Archive for January, 2015

by William Skink

A great quote from the poet William Carlos Williams:

It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.

WCW is one of my favorite poets, and this bit of verse has stuck with me over the years. What I think Williams is trying to get at is something poetry in America has been struggling with for a long time.

Americans don’t look to poetry to enrich our understanding of current events. Poems are more likely to be thought of as decorative, or ornamental, like a flowery escapist medium to be listened to but not heard.

Maybe it’s difficult to get the news from poems because really what cultural value do we place on poetry? Who reads it? Who buys the books or writes the reviews? Who knows Claudia Rankine’s book Citizen is a more potent engagement of “news” than anything cable news will ever be capable of?

It wasn’t always so. A book titled Partisans and Poets: The Political Work of American Poetry in the Great War documents how the lead up to America entering WWI was in part grappled over in verse. In searching around for material about this book I found this blurb:

In Partisans and Poets: The Political Work of American Poetry in the Great War, Van Wienen examines the historical, social, political, racial, and gender-based components of poetry production as they address America’s alienation from and subsequent participation in World War I. Van Wienen balances a number of perspectives on the war: progressive, conservative, patriotic, pacifist, and radical. As if addressing the poetic mainstream directly, Van Wienen says that the “status” or aesthetic of war poetry is not the focus of this book; but poetry’s service to politics and ideology is. Van Wienen argues that partisan debate over the war influenced poetry writing and vice versa. He demonstrates through sampling the mass press that the degree to which war poetry was published from 1914-18 in the popular press made it more representative of American culture than professional or academic poetry in literary journals.

Poetry published in the “popular press”? Indeed. I wrote about this book when I first got it 4 years ago, here. In that comment thread, and a few others, there were actual back and forth conversations in verse. Back in the day conversing in verse was a more common phenomenon. Poetic engagement of the issues of the day was not uncommon.

The problem, from the ivory tower academic standpoint, is that topical poems usually lack the staying power of the canonical poems. But maybe it’s the academic over-reliance on the almighty canon that has contributed to the slow disappearance of a more accessible form of poetry.

As a poet who wants his poems to be accessible and sometimes topical, I won’t shy away from putting out less-than-great topical poems for the enjoyment of readers here. I will soon unveil a series of Missoula food haikus I’ve been working on the last few days. Stay tuned…


extremist rainbow threat
how shall we prepare?
money from Homeland Security
to coordinate land, sea and air

the rainbow threat is real
see that river over there?
there are rainbows in the water
so now we must prepare

by building infrastructure
with bonds and pretty words
be weary, extremist rainbow
of what you think you heard

the state of the state is great
the poor still have tv
except state-sanctioned color
is all they’ll ever see

—William Skink

Cha Cha Cha Changes

by lizard

I’ve gone through some big changes the last few months, both professionally and personally, which makes now an ideal time to also change my approach to blogging. My first post on September 8th, 2010, was titled Poetry and Politics. In the last year I’ve essentially abandoned poetry and delved obsessively into geopolitics with a sprinkling of commentary on local issues. For now I think I’m done with that, especially the local stuff. Instead I’m going to refocus on poetry, which will probably mean less frequent posts.

I’ve appreciated seeing more posts from JC, and I hope he has the time and inclination to keep readers appraised of the nefarious developments of America’s goal of full spectrum dominance across the globe.

Pete Talbot has popped up as a contributor at Intelligent Discontent, writing a defense of the state of the fourth estate for his first ID post, a post that concludes with this:

I’ve been critical of my local paper and the print media in general, Lord knows. In the future, I’ll try not to pile on the reporters and editors. Being a journalist is a job and in a tight market, when you have a family to feed, one isn’t about to buck the system. They are doing their best to practice their craft under very trying conditions.

Freed from association with the pariah blog, I’m sure Pete will continue to illuminate ID readers about why people with jobs in a tight market are unwilling to buck the system that pays them.

I understand quite well why people must make compromises. For example, trying to work a system toward reform IRL while also trying to buck it online is like traversing a minefield sometimes.

So I’m going to write some poems. Stay tuned…


This week’s State of the Union Address by President Obama gives us another opportunity to peek into how America’s propaganda system works. While there are many places to observe this — foreign policy, the economy and employment — it is the constant isolationist drumbeat driving our country into a renewed Cold War with Russia that I’m going to focus on today.

Undoubtedly there will be those who will pooh-pooh me for a variety of reasons, but so be it. While our domestic situation with the economy, employment and debt is dire, I think that it is the specter of what the new Cold War brings that is paramount. So it is with interest when I hear that Barack Obama proclaims that Russia is isolated, and Congress and the American people cheer.

Except that it ain’t necessarily so. Thursday brought headlines that would surprise even the most ardent Russian isolationist:

“China, Russia Plan $242 Billion Beijing-Moscow Rail Link”


Yes, we have isolated Russia so well, that it entered into an agreement with China to build a 7,000km high speed rail linking Moscow with Beijing, and augmenting a major section of the Trans-Siberian Railway. Yep, Moscow to Beijing in 30 hours. That would be the equivalent of getting on a high speed rail in San Francisco, going to Seattle, and then cross country to Washington D.C. in 30 hours. Oh, well, we’ve still got Amtrak, America’s version of the old Trans-Siberian Railway. And it carried a “record” 31.6 million riders in fiscal 2013.

The story is remarkable enough in its technical achievement. It will be the longest, largest high-speed rail system in the world, carrying over 200 million passengers a year. And the cost is phenomena, $242 billion dollars. Imagine what our country could do if it were to invest a like sum in 4,000 miles of high-speed rail! Montreal to D.C. to San Francisco and L.A. and down to Mexico City.

Sound like a country that is isolated? While Obama drives wedges between Russia and the west for failing to submit to American hegemony, Russia is furiously building relationships with the rest of the world: BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa); Turkey (oil pipeline deal to replace SouthStream through Bulgaria); SCO (Shanghai Cooperative Organization), Eurasian Economic Union, etc.

Russia and China are currently working out a deal to replace SWIFT, the western bank system for working out trade payments between countries and businesses. The petrodollar is moving to the petro-yuan/ruble. So sure, we’re succeeding in isolating Russia, but just from the west: Europe and the Five Eyes (Canada, U.S., New Zealand, Australia, U.K.).

Russia has already declared in many, many ways that it will not submit to western sanctions. So while the sanctions may work to create the appearance of isolationism in the west, it only serves to drive Russia into alliances more quickly with the rest of the world. We are assisting in the creation of an economic and military union between Russia and China that will most effectively counter the military of the U.S. and its allies.

[Russian Foreign Mister Sergei] Lavrov also opined that he considered the United States’ approach to international relations “outdated” and “not a proper thing for a great power.”

“I should like that all countries choose the path of cooperation, not the path of diktat disguised in some diplomatic form,” he said, adding the charge that the U.S. was actually too weak to go it alone – which is why it tries to form coalitions, as in Iraq.

Lavrov also expressed more doubts than hope that the United States’ approach would change anytime soon.

“It’s in their blood and flesh, they believe they are first, and this philosophy, this genetic code, is very hard to change,” Lavrov said, before expressing faint confidence that “the logic of partnership” between the United States and Russia would ultimately prevail.

While there are those “isolationists” who believe that what we are doing will suffice to intimidate Russia sufficiently so that we and NATO can consolidate Europe into one solid block to work to break Russia up and/or change its leadership, others more keenly tuned into Russian sentiment disagree. Unfortunately, the average American has little knowledge of Russia by which to gauge the effectiveness or appropriateness of such a strategy.

Dimitri Orlov recently wrote an excellent piece for the westerner to get a realistic look at how Russia views western expansionism and hegemony:

Recent events, such as the overthrow of the government in Ukraine, the secession of Crimea and its decision to join the Russian Federation, the subsequent military campaign against civilians in Eastern Ukraine, western sanctions against Russia, and, most recently, the attack on the ruble, have caused a certain phase transition to occur within Russian society, which, I believe, is very poorly, if at all, understood in the west. This lack of understanding puts Europe at a significant disadvantage in being able to negotiate an end to this crisis.

Whereas prior to these events the Russians were rather content to consider themselves “just another European country,” they have now remembered that they are a distinct civilization, with different civilizational roots (Byzantium rather than Rome)—one that has been subject to concerted western efforts to destroy it once or twice a century, be it by Sweden, Poland, France, Germany, or some combination of the above. This has conditioned the Russian character in a specific set of ways which, if not adequately understood, is likely to lead to disaster for Europe and the world.

Orlov’s piece is a great primer for any westerner that wants to get some context about U.S.-Russian relationships outside of Obama’s isolationist propaganda. It is this sort of propaganda that Obaba is advancing that jeopardizes world safety by falsely implying that his overt foreign policy of sanctions is succeeding, and eggs on neocons and Congress to double down.

It will be a continuation and expansion of these policies that will further drive Russia from any sort of meaningful engagement with the west, and into the solidification of alliances with China and India that will pit nearly half the world’s population and economy against the U.S. and Europe’s. Is this what we and the world really need?

And lastly, after beginning this piece talking about the newly approved high-speed rail link between Moscow and Beijing, and all of the symbolism it encompasses, I would be remiss in not mentioning how it all will be financed. After all $242 billion dollars is nothing to sneeze at.

First off, the new railway alliance has dumped the French contractor it had agreed to work with last year on developing the system. It isn’t hard to see that when the U.S. forces France into doing things like breaking its contracts to build and deliver two helicopter-carrying Mistral naval vessels, there would be some blowback.

So instead of paying France’s Alstrom around $40 billion for it’s part in the project (utilizing conventional wheeled high-speed rail), they awarded the contract to CRH (China Railway High-speed) and added on another 100 billion dollars to use state-of-the-art maglev technology to increase safety and speed.

But the coup de grâce appears to be that Obama’s “isolated” Russia is a little less isolated than it might seem in other areas:

Gennady Timchenko, a well-connected billionaire who after appearing on Western sanctions lists earlier this year was appointed head of the Russian-Chinese Business Council, told reporters on Thursday that he was optimistic that China would provide financial support for the project, which he said could carry more than 200 million passengers a year. 

China holds over $2 trillion in U.S. Treasury bills that offer no real returns, but “investment in the railway would pay for itself,” Timchenko said. “Maybe not overnight, but we would create infrastructure connecting Asia with Europe for future generations.”

Yes, Russia and China are going to use China’s U.S. T-bond holdings to finance the railway. That’s some real isolationism for ya. Way to go, Obama!


It seems that if one strays beyond the bounds of what some consider to be “conventional wisdom” or CW, that one can be branded mentally ill. I was a bit surprised to read this from Turner about me, in a comment to a post I wrote yesterday:

JC, you can live in Opposite World only for so long before they take you away. Seriously, I’m worried about you.

Now I really don’t mind that I get sideswiped in comments. I get that all the time, and I know that Turner means well, and is having a hard time digesting all of the ugliness that we keep throwing out to folks about the corruption, lies and propaganda that our administration and Congress spew.

