Archive for April, 2015

Bad Parenting?

by William Skink

The story of a detained 11 year old first caught my attention because Lego click bait. Because I like Legos, like a lot. My 6 year old likes Legos as well, so when he’s shopping for Legos, I’m always attending his searches and purchases.

The story of a detained 11 year old is ridiculous. It comes via BoingBoing:

Doug Dunlop’s 11 year old, Lego-obsessed son is a frequent customer at the Lego store in Calgary’s Chinook Mall, where he spends his odd-job savings on new materials — until this week, when the Lego store management had the mall’s security take him into custody.

When Dunlop arrived to pick up his son, the manager revealed the store’s secret policy banning children under 12 from shopping on their own. Dunlop asked why this policy wasn’t posted and the manager said, “It should be obvious to any good parent that children under 12 shouldn’t be in a store unattended. We have the policy for child safety reasons.” When asked why the policy was in place, the manager said “If I have to explain THAT to you, then you shouldn’t be a parent.”


by William Skink

I’ve been listening incessantly to the new Sufjan Stevens album, Carrie & Lowell. It’s amazing. Stevens is a phenomenal song writer, and I’ve always been curious about what may have influenced him. I was surfing around earlier today, and came across an interesting rambling monologue from Stevens’ recent show in his hometown, Detroit. Here it is, enjoy:

We moved to Romulus for a few years in a little house that my grandpa built that’s still there. Then we got tired of the jet fumes. So we moved back to the city. A couple neighborhoods. Then we ended up in the north part of the city, just off of Jefferson on Parker Street, near Indian Village.

My parents — yes, they wanted to live in Indian Village, but couldn’t afford it, of course. So we just lived, like, a few roads down, in a little duplex. But they told all their friends they lived in Indian Village.

We moved out of the city when I was 9, and moved up north. But I remember a few things about Detroit — very obscure, kind of abstract and mysterious. I remember Devil’s Night, and my dad would stay up late with the dog. We had a Bouvier, which is a Flemish sheep-herding dog. It was genetically engineered to bite anything that moves. So he would stay all night to watch the house during Devil’s Night, but then we would sneak out to throw eggs and toilet paper at the neighbor’s house.

I remember fishing on the river, but we could never eat them because they were polluted. But we were so hungry that one day my dad said, “Maybe we will eat them,” and we did anyway. It was good.

I remember my grandma lived at Pink Flamingo Trailer Court in Farmington Hills. We would visit her, and she always had these glass jars of cinnamon candies, and she only gave us one. But she didn’t have good eyesight and I would just stuff every pocket with candies. She had a crazy collection of Cabbage Patch dolls. We weren’t allowed to play with them, they were just on display. I was so confused why a woman her age had so many Cabbage Patch dolls.

I remember when they imploded Hudson’s. The younger generation probably has no idea what I’m talking about.

I remember when Nancy Kerrigan got the shit beat out of her. I mean, I wasn’t there, but that was a big deal.

I remember “Give us some more of ’84.” Do they still say that? Or no? “Give us less of ’84,” probably. In 1984 there were more house burnings on Devil’s Night than any other year, I think. I think I read that like two years ago and somehow it stayed with me.

I remember going to the Detroit Zoo with my cousin. My parents took us, and we were so excited that we wandered off on our own and got lost for hours, and had no idea where we were. And instead of going to the security guards, we just collected pop cans. Because even at that age, we somehow believed — because there was a 10-cent deposit, you know, on every pop can — we somehow believed that money would solve all of our problems. Even the problem of being lost. When our parents finally found us, we had two garbage bags full of Faygo and Pepsi pop cans. They were like, “What’s going on here?”

Memory is such a funny thing, though, you know. It’s all colored by the imagination. A lot of people ask me, “Well where did you inherit the imagination for songwriting?” For a while I thought it was Waldorf School, because I went to Detroit Waldorf School for many years. And for a while I thought it was because my parents did drugs and were hippies and in a cult. And then for a while I thought it was because I didn’t start reading until I was like 15 years old. I was kind of an illiterate child, because of Waldorf School. So that cultivated my imagination. I’m not sure why.

Sometimes I think it’s just because I’m from here, from Detroit, because I started to think that this is the city of imagination. People talk about it like the city of industry, and you know, automobiles. The city of Motown music. And I hate when people call it, like apocalyptic, and refer to like, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. I think that’s bullshit, because I think it’s actually more like Dungeons & Dragons, which is a land of fierce imagination where anything is possible. We’ve got sexy ladies wielding swords and gargoyles coming to life. It’s Choose Your Own Adventure here. Anyway, I just wanted to say I’m happy to be back so thanks for having us.

by William Skink

When it comes to violence, is America exceptional? I mean, is there any other nation that asserts the right to drone-kill thousands of people at the whim of our dear leader? And we do it in an exceptional way, just ask our exceptional killer-president:

President Barack Obama stood behind the podium and apologized for inadvertently killing two Western hostages – including one American – during a drone strike in Yemen. Obama said, “one of the things that sets America apart from many other nations, one of the things that makes us exceptional, is our willingness to confront squarely our imperfections and to learn from our mistakes.” In his 2015 state of the union address, Obama described America as “exceptional.” When he spoke to the United Nations General Assembly in 2013, he said, “Some may disagree, but I believe that America is exceptional.”

