that the opportunities people who immigrate are seeking will remain unreachable for too many.

This is the result of failing to effectively punish the criminal behavior of top executives; this is the result of the Obama regime’s policy of too big to jail.

Regulators still need to appear to be doing their job, though, so there are low hanging fruit being picked off here and there. Alexis Goldstein, a former Wall Street cog turned activist, has a fascinating new post asking this question: Why Is a Wall Street Regulator Embracing “Broken Windows” Theory?

4&20 regulars are probably familiar with Broken Windows Theory as it relates to policing because I’ve put out posts like this one and this one.

As it applies to regulating the financial sector, Broken Windows keeps regulators busy with petty stuff while the real sharks and wolves continue their gluttonous predation. From the link:

If you look at the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) list of recent enforcement actions, it reads like a laundry list of small-time offenders. From penny stock promoters, to “pump and dump” schemers, to an unregistered broker in Tampa, everyone seems to be targeted by the SEC. Everyone, that is, except executives.

That’s because, under the leadership of Mary Jo White, the SEC has adopted a controversial enforcement strategy known as “broken windows.” The theory argues that if one broken window goes unrepaired, soon all windows will be broken, because letting petty crimes go unpunished will evidence that the community doesn’t care about disorder. But the strategy — traditionally employed in the policing of street crime — has shown itself over the years to be incredibly controversial.

White took over the SEC in April 2013, entering the agency at a time when many had lost confidence in their capacity and will to pursue financial crisis-era violations. In fact, given her background as a prosecutor, many held out hope that White’s tenure would usher in a new era where the agency would be tough-on-crime, with the incoming Chair promising Senators a “bold and unrelenting” focus on enforcement, should she be confirmed.

In the intervening time, White appears to have fulfilled her “bold and unrelenting” promise in a peculiar way: instead of prosecuting widespread, systemic frauds at the nation’s largest financial institutions, the SEC has instead embraced a persistent focus on low-level offenders. Given how harshly the SEC has been criticized for their failure to hold elites accountable, why would the agency use a failed and racially coded approach to securities law enforcement?

Good question, Alexis. As Obama begins crafting his legacy in earnest, will the economic tune remain the same?

by lizard

Do you feel dread upon hearing reports of your country’s military involvement abroad? Does a general sense of futility lead you to question the necessity of dropping humanitarian bombs on ____________ ? Do you see the worsening economic malaise creeping closer to your doorstep and wonder how the fuck your political leaders can justify perpetual war? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you may be experiencing symptoms of Intervention Fatigue and may be in need of medical attention.

What is Intervention Fatigue? Glad you asked. America’s Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, is raising the alarm about this perilous condition:

Samantha Power, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, warned the American public against a kind of intervention fatigue, emphasizing that U.S. leadership is needed now more than ever amid global threats from Ebola to the Islamic State.

“I think there is too much of, ‘Oh, look, this is what intervention has wrought’ … one has to be careful about overdrawing lessons,” Power said Wednesday during the Defense One Summit. At the same time, she said, “we are asking an awful lot right now of our forces.”

Please, if you think you may be suffering from Intervention Fatigue, it’s very important to avoid overdrawing lessons. This may include reading articles from alternative news sites about places where interventions have happened. If you write blog posts drawing attention to post-interventions utopias, like Libya, then you may be considered an active carrier of the dangerous condition known as Intervention Fatigue. Persistent active carriers may be subject to quarantine.

Interventions are important. They are complicated. So when symptoms of IF begin, remember, national security:

“The risk of using military force is so significant … there should be a lot of layers and a lot of checks and balances. But at the same time there are really profound risks to our national security that exist today.”

Again, dear readers, please help raise awareness about the nationally debilitating effects of Intervention Fatigue. Tell your friends and family members to be resolute in their support of a multi-layered, significant use of military force in perpetuity, in order to advance our democratic values and respect for human rights across the globe.

by lizard

This post is not about the Keystone pipeline, or the vote in the Senate that lost by one vote. If a filibuster-proof majority nearly got it through with the 2014 Senate, I imagine they will have the votes next year.

Instead this post is another reminder that despite all of America’s wealth, a new report shows 1 in every 30 US Children is Homeless:

The number of homeless children in America reached nearly 2.5 million last year, an all-time high, according to a new report released by the National Center on Family Homelessness.

The report, titled “America’s Youngest Outcasts” and published Monday, concluded the current population amounts to 1 child out of every 30 experiencing homelessness. From 2012 to 2013, the number of homeless children jumped by 8 percent nationally, with 13 states and the District of Columbia seeing a spike of 10 percent or more.

Faced with ever-increasing numbers in need, how do American cities respond? In Missoula we tried banning sitting on sidewalks. That effort was reconsidered under threat of litigation by the ACLU, so now it’s only illegal to lay down and sleep on sidewalks.

Well, Honolulu has taken a page from Missoula’s playbook and tried their own ban on that pernicious sidewalk sitting:

The Honolulu, Hawaii city council has approved a measure aimed at the local homeless population banning sitting and lying down on sidewalks. The 4,700 homeless people on the island of Oahu are already regularly ticketed for camping, and the city plans to move some of them to a city-owned camp at the nearby Sand Island, which was used as an internment camp for Japanese-Americans in World War II.

Honolulu is far from the only city to enact similar anti-homeless laws. Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and other cities have made it illegal to feed the homeless outside in public spaces, and places like Houston and Orlando have effectively nixed the practice as well. One Florida county spent more than $5 million to repeatedly jail just 37 homeless people for supposed crimes like sleeping in public.

Nice to see there’s still a use for WWII internment camps. Fort Missoula anyone? And spending 5 million on jailing 37 people? What a smart use of resources.

America—fuck yeah!

by lizard

During the last legislative session, Rep. Ellie Hill teamed up with Rep. Austin Knudsen to draft a bill deregulating oversight of taxi businesses by the PSC:

Taxi companies won’t answer to the Montana Public Service Commission if a bill being drafted in Helena ends up on the books.

Rep. Ellie Hill, a Missoula Democrat, and Rep. Austin Knudsen, a Culbertson Republican, are sponsoring legislation that, in its draft form, removes the commission’s authority over “motor carrier transportation.” If passed, the bill likely would affect a Missoula cab company’s case pending before commissioners.

Late last year, commissioners heard testimony on Green Taxi’s request to grow its business into a couple new areas. Green Taxi wants the authority to carry medical passengers and also operate outside Missoula County, but Yellow Cab, Medicab and Valet Limousine argue the expansion would hurt their businesses.

In an email, Rep. Hill said the bill is still in draft form, Commissioner Travis Kavulla is advising the sponsors, and other lawmakers may have similar legislation in the works. The bill’s purpose is to free up the market for cab customers, she said.

“This would eliminate Yellow Cab’s monopoly on the Missoula market and allow Green Taxi or anyone else to compete freely, as I believe consumers want and deserve,” wrote Hill in an email about the draft bill, LC1416.

According to a Twitter exchange between Aaron Flint and Rep. Ellie Hill, it sounds like Hill plans on working on similar legislation this coming session, again with Rep. Knudsen. What sparked that exchange was a tweet from Flint about rumors that Uber is coming to Montana.

Before everyone gets too excited, it might be a good idea to read up on what kind of company Uber is. I suggest starting with Ben Smith’s reporting at Buzzfeed about the strategy of intimidation against critics being contemplated, especially one particular female journalist. Here is how a conversation between the executive, Emil Michael, and partygoers at a swank get together allegedly went down:

Michael, who Kalanick described as “one of the top deal guys in the Valley” when he joined the company, is a charismatic and well-regarded figure who came to Uber from Klout. He also sits on a board that advises the Department of Defense.

Over dinner, he outlined the notion of spending “a million dollars” to hire four top opposition researchers and four journalists. That team could, he said, help Uber fight back against the press — they’d look into “your personal lives, your families,” and give the media a taste of its own medicine.