But it was an article at Zero Hedge, “If You Question Authority, You Are Mentally Ill”, Report Finds, that really got me going. It seems that the newest edition of the DSM puts those of us who don’t conform into a new category of mentally ill.

The Mind Unleashed has the down-low:

Is nonconformity and freethinking a mental illness? According to the newest addition of the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), it certainly is. The manual identifies a new mental illness called “oppositional defiant disorder” or ODD. Defined as an “ongoing pattern of disobedient, hostile and defiant behavior,” symptoms include questioning authority, negativity, defiance, argumentativeness, and being easily annoyed.

There’s no doubt that 4&20 has become a hotbed exhibiting the above symptoms. So I guess Turner is correct in his diagnosis that I “live in Opposite World.” At least according to the DSM. I wonder what the treatment (penalty?) for ODD is? The Mind Unleashed describes the dangers with an analogy with Soviet Russia and communism (not so unlike Democratic America and McCarthyism):

According to the DSM-IV, the diagnosis guidelines for identifying oppositional defiant disorder are for children, but adults can just as easily suffer from the disease. This should give any freethinking American reason for worry. The Soviet Union used new “mental illnesses” for political repression.  People who didn’t accept the beliefs of the Communist Party developed a new type of schizophrenia. They suffered from the delusion of believing communism was wrong.  They were isolated, forcefully medicated, and put through repressive “therapy” to bring them back to sanity.

Unfortunately, what happened in the USSR seems to be a harbinger of what is happening in America. People who don’t accept the notion of American Exceptionalism, believe what the government tells them, read exclusively the MSM and parrot it all back treading the straight and narrow, are ostracized from society in a variety of ways. It really is unfortunate that people who believe themselves to be progressive liberals can’t allow for freethinking amongst the proles.

Back to the treatment (besides ridicule and ostracizing). As the current DSM-V focuses on the disease in children, it also mentions that the “disease” progresses into a variety of conditions in adulthood, if not “treated” properly. A few of those diseases include ADHD, conduct disorders and personality disorders, all with a pharmacopeia of drug treatments. So yeah, let’s drug the freethinkers! Shock therapy! Reintegration camps (jail)!

So, I would offer that those who are attacked for being “freethinkers” ponder for a moment what it actually is that we are engaging in. Freethinking has been described many places, but here is a simple description from Wiki:

Freethought holds that individuals should not accept ideas proposed as truth without recourse to knowledge and reason. Thus, freethinkers strive to build their opinions on the basis of facts, scientific inquiry, and logical principles, independent of any logical fallacies or the intellectually limiting effects of authority, confirmation bias, cognitive bias, conventional wisdom, popular culture, prejudice, sectarianism, tradition, urban legend, and all other dogmas. 

I can embrace that. Other co-occurring disorders with ODD are anarchism (he says tongue in cheek — at least until DSM-VI) and atheism. I definitely am of the anarchistic bent (having concluded from my time involved with Occupy that democracy and capitalism are mutually exclusive), and am most definitely irreligious. So I guess that really puts me in “Opposite World” according to some. 

Freethinking is a field unto itself, and is fraught with controversy, from those who want to credit some of our country’s founding fathers with utilizing it (Thomas Paine, i.e.), to those who want to argue religion and science. I find it fulfilling though, to consider myself — and many of the people who blog and comment on posts like this — a nonconformist and a free (though occasionally sloppy) thinker.

And for those who might want to hear a podcast (included on The Mind Unleashed article) about the controversy between psychiatry and nonconformity/freethinking, I’ve included it below the fold. Continue Reading »


Just a few headlines from around the internet recently. With stories like this, who gives a f*ck what Barack Obama has to say. Open thread.

Richest are getting richer: 1% will own more than all the rest — by next year (Oxfam International)

If current trends continue, the richest one percent of people on our planet will own more global wealth than the remaining world population in 2016. Such extreme inequality will not only stall the fight against poverty, but could also stymie economic growth.

The US Military’s Stunning Conspiracy Theory Emerges From The Archives: “ISIS Leader Does Not Exist” (ZeroHedge)

Having noted that voter angst has been riled, propagandized, and fear-mongered to the point at which the most pressing priority for Congress is to ‘fix’ terrorism, it is perhaps not entirely surprising that we discover – deep down in the archives – that giving the public someone to ‘hate’ as opposed to something may have been an entire fiction. As The New York Times exposed in 2007Abdullah Rashid al-Baghdadi, the titular head of the Islamic State, according to Brigadier General Kevin Bergner – the chief American military spokesman at the time – never existed (and was actually a fictional character whose audio-taped declarations were provided by an elderly actor named Abu Adullah al-Naima).

Peculiarities of Russian National Character (ClubOrlov)

Recent events, such as the overthrow of the government in Ukraine, the secession of Crimea and its decision to join the Russian Federation, the subsequent military campaign against civilians in Eastern Ukraine, western sanctions against Russia, and, most recently, the attack on the ruble, have caused a certain phase transition to occur within Russian society, which, I believe, is very poorly, if at all, understood in the west. This lack of understanding puts Europe at a significant disadvantage in being able to negotiate an end to this crisis.

Whereas prior to these events the Russians were rather content to consider themselves “just another European country,” they have now remembered that they are a distinct civilization, with different civilizational roots (Byzantium rather than Rome)—one that has been subject to concerted western efforts to destroy it once or twice a century, be it by Sweden, Poland, France, Germany, or some combination of the above. This has conditioned the Russian character in a specific set of ways which, if not adequately understood, is likely to lead to disaster for Europe and the world.

How Propaganda Conquers Democracy (ConsortiumNews)

Do we live in a country where citizens are critically informed on the issues of the day by media that operate independently of the government? Or do our political leaders deliberately plant a false view of events and issues in the mind of the public that complicit media then broadcast and amplify to generate public consent for government policy?

This is a basic test of democracy for the citizens of any country. But the very nature of modern propaganda systems is that they masquerade as independent while functioning as the opposite, so the question is not as straightforward as it seems.

Ruin Is Our Future (Paul Craig Roberts)

Neoconservatives arrayed in their Washington offices are congratulating themselves on their success in using the Charlie Hebdo affair to reunite Europe with Washington’s foreign policy. No more French votes with the Palestinians against the Washington-Israeli position. No more growing European sympathy with the Palestinians. No more growing European opposition to launching new wars in the Middle East. No more calls from the French president to end the sanctions against Russia. 

Do the neoconservatives also understand that they have united Europeans with the right-wing anti-immigration political parties? The wave of support for the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists is the wave of Marine Le Pen’s National Front, Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party, and Germany’s PEGIDA sweeping over Europe. These parties are empowered by the anti-immigration fervor that was orchestrated in order to reunite Europeans with Washington and Israel.

Once again the arrogant and insolent neoconservatives have blundered. Charlie Hebdo’s empowerment of the anti-immigration parties has the potential to revolutionize European politics and destroy Washington’s empire.

2014: Hottest Year in Recorded Human History (WunderGround)

Earth had its warmest year on record in 2014, said NOAA and NASA at a joint press conference today.According to NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, global surface temperatures in 2014 were 1.24°F (0.69°C) above the 20th century average, highest among all years in the 1880-2014 record, easily breaking the previous records of 2005 and 2010 by 0.07°F (0.04°C). Using independent measurement techniques but mostly the same set of surface stations, NASA also rated 2014 as the warmest year on record, as did the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA).

And that’s just skimming my news feed…

Microsoft VS. Gillette

by lizard

I haven’t packed up the computer yet, and I haven’t told Qwest Bresnan Optimum adios yet, so I’m going to write a quick post about the most improbable comeback win I’ve ever seen in my time watching NFL football.

The Seattle Seahawks played the worst first half they’ve played all year. Wilson, the QB with a stellar QB rating, made easy mistakes and had every tipped pass go against him, flatlining his numbers. Lynch ran in fits and starts and nothing gelled. My son was in tears.

It’s been strange to have taken a righteous stand against the NFL, only to become a raging hypocrite by allowing my son to watch a sport he’s borderline fanatical about. The way he assimilates information, especially when it comes to the minutiae of the sport, is something to behold.

I think it was the drive that stalled with a false start, then worsened with a big sack. 2nd and 31 yards to go, and somehow the Seahawks clawed their way back.

A faked field goal, an on-sides kick, a broken play for a two-point conversion. And a touchdown to end the game in overtime. Goddamn!

Though my vocal chords are seriously strained, and my 6 year old saw a game that will register as lore in the NFL canon, I wouldn’t feel right if this post ended sans criticism. For that, Rob Kailey has a post worth reading about why he’s Tired Of The NFL. From the link:

Injuries are becoming alarmingly influential. One of the many points of the original movie “Rollerball” was that injuries are acceptable, and in fact a neccessary part of the game. That was crap then and it’s crap now. We’ve seen too many teams go down in the playoffs due to missing and injured personnel. 3 quarterbacks this weekend played with significant injuries, Manning, Romo and Rodgers. All are scary-tuff, but Rodgers will get the accolades because he won his game. I don’t watch Nascar because I don’t like car wrecks. I don’t like injuries in the NFL either, and I don’t celebrate players playing through them. I blame the league, and resolve even more certainly that the game exists on borrowed time.

Richard Sherman seemed to semi-seriously injure his left arm near the end of the game, but he kept playing. Rodgers rolled his ankle, and on a different play gimped to the sideline, basically doing what he could to hang in there against a team that didn’t get the memo that playing horribly, especially with turnovers, usually loses the big game.

Now the Seahawks are facing the Patriots, driven by the gray-hooded Bill-Bell conniving over another trophy for New England. Really, it’s a delicious narrative: the dominant dynasty of the East fighting for superiority over the Paul Allen upstart asserting the relevance of the Pacific Northwest.

And us fans are the willings dupes of the whole charade.

I won’t tell my kid that, obviously. In fact it’s hard to tell him anything when my voice is shot from screaming at the craziest comeback in a championship game I think anyone breathing has ever seen.

by lizard

I may take issue with other bloggers from time to time, but that won’t stop me from celebrating a great post when I read one, and Don at Intelligent Discontent continues writing excellent media criticism as we watch journalistic standards steadily declining.

The post is titled Fat Shaming and Rumor Mill Reporting in the Missoulian. Go read it. Don does a superb job excoriating the paper and its reporter for using one source, an attorney who complained about changes to the city’s health plan on social media, to construct a hit-piece against the Mayor for being overweight.

Here is the gist of Don’t criticism:

Online gossip is simply insufficient to justify the story, unless the Missoulian plans to start making speculation on social media a legitimate source for its reporting. Even a brief look at the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics suggests this story should not have been run as it violates standards for sourcing, responsibility, and pandering. And it sets an incredibly dangerous precedent: just who gets to use the Missoulian to air their personal grievances and speculation about public figures? Just attorneys in the town? Anyone with a Twitter account? Or just people who love the reporting?

There was another story the Missoulian ran recently with a questionable source. It was too close to home for me to write about, but it made me realize how low the Missoulian is willing to go to stoke controversy for clicks.