No disagreement here, Mr. killer-president. We all know you make exceptional efforts not to murder civilians with your drone strikes. So what if the actual evidence indicates your exceptional standards are bullshit:

Obama insists that the CIA and the U.S. military are very careful to avoid civilian casualties. In May 2013, he declared in a speech at the National Defense University, “before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured – the highest standard we can set.”

Nevertheless, of the nearly 3,852 people killed by drone strikes, 476 have reportedly been civilians. The Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), which examined nine drone strikes in Yemen, concluded that civilians were killed in every one. Amrit Singh, a senior legal officer at OSJI and primary author of the report, said “We’ve found evidence that President Obama’s standard is not being met on the ground.”

Domestically, American police can be exceptionally violent as well. Take Baltimore. While most media outlets will focus on damage to buildings, a little context about police violence in Baltimore is warranted, because it includes violence toward a pregnant woman and an 87 year old grandma:

The 87-year-old grandmother was named Venus Green. A former teacher with two college degrees, she spent her retirement years as a foster parent for needy children. She was on her porch one day when her grandson ran up crying for an ambulance.

He’d been shot.

The article goes on to tell her story from a legal document in her successful lawsuit:

Paramedics and police responded to the emergency call, but the white officer became hostile. “What happened? Who shot you?” Green recalled the officer saying to her grandson, according to an 11-page letter in which she detailed the incident for her lawyer. Excerpts from the letter were included in her lawsuit. “You’re lying. You know you were shot inside that house. We ain’t going to help you because you are lying.”

“Mister, he isn’t lying,” replied Green, who had no criminal record. “He came from down that way running, calling me to call the ambulance.”

The officer, who is not identified in the lawsuit, wanted to go into the basement, but Green demanded a warrant. Her grandson kept two dogs downstairs and she feared they would attack. The officer unhooked the lock, but Green latched it. He shoved Green against the wall.

She hit the wooden floor. “Bitch, you ain’t no better than any of the other old black bitches I have locked up,” Green recalled the officer saying as he stood over her. “He pulled me up, pushed me in the dining room over the couch, put his knees in my back, twisted my arms and wrist and put handcuffs on my hands and threw me face down on the couch.”

After pulling Green to her feet, the officer told her she was under arrest. Green complained of pain. “My neck and shoulder are hurting,” Green told him. “Please take these handcuffs off.” An African-American officer then walked in the house, saw her sobbing and asked that the handcuffs be removed since Green wasn’t violent. The cuffs came off, and Green didn’t face any charges. But a broken shoulder tormented her for months.

For even more context, let’s compare some numbers. I’ll start with the caveat that we actually have no way of knowing precisely how many people are killed by police every year because police killings aren’t officially tracked. That said, police in America killed more people in just the month of March than the UK police have killed…since 1900:

A total of 111 people were killed by police in the United States in March of 2015. Since 1900, in the entire United Kingdom, 52 people have been killed by police.

Don’t bother adjusting for population differences, or poverty, or mental illness, or anything else. The sheer fact that American police kill TWICE as many people per month as police have killed in the modern history of the United Kingdom is sick, preposterous, and alarming.

I used to claim America is in no way an exceptional nation. Clearly I was wrong.

by William Skink

If you have read a poem by either myself or another poet at 4&20 Blackbirds, congratulations, you are bucking a trend of declining interest spanning at least two decades. The Washington Post, you see, has the empirical evidence that Poetry is going extinct. It’s sobering data that speaks to something, just what I’m not sure. From the link:

Given the widespread availability of poetry on the internet, “it’s possible that poetry’s audience might be greater now than ever,” wrote Kate Angus in The Millions last year. But the numbers below show that that’s emphatically not the case. Some people are still reading it, although that number has been dropping steadily over the past two decades.

In 1992, 17 percent of Americans had read a work of poetry at least once in the past year. 20 years later that number had fallen by more than half, to 6.7 percent. Those numbers come from the national Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA), a massive survey that’s run every few years as part of the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey.

The survey finds that the decline in poetry readership is unique among the arts — particularly the literary arts. “Since 2002, the share of poetry-readers has contracted by 45 percent—resulting in the steepest decline in participation in any literary genre,” the study concludes. Over the past 20 years, the downward trend is nearly perfectly linear — and doesn’t show signs of abating.

According to the latest numbers, poetry is less popular than jazz. It’s less popular than dance, and only about half as popular as knitting. The only major arts category with a narrower audience than poetry is opera — not exactly surprising, given the contemporary state of that art.


So what gives? How has poetry clocked a nearly perfect downward linear trend?

I’ve gotten some recent feedback on a few poetry posts, and I’m always very appreciative. I’ve intentionally written topical poems for immediate consumption to show poetry can respond in real time to world events. It’s an admittedly small gesture with limited impact, but obstinance in the face of futility is a stance I’m comfortable maintaining.