Michael was particularly focused on one journalist, Sarah Lacy, the editor of the Silicon Valley website PandoDaily, a sometimes combative voice inside the industry. Lacy recently accused Uber of “sexism and misogyny.” She wrote that she was deleting her Uber app after BuzzFeed News reported that Uber appeared to be working with a French escort service. “I don’t know how many more signals we need that the company simply doesn’t respect us or prioritize our safety,” she wrote.

At the dinner, Michael expressed outrage at Lacy’s column and said that women are far more likely to get assaulted by taxi drivers than Uber drivers. He said that he thought Lacy should be held “personally responsible” for any woman who followed her lead in deleting Uber and was then sexually assaulted.

Then he returned to the opposition research plan. Uber’s dirt-diggers, Michael said, could expose Lacy. They could, in particular, prove a particular and very specific claim about her personal life.

My question to Rep. Hill and Rep. Knudsen is this: if legislation removes taxi companies from PSC oversight, will there be any mechanism of oversight left, or will the free market cabbie environment Rep. Hill seems so excited about on her Twitter feed embolden a company like Uber to come to Montana to steamroll its competition?

Sarah Lacy has a piece at Pando describing The moment I learned just how far Uber will go to silence journalists and attack women. From the link:

Ruining her life? Manufacturing lies? Going after her family? Apparently it’s all part of what Uber has described as its “political campaign” to build a $30 billion (and counting) tech company. A campaign that David Plouffe was hired to “run,” that’s looking more like a pathetic version of play acting House of Cards than a real campaign run by a real political professional. Because step one of an illegal smear campaign against a woman is: Don’t brag about it to a journalist at a party.

The woman in question? The woman that this Uber executive has vowed to go to nearly any lengths to ruin, to bully into silence? Me.

I first heard of this when Smith called me for comment over the weekend. I was out late at a work dinner in London and stepped out into the cold to take the call. A chill ran down my spine that had little to do with the weather, as he described the bizarre interaction. I immediately thought of my kids at home halfway around the world, just getting out of their baths and groggily pulling on their pajamas, and how the new line that this company was willing to cross would affect them.

We are used to intimidation at here. We’ve had sources try to intimidate Pando into silence by withholding access, threatening $300 million lawsuits, spreading lies about our relationships with our backers– or even suggesting that we’re funded by the CIA. We have mobs unleashed on us on Twitter, seemingly weekly.

So my concern wasn’t more lies winding up online about me. Sadly, I’ve had to get used to it. My concern was that the nature of these lies weren’t the same trumped up bullshit about Pando being influenced by its investors. That smear hasn’t worked, and we share several investors with Uber, so that dog doesn’t exactly hunt.

No, these new attacks threatened to hit at my only vulnerability. The only part of my life that I’d do anything to protect: My family and my children.

I wonder if there has been any interaction between Uber staff and our state representatives? Will efforts that originated to help Green Taxi expand its business have the unintended consequence of opening the door wide Uber?

Before they try to deregulate the taxi cab industry in Montana, I hope our representatives take into consideration what a company like Uber could do in a free market environment with no oversight.

by lizard

Politically, things are getting back to normal in Montana. Republicans are doing stupid stuff already by getting busted having a secret meeting to discuss their legislative agenda. Because it’s Republicans doing it, it’s obviously bad and therefore worthy of a Cowgirl post. I don’t recall if there was any criticism from Cowgirl when Bullock nominated 5.1 million acres based on the input of 7 people during 5 conference calls last April:

…Bullock’s office nominated 5.1 million acres of U.S. Forest Service land as priority for “restoration” (read: logging). Some touted the proposal as a collaborative effort among the timber industry and environmental groups, but the Great Falls Tribune reported that in fact it was cooked up by seven people over the course of five conference calls that included zero opportunity for public input. Those left out of the discussion are rightfully angry and calling out the governor for approving such a heavy-handed clearcut of public lands.

In the governor’s defense, spokesman Dave Parker told the Trib “vigorous” public participation will follow on a project-by-project basis, and he undermined those questioning the governor’s so-called “diverse coalition” by dismissing the critics as a “minority.” The merits of the proposal aside, a decision this large deserves a more transparent process, and the governor should know better than to try to strong-arm the public.

In other Montana blogosphere news, over at Intelligent Discontent, Don can’t think of anything new to say about the party he has learned to love, so he reposted his “Sellout Manifesto” written 3 years ago. Here’s a taste:

Why do I generally support a party that is often far to the right of my own positions? Because in today’s political climate, on many important national and local questions, they represent the last bulwark to protect rights gained and advances made in the past 100 years. Because real human beings will suffer greatly if we further empower a Republican Party so divorced from rationality and human ethics that it would destroy a program which provides economic and health security for our elderly, legally define our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters as second class citizens, and accelerate the damage being done to our environment.

We progressives often talk about the importance of confronting privilege. Many of us on the left have the privilege of taking all or nothing positions on political questions because we will survive the fallout: our jobs, our rights, and our positions will be secure no matter which party takes power. In fact, perversely, some of us will even see our prestige and status increased the worse our government behaves.

I’m not so certain that the truly voiceless, the powerless, and the poor have that privilege. While I may have a position privileged enough to endure Republican rule, I believe that the truly powerless are much better served by a Democratic Party who will, co-opted as they may be, fight for them and the programs which offer them a decent standard of living.

In an article last week, titled Rising Inequality and Liberal Myopia, Andrew Levine writes about the futility of trying to revive the past:

Fond wishes for the return of Keynesianism will not bring those days back. (And, of course, if you weren’t a white male those days weren’t necessarily golden anyway.) The Keynesian consensus of the mid-20th century was a product of a particular set of circumstances that no longer exist. Keynesianism then depended on an industrial base and market expansion. A repeat of history isn’t possible because the industrial base of the advanced capitalist countries has been hollowed out, transferred to low-wage developing countries, and there is almost no place remaining to which to expand. Moreover, capitalists who are saved by Keynesian spending programs amass enough power to later impose their preferred neoliberal policies.

Capitalists tolerated such policies because profits could be maintained through expansion of markets and social peace bought. This equilibrium, however, could only be temporary because the new financial center of capitalism, the U.S., possessed a towering economic dominance following World War II that could not last. When markets can’t be expanded at a rate sufficiently robust to maintain or increase profit margins, capitalists cease tolerating paying increased wages.

And, not least, the massive social movements of the 1930s, when communists, socialists and militant unions scared capitalists into granting concessions and prompted the Roosevelt administration to bring forth the New Deal, were a fresh memory. But the movements then settled for reforms, and once capitalists no longer felt pressure from social movements and their profit rates were increasingly squeezed, the turn to neoliberalism was the response.

As we look forward to the social unrest that will continue to simmer under economic stagnation, political corruption and environmental catastrophe, the only thing that has ever worked is the threat of massive social mobilization against those who benefit massively from systemic exploitation. From the same article:

The top 0.1 percent — that is, the uppermost tenth of the 1% — have about as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent of United Statesians. To put it another way, approximately 320,000 people possess as much as do more than 280 million. It takes at least $20 million in assets to be among the top 0.1 percent, a total that is steadily rising.

Emmanuel Saez, an economics professor at the University of California, and Gabriel Zucman, a professor at the London School of Economics, examined income-tax data to reveal these numbers. They write that they combined that data with other sources to reach what they believe is the most accurate accounting of wealth distribution yet, one that shows inequality to be wider than previously imagined. The authors define wealth as “the current market value of all the assets owned by households net of all their debts,” including the values of retirement plans with the exception of unfunded defined-benefit pensions and Social Security. (The reason for that exclusion is that those moneys do not yet exist but are promises to be kept sometime in the future.)