And when the reporting is this awful, media critics like Don will take the bait and draw attention to it, creating more clicks. I think it’s important to track the decline of corporate papers like the Missoulian, but we should realize we are actually helping to create more traffic for a paper willing to throw ethics and standards out the window.

A Cup of Coffee

by lizard

The frequency of my posting here is going to lessen a bit as I prepare to move out of a house I’ve lived in for 13 years. So before I wade into the detritus of accumulation, packing and purging the space where we started our family, here’s a quick post about the potential power of a cup of coffee.

Over at Piece Of Mind, in the comments of a post titled Free thought in a land of Latter Day Saints, JC invited Swede to coffee and I’m going to try and expound on why I think that matters.

First I’m going to pick on Mark a little, but I don’t think he’ll mind. In ruminating over the modern-day oversoul, Mark opens with this:

Life is interesting. I don’t know how to get that across to people who are living down below, down in that place where truth is handed you on a platter, where nothing is understood until explained by a two-dimensional talking head possessed of a one-dimensional brain. I wonder what it was like before television.

Those of us blogging to understand, sometimes insufferably assured of our own special insights (I include myself) should take every opportunity to step away from the two-dimensional screens and engage in a more direct, meaningful way with our world.

There is no medium that is not in some way manipulated by forces and motivations that are difficult to discern.

Which brings me to a cup of coffee and the following exchange I thought worth highlighting:

STEVE KELLEY: And herein lies the problem. In a world of framers, debate has effectively lost all meaning.

BIG SWEDE: I would offer that debate has never been so prolific as it is now. In the past you couldn’t comment on a news article in the paper, there was no blogs, News shows seldom brought in opposing views.

JC: People used to debate the newspaper over coffee or a meal at home, work, or at an establishment. A decent local paper provided a common frame for debate. That pretty much has disappeared. If you think that commenting on blogs (faceless and impersonal) replaces the human interaction of the last century, I’d have to disagree. While blog commenting has some good features, it lacks much of what a good old fashioned cup of coffee with friends debating the newspaper over breakfast at a local cafe.

Next time I’m in Billings, or you in Missoula, you and I should sit down for a cup of coffee. My treat.

BIG SWEDE: Face to face is indeed different, no spell checking and quick thinking responses.

I appreciate your offer JC. A conversation with you would be interesting and civil. But I enjoy my anonymity even tho some have an idea of who I am and where I ranch.

How we humans communicate seems to degrade the farther away we move from presence, from accountability. What gives me hope in my day to day work is the human interactions I have with the people that operate within systems I don’t think anyone is really happy with. I have found people do change their minds when presented with information, but how it’s presented is crucial. I am most successful when talking directly to someone. Even conversations over the phone are significantly less impactful.

There are so many stories I wish I could tell but they are not my stories to tell. And there is so much more all of us can do to recognize that we are humans existing in a finite world for a very short time.

Maybe it starts with a cup of coffee.

by lizard

Dave Lindorff rightfully slams Democrats for Taking a Meaningless Progressive Stand in Congress:

The Democrats are showing their true colors now that they have lost control of both houses of Congress.

Suddenly, with the assurance that they don’t have to worry about being taken seriously, the “party of the people” has come forward with a proposal to levy a 0.1% tax on short-term stock trades, particularly on high speed trading.

Don’t get me wrong. A stock-trade tax is a great, and long-overdue idea. In fact, such a tax, which could raise some $800 billion in revenue over a decade, should probably be bigger than just 0.1%, and targeted more directly at high speed trading. (Most experts agree high-speed trading has been undermining any semblance of a fair market for stocks and bonds by handing an outsized advantage to companies that have access to huge computers that can make enormous trades, front-running other investors by getting into and out of the market in microseconds, so why not levy a graduated trading tax that is progressively higher the shorter the time period an investment is held?)

The point is that this trading tax is something that progressives have been calling for now for years, if not longer, but while they were in a position to actually make it happen, Democrats in Congress were silent about it.

And why didn’t Democrats do anything when they actually had the power to do so? Here’s more from Lindorff:

If the Democrats had passed such measures back when they had the White House and both Houses of Congress, back in 2009 or 2010, they wouldn’t be looking at a Republican Congress today. If they’d proposed such measures last year, when they still at least controlled the Senate, they wouldn’t have lost the Senate last November.

But of course, if they had made these proposals when there was a chance of them becoming law, the Democrats in Congress would have lost all the fat campaign donations and other legal bribes that they receive from Wall Street banks, brokerages and hedgefunds.

Now it’s safe for them to make those proposals as part of their “inaction plan.” The fat cats on Wall Street know they’re not serious, and will continue to buy them in 2016, when you won’t see them making these kinds of populist proposals anymore.

It’s all part of a long-running game in which the Democratic Party pretends to be the party of the working person, while actually being just another pro-capitalist party, working hand-in-glove with the Republicans to continue sucking the life out of the American middle class and the poor to enrich the wealthiest 1% of Americans who already control some 40% of the nation’s assets, and the wealthiest 10%, who control as much national wealth as the other 90% of us put together.

This will come as no surprise to political cynics. But for those of us in Montana who got suckered by Jon Tester in 2006, there will be a chance to exact some political retribution when Tester tries to get reelected.


Because Tester is on the short list of Democrats who will help Republicans continue the bipartisan affair of coddling Wall Street to the detriment of the vast majority of Americans:

Meanwhile, the real people to watch in Congress are those Democrats who are going to vote with the ruling Republicans in House and Senate to allow pro-rich and pro-capitalist measures to get to a vote, and to provide the votes to over-ride any vetoes by President Obama. Behind all the anti-inequality talk, these are the people who really represent the leadership and the political bedrock of the Democratic Party.

We got an early look at what is coming last week, when a group of 13 Democratic senators (the scabs clearly visible on their exposed flesh), voted with an almost unanimous Republican bloc, to defeat an amendment offered by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) that would have stripped a measure weakening the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory law out of an already pro-financial corporate bail-out bill extending federal backing for terrorism coverage in insurance policies. The vote killing the Warren amendment passed 66-31 meaning there were only three abstentions. Without the 13 Democratic votes against fellow Democrat Warren, her amendment would have passed because of a 60-vote requirement for amendments.

Keep an eye on those 13 Democrats. Given that the Republicans now have 54 seats in the Senate, they only need an extra six votes from Democrats to move bills and amendments to a vote, and only 13 votes to override a presidential veto.

Here, for reference, are the 13 members of the Senate Democratic caucus who killed the Warren amendment:

Michael Bennet (D-CO)
Tom Carper (D-DE)
Bob Casey (D-PA)
Joe Donnelly (D-IN)
Martin Heinrich (D-NM)
Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)
Angus King (I-ME)
Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
Joe Manchin (D-WV)
Claire McCaskill (D-MO)
Gary Peters (D-MI)
Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
Jon Tester (D-MT)

Jon Tester serves Wall Street, not Montanans. That much should be obvious. And for those who want a reminder of how disgusting the people Tester serves are, check out Jamie Dimon whining about regulators (Zerohedge):

Earlier today, during the JPM conference call, when Jamie Dimon wasn’t busy explaining why the Q4 earnings presentation was sorely missing the page showing JPM’s latest Net Interest Margin, a staple placeholder page in the presentation appendix, he found time to lament something totally different. As Bloomberg reports, Dimon lashed out at U.S. regulators for putting his bank “under assault.”

“We have five or six regulators or people coming after us on every different issue,” Dimon, 58, said today on a call with reporters after New York-based JPMorgan reported fourth-quarter results. “It’s a hard thing to deal with.”

“In the old days, you dealt with one regulator when you had an issue, maybe two. Now it’s five or six. It makes it very difficult and very complicated. You all should ask the question about how American that is. And how fair that is. And how complex that is for companies.”

I hope no one spits their coffee out after reading that quote from a guy who should be in prison receiving visceral assaults after the hell Wall Street delivered to Americans 7 years ago.

Luckily Dimon has loyal servants like Jon Tester looking after his ill-gotten gains. For that, Montanans need to send Tester packing.

by lizard

After the ridiculous photo-op comprised of hypocrites and state-funded western terrorists (but absent high-level U.S. representation) it seems the solidarity quickly evaporated.

Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, joined the crazed conspiracy theorists with a stunning outburst:

It was less than 48 hours ago when Turkey’s prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, joined millions marching in Paris to pay tribute to the 17 people killed by ISIS-supporting extremists. Then, almost the moment he got back, things changed, and as the FT politely paraphrases what transpired, the “country’s president struck a much more confrontational tone.” That’s one way of putting it. Another is that the former PM and current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, of NATO-member Turkey did the unthinkable: accused the west, and French citizens in particular, of staging the Charlie Hebdo murder in order to blame Muslims, even as the mayor of Ankara said “Mossad is definitely behind such incidents . . . it is boosting enmity towards Islam.”

“The duplicity of the west is obvious,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at a press conference on Monday evening. “As Muslims we have never sided with terror or massacres: racism, hate speech, Islamophobia are behind these massacres.”

His punchline: “The culprits are clear: French citizens undertook this massacre and Muslims were blamed for it,” he added.

The FT is confused: “Although political leaders in Turkey have repeatedly condemned the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo magazine, a Jewish supermarket and a policewoman, a parallel narrative has emerged in the country, with conspiracy theorists blaming the murders on foreign intelligence agencies rather than radical Islamists.”

It’s not just the French who were said to be behind the attack: so is Mossad:

Melih Gokcek, mayor of Ankara for the ruling AK party, said on Monday that “Mossad [the Israeli intelligence service] is definitely behind such incidents . . . it is boosting enmity towards Islam.” Mr Gokcek linked the attacks to French moves towards recognising Palestine.

Ali Sahin, a member of Turkey’s parliament and foreign affairs spokesman for the AK party, last week set out eight reasons why he suspected the killings were staged so that “the attack will be blamed on Muslims and Islam”.

In more stunning news, France appears determined to learn absolutely nothing from the attack that is absurdly referred to as their 9/11. First, the resolve to bomb more Muslims:

France’s lower house of Parliament on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved extending French airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Iraq.

The vote came after France’s worst terrorist attacks in decades. Last week in Paris, a man claiming allegiance to the Islamic State group killed four people in a kosher grocery and a policewoman, while two brothers that he knew for years claimed ties to al-Qaida in Yemen as they killed 12 people at a newspaper office.

“France is at war with terrorism, jihadism and radical Islamism,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls told the National Assembly to thundering applause ahead of the vote. “France is not at war with a religion. France is not at war with Islam and Muslims.”

If this is true, shouldn’t France be bombing Saudi Arabia and Qatar? No, the jihadists those terrorist regimes fund and train are useful tools when fighting the Assad regime in Syria.

Second, the problem of free speech is also being taken care of:

France ordered prosecutors around the country Wednesday to crack down on hate speech, anti-Semitism and glorifying terrorism, announcing that 54 people had been arrested for those offenses since the Paris terror attacks.

The order came as Charlie Hebdo’s defiant new issue sold out before dawn around Paris, with scuffles at kiosks over dwindling copies of the satirical newspaper fronting the Prophet Muhammad.