I’m not sure where poetry went wrong. My tendency is to scrutinize the privileged MFA assembly lines fast-tracking literary production, but that’s a somewhat recent phenomena. Something happened to poetry before the gluttony of grad students flooded a dwindling market with poetry that appeals to only a few small literary circles.

I wish one recent publication could better transcend the declining interest in poetry. Claudia Rankine’s book, Citizen, is a powerful work where the author lays out the inner-monologue processing the racial dynamics of everyday stabs and sleights.

For my own selfish reasons, I wish poetry had more influence in popular culture. That it’s trending itself into irrelevance is perhaps just a symptom of a larger societal malaise setting in.



the mountain roars
bringing death

mountain at the top of the world
piercing sky

a deep shaking of land and buildings
that seem built upon sand

temples stagger
like American black men shot
by police

and cracks appear
in the streets

April, always April
like a covenant signed
in blood

pack whatever heat you think
you need

earth and mountain thundering
torrents of ice and stone

make people made
smaller than ants
wash away

this is how the world works, son

bow your head,
and pray

—William Skink

by William Skink

Of all the characters—and they are to a great extent just that—in Krakauer’s recounting of rape and the justice system in Missoula, Kirsten Pabst is perhaps best positioned to set the tone for how Missoula can move forward. For now she’s the subject of Missoulian cluster reporting, some of it very generous. So she’s got that going for her. And the support of Griz Nation doesn’t hurt.

What will hurt, though, is refusing to genuinely account for well-documented mistakes, opting instead for a media counter-offensive.

One of the initial local reactions worth reading comes from Dan Brooks. Read his whole post here. I like this part:

The book focuses on a half dozen rape allegations in Missoula between 2009 and 2012. Krakauer presents these narratives from the victims’ perspectives, beginning with their own accounts of the alleged assaults. These in-person interviews with traumatized young women—many of whom feel ill-served by the criminal justice system—could easily reflect bias against local police and prosecutors. There is room to tell a misleading story there. But once these victims make contact with police and courts, Krakauer draws most of his narrative from official transcripts.

These transcripts make a lot of people look bad. Detectives keep asking women with rape complaints if they have boyfriends, observing that lots of times, women cheat on their boyfriends and then call it rape later. From a cop’s perspective, this is a statement of experience, a commiseration about how hard it is to do police work. Of course, to the victim—and to the reader—it sounds like an accusation.

The inappropriate questions from detectives, IMO, stems from the Missoula County Attorneys Office. The refusal to prosecute cases that appear to have enough evidence to make a case trickles down to the detectives. They are the ones gathering evidence, recommending prosecution, then, when MCAO doesn’t prosecute, it’s the detectives who have to inform the victims their case is closed and the rapist will walk free.

In the telling of these stories, one detective plays a very supportive role for one of the survivors: Detective Guy Baker. His advocacy is one of the bright spots in an otherwise bleak landscape. For the most part, Missoula detectives have been doing their jobs. It’s not their role to prosecute the cases they investigate.

If Pabst wants to move her office forward, she should pay close attention to chapter 10. It’s at this point Krakauer uses the “Boston expert” David Lisak to examine some data pointing to the impact of serial rapists:

It’s been estimated that approximately 85 percent of all rapes are in fact committed by assailants who are acquainted in some way with their victims, and that only a small percentage of these “non-stranger rapes” result in teh successful prosecution of the rapist. So Lisak devised a study that would provide insights into offenders who’d managed to avoid both punishment and scrutiny—a population that accounted for the overwhelming majority of rapists. Specifically, he designed his study to reveal whether these “undetected rapists,” like their incarcerated counterparts, showed a propensity to rape more than once and whether they were likely to commit other types of interpersonal violence. The study, titled “Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending Among Undetected Rapists,” co-authored by Paul M. Miller and published in 2002, added significantly to the understanding of men who rape.

Lisak and Miller examined a random sample of 1,882 men, all of whom were students at the University of Massachusetts Boston between 1991 and 1998. Their average age was twenty-four. Of theses 1,882 students, 120 individuals—6.4 percent of the sample—were identified as rapists, which wasn’t a surprising proportion. But 76 of the 120—63 percent of the undetected student rapists, amounting to 4 percent of the overall sample—turned out to be repeat offenders who were collectively responsible for at least 439 rapes, an average of nearly 6 assaults per rapist. A very small number of men in the population, in other words, had raped a great many women with utter impunity. Lisak’s study also revealed something equally disturbing: These same 76 individuals were also responsible for 49 sexual assaults that didn’t rise to the level of rape, 277 acts of sexual abuse against children, 66 acts of physical abuse against children, and 214 acts of battery against intimate partners. This relative handful of male students, as Lisak put it, “had each, on average, left 14 victims in their wake…And the number of assaults was almost certainly underreported.”