The authors’ paper, “Wealth Equality in the United States since 1913: Evidence from Capitalized Income Data,” reports that, for the bottom 90 percent, there was no change in wealth from 1986 to 2012, while the wealth of the top 0.1 percent increased by more than five percent annually — the latter reaped half of total wealth accumulation.

The 22 percent of total wealth owned by the top 0.1 percent is almost equal to what that cohort owned at the peak of inequality in 1916 and 1929. Afterward, their total fell to as low as seven percent in 1978 but has been rising ever since. At the same time, the combined wealth of the bottom 90 percent rose from about 20 percent in the 1920s to a peak of 35 percent in the mid-1980s, but has been declining ever since. Although pension wealth has increased since then, Professors Saez and Zucman report, the increase in mortgage, consumer-credit and student debt has been greater.

People, not party politics, will be the catalyst for actual change in this country.

by lizard

Last night I once again found myself watching The Lego Movie with my kids. I was amused at the Master Builders inability to work together as they attempted to escape the slaughter of Cloud Cuckoo Land by the fascists working for the corporate authoritarian, Lord Business. This morning I decided to putter around a bit online to see if any reviews touched on the larger cultural context of the creative elites—the Master Builders. What I found is very intriguing.

I remembered some criticism of The Lego Movie took issue with the anti-corporate conformity message, but I didn’t realize the extent that some believed this movie was one of the most anti-Christian ever. Before getting to the excerpt, be warned there are SPOILERS ahead. From the link:

All throughout the movie there are references to the “man upstairs.” This is not only a figurative reference to God, but it is a direct reference to the god of the Lego people, because “the man upstairs” is the one who builds them, is the one who created everything, who everyone is looking for, and who everyone is expecting to rescue them. Okay. So that’s not so bad.

The movie centers around a set of rebels who value creative thinking outside the set of “instructions” that Legos would normally follow. The institution of society considers this deviant behavior and emphasizes the importance of always following the instructions. Okay. I’m all for out-of-the-box thinking and creativity in a dormant society. Not so bad.


Then it is revealed that the “man up stairs” is really the bad-guy and it is the rebellious son who has introduced chaos and disorder to society by believing the “instruction book” is a bad thing.

Do you see it now? If not, let me just lay it all out for you. You see, the “man upstairs” represents God and the “instruction book” represents the Bible. This rebellious son who introduces chaos, disorder, and a disregard for the “instruction book” to a society built in perfection by “the man upstairs,” of course represents Satan.

I knew there was a larger context to The Lego Movie, and this hints at what I think the movie is getting at. Then, this morning, I stumbled upon this review, titled All that Glitters is Not Gold, and it finally clicked. The underlying current of The Lego Movie is rooted in Gnosticism.

I’ve discussed Gnosticism and its influence on my writing/thinking before, so I won’t rehash it now. For readers who are interested, check out the links and see what you think.


I realize I was a little snarky with my comments yesterday about the U.S. – Chinese deal on cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Maybe it is my inherent distrust of “gentlemanly handshake” agreements between two of the worlds’ three leaders-in-contest for world hegemony. Maybe it was because our own ex-Senator Max Baucus has been eerily silent during his stint as the new U.S. ambassador to China.

Run a google on Baucus’ accomplishments and statements on his work in China, and you come up with nothing. So of course, after watching him and seeing how he rolled in Congress, it’s easy to see him taking a back-room role in all this, and twisting it somehow to someone’s ($$) benefit. No matter (maybe), I digress.

But this agreement was no watershed moment to me, as there were no treaties signed, no Congressional approval, no third party involvement. It was strictly a political maneuver with a lot of side stories. But taken at its face value, here is what Frank Melum, Senior Point Carbon Analyst at Thomson Reuters had to say:

“We do not expect these new targets to significantly alter the world’s trajectory for emissions growth, but the joint announcement will probably alter the pace of negotiations, and could in time could lead to improved ambition levels”.

“Improved ambition levels.” Nice political double-speak! So, that’s all and good and symbolic, and pressure-setting for other countries and emerging economies. And of course, I remain highly skeptical that either the U.S. or China will meet the expectations set for them by 2030. Continue Reading »

by lizard

American cities continue to address homeless in really awful, inhumane ways. The arrest of a 90 year old for feeding the homeless has garnered international headlines. This from the BBC:

Arnold Abbott, a 90-year-old Florida man, has been called a hero for opposing new restrictions on feeding the homeless outdoors in Fort Lauderdale.

The new laws say that organisations wishing to feed the homeless must do so at designated feeding sites, or must provide portable restrooms and running water.

Abbott, who has fed the hungry at the beach on Wednesdays for eight years, refuses to comply.

I like Russell Brand’s take:

In Manteca, California, they’ve banned the homeless from sleeping outside. Yeah. From the link:

Last week, the city council of Manteca, CA unanimously passed two ordinances aimed at clearing out the homeless population.

One will ban people from sleeping or setting up encampments on any public or private property as of December 4, although the homeless won’t be jailed or fined. It will, however, allow the police to tear down any homeless sleeping areas as soon as they appear without having to be invited by the property owner, as was the case previously.

Explaining why the ordinance is necessary, Police Chief Nick Obligacion said, “The goal is actually to correct the wrong. So, if the correction is them leaving Manteca, then that’s their choice.” He also opposes any sort of shelter for the homeless.

Police Chief Nick Obligacion is an asshole.

If America really was a Christian nation, this wouldn’t be happening.

by lizard

My god, Democrats, what the fuck are you people thinking? You want to save Mary Landrieu by passing her opponents Keystone XL pipeline bill?

Senate Democrats are working on plans to hold a vote authorizing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline — approval that Democrats believe might bolster the chances of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who faces a tough runoff election next month.

We know Jon Tester is eager to help Republicans move forward their agenda:

Montana’s senior U.S. senator, Democrat Jon Tester, will now be in the minority for the first time in his Senate career – but said this week his new role may actually create more opportunities to get things done.

In an interview, Tester said he could be among moderate Democrats who join Republicans to form a 60-senator majority to break a filibuster and advance certain bills.

“That’s a possibility,” he said. “I’m going to look at the policy and see how it works for Montana and the country. There are certain things that we may be able to support that others Democrats don’t. …

Great timing, Democrats. Just ignore the breaking news of the seismic shift in the global response to the climate crisis China and America announced last night. Who cares if one of the Republican’s favorite justifications for inaction on climate change—China—just evaporated? Who cares that tarsand bitumen is one of the most environmentally destructive petro-products on earth? Your base may care, but when did that ever stop you from kicking (tar)sand in their face?

This is why your party is at 36% approval, Democrats. Confronted with an electoral massacre, y’all double-down on Republicating yourselves into more malleable, poll-driven amoebas squishing into whatever form the data-sampling indicates you should take.

You should take a hike, preferably into the woods you think the government should mandate be cut. Even better, go spend a month in China without a respirator, then tell us why coal isn’t dead.

Action has to mobilize outside the voting booth.

Oh Hayduke, where do we go from here?

by lizard

Today is Veterans Day, a federal holiday. It used to be called Armistice Day, but for some reason that changed in 1954. Maybe it’s because the war to end all wars didn’t end all wars, so a broader remembrance of all veterans created by US imperial ambitions became necessary.

The Middle East has been rendered a clusterfuck of chaos, death and destruction from decades of war. The US is directly responsible. Obama has sent 1,500 more troops to Iraq and now Congress is stirring, blearily recalling a distant time when Congressional Approval was necessary for war. From the link:

A senior Democratic senator said Monday that Congress should vote on whether U.S. troops should be fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), calling the previous Iraq War a “terrible mistake.”

“We are going to have to have a vote on this. We know what a terrible mistake the first Iraq War was,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on NBC.

“It cost us close to $3 trillion, thousands of lives to go after weapons of mass destruction, which never existed in the first place. And if we’re going to go into this, how many other places are we going to? We should have a full debate on it,” he added.