Like many European countries, France has strong laws against hate speech and especially anti-Semitism in the wake of the Holocaust. In a message distributed to all French prosecutors and judges, the Justice Ministry laid out the legal basis for rounding up those who defend the Paris terror attacks as well as those responsible for racist or anti-Semitic words or acts.

Among those detained was Dieudonne, a controversial, popular comic with repeated convictions for racism and anti-Semitism.

Ah yes, anti-semitism. That accusation has been levied against this blog recently as well. It’s too bad the historical victimhood of Jews during WWII renders any criticism of the Israel as anti-semitism. Is there anything that Israelis can do that would be so outlandish as to actually warrant condemnation? Like, let’s say, threatening to kill journalists? From the link:

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris last week Haaretz published a daring cartoon juxtaposing journalists* killed in Gaza by Israel during the brutal summer slaughter with the journalists killed at the office of the satirical magazine in Paris. This set off a chain reaction which ultimately led to calls for murdering Haaretz journalists after Ronen Shoval, founder of the neo-Zionist and proto-fascist Im Tirtzu movement, called for an investigation of the newspaper’s editors.

Here is on of the statements calling for the death of Haartz journalists:

‘With God’s help, the journalists at Haaretz will be murdered just like in France’

Hopefully the Judaic God won’t oblige.

All in all, it appears things are getting back to normal. France will bomb Muslims and arrest people for “hate speech” as anti-semetic conspiracy theorists speculate on Mossad involvement and Israeli terrorists pray for God to murder journalists.

And so it goes…

by lizard

I had a request in the comments to write about oil, specifically the new world emerging from the new reality that we will supposedly never see $100 dollar barrels of oil ever again. At least that’s what the Saudis are saying:

Speaking to his favorite money-honey, billionaire Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal told Maria Bartiromo that the negative impact of a 50% decline in oil has been wide and deep. As USA Today reports, the prince of the Saudi royal family said that while he disagrees with the government on most aspects, he agreed with their decision on keeping production where it is, adding that “if supply stays where it is, and demand remains weak, you better believe it is gonna go down more. I’m sure we’re never going to see $100 anymore… oil above $100 is artificial. It’s not correct.” On the theory that the US and the Saudis have agreed to keep prices low to pressure Russia, the prince exclaimed, that is “baloney and rubbish,” adding that, “Saudi Arabia and Russia are in bed together here… both being hurt simultaneously.

In Montana, the inevitable next step of boom/bust is knocking on the door. Will our legislators acknowledge the new reality? Ochenski points a cautionary finger at Sweetwater, Texas, in his column on Monday:

One of the major issues being considered by the newly seated Montana Legislature is spending millions of public tax dollars on new infrastructure to meet the demands of the oil and gas boom in the Bakken formation. But as Sweetwater, Texas, just found out, not all the big promises of oil and gas booms come true.

As noted in an Associated Press article titled “City that prepared for oil boom now waits for bust,” Sweetwater, Texas, “envisioned becoming a major player in the hydraulic-fracturing boom, thanks to its location atop the Cline Shale, once estimated to be the nation’s largest underground petroleum formation.” Thus, “expecting a huge influx of oil workers, local leaders spent tens of millions of dollars to improve the courthouse, build a new law-enforcement center and upgrade the hospital. Hotels, truck stops and housing subdivisions were to follow, all catering to truck drivers and roughnecks.”

If that sounds familiar, it’s not by coincidence. That’s the scenario now being faced as “man camps” spring up on the Northern Plains, bringing all the attendant problems caused by a flood of in-migrants seeking high-paying oilfield jobs.

But as noted in the AP article, “those ambitions are fading fast as the plummeting price of oil causes investors to pull back, cutting off the projects that were supposed to pay for a bright new future. Now the town of 11,000 awaits layoffs and budget cuts and defers its dreams.”

Spending a bunch of money on infrastructure amid the collapse of oil prices is increasingly appearing short-sighted and idiotic. Same goes for pushing through the Keystone XL pipeline. Oh, and then there’s derivatives. Ochenski points that out as well:

Second, there is an enormous sum of money currently held in oil derivatives by Wall Street’s largest banks and investment firms. As precious metals expert David Morgan explained in an article in Market Analysis last week, “the amount of debt that is carried by the fracking industry at large is about double what the sub-prime was in the real estate fiasco in 2008. In summary, we’re looking at an explosion in potential that is greater than the sub-prime market of 2008 because, number one, oil and energy are the most important sectors out there. Number two, the derivative exposure is at least double what it was in 2008. Number three, the banking sector is really more fragile … and we have less ability to weather the storm.”

While the Saudis maintain the notion that oil prices are being used as an economic weapon against Russia is baloney, the effect on Russia is undeniable:

Russia’s foreign reserves have dropped to the lowest level since the Lehman crisis and are vanishing at an unsustainable rate as the country struggles to defends the rouble against capital flight.

Central bank data show that a blitz of currency intervention depleted reserves by $26bn in the two weeks to December 26, the fastest pace of erosion since the crisis in Ukraine erupted early last year.

Credit defaults swaps (CDS) measuring bankruptcy risk for Russia spiked violently on Tuesday, surging by 100 basis points to 630, before falling back slightly.

Markit says this implies a 32pc expectation of a sovereign default over the next five years, the highest since Western sanctions and crumbling oil prices combined to cripple the Russian economy.

Total reserves have fallen from $511bn to $388bn in a year. The Kremlin has already committed a third of what remains to bolster the domestic economy in 2015, greatly reducing the amount that can be used to defend the rouble.

While Americans are enjoying cheap gas prices at the pump, and the extra dollars will probably act as a sort of stimulus for increased consumer spending (unless consumers behave crazily and spend down debt instead), the overall impact will be destabilizing, especially if falling oil prices trigger another economic crash, which is looking more than plausible.

But so far Montana legislators, and the Governor, don’t seem too worried:

Montana legislators will debate over the next three months how and where to spend money from the state budget. Neither party has expressed outward concern over plummeting oil prices, nor have they pulled away from plans to invest an estimated $45 million in eastern Montana communities that serve the Bakken.

Gov. Steve Bullock said that while oil prices are volatile, production is likely to continue into the future. Of the state’s $2.5 billion budget, he told the Missoulian, the $121 million generated by oil and gas taxes was relatively small.

“We shouldn’t be setting state policy based on the fact that oil prices have dipped a little,” Bullock said. “But for those who say we don’t need $300 million in the bank, some of them are the same ones who are saying state revenues are going to be short because of oil prices. If that ends up being true, then we really do need $300 million for our rainy day fund.”

From that same article, though, the writing is on the wall:

For companies to continue drilling, the math often comes down to the break-even price, or what it costs to extract and ship the oil. Depending on the company, the price point for oil in the U.S. ranges from $38 to $77 a barrel, Seidenschwarz said.

The price on Friday was roughly $49 a barrel. Because of a pipeline shortage, the New York Times reported, Bakken shale producers are selling crude for roughly $34 a barrel.

What’s more, Seidenschwarz said, a lot of recent high-yield bonds were issued by the nation’s oil companies to finance the acquisition and expansion of projects.

“We’ve already seen a pull-back on bond prices out of concern over producers’ ability to meet their debt obligations,” he said. “That could be further exacerbated by a prolonged downturn in energy prices.”

Oil prices could be one of the biggest stories of 2015. Stay tuned…

by lizard

With the legislative session gearing up, local Democrat blogs seem to be revving up as well. Most of the blogs highlighted by Don Pogreba have disavowed 4&20 Blackbirds because they don’t like the direction my stewardship has taken this once mighty progressive blog. Pogreba himself made his proclamation of disengagement all the way back in July of 2013, when he said this:

4and20 blackbirds used to be the best, most thought-provoking, and most unique political blog in the state. I miss it, but no amount of my disappointment will bring it back to what I enjoyed—and the writers there today certainly aren’t under any obligation to meet my expectations.

But there’s a lot of Internet out there, and interesting and unique voices writing about politics in the state and the nation. Those are the sources I’ll be engaging with, arguing with, and learning from in the future.

That said, best of luck to the current hosts over there. There’s certainly an audience for their point of view, and I hope they continue to enjoy writing. One fewer member of the audience is certainly no big deal.

I wish we could take Don at his word, but alas, this disingenuous party hack just can’t seem to quit us like he said he was going to. I guess Don can’t stand to see posts like this go up without providing his intelligent insight with comments like this:

So now we’ve moved to the attack in Paris was probably a deliberate provocation by Israel and/or the United States? Or, more likely, the secret cabal that rules over both?

I guess if you’ve decided that only your conspiracist views are valid, that makes sense. Certainly more sensible that waiting a few weeks to see what actual evidence emerges.

and this:

Good thing we don’t have to worry about anything being “beneath our standards” or “basic lapse in judgement” at this site. That’s how we get the truth bombs dropped on us.

Please do more to explain the Jewish conspiracy to attack and kill French satirists. I look forward to your keen analysis from Missoula on the subject.

The extent to which we are lied to by those in power is a difficult thing to absorb. Also, the extent to which tragedies are managed and exploited for maximum gain lead some of us to speculate that maybe those who most benefit may have had a hand in creating the conditions in which tragedies like the Charlie Hebdo attack emerge.

Instead of reviewing whether or not it’s good policy to arm and train jihadists in Syria in the ongoing failure to topple Assad, or whether it’s good policy to continue using indiscriminate drone strikes that kill civilians and radicalize survivors, we get stuff like this:

European officials reignited a debate over the reach of the state into citizens’ lives as they respond to the worst terror attacks in France in more than half a century.

Interior ministers agreed yesterday to increase their intelligence sharing on individuals and to tighten the European Union’s external frontier to stem the flow of terrorists between Europe and Syria. Some also supported more checks on the EU’s internal borders.

The challenge for the region’s leaders will be overcoming aversion in countries such as Germany to more state oversight in areas ranging from Internet traffic to exchanging data on airline tickets. Complicating their task is the fact that the terrorists were French nationals and not foreigners, meaning that any response will need to be directed at EU citizens.

“This isn’t Europe’s 9/11 because the people who carried out the attacks were homegrown and not foreigners,” said Jan Techau, head of the Carnegie Endowment in Brussels. “You can’t externalize this threat — it’s a threat on the home front.”

And this:

Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group said the Paris attacks fit into the larger narrative, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the sudden threat from the Islamic State, that the world remains a very dangerous place.

That leads to greater pressure on members of Congress and the Obama administration to continue to invest heavily in defense, and perhaps work to reverse budget cuts resulting from the Budget Control Act. That is a political change from recent mindsets, when budget hawks seemed to gain the upper hand over defense hawks.

“You look back a year ago, or two years ago, and this was a real issue,” Aboulafia said. “Then Putin and [the Islamic State] came around to remind everyone that the world is in fact a very dangerous place.”

“It’s part of the broader defense environment which affects both the budget and industry,” Aboulafia added. “The actual actions might have impact on the margins for industry in terms of additional spares, support and munitions, but the real money is in securing the DoD topline budget.”