The college environment is like a playground for serial rapists, also known as sexual predators. The grooming of potential victims can happen easily, especially once the alcohol starts flowing. Instead of wondering, and then asking, if a rape victim has a boyfriend, detectives should wonder if an alleged rape, when it’s reported, is the act of a serial rapist.

And if you want a peek inside the disturbing mind of a serial rapist, Krakaur excerpts the following from Lisak’s work:

The segment, which I’ve abridged below, begins with “Frank” telling Lisak, “We have parties every weekend.” He goes on:

That’s what my fraternity was known for. We’d invite a bunch of girls, lay out a bunch of kegs or whatever we were drinking that night. And everyone would just get plastered….We’d be on the lookout for the good-looking girls, especially the freshmen, the really young ones. They were the easiest. It’s like they didn’t know the ropes,…like they were easy prey. And they wouldn’t know anything about drinking, or how much alcohol they could handle. SO, you know, they wouldn’t know anything about our techniques….

We’d invite them to the party,…make it seem like it was a real honor. Like we didn’t just invite any girl. Which, I guess, in a way is true….Then we’d get them drinking right away. We’d have all those kegs. But we always had some kind of punch, also….We’d make it with a real sweet juice and just pour in all kinds of alcohol….The girls wouldn’t know what hit them. They’d be guzzling it, you know, because they were freshmen, kind of nervous….The naive ones were the easiest. And they’d be the ones we’d target….

We’d all be scouting for targets during the week….We’d pick ’em out, and work ’em over during the week, and then get ’em all psyched up to come to one of our famous parties….You basically had to have an instinct for it….I had this girls staked out. I’d picked her out in one of my classes….I was watching for her,…and the minute she walked into the door of the party, I was on her….We started drinking together, and I could tell she was nervous…because she was drinking that stuff so fast….

It was some kind of punch we’d made. You know, the usual thing….She started to get plastered in just a few minutes….so I started making my moves on her. I kind of leaned in close,…got my arm around her, and then at the right moment I kissed her….The usual kind of stuff….And after a while I asked her if she wanted to go up to my room, you know, get away from the noise, and she came right away. Actually it wasn’t my room….We always had several rooms designated before the party…that were all prepped for this…

She was really woozy by this time. So I brought up another drink, you know, and sat her down on one of the beds, sat down next to her, and pretty soon I just made my move. I don’t remember exactly what I did first. I probably, you know, leaned her down on the bed, started working on her clothes, feeling her up….I started working her blouse off.

At some point she started saying things like….’I don’t want to do this right away,’ or something like that. I just kept working on her clothes,…and she started squirming. But that actually helped, because her blouse came off easier. And i kind of leaned on her, kept feeling her up to get her more into it. She tried to push me off, so I pushed her back down….

It pissed me off that she played along the whole way and then decided to squirm out of it like that at the end. I mean, she was so plastered that she probably didn’t know what was going on, anyway. I don’t know, maybe that’s why she started pushing on me. But, you know, I just kept leaning on her, pulling off her clothes, and at some point she stopped squirming. I don’t know, maybe she passed out. Her eyes were closed.

Lisak asked Frank, “What happened?”

“I fucked her,” Frank answered.

“Did you have to lean on her or hold her down when you did it?”

“Yeah, I had my arm across her chest like this, you know, that’s how I did it.” As he spoke, Frank demonstrated how he placed his forearm against the victim’s sternum, near the base of her neck, and leaned on it to hold her down.

“Was she squirming?” Lisak inquired.

“Yeah, she was squirming,” Frank said, “but not as much anymore.”

“What happened afterwards?”

“I got dressed and went back to the party.”

“What did she do?” Lisak asked.

“She left,” Frank answered.

Lisak’s interview with Frank was typical of the interviews he did with other rapists. In a part of the interview not included above, Lisak told me, Frank “actually described two other rapes he did, under almost exactly the same circumstances, except the two other victims were unconscious from alcohol at the time. And Frank had no idea that what he was describing to me were acts of rape.”

Frank is a predator, and the Franks on campuses across the nation will rape, over and over, with impunity, unless they are stopped.

Montana Medikoolaid

by William Skink

It sounds like some MT Democrats are getting annoyed that James Conner keeps writing about the pesky details of Medicaid expansion in Montana. Yesterday Conner wrote about Rachel Maddow spreading MT Medicaid expansion misinformation. It may not technically be misinformation to state that SB-405 expands Medicaid eligibility for the 70,000 Montanans state legislators have been vigorously tweeting about, but it is misleading. As Conner keeps pointing out, the fiscal note puts the number of Montanans that could be covered at around 46,000. That means tens of thousands of Montanans could be eligible, but not covered, under SB-405.

The takeaway? Just because legislators tweet using popular hashtags, you still gotta read the fine print.

Thankfully, not every national publication is drinking the Medikoolaid. Mother Jones takes a look at how the Obama administration’s plan to expand Medicaid in red states is by weakening it. From the link:

Some red states have been coming around, lured by of the enormous infusion of federal funds they’ll receive by expanding Medicaid. And without participating, states soon stand to lose billions in other payments designed to compensate hospitals for care for the uninsured. (Florida could lose more than $2 billion on account of leaving 800,000 residents uninsured who could otherwise be covered under Medicaid.)