Yeah, let’s have a full debate. And how about including in that full debate facts, like our ally, Turkey, helping ISIS:

Until recently, it was speculated that Turkey had provided indirect support to Daesh; there did not appear to be evidence showing direct Turkish assistance to ISIS fascists. New evidence leads to the latter conclusion.

On 7 November, Newsweek published “’ISIS Sees Turkey as Its Ally’: Former Islamic State Member Reveals Turkish Army Cooperation.” The piece is based on testimonies by a former ISIS communications technician who goes by the pseudonym Sherko Omer. Omer traveled to Syria to fight against the bloody Assad regime — a regime with brutal state terrorist campaigns of mass bombing, torture, starvation, and rape of civilians, including children — yet soon “found himself caught up in a horrifying sectarian war, unable to escape.” He never planned on joining ISIS; he was not a Salafi extremist. Omer was trapped in a terrifying snare — a sectarian, international proxy war — and feared for his life, knowing full well that Daesh murders defectors.

Omer managed to escape by surrendering to Kurdish forces (ISIS extremists would not have spared his life after such a surrender), and subsequently detailed to Newsweek what he saw in his time working for the fascist group.

He notes that Turkey allowed trucks from the Daesh stronghold in Raqqa to cross the “border, through Turkey and then back across the border to attack Syrian Kurds in the city of Serekaniye in northern Syria in February.” He later adds that, not only did they travel “through Turkey in a convoy of trucks,” they even stayed “at safehouses along the way.”

As a communication technician, Omer recalls “connect[ing] ISIS field captains and commanders from Syria with people in Turkey on innumerable occasions,” reporting that he “rarely heard them speak in Arabic, and that was only when they talked to their own recruiters, otherwise, they mostly spoke in Turkish because the people they talked to were Turkish officials.”

“ISIS commanders told us to fear nothing at all because there was full cooperation with the Turks,” Omer says.

Another facet of this full debate should include Libya. Glenn Greenwald, in a piece at The Intercept, asks what I’ve been asking—What Happened to the Humanitarians Who Wanted to Save Libyans with Bombs and Drones? The answer is they scuttled away to the shadows, unwilling to acknowledge that the critics were correct. Libya has descended into abject chaos, and now features the first city outside Syria and Iraq to pledge fealty to ISIS:

On a chilly night, bearded militants gathered at a stage strung with colorful lights in Darna, a Mediterranean coastal city long notorious as Libya’s center for jihadi radicals. With a roaring chant, they pledged their allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State group.

With that meeting 10 days ago, the militants dragged Darna into becoming the first city outside of Iraq and Syria to join the “caliphate” announced by the extremist group. Already, the city has seen religious courts ordering killings in public, floggings of residents accused of violating Shariah law, as well as enforced segregation of male and female students. Opponents of the militants have gone into hiding or fled, terrorized by a string of slayings aimed at silencing them.

ISIS should come with a Made in America label.

It’s pretty impressive that US troops are back on the ground in Iraq fighting the consequences of America’s insanely reckless foreign policy with nary a peep from the somnambulist American populace. I have stopped wondering what it would take to jar Americans out of their slumber.

So enjoy the federal holiday, dear citizens! War will remain on our horizon for the foreseeable future because there is no anti-war movement mobilizing against the insanity, another unfortunate byproduct of Democrats failing to distinguish themselves from their Republican counterparts.

by lizard

The post-mortems keep coming, and one of the big rifts is the failure of Montana Democratic candidates to distinguish themselves from Republicans with regards to the environment. At Cowgirl it’s all Pick Your Heads Up, Democrats, where the failure to take a stand on the environment is explained with one simple word: polls.

The second point is that I would caution people to be careful about simply accepting all of the theories being pushed out there about why Democrats lost. Because the main and most simple theory is most certainly the correct one: Montana will not send a Democrat to Washington in a year in which we have a democratic (not to mention black) president at 28% in the polls, in a midterm year, who is fairly inept at articulating what he stands for or believes.

For those who believe that the Democrats should unabashedly come out against the Keystone pipeline, or unabashedly for a pro-immigration position, I have news for you: such positions are extremely unpopular in states like Montana, and very polarizing too. The greenlighting of the Keystone pipeline, for example, is supported by 85% of Montana voters. Coming out strongly against it, and shouting it from the mountaintop, provides no electoral benefit.

So Democrats want tarsand gunk flowing to Texas (for export), coal being dug up for China, and government-mandated logging because polls define their positions? How did that work out this year?

Leadership is not looking to polls before taking a position. Leadership means looking hard at dire issues, like climate change, and clearly articulating why taking a principled stand is important. If Montana Democrats had done that, would they have done worse? It’s hard to imagine Democrats doing much worse by taking a tough position on an issue that will negatively impact all our lives if our “leaders” continue ignoring the threat.

Ochenski has his post-mortem up at the Missoulian today. From the link:

Here in Montana – and as pointed out in this column months ago – there were very minor differences between Republican candidates and the stances top-level Democrats took on far too many issues. While there certainly were differences between the political parties and their candidates on certain issues, such as a woman’s right to choose whether to terminate a pregnancy, serious policy differences were few and far between.

Take the environment, for instance, which is an issue near and dear to many who consider themselves the Democrat base. Climate change is arguably the single greatest challenge now facing this state and nation. Yet, one would think the “climate change deniers,” generally pegged to be Republicans, had somehow mesmerized Montana’s Democratic candidates into supporting their non-recognition of the science and on-the-land effects of climate change now ravaging the globe.

How is it possible that all of Montana’s top tier Democratic candidates could support “all of the above” energy policies and claim to be anything but climate change deniers? If you ask the Demo’s so-called strategists, they’ll blithely tell you that “we have to take that position to get elected.” Really? Since they lost in record numbers, one might viably deduce that taking that position did just the opposite.

There are lessons to be learned when one fails. Will Democrats in Montana ditch the strategy of Republican-lite poll appeasement? Or will they double down on positions that didn’t help them this year, and won’t help the environmental devastation we humans are doing to this planet?

by lizard

Political reporting in Montana is abysmal. Don Pogreba has been writing that beat for awhile, and he’s right, for the most part (though his criticism is more focused on disparities that negatively impact the candidates he supports). Still, Lee Enterprise’s various fish wraps (newspapers) continue to struggle in the changing media landscape with a business model that has absorbed personnel cuts while slowly trying to shift from a reliance on advertising revenue to shaking down readers for access to online content.

The result: a tepid, pro-business slant that doesn’t fully inform its customers.

There are bright spots, like John S. Adams (you can read his piece on Dispirited Democrats here) but for the most part the constraints of the business model are painfully apparent.

The slant is by no means new. The difference is the competition. When content can be so easily created and shared, the monopoly on information the business model once enjoyed is challenged. How newspapers choose to respond—paywalls, staff cuts, etc.—is interesting to watch. And to write about for free on a Sunday morning.

This particular Sunday morning I read an op-ed about the obvious appeal to the wealthy from the New York Times, and the quote from Executive Editor, Dean Baquet, is priceless. But before the quote, here’s a bit of the framing from Margaret Sullivan, the NYT’s Public Editor who wrote the piece:

DAVID Gonzalez approached the South Bronx street-corner preacher and said he was from The New York Times.

“He had just been shouting fire, brimstone and eternal damnation,” recalled Mr. Gonzalez, at that time, in 1991, the Bronx bureau chief. But when the preacher heard the Times affiliation, his face brightened. “He told me that he really liked our opera coverage.”

It was a lesson in not making assumptions about just who reads The Times — a topic that I often hear about from readers who are frustrated by what they describe as elitism in the paper’s worldview, and who would like The Times and its staff to remember that the median household income in the United States is close to $52,000 a year, and that about 15 percent of Americans live in poverty.