Looking at who benefits—cui bono—and using that angle to examine how these useful tragedies opportunities emerge, is too much for the Don Pogrebas of the world. They don’t want to acknowledge the extent of the deceit, even when there are compelling reasons for staying skeptical of the narratives packaged and sold to the gullible public.

The first Gulf War against Iraq offered some new opportunities for the PR aspect of war-mongering. In a piece at Counterpunch today, Mickey Z looks back at the infamous dead babies PR stunt that helped generate public support for the military intervention. From the link:

The use of public relations (PR) during wartime went truly public during the first Gulf War — with television as its ultimate smart bomb. Speaking in 1991, Richard Hass of the National Security Council, called television “our chief tool in selling our policy.”

After being invaded by Iraq on Aug. 2, 1990, the government of Kuwait funded as many as 20 PR, law, and lobby firms to marshal world opinion. For example: a 15-year-old Kuwaiti “refugee” named Nayirah stood before the U.S. Congressional Human Rights Caucus. She tearfully described witnessing Iraqi troops stealing incubators from a hospital, leaving 312 babies “on the cold floor to die.”

The story was a hoax. Nayirah’s false testimony was part of a $10 million Kuwait government propaganda campaign managed by the public relations firm Hill and Knowlton. Rather than working as a volunteer at a hospital, Nayirah was actually the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to Washington.

“We didn’t know it wasn’t true at the time,” said Brent Scowcroft, President George H.W. Bush’s national security adviser. But, he admitted, “It was useful in mobilizing public opinion.”

One of the firms hired by Kuwait, The Rendon Group, was called on once again after America’s post-9/11 assault on Afghanistan. In order to make itself look good while bombing Afghanistan, the Pentagon offered Rendon a four-month deal worth $397,000.

“We needed a firm that could provide strategic counsel immediately,” Lt. Col. Kenneth McClellan, a media officer at the Pentagon, said. “We were interested in someone that we knew could come in quickly and help us orient to the challenge of communicating to a wide range of groups around the world.”

4&20 Blackbirds is now the pariah blog of the MT blogosphere. Useful idiots like Pogreba, who thought the Libyan intervention was another example of rational humanitarian foreign policy, have no shame in continuing to ridicule those of us trying to understand how world events are shaping future conflagrations. It’s sad to think a person like this is shaping the minds of high school kids because the world they are being prepared for is not the same world they will actually have to deal with.

by lizard

Will Jews around the world condemn the violence of Israeli settlers, or is Judaism an inherently violent religion that justifies violence to expand it’s grasp on the Holy Land?

Jew settlers marked the new year with a display of their unbridled rage. Emboldened by a media that some think are controlled by this violent tribe, no target is too high-profile to attack, not even a U.S. consulate convey:

On Friday, American security personnel accompanying staff from the United States Consulate in Jerusalem drew their weapons on violent Israeli settlers who attacked a two vehicle U.S. convoy outside the Palestinian town of Turmusaya in the West Bank. Consulate staff were investigating an incident which took place on private Palestinian land on the first night of 2015 when six thousand recently planted olive saplings were uprooted, and dozens of old olive trees were destroyed by violent Jewish settlers from an illegal outpost, Adei Ad, near Turmusaya.

Officials from Turmusaya notified the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem and requested an investigation because some of the owners of the land are Palestinian-Americans. When the U.S. delegation arrived in the area to investigate settlers started hurling stones at the convoy.

Many of the olive saplings recently uprooted were ceremoniously planted beginning on December 10th, Human Rights day, under a barrage of tear gas after Palestinian Authority minister Ziad Abu Ein died following a violent assault by Israeli forces.

In a more recent example of violence, an Israeli settler opened fire on a Palestinian market in Jerusalem:

An armed fanatic Israeli settler provocatively entered a Palestinian market, in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem, started insulting local residents before attacking a young man, and opened fire.

Local sources said that the Israeli assailant lives in one of the illegal colonial outposts in the Old City, and that he started walking provocatively in the market, while carrying his government-issued automatic rifle.

He then started shouting and cursing at the Palestinian merchants and residents before assaulting a young man, identified as Anwar Mona, 24 years of age.

The settler also opened fire at the Palestinians in the area, causing no injuries, while Israeli soldiers arrived at the scene, provided protection to the Israeli assailant, and kidnapped Anwar.

To prove Judaism is not an inherently violent religion, Jews around the world must speak up and condemn this violence. Failure to do so will confirm what many secularists have long feared: violence is encoded in the Judaic DNA of Israel.

by lizard

Before the Charlie Hebdo attack, the French made two big mistakes. First, the French parliament voted to recognize Palestine as a state:

French lawmakers on Tuesday urged their government to recognize Palestine, a symbolic move that will not immediately affect France’s diplomatic stance but demonstrates growing European impatience with a stalled peace process.

While most developing countries recognize Palestine as a state, most Western European countries do not, supporting the Israeli and U.S. position that an independent Palestinian state should emerge from negotiations with Israel.

European countries have grown frustrated with Israel, which since the collapse of the latest U.S.-sponsored talks in April has pressed on with building settlements in territory the Palestinians want for their state.

The motion received the backing of 339 lawmakers with 151 against.

The second mistake was calling for an end to the sanctions against Russia, which are negatively impacting the French economy:

French President Francois Hollande says he wants Western sanctions on Russia to be lifted if progress is made in talks on the Ukraine conflict this month.

He did not specify which sanctions – imposed by the EU, US and Canada – could be lifted. The sanctions began after Russia annexed Crimea in March.

Mr Hollande said Russian President Vladimir Putin “doesn’t want to annex eastern Ukraine – he told me that”.

Germany’s vice-chancellor has warned against further sanctions on Russia.

Sigmar Gabriel – a centre-left politician like Mr Hollande – said the sanctions were aimed at making Russia negotiate to resolve the Ukraine conflict. But some “forces” in Europe and the US wanted sanctions to cripple Russia, which would “risk a conflagration”.

“We want to help get the Ukraine conflict resolved, but not to push Russia onto its knees,” he told Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

Now France has had its Boston moment with the attack on Charlie Hebdo. Pepe Escobar asks, cui bono? From the link:

Cui bono, then, with killing Charlie? Only those whose agenda is to demonize Islam. Not even a bunch of brainwashed fanatics would pull off the Charlie carnage to show people who accuse them of being barbarians that they are, in fact, barbarians. French intel at least has concluded that this is no underwear bomber stunt. This is a pro job. That happens to take place just a few days after France recognizes Palestinian statehood. And just a few days after General Hollande demanded the lifting of sanctions against the Russian “threat”.

The Masters of the Universe who pull the real levers of the Empire of Chaos are freaking out with the systemic chaos in the racket they so far had the illusion of controlling. Make no mistake – the Empire of Chaos will do what it can to exploit the post-Charlie environment – be it blowback or false flag.

The Obama administration is already mobilizing the UN Security Council. The FBI is “helping” with the French investigation. And as an Italian analyst memorably put it, jihadis don’t attack a vulture hedge fund; they attack a satirical rag. This is not religion; this is hardcore geopolitics. Reminds me of David Bowie: “This is not rock’n roll. This is suicide.”

But let’s talk about what’s really important, NFL football. Let’s hope Steve Daines can effectively intervene in the dispute between DirectTV and CBS, so Montanans can watch the Broncos lose.

We can go back to hating and killing Muslims (while our government funds, arms and trains jihadists) on Monday.

by lizard

Is Missoula well served when political opportunists abandon the job they told voters they wanted for a better job? That was the first question I had upon hearing that Caitlin Copple is pulling a Sarah Palin by resigning her ward 4 city council position 11 months early to focus more on her job with Hilltop Public Solutions. To be fair I could also say she’s pulling a Roy Houseman who didn’t even last a full year before deciding to cut and run for greener pastures in Washington DC to work as a labor lobbyist.

Copple has an even more unsavory reason for abandoning her constituents than lobbying—Hilltop Public Solutions is a shady consulting group that, among other efforts, tried unsuccessfully to get John Walsh elected:

Hilltop Public Solutions has been hired to run Montana Lt. Gov. John Walsh’s campaign for U.S. Senate. This comes just weeks after Montana Democratic U.S. House candidate John Lewis announced that his campaign ship would have Hilltop at the helm.

Walsh announced his candidacy last Thursday via a YouTube video that is now the main feature on his campaign website. The news broke that Hilltop was running the campaign when Hilltop strangely stated that Walsh was not available to talk to reporters on the day he launched his campaign.

“Walsh, through his campaign consultant, refused to make himself available to reporters for an interview,” wrote Lee Newspapers state reporter Mike Dennison in the original version of a story announcing Walsh’s bid. “The consultant, Hilltop Public Solutions, would not explain why Walsh wouldn’t talk directly to the media.”

The strange decision to not have the candidate talk to the media was quickly noted by many in the Montana media and by National Republican Senatorial Committee press secretary Brook Hougesen.

Before Walsh, but after Baucus retired, Montana state senator Van Dyke’s association with Hilltop Solutions was not seen as a good thing:

This week’s announcement that Hilltop Public Solutions 0perative Mo Elleithee would be leaving the firm to chair the Democrat National Committee’s communications operations not only created a buzz in Washington D.C., but also refocused attention on that group’s Montana political activities.

Hilltop associate, state Senator Kendall Van Dyk (D-Billings), who was elected in 2010 after ousting Senator Roy Brown in one of the closest election contests in recent history, has close ties to Hilltop’s Montana work which may prove detrimental in light of the national media attention the Senator has been receiving since the announcement of the retirement of Montana’s senior U.S. Senator, Max Baucus.

Van Dyk was mentioned last month in The New York Times, The Washington Post, CBS News and other media outlets as a possible replacement to Baucus amid the flurry of activity following the announcement by former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer that he would not seek Baucus’ seat.

Unfortunately for Van Dyk, many of the same national media outlets that mentioned him as a possible replacement for Baucus, also cited emerging scandals involving Schweitzer’s ties to dark money groups as a probable reason for the governor withdrawing his name from consideration for the post.

How this relates to Van Dky lies in his own ties to groups like Hilltop Public Solutions, which is currently under investigation by the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices.

Personally, I’m very happy to be rid of Copple as a council person. Her efforts to criminalize sitting on downtown sidewalks won’t be soon forgotten by those who felt betrayed by this supposed progressive. Caitlin Copple tried using women’s fear of being attacked by scary homeless men to justify making it a crime to sit on downtown sidewalks, triggering a litigation showdown with the ACLU that Missoula would have lost if it wasn’t for the reconsideration of city council and the subsequent decision to remove the sitting part of the ordinance.

Copple explains in the Missoulian article that she wanted to balance her new job with her council job, but quickly realized that wasn’t possible:

In May, Copple took a job as a principal with Hilltop Public Solutions, a strategic public affairs and political consulting firm.

She said she took the position with the understanding it was “a very big job,” and Copple told her supervisor she would do her best to juggle her professional work with council duties. On Thursday, though, she said both jobs are too much.

“I appreciated the opportunity to try to make it work and try to balance it all, but it’s pretty incompatible in terms of having the time it takes to do a really good job,” Copple said.