Despite that carrot and stick, Republican-controlled states have demanded additional concessions from the Obama administration before taking part in the expansion—and in many cases, as a new paper from the National Health Law Program suggests, the administration has agreed to changes that undermine its own goal of expanding coverage. These changes have made some states’ Medicaid programs more, well, Republican—not to mention punitive.

Montana is choosing the punitive premium approach to Republicanize Medicaid, ceding an opportunity to expose the notorious anti-tax right as pro-tax if it means punching poor people. Gee, I wonder how that’s going to work out. Here’s more from the Mother Jones piece:

Take Arkansas, which in 2013 was allowed to use its Medicaid funds to let poor residents buy private insurance on the state health exchange—policies that may not have the same protections or coverage as traditional Medicaid. Iowa and New Hampshire have followed suit. According to the NHLP, these initial waivers emboldened states to seek even greater concessions. An example is Indiana, where, in exchange for agreeing to expand Medicaid, officials not only won the right to charge poor people premiums and co-payments, but also to lock people out of the program for at least six months if they fail to pay those premiums.

The administration has granted such waivers through its authority to authorize so-called demonstration projects to encourage policy innovation in the states. But NHLP contends that waivers like Indiana’s violate the law, which “requires demonstrations to actually demonstrate something.” As NHLP points out, reams of research have long showed that such premiums dramatically reduce health coverage for low-income people. After the Obama administration granted Indiana’s request, Arkansas went back to ask for permission to charge premiums, too. And it prevailed.

To repeat, premiums DRAMATICALLY REDUCE HEALTH COVERAGE FOR LOW-INCOME PEOPLE. I’m yelling because too many MT Democrats appear to be deaf.

Conner ends one of his recent posts with this:

When Gov. Steve Bullock signs the bill, pay close attention to what he says. Will he speak the truth? Will he condemn the paucity and price of the coverage for 46,000? Or will he sing high praises of bipartisanship, compromise, and Sen. Buttrey’s wisdom and compassion? Will — can — Democrats be honest about legislation that they know, or should know, betrays the poorest of the poor?

Good question.

by William Skink

Yesterday I bought a copy of Jon Krakauer’s book Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town. I didn’t intend to binge read, but the way Krakauer weaves the narratives of the rape victims and their experiences with the “justice” system, I had a hard time putting it down.

Many readers of this blog will recall posts from jhwygirl, Patrick Duganz, JC and myself during this period of intense scrutiny. I don’t have time right now to compile a list of relevant posts, but I’ve browsed a few and they are certainly validated by Krakauer’s storytelling. It’s a story we wouldn’t be talking about without the courage of the victims and the fearless reporting of Gwen Florio, who brought the public scrutiny to the systemic barriers stacked against victims who report being sexually assaulted.

I’m sure plenty of people will share their impressions as they read the book. For those who don’t read the book, my hope is you keep your mouthes shut and fingers idle. To have an opinion worth sharing, you must read the accounts represented by Krakauer.

The agency most exposed for perpetuating rape culture in Missoula is clearly the Missoula County Attorney’s Office, so before you go out and spend money on an Andy Smetanka’s revisionist rape culture denial poster maybe spend some time reflecting on the fact Missoula elected rape culture enthusiast, Kirsten Pabst, to lead the office she bailed on, mid-scandal, to protect rapists from the consequences of their crimes.

In one of the most disturbing passages, highlighted over at Intelligent Discontent, we see the truly fucked up thinking regarding consent from one of the primary agents of injustice in this sordid story:

So even if you’d given it previously, that doesn’t count if you’re asleep, right?” “Correct,” Pabst replied. A moment later, however, she hedged: “Well, it depends. That’s not really a hard-and-fast rule. But some people would argue that if I go home with someone and we say, ‘Well, we’re going to go have sex,’ and then I fall asleep and wake up and he’s having sex with me—some people would say that’s consensual, and some people would say it’s not.” The questioner followed up: “What does the law say?” “I don’t know the answer to that,” Pabst answered. “There is no hard-and-fast rule.”

There will be more to write, but one thing is clear: Missoula, there is still an immense amount of work to be done.

End Time Race


a trail of flame
burns a path
to Elohim

fire on the left
dark plots on the right
and an Iron Cross
to pound bleeding hearts
into bloody stains

oh blessed Lord of lords
a thousand needling pricks
jabs black ink
onto white chests of soldiers mad
in spirit, eager fingers
triggering the gun-blast breath
of vengeful wrath
over the communism of oxygen
in our atmosphere

bless the charred unity
of fire’s disfigurement
in Oklahoma City
where bone fragments of children
hide like poisoned seeds
amidst the rubble

how else shall Cascadia
rise like Phoenix from the ashes
of His wholly deranged

where citizens are seen
as sovereign

an impossible purity
transforms their blood
to ice

while all around them
fire purges the countryside

—William Skink

by William Skink

April is National Poetry month. Below the fold, there are over 160 links to the various poetry posts I’ve written over the years. The most recent posts are at the top. The poem that’s gotten the most views is at the first link, Cosby Goes to Cuba.