It’s not hard to see why they feel that way. The featured apartments with their $10 million price tags and white-glove amenities seem aimed at hedge fund managers, if not Russian oligarchs. The stories on doughnuts at $20 a half dozen are for those who are flush with disposable income, not struggling to pay the rent. Many of the parties, the fashions, even the gadgets are well beyond the reach of the middle class.

The NYT features an elitist slant with a thin liberal veneer. Some people who identify as liberal get defensive when this is pointed out. But maybe, just maybe the elitist assumptions are wrong, as the anecdotal story this op-ed leads with highlights.

Sullivan goes on to ask the question, not just to readers but to Dean Baquet himself, and his response is quite telling:

So who is The Times written for — the superwealthy, or for citizens of all income levels? Is the paper trying, in the axiom about journalism’s mission, to “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted”? Or is it plumping the Hungarian goose-down pillows of the already quite cozy?

I asked the executive editor, Dean Baquet, whom he has in mind when he directs coverage and priorities.

“I think of The Times reader as very well-educated, worldly and likely affluent,” he said. “But I think we have as many college professors as Wall Street bankers.”

What a smug son of a gun.

The NYT helped the Bush administration manipulate the American public to lead us into a disastrous war that’s cascaded into the whole region being destabilized, producing more extremism as a brutal side-effect. The NYT also withheld James Risen’s story about Americans being spied on, saving the Bush administration from answering tough questions before the 2004 election.

Liberals shouldn’t be defensive of the NYT, they should be angry and weary of a newspaper with that kind of power and track record.

Both locally and nationally, it’s important to recognize the voices of those impacted by the recklessness of Wall Street and the complicity of our elected officials continue to be marginalized. The op-ed goes on to try and defend the NYT times, but the perspective of the Executive Editor pretty much says it all.

I’ll conclude this post with a quote traced back to Finley Peter Dunne about the role of newspapers:

“It’s the job of the newspaper to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

by lizard

The insatiable criminals who infest Wall Street got another signal yesterday from Obama that they have nothing to worry about. Loretta Lynch is being tapped to replace Holder, and for Democrats more interested in identity politics than substance, I’m sure there will be some excitement that Lynch would be the first black female Attorney General. That’s the NPR headline, anyway.

Here’s another NPR article from March of this year worth highlighting about a particular bank’s cozy relationship with a barbaric drug cartel:

The Sinaloa Cartel, headquartered on Mexico’s northern Pacific Coast, is constantly exploring new ways to launder its gargantuan profits. The State Department reports that Mexican trafficking organizations earn between $19 and $29 billion every year from selling marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines on the streets of American cities.

And Sinaloa is reportedly the richest, most powerful of them all, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. The capture last month of the Mexican druglord Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman has cast a spotlight on the smuggling empire he built.

One key to the Sinaloa Cartel’s success has been to use the global banking system to launder all this cash.

“It’s very important for them to get that money into the banking system and do so with as little scrutiny as possible,” says Jim Hayes, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations for the New York office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. He was lead agent in the 2012 case that revealed how Sinaloa money men used HSBC, one of the world’s largest banks, as their private vault.

ICE says in 2007 and 2008, the Sinaloa Cartel and a Colombian cartel wire-transferred $881 million in illegal drug proceeds into U.S. accounts.

Sounds like a serious crime, right? Who is going to hold this bank accountable for laundering hundreds of millions of blood-soacked drug money? Loretta Lynch, that’s who:

WASHINGTON – HSBC Holdings plc (HSBC Group) – a United Kingdom corporation headquartered in London – and HSBC Bank USA N.A. (HSBC Bank USA) (together, HSBC) – a federally chartered banking corporation headquartered in McLean, Va. – have agreed to forfeit $1.256 billion and enter into a deferred prosecution agreement with the Justice Department for HSBC’s violations of the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA), the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and the Trading with the Enemy Act (TWEA). According to court documents, HSBC Bank USA violated the BSA by failing to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program and to conduct appropriate due diligence on its foreign correspondent account holders. The HSBC Group violated IEEPA and TWEA by illegally conducting transactions on behalf of customers in Cuba, Iran, Libya, Sudan and Burma – all countries that were subject to sanctions enforced by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) at the time of the transactions.

The announcement was made by Lanny A. Breuer, Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; Loretta Lynch, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York; and John Morton, Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); along with numerous law enforcement and regulatory partners. The New York County District Attorney’s Office worked with the Justice Department on the sanctions portion of the investigation. Treasury Under Secretary David S. Cohen and Comptroller of the Currency Thomas J. Curry also joined in today’s announcement.

What sounds like a lot of money is chump change to a bank like HSBC. They pay a fine, no jail time, and usually gag orders all around so no one can talk about the details of the criminality we citizens now meekly accept.

While the appointment of Loretta Lynch will be met with knee-jerk obstruction by Republicans, another woman is exhibiting the courage our boot-licking public officials sorely lack. Her name is Alayne Fleischmann, a woman Rolling Stone describes in this article as JP Morgan Chase’s worst nightmare. Why? Because she’s defying the gag order her bosses paid a cool 9 billion to place on her whistle-blowing. Here’s how the Rolling Stone piece describes the cash for secrecy approach of Holder’s office:

Fleischmann is the central witness in one of the biggest cases of white-collar crime in American history, possessing secrets that JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon late last year paid $9 billion (not $13 billion as regularly reported – more on that later) to keep the public from hearing.

Back in 2006, as a deal manager at the gigantic bank, Fleischmann first witnessed, then tried to stop, what she describes as “massive criminal securities fraud” in the bank’s mortgage operations.

Thanks to a confidentiality agreement, she’s kept her mouth shut since then. “My closest family and friends don’t know what I’ve been living with,” she says. “Even my brother will only find out for the first time when he sees this interview.”

Six years after the crisis that cratered the global economy, it’s not exactly news that the country’s biggest banks stole on a grand scale. That’s why the more important part of Fleischmann’s story is in the pains Chase and the Justice Department took to silence her.

She was blocked at every turn: by asleep-on-the-job regulators like the Securities and Exchange Commission, by a court system that allowed Chase to use its billions to bury her evidence, and, finally, by officials like outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder, the chief architect of the crazily elaborate government policy of surrender, secrecy and cover-up. “Every time I had a chance to talk, something always got in the way,” Fleischmann says.

This past year she watched as Holder’s Justice Department struck a series of historic settlement deals with Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America. The root bargain in these deals was cash for secrecy. The banks paid big fines, without trials or even judges – only secret negotiations that typically ended with the public shown nothing but vague, quasi-official papers called “statements of facts,” which were conveniently devoid of anything like actual facts.

And now, with Holder about to leave office and his Justice Department reportedly wrapping up its final settlements, the state is effectively putting the finishing touches on what will amount to a sweeping, industrywide effort to bury the facts of a whole generation of Wall Street corruption. “I could be sued into bankruptcy,” she says. “I could lose my license to practice law. I could lose everything. But if we don’t start speaking up, then this really is all we’re going to get: the biggest financial cover-up in history.”

I know some readers don’t like it when I use naughty words, but I continue to find this bullshit to be absolutely fucking insane.

There is some funny election analysis at the Cowgirl worth quoting here, especially from one commenter, “Drunks for Denny”, who wrote this:

The Democrats need to stop blaming dark money for all their woes, and start doing job of getting their message across. When the Republicans say “So and so voted with Obama 95% of the time”, So and so should respond with “Damn straight!” and tout the accomplishments of Obama Care, the Recovery, etc. instead of running away from him. Pandering to the stupidity of the average voter is insulting to the rest of us.

This is an idiotic message when you consider “the Recovery” is non-existent for most Americans. It was reported last year that 95% of the income gains since the “Great Recession” went to the 1%. Is this the Obama recovery Democrats should respond “Damn Stright!” in supporting? Hell no.