So, has Copple been doing a crappy job since May? Well, even before taking the job with Hilltop Solutions, Copple seemed to have a difficult time showing up for work. In most work settings, that gets you canned. From the link:

This year, no one played more hooky from the Missoula City Council’s regular meetings than Councilwoman Caitlin Copple, who missed nearly 24 percent of the time.

24 percent of the time Copple had better things to do than attend Monday council meetings. And her attempt to dial it in with Skype were rebuffed by Mayor Engen, rightly so in my opinion.

I hope whoever replaces Copple is serious about doing the job and not just interested in the title as a stepping stone to better opportunities because Missoula is not well served when political opportunists jump ship before their time is up. It creates more work for people that could be going to address any number of pressing issues facing Missoula.

by lizard

It is entirely predictable that western nations will be targeted by extremists. It is simply not possible to participate in wars and violent regime changes without some level of domestic blowback, as Patrick Cockburn points out in his piece today:

There is a feeling of inevitability about the attack in Paris.

The likelihood must be that the killers were Islamic fanatics, the murder of the journalists and police underlining the degree to which the ferocious religious war being waged in Iraq and Syria now affects all of the world. Regardless of whether or not those who attacked the Charlie Hebdo office have any direct connection with this conflict, it has provided an ideal seedbed for Islamic extremism.

It was culpably naïve to imagine that sparks from the Iraq-Syrian civil war, now in its fourth year, would not spread explosive violence to Western Europe. With thousands of young Sunni Muslims making the difficult journey to Syria and Iraq to fight for Isis, it has always been probable that some of them would choose to give a demonstration of their religious faith by attacking targets they deem anti-Islamic closer to home.

So it’s clear to those in the west this is a terrorist attack—a politically motivated act of violence. Getting much less attention here at home is the bomb that was set off outside a NAACP office in Colorado Springs. The suspect being sought by authorities is a balding, 40 year old white man:

An improvised explosive device was detonated against the exterior wall of a building housing the Colorado Springs chapter of the NAACP on Tuesday, officials said.

The explosion knocked items off the office walls but no one was injured.

Agents from the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives went to the scene after the blast to gather evidence and place markers.

The FBI said that a gasoline can was placed next to the device but the contents did not ignite.

According to the the FBI, officials are seeking a “potential person of interest,” described as a balding white male, about 40 years old.

“He may be driving a 2000 or older model dirty, white pick-up truck with paneling, a dark colored bed liner, open tailgate, and a missing or covered license plate,” the FBI said in a statement said.

Don’t worry, my fellow white men, our media won’t call him a terrorist. A lone wolf, maybe. But based on the target, who can deny this is a politically motivated act of violence?

The world can be very confusing. Americans demand free speech for religious bashing and depictions of political assassination, but if you make threats toward law enforcement, you will be arrested. In Europe, extremely offensive images of the prophet Mohammad are ok, but a handful of countries have made denying the holocaust illegal and have banned the swastika. Politically motivated acts of violence are acts of terrorism only when dark skinned people with foreign sounding names commit them. When a balding white man in a pickup truck sets off a bomb, it most likely will not be described as an act of terrorism.

And so it goes.

by lizard

Two of my favorite writers regularly featured at Counterpunch have articles worth checking out. While the articles are about two different topics, both could be filed under unintended consequences.

The first article, by Michael Whitney, is titled Oil Price Blowback. Here is the opening of the article:

It’s hard to know which country is going to suffer the most from falling oil prices. Up to now, of course, Russia, Iran and Venezuela have taken the biggest hit, but that will probably change as time goes on. What the Obama administration should be worried about is the second-order effects that will eventually show up in terms of higher unemployment, market volatility, and wobbly bank balance sheets. That’s where the real damage is going to crop up because that’s where red ink and bad loans can metastasize into a full-blown financial crisis.

Later in the article Whitney explains in detail what could happen if prices remain low:

Many of the oil-drilling newcomers set up shop to take advantage of the low rates and easy money available in the bond market. Now that prices have crashed, investors are avoiding energy-related junk bonds like the plague which is making it impossible for the smaller companies to roll over their debt or attract fresh capital. When these companies start to default en masse, as they certainly will if prices don’t rebound, the blowback will be felt on bank balance sheets across the country creating the possibility of another financial meltdown. (Now we ARE talking about a financial crisis.)

The basic problem is that the banks have bundled a lot of their dodgy debt into financially-engineered products like Collateralized Loan Obligations (CLOs) and Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs) that will inevitably fail when borrowers are no longer able to service the loans. The rot can be concealed for a while, but eventually, if prices don’t recover, a significant number of these companies are going to go under which will push the perennially-undercapitalized banking system to the brink once again. That’s why Washington’s plan to push down oil prices (to hurt the Russian economy) might have made sense on a short-term basis (to shock Putin into submission) but as a long-term strategy, it’s nuts. And what’s even crazier, is that Obama has decided to double-down on the same wacky plan even though Putin hasn’t given an inch. Check this out from Reuters on Monday:

“The Obama administration has opened a new front in the global battle for oil market share, effectively clearing the way for the shipment of as much as a million barrels per day of ultra-light U.S. crude to the rest of the world…

The Department of Commerce on Tuesday ended a year-long silence on a contentious, four-decade ban on oil exports, saying it had begun approving a backlog of requests to sell processed light oil abroad.

The action comes at a critical juncture for the global oil market. World prices have halved to less than $60 a barrel since the summer as top exporter Saudi Arabia, once a staunch defender of $100 oil, refused to cut production in the face of surging U.S. shale output and tempered global demand…

With global oil markets in flux, it is far from clear how much U.S. condensate will find a market overseas.”
(Analysis – U.S. opening of oil export tap widens battle for global market, Reuters)

Obama is adding supply, which will further drop prices. There will be long-term consequences to this economic war against Russia. Republicans trying to get the Keystone XL pipeline passed have themselves been passed by the reality of low prices killing profits for Canadian producers (of course Republicans haven’t lived in reality for awhile now).

The other article is from Dave Lindorff, and it examines the unintended consequences of the NYPD work stoppage, which raises the following question: if stopping broken windows arrests doesn’t result in anarchy, why resume it? From the link:

For two weeks now, the largest police force in the nation has essentially stopped making arrests. According to a lead story in the New York Timestoday, ticket issuance by police in this city of 8.4 million is down by 90 percent. The paper reports that:

Most precincts’ weekly tallies for criminal infractions — typically about 4,000 a week citywide — were close to zero.

And yet, New York continues to function normally, with people going about their business, secure on sidewalk, street, public transit and in their homes.

Could it be that the city has been wasting much of the nearly $5 billion it spends annually on its over 34,000 uniformed cops (15% of the city’s budget)? Could it be that having all those cops cruising around neighborhoods harassing people — mostly, statistics show, people of color and poor people — by stopping them and frisking them, by busting them for “crimes” like public urination, smoking a joint, drinking a beer outside, selliing trinkets or “lossie” cigs, or just “looking suspicious” — has been doing nothing to reduce major crimes and violence after all?

The NYPD may want to rethink their tactics. Resuming the racist policy of stop and frisk justified by the increasingly debunked theory of broken windows policing will become more difficult with each passing day.

It will be interesting to see how these two issues develop.

by lizard

Downtown Billings has had a parallel struggle with Missoula regarding chronic homelessness, addiction and mental illness. There was a summit recently which led to committees examining different approaches, like building a ‘sobering center’.

It turns out Billings also has a newspaper editor by the name of Darrell Ehrlick who appears to be of the same caliber as his Missoulian counterpart. In a December post at Last Best News, Ed Kemmick offers A different take on downtown Billings, taking Ehrlick to task for his ignorant, counter-productive column. Here is the opening of Kemmick’s piece:

A week ago today, Billings Gazette editor Darrell Ehrlick opened his Sunday column with the words, “This is one of those thing that hurts to write.”

If it’s any consolation, Darrell, it was also painful to read.

He went on to paint a lurid picture of downtown Billings, all derived from what he described as a four-block round-trip lunch outing from his office at North Broadway at Fourth Avenue North.

He wrote of encountering “four groups of semi-sober folks,” some of whom were yelling, and about how pedestrians were forced to suffer the indignity of walking into the street to avoid a “huddled group” of transients at one corner. He also mentioned seeing, on that same walk, “a half-washed pile of puke” and smelling the “unmistakable scent of fermenting urine.”

What made the column remarkable is that it seemed to have been written from the perspective of a man who had not been reading the Billings Gazette at all in the past few months.

It was written as if Ehrlick had just made the discovery—not yet noticed by anyone else—that certain aspects of downtown Billings were less than uniformly pleasant. For some mysterious reason, he seemed to be saying, his once agreeable lunch outing had suddenly become a Dickensian tour of the slums of old London.

Like Missoula, Billings has lots of people working on improving their community. According to Kemmick, the Billings Gazette has done a good job reporting on those efforts. So why did Ehrlick write a column reasserting what most people already know—chronic homelessness is a problem? Kemmick continues:

There were passing references to the work being done by “many groups” to address the problems downtown, but almost no specifics, certainly nothing as specific as his description of fermenting urine.

It was as if the Gazette had not, in recent months, devoted hundreds of column inches, in its news and opinion pages, to coverage of and commentary on all that is underway to solve some of these longstanding problems.

Anybody who has been reading the Gazette’s admirable coverage of these efforts would realize that the work being done by businesses, individuals, city officials, cops, service agencies and charitable groups is more serious and determined than any similar efforts in the history of this city.

This is not to say that there isn’t a mountain of work yet to be done, but the commitment and will shown have been impressive, and results are already being seen.

Just four days after Ehrlick’s column appeared, the Gazette reported that the Montana Rescue Mission and Harvest Church opened a new drop-in center for transients and homeless people. A church member told KTVQ that that center is aimed directly at the 74 “chronically homeless” people identified by the city as part of the recent Community Innovations Summit. In other words, this center was a quick, direct result of that summit, held just two months ago in hopes of galvanizing efforts to do something about the downtown’s problems.

It sounds like the Billings Gazette has done some good reporting on the work being done to improve conditions in downtown Billings. What is the role of an editor again? Is it to report on what’s happening in the community, or is it to scare people into staying inside their homes and reading scare-mongering columns from ignorant editors? Kemmick continues:

This failure to acknowledge the good work being done, though, was not the worst thing about Ehrlick’s column. The worst thing was that it played on every fear of the downtown that so many people have been working for years to erase.

After delivering the “hard truth” that downtown Billings “has a problem,” Ehrlick asked, “Would I bring my kids with me to do a little leisurely shopping?” He doesn’t answer his own question, but I guess we know what it would have been. He also wondered whether a “young female” would feel comfortable shopping downtown, which he referred to as “the province of stumbling drunks.”

Ehrlick must know that there are many, many people in Billings and surrounding communities who are predisposed to shy away from the downtown and who would find in his column confirmation of all their fears.