Enjoy! Continue Reading »

by William Skink

Before our eager MT legislators champion a bipartisan push to deregulate taxi service in Montana for Uber, they might want to read about the Uber battle in Madison, WI.

Here is a good description of the exploitive business model Uber and Lyft have taken advantage of. The municipalities fighting back are facing aggressive marketing campaigns:

Both companies claim to be “disruptive innovators” that shake up the status quo in the out-of-date taxi industry that still relies on human beings to do the work of matching people with rides through dispatch offices.

But there is nothing innovative about serving the function of an exploitative middleman.

In fact, it’s as old as the unregulated market itself.

In this unregulated market, workers can get exploited, price gouging can arise, and the risks to public safety can escalate.

Drivers sign up to be “partners” with Uber or Lyft and access customers through a smart-phone app. Customers give their credit card and social network information to the companies, and then sign into the app and request a ride from the nearest available “partner.” The company takes 20 percent of the charges off the top and the driver keeps the rest.

Drivers are responsible for all operational and maintenance costs. Most people who drive for Uber and Lyft do not carry commercial insurance and are, in fact, committing insurance fraud by not disclosing to their insurer that they are using their vehicle for commercial purposes.

If drivers are injured on the job, they are not covered by workers’ compensation. All the risk and capital investment are shouldered by the driver, while the fat cats at Uber and Lyft headquarters in San Francisco reap a risk-free reward.

In addition to exploiting labor by externalizing risk and vacuuming up profit, Uber drivers are sometimes not on the up and up. Surge pricing gauges customers, and sometimes even worse things happen than an obscene bill:

Uber claims to be matching supply and demand for rides through what it calls “dynamic surge pricing.” When demand for rides outstrips the current supply of drivers, the price for rides multiplies, sometimes up to 775 percent. That’s what happened to New Yorkers last winter during a blizzard, when at least one customer was charged $132 for a six-block ride.

On New Year’s Eve in San Francisco, a man who was allegedly logged in to Uber’s system and had passed a background check as a driver for the company ran over and killed six-year-old Sofia Liu. Her family is suing the company, which has denied any wrongdoing.

In other incidents in Washington and Los Angeles, Uber drivers allegedly kidnapped passengers. One driver took a drunk woman to a cheap motel and spent the night with her, according to the Los Angeles police.

Local and state governments are trying to find a way to deal with aggressive marketing by Uber and Lyft. California and Colorado have passed laws regulating the companies. Public service commissions in Nebraska and New Mexico, as well as the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, have placed explicit bans on their operations.

Some cities—including Baton Rouge, Chicago, Columbus, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Seattle, and Washington—have passed local ordinances to govern them. Ann Arbor, Memphis, and St. Louis have taken a harder line, issuing cease and desist orders, impounding vehicles, and levying fines on drivers.

North Carolina went the other way and actually passed a law prohibiting municipalities from regulating what they call “digital dispatch” services. This effectively gives Uber free rein to operate anywhere in the state without having to abide by taxicab ordinances.

Twenty-one states have now issued consumer alerts warning the public that anyone who steps into an Uber or Lyft vehicle takes a big risk, and the University of California is considering barring employees from using these services during business trips citing liability concerns.

So how does Uber respond? They hire some lovely people to help them:

Uber is responding by bringing out the big guns. In August, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe joined Uber as a senior vice president of policy and strategy, and in mid-September former Defense Secretary Robert Gates signed on as chair of the advisory board to UberMilitary, a program to recruit veterans (and their personal vehicles) as “partners.”

In an attempt to build political support, Uber also sponsors big national conferences and offers discounted fares for attendees.

Last summer it sponsored Urban Shield, a weapons and tactics convention in Oakland. It also used Mothers Against Drunk Driving to promote its service over the Fourth of July weekend.

And the company is recruiting its customers to lobby on its behalf. Uber offers free and discounted rides to new users, and then tries to turn them into political supporters to fight the corporation’s battles with local and state government. Since there is actually no corporate office or local staff in most of the cities in which it operates, Uber exploits the time and energy of its “partner” drivers and customers to wage its ground wars on its behalf.

Uber’s strategy and ideology perfectly mesh with the rightwing attack on government regulation, and it makes no bones about that. It has joined forces with the Republican National Committee and Generation Opportunity, an astroturf group backed by the Koch brothers, to inundate social media with pro-Uber propaganda urging support of the free market and innovative entrepreneurs.

It has also gained the support of government-drowner Grover Norquist. In an opinion piece for Reuters’ website, Norquist explained why Republicans are so keen on promoting Uber. His piece was entitled: “Why Uber Can Help the GOP Gain Control of the Cities.” These new-fangled taxi companies “are favorites of city dwellers, which means most of the leading Democratic constituencies—including educated professionals, gays, minorities, single women and working mothers,” he wrote. “Cities may soon be up for grabs. For the party’s refusal to embrace the innovative technology and disruptive businesses that have greatly improved city life presents a challenge to Democrats — and an opportunity for Republicans.” He hailed the companies as shining examples of the post-union “share economy.”