It looks like this commenter, who thinks average voters are stupid, should maybe read up on what has actually happened during Obama’s tenure. Instead, Drunks for Denny has this insightful response to an inquiry by another commenter about low turnout in Missoula:

No, the likely reason that Democrats did not fare as well as they usually do during a presidential election year in Missoula, is that the vast majority of Missoula Democrats are whacked out hippies who smoke a lot of weed. Perhaps yesterday Phish tickets went on sale at the Gorge. Who knows? It’s like when I toss a ball of yarn to my cat.

While Democrats can’t acknowledge their party is a part of the problem, average voters can, because their lives, generally speaking, haven’t improved these past 6 years.

If it’s the economy, stupid, then no one should be surprised when a papered-over economic catastrophe primed for the next crisis depresses turnout for Democratic candidates who can’t put enough distance between their campaigns and the complicity of their party in enabling the wolves of Wall Street.

by lizard

I have heard the name Al From before, but I had no idea he was the man responsible for expunging the spirit of the New Deal from the Democratic Party, birthing a new Democratic movement that culminated in the electoral victory of Bill Clinton in 1992.

Matt Stoller has a very important review of From’s book, The New Democrats and the Return to Power. Stoller titles his review Why the Democratic Party Acts The Way It Does and it’s quite illuminating.

From created the Democratic Leadership Council and used this organization to enact a “bloodless revolution” within the party:

The DLC was controversial from the start, both because it was competitive with existing party institutions and because the existing party establishment did not agree with this new agenda. The DLC was called the “southern white boys’ caucus”, and Jesse Jackson and populist Senator Howard Metzenbaum, both called it the “Democrats for the Leisure Class.” From mediated this anger by appointing a man with a conciliatory personality, Dick Gephart, as the DLC’s first chairman. While controversial, the DLC was also spectacularly successful at placing itself in the center of the party. Groups of DLC politicians dubbed “the cavalry” traveled around the country to talk to reporters, activists, and operatives about what they were doing and what the Democrats needed to do to be successful. Their message was, well, “change and hope.” Arizona Governor and later Clinton cabinet member Bruce Babbitt explained it as such. “We’re revolutionaries. We believe the Democratic Party in the last several decades has been complacent. . . . We’re out to refresh, revitalize, regenerate, carry on the revolutionary tradition.” It was immediately successful among media elites — the Washington Post’s David Broder headlined his column: “A Welcome Attack of Sanity Has Hit Washington.”

Over the course of the late 1980s, the DLC continued its attack on the orthodoxy of the populism that had residual power in the party. The DLC’s Chairman, Virginia Senator Chuck Robb, said it clearly in an influential speech during this period. “The New Deal consensus which dominated American politics for 50 years has run its course.” Economic growth, not redistribution or getting in the way of corporate power, was now on the menu. The DLC attacked all facets of policymaking, setting up a think tank called the Progressive Policy Institute (because From was tired of being called conservative) and hosting forums on poverty, welfare and crime with liberals like New York Governor Mario Cuomo. PPI and the DLC pushed globalization, the shareholder revolution, and reforms in entitlements like Social Security and Medicare (initially pressing to link their growth to productivity growth).

The DLC group is sometimes portrayed as a pro-Wall Street set of lobbyists. And From did recruit hedge fund legends like Michael Steinhardt to fund his movement. But to argue these people were corrupt or motivated by a pay to play form of politics is wrong. From is clearly a reformer and an ideologue, and his colleagues believed they were serving the public interest. “Make no mistake about it,” wrote From in a memo about his organization’s strategy, “what we hope to accomplish with the DLC is a bloodless revolution in our party. It is not unlike what the conservatives accomplished in the Republican Party during the 1960s and 1970s.”

Now that Democrats are back to getting their asses kicked, electorally speaking, maybe it’s a good time to scrutinize From’s revolutionary dismantling of the New Deal legacy.

Just a thought.

by lizard

After Democrats experienced an electoral smack-down Tuesday, will there be any soul-searching? Or is it time to play the blame game? If it’s the latter, millennials are clearly the first scapegoat being pointed at. Here is one article, titled The Young And The Useless: How Millennials Left Democrats Hanging On Election Day. From the link:

Young voters in particular declined to show up for Democrats. The exit poll shows that voters between the ages of 18 and 29 supported Democrats by a strong 54 to 43 percent margin. But they made up just 12 percent of the electorate — down 7 percent from 2012, and equal to their dismal turnout from 2010.

By contrast, 37 percent of midterm voters were 60 or older — and these voters backed the Republicans by more than 15 percent.

While Millennial turn out was low, voters across the nation did support a wide variety of progressive ballot measures, like increasing minimum wage, legalizing marijuana, paid sick time, and expanding background checks for gun sales. In contrast, two personhood ballot initiatives were defeated by large margins.

It’s a confounding disconnect.

A better scapegoat could be the baggage of the Obama presidency. Six years of broken promises and capitulation to the destructive tendencies of America’s imperial ambitions have rendered an electorate disgusted with both parties. Dave Lindorff explains that Tuesday wasn’t a GOP victory, it was a Democratic rout:

The blame is being placed on President Obama for this drubbing, and he richly deserves it. Basically, his presidency has been one long string of disappointments to and outright betrayal of those who voted for him “hoping for change,” as Obama has caved on or compromised away virtually every progressive promise he made during his two campaigns.

As a constitutional scholar, he had promised to restore respect for the law to the presidency, and instead has made end runs around every law imaginable, refusing to prosecute the war criminals of the Bush/Cheney presidency, the CIA, and the military, refusing to prosecute the FBI for violating the Patriot Act, refusing to prosecute the bankers whose crimes brought the US and the global economy to a grinding halt and left the US crippled going on six years now.

He has run the most secretive administration in history, even employing the 1917 Espionage Act against leakers and whistleblowers, and threatening journalists with jail for publishing those leaks. Under his watch, too, the Homeland Security Department secretly orchestrated the nationwide crushing of the Occupy movement by local police departments, while the White House, all the while, offered homilies about the sanctity of the right to protest. (His HSD’s Office of Threat Assessment actually labelled this publication a “threat” for publishing an article exposing that role — a discovery which we now proudly display on our masthead above.)

Claiming to have been a “community organizer,” Obama hung the labor movement that had backed his campaign for president out to dry, declining to push for a promised and desperately needed reform of the National Labor Relations Act that would have ended the interminable and easily delayed process of requiring a secret ballot election to form a union, by reverting to the old system of obtaining a majority of signed cards from workers.

On climate change, which he had once called the issue of our time, his administration actually actively worked behind the scenes, with the help of the National Security Agency, to subvert efforts by international leaders to reach an international consensus on action in 2009 in Denmark. This Obama treachery allowed the world to lurch on towards a climate-change armageddon.

After promising to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama first drew out the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq, leading to further chaos there and ultimately to the current disaster where the country is being torn apart by an invasion by the former Baathist military leaders who were earlier turned out by the Bush/Cheney invasion and occupation. Then he expanded the war in Afghanistan, dragging out that conflict to make it, at 13 years and running, the longest war in US history. And after spending hundreds of billions of dollars on pointless war and killing thousands of more Afghans and American soldiers too, he has left a nation in tatters which will revert to Taliban control again probably within months of the last US soldier leaving on the last troop transport.

No wonder the public was pissed this Election Day.

Climate change is one of the issues I think Democrats will have the most problems with going forward because it pits environmentalists against labor interests. Ochenski had a good piece on Monday about the tangible impacts of climate change on Montana’s hunting tradition and the failure of Lewis and Curtis to distinguish themselves from Daines and Zinke. From the link:

While many lament the falling number of hunters in recent years, it’s quite possible they are failing to connect the dots between our warming climate and fewer hunters. Not too tough to figure out, though, that if you go hunting and return without having seen or shot an elk year after year, one might just decide to hang up the elk rifle after a while.