Those of us who live and work downtown are always trying to persuade people that the minor annoyances are far outweighed by all the good things downtown has to offer. I would argue that we have more to fear from heedless drivers—dare we say West Enders and Heightians unused to seeing pedestrians?—than we do from transients.

Right on, Ed.

By allowing its editor to play on the fears people have of the chronically homeless, the Billings Gazette is exacerbating the problem. Is it worth unnecessarily stirring up controversy for a few more online clicks? Maybe for struggling newspapers it is. But in the long-run, communities are not well-served by this kind of short-sighted editorial leadership.

by lizard

One of the most underreported stories of the past year, at least in the states, has been the uncovering of systemic child abuse, including sex trafficking, in places like Rotherham and Westminster. What is coming to the surface now has been known, by some, for decades. That second link is a Business Insider piece about how this network of influential child rapists kept the lid from blowing off back in the 80’s. From the link:

On Saturday, Aug. 2, 1982, the Daily Express led its front page with a shocking story: Police were investigating a “vice ring” allegedly involving at least 30 prominent individuals, including senior MPs, staff from Buckingham Palace, lawyers, doctors, and City businessmen.

The news prompted feverish speculation in the months following the story’s publication. Attention quickly focused on Elm Guest House, an otherwise nondescript Edwardian house near Barnes, in southwest London.

So what happened? Nothing. Apparently back then (like now) national security was a useful excuse to protect wealthy, powerful people. More from the link:

Seven days after the original story was published, the Daily Mail followed up with one of its own. This time the story explicitly mentioned “an alleged brothel in South London” at which “an address book which lists prominent individuals” was allegedly found. Although four people were charged “in connection with…unlawful activities”, including the guest house owners Haroon Kasir and his wife Carole, none of the prominent individuals were named nor is it reported that they were questioned.

In fact, the police denied that the list mentioned in the Daily Express article and Daily Mail even existed. According to a short news story in The Times, published in early September 1982, Scotland Yard told the paper that “no list of brothel clients had been passed to senior detectives or to the Special Branch” and that “no MPs had been questioned”.

From that point on the story appeared to go quiet, with many assuming that the lack of evidence to substantiate the claims has caused it to run out of steam.

However, two former newspaper editors at the time have now come forward alleging that security services served them with warnings not to publish information relating to the role of powerful individuals in child sex abuse in 1984. The so-called D-notices claimed that the information relating to the abuse might damage national security, according to an article published in The Observer.

One of the editors alleges that he was accosted by police over a dossier passed to him by former Labour cabinet minister Barbara Castle, which reportedly implicated 16 MPs along with senior policemen, headteachers, and clergy. The allegations are in line with those made in July to the Mail by Don Hale, the editor of Castle’s local newspaper the Bury Messenger. Hale claimed that a “heavy mob” of Special Branch officers seized the dossier in a 1984 raid of the paper’s office.

I’ve written a few posts on this topic, like this one and this one. Stuff like Johnny Gosch and the Franklin Union Scandal is usually just relegated to the realm of conspiracy theory. But it’s getting harder to keep it there, especially when a registered sex offender billionaire with connections implicates people like Prince Andrew in the abuse of underage girls. I went with the Washington Post for the link because it opens with such a lovely description of the playground where systemic abuse occurs:

Overlooking the Atlantic’s azure waters along the coast of Palm Beach, Fla., a seemingly endless line of megamansions hide behind tall walls. There, some of the planet’s richest people play host to glamorous balls and parties. But in one of those houses, tucked away on El Brillo Way and once guarded by winged gargoyles, such glamour collided with scandal.

The estate belonged to New York financier Jeffrey Epstein — a sex offender once linked with former president Bill Clinton, Nobel Prize-winning scientists, Kevin Spacey and British royalty. A stream of young girls allegedly flitted in and out of the house in the mid-aughts, attending naked pool parties and, police records showed, dispensing massages to Epstein and other guests.

Prince Andrew was allegedly one of the house’s visitors. On Friday, the Duke of York was named in a federal lawsuit filed against Epstein, whom the FBI once reportedly linked to 40 young women. Filed in 2008 in the Southern District of Florida, the $50 million lawsuit claimed Epstein had a “sexual preference and obsession for underage minor girls … gained access to primarily economically disadvantaged minor girls in his home, sexually assaulted these girls.”

Sexual abuse is a jagged rock thrown into a serene body of water, and the ripples reach across generations. It’s also more pervasive than most of us dare to imagine—because why would we?

To stop it, that’s why.

And the first step is to admit we have a problem.

Locally, there are some small steps that can be made to address our state’s inadequate ability to keep kids safe when it’s clear from reports a child is at risk. There was an AP investigation recently, which spanned 8 months, and Montana did not fare well in the assessment. From the link:

Nowhere was the AP’s challenge steeper than Montana, where the state’s confidentiality law allows the child welfare agency to operate with impunity. The AP discovered the Department of Public Health and Human Services’ involvement in Mattisyn Blaz’s short life, and her death, only by examining hundreds of pages of court files from the criminal trial of her father.

The state makes public only the number of children who died from maltreatment in a given year. Officials said state law prohibits them from releasing details on the number of children who died after having a prior history with child protective services.

Department spokesman Jon Ebelt acknowledged Montana law conflicts with federal disclosure requirements and said officials would seek a change in state law to allow for the disclosure of more information.

Maybe our Montana legislators can take a look at how to improve our state’s ability to protect the kids the state is already aware of. It may not stop billionaires who allegedly received three 12 year old girls from France as a birthday gift, but it may stop other kids in abusive situations from being killed by the adults responsible for raising and nurturing them.

by lizard

When police shot and killed Kaileb Williams, the initial report indicated the shooting was justified. That is no longer the case. The family has lawyered up with Datsopoulos, MacDonald & Lind and now it seems every aspect of what allegedly occurred is being called into question. Terance Perry, the family’s lawyer, is “calling it how he sees it” when describing the manner in which Kaileb was shot as ‘execution style’. Of course that’s part of the headline of the new article from the Missoulian, accompanied by a nicer picture of Kaileb smiling.

So what’s being contested? Everything. From the second link:

In an interview, Perry said the family has a markedly different story of what happened in the hour before Williams was killed by a single gunshot wound to the head.

They deny that the fiancee was ever held hostage or threatened by Williams. They wonder why the man’s mother was initially told he committed suicide. And they cannot understand why police did not remove him from the car by tasing, physical force or negotiation.

Strange. More from the article:

Inside the home, Williams reportedly attacked his mother and gave her a bloody nose before driving away in her car.

Attorney Perry said the mother did call police, but that it was his understanding that a bystander told authorities Williams had driven away from the house with his fiancee. He added that Williams was very close to his mother, who also lives in Missoula, and that he spent Christmas with her.

Perry said the mother did tell police that her son assaulted her, but that she was not interested in pressing charges from the assault or because he took her car.

Newell said the mother told dispatchers that her son might have a knife.

Not so, said the attorney.

“My understanding is that is entirely false. She did not say he had a knife,” Perry said.

This point should be fairly easy to confirm, considering conversations with 911 dispatch are recorded. If the police report says one thing, and the recorded conversation indicates the opposite, then there is definitely something amiss. Here’s more:

When Williams drove the wrong way up a ramp connecting Broadway and North Reserve Street, his car died, Newell said.

Perry said after the car broke down on the ramp, the vehicle was surrounded by law enforcement vehicles, and in his opinion Williams was effectively in custody, posing no further flight risk.

Officer Kelly was close enough to the car to speak with Williams, but Newell said it was dark outside and officers couldn’t see clearly into the car, although the girlfriend appeared to be lying down and was yelling for help.

Newell said officers attempted to break the car windows to rescue her, but were unsuccessful.

Perry, on the other hand, said his current understanding is that no officer made an attempt to break any of the windows. He said the fiancee denies that she was yelling for help in any way or that she was in fear for her life.

Newell said Williams had the woman in a “lethal stranglehold” when he was shot.

“I’m a little confused about their statement. Somehow they can see she is being strangled or held down, but they say it’s too dark to see if there is a weapon,” Perry said Saturday. “They all carry flashlights, most of the police cars I see around Missoula have searchlights. They could have lit that vehicle up like a Christmas tree if they wanted to.”

Perry said police never saw Williams wielding a weapon, and there was no evidence that he had a weapon.

“There’s an attempt to construct a justification for the use of fatal force here,” he said.

Perry said the fiancee denies that Williams was attempting to strangle her when Officer Kelly fired the shot that killed him. He declined to name the girlfriend, but an obituary for Williams lists his fiancee as Rita Daniel.

“He was holding her head down because he was afraid the police were going to shoot at her,” Perry said.

There are more troubling questions arising from this incident. Officer Kelly allegedly fired his gun into the driver’s side of the car. Even if the suspect was actively strangling his girlfriend, the shot could have easily injured and/or killed the girlfriend. There is also the fact that the mother was in one of the police cruisers during the chase and was allegedly told her son committed suicide:

Perry said another officer was transporting Williams’ mother back to her home when the chase began, and he engaged in it. The cruiser, with the mother in the back seat, arrived at the scene and the mother was next to the Montana Lil’s casino on the other side of North Reserve Street.

Perry said the mother’s cellphone was in the vehicle Williams was driving, but that law enforcement did not attempt to call the phone, or use the mother to help talk with Williams.

“Law enforcement could have asked Kaileb to allow the fiancee to leave the vehicle,” he said.

After the shooting happened, the mother went inside the casino. Perry said he spoke with an employee of the casino who told him that the civilian coroner from Sanders County and a law enforcement officer eventually came into the casino and told the mother her son had committed “suicide with a firearm.”

This unfortunate incident of police using lethal force is going to be heavily scrutinized. Hopefully there is enough objective evidence, like footage from dash-cams in the police cruisers and the 911 conversation, to piece together what really happened.

If aspects of what allegedly happened have been constructed to justify the use of lethal force, I hope that comes out and the appropriate steps are taken to make sure Missoula police understand when they can and can’t shoot to kill.

The lawyers are already trying this case in the court of public opinion, and the Missoulian will be more than happy to amplify any controversial developments. I don’t think it’s helpful at all, at this point in the investigation, for Perry to use the phrase ‘execution style’ to describe this shooting, but of course he knows that sensational description will make for a juicy headline.

The Sheriff’s department has this investigation, in addition to dealing with another nearly lethal use of force by a deputy less than 24 hours after this incident.

I’ll be following this case as more information becomes available.

by lizard

When I turned on the computer this morning my intention was to write a post about a brilliant tv series freshly available on Netflix, titled Black Mirror. It’s a British Science-Fiction series where each episode it its own 45 minute exploration. In making the online rounds, though, Mark’s Happy New Year to my reading friends post got me thinking about a book I haven’t looked at in years on Cybernetics and Society, titled The Human Use of Human Beings, by Norbert Wiener.