Uber and Lyft entered the market in Madison, Wisconsin, this February, kicking off a major political battle.

“This is more than a discussion about taxicabs. It’s about place and values,” Paul Soglin, the mayor of Madison, said as he began his presentation to a city committee charged with exploring ordinance changes to regulate Uber and Lyft.

Reminding committee members that regulation exists to “bring equity to the marketplace and to ensure the health and safety of the public,” Soglin mounted a vigorous case for thorough regulation.

In case you missed it, let me highlight this part:

It has joined forces with the Republican National Committee and Generation Opportunity, an astroturf group backed by the Koch brothers, to inundate social media with pro-Uber propaganda urging support of the free market and innovative entrepreneurs. (my emphasis added)

Backed by the Koch brothers, huh? Normally I see our tech-savvy legislators on Twitter bemoaning the influence of the Koch brothers. Kind of awkward to see one of those legislators now cheerleading for the same thing a Kock-backed group is being paid to advocate for.

by William Skink

Extreme skepticism of our corporate media is absolutely necessary to discern what’s true and what’s propaganda. For me, blogs like Moon of Alabama have been crucial in that difficult task. Some recent mainstream news reporting on the 2012 Richard Engel kidnapping story validates what MoA’s host, b, was saying over two years ago. In a new blog post b touts his scoop of the MSM, and rightly so. From the link:

The New York Times had recently started a new investigation about the case and only that has led Engel to “revisit” the issue that is to cover his old lies with new ones.

Two years ago it was clear to the Angry Arab and to me that the Engel account was very wrong from start to end. How is that now, more than two years later, “new information”?

The alleged “Shabiah” show of the “kidnapped” Engel was clearly fake and the “rescue” by the fake journalist pointed to a bigger plot.

Engel’s lies continue. He now admits that the dead “he had seen” were not seen by him at all.

In his Vanity Fair article, Mr. Engel described one of his captors lying dead. In his statement Wednesday, he acknowledged that he did not see bodies during the rescue.

Engel still speaks of dead kidnappers and a firefight during which he was “rescued”. But the NYT found a witness that lets one seriously doubt this:

Thaer al-Sheib, another local man connected with the rebel movement who sought the NBC team, said that on the day of the release “we heard some random shots for less than a minute coming from the direction of the farm.” He said that Abu Ayman, the rebel commander credited with freeing the team, is related by marriage to Mr. Ajouj, and that he staged the rescue.

So Engel still does not say how he was really “rescued” and how he immediately thereafter came to sit down with the video and news faker Khaled Abu Saleh.

This comes on the heels of the Brian Williams fiasco. It seems our corporate media is rife with liars who misrepresent events to manipulate the public. This should come as no surprise to the discerning readers of this blog.

I’m going to shift from Engel’s bunk story to an interesting piece of mainstream reporting on the 9/11 cover-up. Most people who talk about a 9/11 cover-up are quickly dismissed as conspiracy theorists, but ex-Senator Bob Graham is not most people. Graham’s quiet, persistent pursuit of Saudi ties to the 9/11 attacks has garnered him some attention from the New York Times. From the link:

The episode could have been a chapter from the thriller written by former Senator Bob Graham of Florida about a shadowy Saudi role in the Sept. 11 attacks.

A top F.B.I. official unexpectedly arranges a meeting at Dulles International Airport outside Washington with Mr. Graham, the former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, after he has pressed for information on a bureau terrorism inquiry. Mr. Graham, a Democrat, is then hustled off to a clandestine location, where he hopes for a breakthrough in his long pursuit of ties between leading Saudis and the Sept. 11 hijackers.

This real-life encounter happened in 2011, Mr. Graham said, and it took a startling twist.

“He basically said, ‘Get a life,’ ” Mr. Graham said of the F.B.I. official, who suggested that the former senator was chasing a dead-end investigation.

Mr. Graham, 78, a two-term governor of Florida and three-term senator who left Capitol Hill in 2005, says he will not relent in his efforts to force the government to make public a secret section of a congressional review he helped write — one that, by many accounts, implicates Saudi citizens in helping the hijackers.

“No. 1, I think the American people deserve to know the truth of what has happened in their name,” said Mr. Graham, who was a co-chairman of the 2002 joint congressional inquiry into the terrorist attacks. “No. 2 is justice for these family members who have suffered such loss and thus far have been frustrated largely by the U.S. government in their efforts to get some compensation.”

He also says national security implications are at stake, suggesting that since Saudi officials were not held accountable for Sept. 11 they have not been restrained in backing a spread of Islamic extremism that threatens United States interests. Saudi leaders have long denied any connection to Sept. 11.

Mr. Graham’s focus on a possible Saudi connection has received renewed attention because of claims made by victims’ families in a federal court in New York that Saudi Arabia was responsible for aiding the Sept. 11 hijackers and because of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed against the F.B.I. in Florida.