A stunning affirmation of the current conditions was made plain when a good friend, who is a backcountry cook for an outfitter, said out of the nearly two months of wilderness rifle season so far, they had only taken one elk out of their Bob Marshall Wilderness camp. One elk.

Considering the cost for a week’s outfitted hunt runs about $5,000-$6,000 per individual, it’s not hard to predict that those who paid so much for a treasured Montana elk hunt only to find no tracking snow and no elk will be far less likely to do so in the future.

Yet, Montana’s politicians continue to embrace “all of the above” energy policies that only exacerbate global climate change. Keystone XL pipeline? They all support it. Mining more coal to ship to China? You bet. Cutting down more forests that actually take carbon dioxide out of the air? Oh yeah, let’s congressionally mandate even higher harvest levels. And of course more drilling and fracking garners universal applause from Republicans and Democrats.

But none of this happens in a vacuum. So how much of Montana’s hunting tradition – and economy – are our politicians willing to sacrifice to ever more energy production and consumption?

The Keystone XL pipeline will probably be one of the first showdowns between a Congress that hasn’t been this Republican since 1929 and Democrats. This won’t be an easy issue for Democrats, considering many support the pipeline and the ones who don’t haven’t been all that vocal in opposition because of labor’s advocacy and the fear of being tar and feathered as anti-jobs.

All in all, we are in for a frustrating two years of gridlock, shutdown and polarization over the wedge issues that dominate our political conversation in this country while the consensus of perpetual war keeps pushing us to the brink of WWIII.

And so it goes.

by lizard

Ryan Zinke and Steve Daines will now represent Montana in DC. I first wrote Montanans, but that’s not accurate. Semantics aside, they won and that’s that.

Nationally, Republicans took the senate. What they will do with it remains to be seen, but it’s a good guess any legislative effort to fix any of the broken systems dragging this country down will be swiftly stomped out of existence.

Locally, I was glad to see Marie Anderson win. I also hope Joshua Clark will finally take the hint he didn’t win, and the Sheriff’s Department can start the process of moving forward.

On another positive note, Missoula residents can finally say adios to Fred Van Valkenburg. Kirsten Pabst will now take the lead of the Missoula County attorney’s office. There is still a lot of fixing that needs to happen in that office. I hope Pabst is up to the task.

Oh, and parks. Missoula loves it some parks. Systems may be in slow motion collapse, but at least we’ll have nice parks.

by lizard

Michael Gordon was just saying goodbye to some ladies he’s known since childhood when Christopher Hymel attacked him for no reason. That’s Gordon’s version of the story, as reported by the Missoulian. Hymel didn’t testify, because he’s dead. From the link:

The inquest began Monday morning with testimony from several of Hymel’s friends who were present during the shooting. The friends claim Gordon enticed Hymel to his truck after insulting Hymel’s girlfriend, Megan Navarro, and friend Chira Graham.

Gordon and Hymel exchanged punches through the driver’s-side window.

Missoula Police Det. Mitch Lang showed a surveillance video of the parking lot that showed Gordon and Hymel exiting the club and the fight that ensued.

In the video, Gordon left first and climbed into his truck, which he apparently started by remote. Several minutes later, Hymel and his group of four friends exited the club and walked past the truck.

The truck’s lights turned on and in audio footage played for the jury later, it’s clear Gordon revved his engine when the girls walked past.

According to the testimony of the four friends, Gordon was calling out to the girls vulgarly through his driver’s-side window. However, they couldn’t remember exactly what he said to them.

According to Gordon’s testimony, he opened his window to say goodbye to the girls, who he had known since childhood and the next thing he knew Hymel attacked him.

“I didn’t do anything. I didn’t say anything,” he said, during his emotional testimony. “I was attacked out of nowhere.”

Four people testify Gordon was calling out to the women vulgarly. Audio of the incident catches an engine being revved. Gordon maintains he was just saying adios to childhood friends. Just speaking from personal experience, I don’t associate the revving of a truck outside a strip club in the middle of the night with a cordial see you later coming from the operator of the gas pedal. But that’s just me.

The article goes on to describe what can be discerned from the video footage:

The video shows Hymel and Gordon fighting through the truck window, but it’s not clear to what extent Gordon was fighting back. At one point during the fight, the truck started shaking and pieces of the window’s rain shield shattered.

According to Gordon’s testimony, he was being brutally beat by Hymel and grabbed his gun from the center console while he was leaned over the center, protecting himself from the blows.

Hymel’s friend, Steven Ellingson, attempted to break up the fight, and grabbed Hymel from behind, ripping his shirt.

Hymel stepped back to remove his shirt, while Gordon opened car door and fired a shot at Hymel. The bullet pierced his lung and fatally ripped through his aorta.

In the heat of the moment, Gordon didn’t consider driving away, he said and he couldn’t roll up his window because he was using that arm to protect himself from Hymel’s punches, Gordon said.

So Michael Gordon had a loaded gun in his center console ready to go. Is that even legal? And what about alcohol? Did anyone on scene even bother to get a blood sample to determine if alcohol was a factor? Gordon was supposedly cooperative with law enforcement, right? WTF?

As an impressionable new gun owner, this case is forming my sense of what I can and can’t do with my handguns. What I’m learning is that I can travel around with a loaded gun in my car and if some sort of physical altercation ensues, I can grab my gun “in the heat of the moment”, open my car door, gun in hand, exit my car, aim my handgun, and shoot the person who attacked me.

And this is legally justified?

What kind of weight does a jury decision from a coroner’s inquest carry? Is this case all wrapped up now? Did the Missoula County attorney’s office get the desired outcome with this punt?

Inquiring minds would like to know.

by lizard

Tomorrow is election day. I plan on voting despite how diminished the impact of my vote has become in this brave new world of dark money.

So what does get results?

I like this story from Electronic Intifada: Bay Area activists declare victory after Israeli carrier cancels all ships. From the link:

On 28 October, San Francisco Bay Area activists organizing to block the unloading of Israeli shipping vessels declared their most significant victory yet: Israel’s Zim Integrated Shipping Services appears to have cancelled all future shipments to the Oakland Port.

This past summer, at the peak of Israel’s brutal bombardment of Gaza, the Bay Area’s Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC) mobilized the community in response to the military assault. Deciding to focus on a tangible, highly-visible and big-money target, the group set its sights on Israel’s Zim lines, determined to block the company every time it tried to dock a ship at the busy Port of Oakland.

But they didn’t know it would take only three months to send Israel’s largest shipping company packing — possibly for good — in what looks like an effort to avoid the tireless activists who have consistently out-maneuvered the cargo ships.

Over the summer, AROC spearheaded the original Block the Boat coalition. The movement quickly caught on in major shipping cities along the West Coast, and last week, Los Angeles activists delayed the unloading of a Zim shipping vessel for two days.

The power of the boycott helped break the back of apartheid in South Africa. Now, the BDS movement (boycott, divest, sanction) against the apartheid state of Israel is showing results.

Israel, for it’s part, continues proving why such a movement is absolutely necessary. Here are just a few recent links.

Huge new Israeli settlement in West Bank condemned by US and UK (the Guardian)

Al Aqsa Mosque is closed off for first time in 47 years as tensions flare (Mondoweiss)

Netanyahu’s cabinet backs bill to jail stone-throwers up to 10-20 years (Haartz)

SodaStream says it plans to leave West Bank for Negev, but boycotters promise not to let up (Mondoweiss)

by lizard

The Missoula County Detention Facility is a jail. It is not a psychiatric unit or a detox center. The staff are not nurses, nor are they mental health professionals.

It would be easy to just point the finger of blame at the detention center staff responsible (or at Sheriff Ibsen, for that matter) for not following protocol in the death of Heather Wasson, a 31 year old woman who died from a seizure brought on by alcohol withdrawal. As a civil matter, the court has done just that:

Missoula County must pay $565,500 in damages to the family of a woman who died of a seizure in the county jail in 2009.