Wiener was born in 1894. Here’s a bit from the afterword for context:

The man who wrote this book was an extraordinary human being: son of a self-made Russian-born professor of SLavic languages at Harvard University, child prodigy, Harvard Ph.D. at 18, mathematician of great originality and distinction, creator of the cybernetic synthesis, author of a technology-imbued novel and several science fiction stories as well. During his later years Wiener’s multi-faceted career was haunted by his deeply felt concern for how man could and would relate to the newly emerging and proliferating technologies. His hope was that Cybernetics would provide a common approach to the study of communication and control processes in machines, organism and societies, and that this approach would enhance human dignity rather than defile it.

I got this book years ago from a linguistics professor who was suspended from teaching at UM after he lost it in class and went on an incoherent anti-war rant. Dennis Holt was his name, and from what I heard about his behavior that day, and from what I saw subsequently, UM actually made the right choice.

It’s fitting that I bought this book from Holt. Norbert Wiener is a name that has been obscured for reasons that include non-compliance with corporate/military exploitation of his work. I plugged in his name in the old search engine and found an Atlantic article from last year (2014) about efforts to reclaim his reputation. From the link:

Wiener was 69 when he died of a heart attack in 1964. He’s come to mind recently because a conference dedicated to reclaiming his reputation is scheduled in Boston later this month. Sponsored by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), Norbert Wiener in the 21st Century will feature a series of papers and panels demonstrating not only that Wiener was ahead of his time, but that now his time has finally come. Indeed, engineers who are well grounded in cybernetic theory will tell you technology is just catching up with ideas Wiener proposed more than half a century ago.

It might seem odd that Wiener’s reputation would need reclaiming, considering the immense impact he achieved in his lifetime. As a child he was widely acclaimed (and sometimes ridiculed) as a prodigy; he earned his undergraduate degree from Tufts at the age of 14, and his doctorate from Harvard when he was 18. As an adult he became one of the most famous scientists in the world. His books were best sellers, his opinions regularly featured in national magazines. The anthropologist Gregory Bateson and his wife, Margaret Mead, were among those enthralled by Wiener’s presentations at the intellectual all-star games known as the Macy Conferences. “I think that cybernetics is the biggest bite out of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge that mankind has taken in the past 2,000 years,” Bateson declared, according to Wiener’s biographers Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman.

Yet, much sooner and more thoroughly than could have been expected, memory of Wiener and of his contributions faded. Several reasons account for his eclipse. One is that during the height of his career, Wiener refused, for ethical reasons, to accept research contracts from the military or from corporations seeking to exploit his ideas. Since the military and corporations were the main sources of research support, Wiener’s defiance hindered his progress during a period of unprecedented technological advance. Besides nuclear weapons, Wiener was perhaps most worried about the technology he was most directly responsible for developing: automation. Sooner than most, he recognized how businesses could use it at the expense of labor, and how eager they were to do so. “Those who suffer from a power complex,” he wrote in 1950, “find the mechanization of man a simple way to realize their ambitions.”

So Norbert Wiener had some principles that he held himself to. No wonder his name has been relegated to the gaping American memory hole. Here’s more from the link:

I’ve been preoccupied lately with thoughts of marauding broomsticks, genies in bottles, and monkey’s paws.

All are literary images the scientist Norbert Wiener used to make the point that we fool ourselves if we think we have our technologies firmly under control. That Wiener was instrumental in creating the technologies he warned about demonstrates the insistent obstinance of his peculiar genius.

The images came from, respectively, Goethe’s poem, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” the “Fisherman and the Genie” fable in One Thousand and One Nights, and W.W. Jacobs’ short story, “The Monkey’s Paw,” in which a magical talisman gives an elderly couple more magic than they bargained for. The common theme is unexpected consequences, specifically the often tragic ones that can overtake us when we seek to exploit mechanisms of superhuman power. “The world of the future will be an ever more demanding struggle against the limitations of our intelligence,” Wiener wrote in 1964, “not a comfortable hammock in which we can lie down to be waited upon by our robot slaves.”

This is the second time in less than 24 hours that I’ve come across a reference to Goethe’s poem, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”. Last night it was a Moon of Alabama post about Ukraine where b actually quotes Goethe:

Goethe’s sorcerer’s apprentice marshaled the spirits to help clean the house. But he could not control them:

O, you ugly child of Hades!
The entire house will drown!
Everywhere I look, I see
water, water, running down.
Be you damned, old broom,
why won’t you obey?
Be a stick once more,
please, I beg you, stay!

b references Goethe in the context of the extreme right wing forces the US unleashed in Ukraine, forces Oliver Stone will explore in his documentary soon to be released.

Going back to the original impetus for this post, the second episode of Black Mirror, titled ‘Fifteen Million Merits’: The Rebellion Show, offers a disturbing glimpse of a fictional future where advertising, reality tv and virtual reality so encapsulates the daily lives of the human automatons that when rebellion emerges, it is quickly transformed into a control mechanism. I hope that’s not too much of a spoiler.

In case it didn’t sink in the first time, I’m going to repeat Wiener’s prescient prediction:  

the world of the future will be an ever more demanding struggle against the limitations of our intelligence.

The struggle continues.

Back to Work

by lizard

It’s time to get back to work. For Missoula County’s newly sworn-in Sheriff, T.J. McDermott, his first day on the job has got to rank as one of the worst first days ever. In less than 24 hours a Missoula Police officer and a Sheriff’s Deputy were involved in shooting suspects, both allegedly involved in domestic violence disputes. One suspect was killed, the other sent to the hospital.

For Montana legislators, their work will begin next week in Helena. On the Republican side their main job will be to keep any federal help from reaching Montanans in the form of Medicaid dollars. They are still obsessed with the notion that helping poor people equates to helping elect Democrats, at least that’s my takeaway from this Billings Gazette piece describing the idiotic Republican plan to expand Medicaid without using federal dollars to help insure 70,000 Montanans without insurance:

Republicans released a framework of their plan Wednesday but have yet to draft specific bills that will be introduced at the 2015 Legislature, which convenes Monday.

Their plan includes expanding Medicaid eligibility for an additional 15,000 to 18,000 people earning less than 100 percent of the federal poverty level, some Medicaid health-practice reforms that Thomas said would save the state money and “tort reform,” which means limiting liability for medical practitioners.

The state of Montana will inevitably have to pick up more of the costs under the Republican plan, which makes absolutely no sense, not when millions of dollars that taxpayers HAVE PAID INTO THE SYSTEM are available. But allowing those federal dollars into the state, according to the warped Republican mindset, translates into more welfare-dependent individuals voting for Democrats. Here’s more from the link:

Republicans also don’t want to increase the federal debt to pay for what they see as a new welfare program for able-bodied adults, he added.

“I think it’s fair to say that the intent of (President Obama and Democrats in Congress) was, in essence, sign people up for a welfare program,” Thomas said. “It has nothing to do with health care. I think there is a direct linkage to the more people who are on public assistance, the more Democrats think they will vote for them.”

No, wrong. The intent of the ACA legislation was to further entrench the for-profit health insurance industry in our lives. That was the intent when it was Romneycare and that is the intent of Obamacare. The welfare canard is just red meat for low-information Republican voters who regularly vote against their own economic interests.

Speaking of economic interests and federal welfare, a few years ago, when Republicans were saying the same tired crap about poor people and the programs intended to assist them, a report exposed the deep hypocrisy of Republicans who decry the evils of federal assistance while pocketing, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars in farm subsidies. Here’s a list (2011) of legislators and the money they get from the evil federal government:

Rep. Janna Taylor, R-Dayton, $1,017,491

Rep. Austin Knudsen, R-Culbertson, $705,941

Sen. Bruce Tutvedt, R-Kalispell, $643,063

Sen. Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo, $637,547

Sen. Llew Jones, R-Conrad, $609,508

Rep. Lee Randall, R-Broadus, $507,674

Sen. John Brenden, R-Scobey, $497,291

Sen. Taylor Brown, R-Huntley, $473,563

Rep. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, $380,160

Sen. Donald Steinbeisser, R-Sidney, $241,761

Rep. Daniel Salomon, R-Ronan, $223,865

Sen. Ron Arthun, R-Wilsall, $213,800

Sen. Terry Murphy, R-Cardwell, $188,427

Rep. Mike Milburn, R-Cascade, $141,770

Sen. Debby Barrett, R-Dillon, $123,378

Rep. Christy Clark, R-Choteau, $122,287

Sen. Rick Ripley, R-Wolf Creek, $89,847

Rep. Roy Hollandsworth, R-Brady, $80,675

Rep. Tony Belcourt, D-Box Elder, $73,309

Rep. Lila Evans, R-Browning, $35,879

Sen. Eric Moore, R-Miles City, $20,781

Rep. Sterling Small, R-Busby, $7,677

Sen. Bradley Hamlett, D-Cascade, $5,458

Rep. Walter McNutt, R-Sidney, $4,121

Rep. Tom Berry, R-Roundup, $2,819

Rep. Joe Read, R-Ronan, $2,233

Rep. Randy Brodehl, R-Kalispell, $1,863

Rep. Matthew Rosendale, R-Glendive, $1,083

Rep. Jeffrey Welborn, R-Dillon, $972

Sen. Cliff Larsen, D-Missoula, $732

Rep. Kelly Flynn, R-Townsend, $324

Rep. Don Roberts, R-Billings, $271

Sen. Alan Olson, R-Roundup, $47

Those are all living people, as far as I know. I mention that fact because another report from the GAO indicates dead farmers have also received millions in farming welfare:

The Agriculture Department might be sending millions of dollars in subsidies to dead farmers, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) said Monday.

The agency looked at crop insurance data from 2008 to 2012 and “found that $22 million in subsidies and allowances may have been provided on behalf of an estimated 3,434 program policyholders two or more years after death.”

The USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA), which subsidizes crop insurance, appears to have the biggest problem with making payments to people who are deceased, according to investigators.

The GAO found that the RMA “cannot be certain” the subsidies it distributes are proper because it does not compare policies to death records.

The data also suggests that environmental payments are going to the dead. Between 2008 and 2012, the GAO estimates $10.6 million went to 1,103 dead farmers. The National Resource Conservation Service is not reviewing its subsidies to check, the agency said.

The revelations come as Congress is struggling to pass a trillion-dollar farm bill to reauthorize farm subsidies, crop insurance and food stamps.

That report was from July, 2013, when Republicans were trying to cut food assistance from the farm bill.

The Republicans in Montana don’t have a coherent argument for denying Medicaid dollars, especially when their western counterparts in other states, like Wyoming, are slowly realizing expanding Medicaid makes sense. From the link:

With a plan released Wednesday by the administration of Gov. Matt Mead, a Republican, Wyoming has become the latest state seeking to expand Medicaid.

The plan would provide Medicaid coverage to an additional 18,000 low-income people, according to the state’s health department. If it wins federal and state legislative approval, Wyoming will join 27 states that have expanded the program under the Affordable Care Act, including nine with Republican leadership.

Montana Republicans, though, are more interested in purging moderates from their ranks to create an ideologically pure distillation of conservatism than they are in actually doing the job they were elected to do to govern this fine state. Hopefully there is spine enough from the few remaining sane Republicans in Montana to repeat what states like Wyoming have done.

It’s time to get back to work. I hope the bartenders in Helena are ready for this year’s session.

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