The Missoulian reported ( ) Wednesday a district court jury ruled county officials were mostly responsible for the death of 31-year-old Heather Holly Wasson, who died of an alcohol withdrawal seizure about 36 hours after she was jailed.

Instead, this Missoulian follow-up article—No changes at Missoula County jail, despite inmate’s 2009 death—features a quote worth repeating from Barbara Rodderick, the Missoula jail’s assistant commander:

“The thing the jail was guilty of was being overworked and under-staffed,” Roderick said. “From a taxpayer standpoint, why can’t they look at the whole picture? These are great officers here, but … we are not a hospital. We need a detox center.”

“(Inmates) need to be completely detoxed before coming to the jail,” she added.

Your average Missoula taxpayer can’t see the whole picture because there are multiple system overloads that can’t be explicitly described. The crisis at the jail is just one of them. If you have friends or family who work at St. Pats ER, or Providence, or first responders of any kind, they will tell you about what alcohol and other forms of substance abuse are doing. Warms Springs, the state hospital, is busting at the seams.

I don’t know why there aren’t more stories about what’s going on in some of these places. I guess our local paper needs the space for stuff like this op-ed asking for a second police officer downtown:

Could it be that Missoula has at last made progress in its efforts to crack down on problems downtown?

If the figures shared at last week’s Downtown Business Improvement District’s board of directors meeting are any indication, yes. And now that Missoula has hit upon a response that gets results, we should commit more resources to strengthening it. In fact, we should double it – by adding a second patrol officer dedicated specifically to the downtown area.

The single officer doing this work right now, the Downtown BID learned last week, has issued nearly 700 citations and warnings this year, and made exactly 63 arrests through September. The offenses ranged from eight incidents of public urination to seven acts of aggressive panhandling.

Of course, any regular visitor to the downtown area can tell you that these kinds of problems haven’t been eliminated completely. However, it’s become clear that having an officer assigned just to downtown, in conjunction with other programs, has certainly helped.

Maybe the optics have improved downtown, but the crisis has not.

But hey, what about that 42 million dollar parks bond on the ballot? Yeah parks! And Missoula hasn’t quite found the right number of locally brewed beer flowing in taprooms, so throw in another one downtown. Yeah beer!

Going back to the Missoulian editorial, I found this part curious:

Missoula Police Chief Mike Brady told the board of directors of the Downtown BID that a lot of ongoing problems seem to be linked to the sale of tall cans of alcohol. In response, the board is looking at whether to partner with downtown businesses to restrict their sale.

That’s probably not an especially beneficial approach. We’re willing to bet that the vast majority of consumers who buy these tall cans are law-abiding, and not planning to consume their beverage downtown in any case. Restricting the sale of these particular items would probably just discourage consumers from shopping downtown while doing little to curb the problems caused by alcohol intoxication downtown.

Definitely important to protect the ability of people to buy 24 ounce cans of cheap malt liquor. Some of the stores that sell these fine products start as early as 8am.

I’m up late writing this post because I was awoken to screams and shouts outside my home tonight. I looked out my window and saw a street brawl brewing, at least 20 people in the street and more on sidewalks. I live on a quiet street that has been much less quiet since members of a certain football team moved in nearby.

I wonder how many people drove away drunk once the cops inevitably showed up. Hopefully no one gets killed tonight.

Or raped.

by lizard

The Missoulian has an article today about a state department program UM’s Mansfield Center has been awarded the past few years. Here’s the description:

Meier, with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, has measured the University of Montana’s part in hosting the agency’s Professional Fellows Program, and he likes what he’s seen.

“We just awarded a new project next year for UM,” Meier said. “This particular project is focused on five Southeast Asian countries and is part of a broader initiative to boost U.S. engagement in Asia. We anticipate even greater numbers moving forward.”

The Mansfield Center at UM has been awarded the exchange program for each of the past several years. More than 75 professional fellows from five Asian nations have passed through Missoula to explore the state while growing their understanding of U.S. culture.

Whether their stay places them in the office of a local nonprofit, a government agency or a small business, the goal remains the same: to make them stronger leaders and improve the world through person-to-person contact.

“They get a chance to build the skills they can use at home, but also observe American practices and American daily life,” said Meier. “We want someone with a track record that has demonstrated initiative and leadership through the work they’ve done.”

So, the Mansfield Center is helping the Obama regime pivot to Asia by inviting “professional fellows” to absorb U.S. culture. What aspects of our culture will they explore first? Allow me, dear fellows, to make some suggestions.

Downtown Missoula is a wonderful place to drink alcohol to excess. Start downtown on a Friday night, but beware of a few things. Places like the Bodega and Stockman’s feature a subculture known by the slang term “bros“. Here is how the urban dictionary defines this subculture:

Obnoxious partying males who are often seen at college parties. When they aren’t making an ass of themselves they usually just stand around holding a red plastic cup waiting for something exciting to happen so they can scream something that demonstrates how much they enjoy partying. Nearly everyone in a fraternity is a bro but there are also many bros who are not in a fraternity. They often wear a rugby shirt and a baseball cap. It is not uncommon for them to have spiked hair with frosted tips.

If you are a female Asian fellow, it’s important to be aware that this subculture has aggressive mating rituals that relies on alcohol (and sometimes drugs) to prepare their victims mates for non-consensual sex, commonly referred to as “rape”. If you happen to become a target of one of these animals, your options for legal recourse may be lacking. Why? Because it’s your fault, as a woman, for doing things like wearing clothes that don’t totally obscure your female form, or making eye contact, or engaging in casual conversation. If you’ve had any alcohol to drink, then you definitely asked for it. So be careful, this is rape culture.

While you’re out and about trying to avoid getting raped by bros, another subculture may pique your interest: transients. Despite being an inaccurate term to describe chronically homeless individuals (don’t tell the Missoulian) these people are seen as threats to businesses downtown, even the bars who get bros drunk and rapey lament that their patrons are harassed by these societal outcasts. Instead of acknowledging the extreme lack of treatment options and the national joke that is our health care system, our city leaders passed (then reconsidered after threats of a lawsuit by the ACLU) ordinances banning sitting on sidewalks.

Creating criminals is something America is really good at. This is prison culture, and one area where America truly is exceptional:

The United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world—more even than China or Russia. In fact, more people are in prisons in the United States than in all other developed countries combined. Professor Daniel J. D’Amico explains that as of 2010 over 1.6 million people were serving jail sentences in America.

Let’s say you make it through a Friday night without getting raped and/or giving all your money to panhandling transients. If it’s late spring, summer, or early fall, then you can experience Missoula’s various markets, where all kinds of locally grown/harvested food and locally made crafts can be purchased. Breath in the mingling aromas and watch hipsters mingle with aging hippies while kids run around having a blast.

Food and drink are at the heart of any culture, so what better way to learn about America? But don’t be mistaken, the delicious local fare found at outdoor markets and stores like The Good Food Store are not inexpensive. If you’re poor in America, where austerity keeps nibbling away at programs like SNAP, you eat whatever you can get.

In America, when it comes to food, corporate culture seeks ever-increasing control of the food supply. Corporations like Monsanto have patented their genetically modified food products and spend millions to keep information about their products from making it onto labels so consumers know what they’re buying. Currently their efforts are focused on ballot measures in Colorado and Oregon.

In Missoula, the water we humans need to live is controlled by the Carlyle Group. The link is to wikipedia, so just surface level. What lurks beneath, though, is a rabbit hole of intrigue that segues into another subculture, conspiracy culture.

To wrap up this little foray into American subcultures, all you need to know about conspiracy culture is the people who entertain possibilities outside the mainstream herding of corporate media are easily marginalized through the use of the pejorative term, conspiracy theory. To avoid the mockery and ridicule that accompanies the deployment of the CT pejorative, simply avoid any topic that has been mentioned by Alex Jones.

Welcome to America!!!

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