In sworn statements in the two cases, Mr. Graham has said there was evidence of support from the Saudi government for the terrorists. He also says the F.B.I. withheld from his inquiry, as well as a subsequent one, the fact that the bureau had investigated a Saudi family in Sarasota, Fla., and had found multiple contacts between it and the hijackers training nearby until the family fled just before the attacks.

Despite the F.B.I.’s insistence to the contrary, Mr. Graham said there was no evidence that the bureau had ever disclosed that line of investigation to his panel or the national commission that reviewed the attacks and delivered a report in 2004.

“One thing that irritates me is that the F.B.I. has gone beyond just covering up, trying to avoid disclosure, into what I call aggressive deception,” Mr. Graham said during an interview in a family office in this Miami suburb, which rose on what was a dairy farm operated by Mr. Graham’s father, also a political leader in Florida.

Graham should be commended for keeping up pressure on the agencies still involved with keeping uncomfortable questions from being adequately answered.

Remain skeptical, dear readers. Time shows skepticism is warranted, and sometimes, years later, even validated.



to be your champion
fuck your breath
to be your mad, befuddled left
bend for banks, yes, thanks
says I
fair you well you welfare cry
badge says woman, blind your eyes
fuck the breath you occupy
black of berry, lie of lips
give me money, switch of hits
swan song swoon
the crowd erupts
ready, ready, hut-hut-hut
but breath escapes
and disappears
someday maybe
you’ll lose your fear
until then I’ll say
I’m the best
to be your champion
fuck your breath

—William Skink

by William Skink

Counterpunch if featuring a 3-part series on Hillary Clinton. The first part—from Nixon girl to Watergate—is out today. For those unfamiliar with the person who would help launch Bill Clinton and destroy the Democrat Party from the inside, it’s worth reading. Here’s an excerpt:

The setting of Hillary’s political compass came in the late Sixties. The fraught year of 1968 saw the Goldwater girl getting a high-level internship in the House Republican Conference with Gerald Ford and Melvin Laird, without an ounce of the Goldwater libertarian pizzazz. Hillary says the assassinations of King and Robert Kennedy, plus the war in Vietnam, hit her hard. The impact was not of the intensity that prompted many of her generation to become radicals. She left the suburb of Park Forest and rushed to Miami to the Republican Convention where she fulfilled a lifelong dream of meeting Frank Sinatra and John Wayne and devoted her energies to saving the Party from her former icon, Nixon, by working for Nelson Rockefeller.

Nixon triumphed, and Hillary returned to Chicago in time for the Democratic Convention where she paid an afternoon’s visit to Grant Park. By now a proclaimed supporter of Gene McCarthy, she was appalled, not by the spectacle of McCarthy’s young supporters being beaten senseless by Daley’s cops, but by the protesters’ tactics, which she concluded were not viable. Like her future husband, Hillary was always concerned with maintaining viability within the system.

by William Skink

Last year a Princeton study showed that without the influence of wealth, people don’t impact policy. This is quantifiable proof that America is an oligarchy:

The two professors came to this conclusion after reviewing answers to 1,779 survey questions asked between 1981 and 2002 on public policy issues. They broke the responses down by income level, and then determined how often certain income levels and organised interest groups saw their policy preferences enacted.

“A proposed policy change with low support among economically elite Americans (one-out-of-five in favour) is adopted only about 18% of the time,” they write, “while a proposed change with high support (four-out-of-five in favour) is adopted about 45% of the time.”

On the other hand:

When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organised interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favour policy change, they generally do not get it.

They conclude:

Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organisations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.

This economic powerlessness was on tragic display over the weekend at our nation’s capitol. While tourists swarmed DC a man allegedly committed suicide on the steps of the Capitol building. One witness claimed he had a sign that said “something about taxing the 1%”.

As it becomes more obvious that America is not a Democracy, there is a correlating diminishment of what it means to be a citizen.

A few days ago I wrote about the Obama regime peddling more weaponry than any president since WWII (he exceeded Bush’s 8 year sales total by year 5 of his presidency). What does that have to do with American citizenship? Allow me to explain.

One of America’s best customers is Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is currently bombing the poorest nation in the Middle East, Yemen. And in Yemen there are American citizens who have been abandoned by their government:

Khalid Awnallah, a Yemeni-American, is safe today in Michigan, but his wife and four children are among the thousands of American citizens believed stranded in the midst of an escalating civil war in Yemen.

“They are in a bad situation there, they are hearing bombs all the time and are scared to go out,” said Awnallah, whose family is in the Rada’a district of southern Yemen, a site of frequent battles between Houthi rebels and members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Despite the ongoing danger to their lives, Awnallah says that his family has received no assistance from the U.S. government. “[My family] has tried to get in touch, but no one is helping them,” he said. “They are asking me all the time if they are going to die here.”

On April 9, the Council on American-Islamic Relations filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government on behalf of Awnallah’s family and dozens of other Yemeni-Americans trapped in the country. Citing Executive Order 12656, which obligates “protection or evacuation of U.S. Citizens and nationals abroad” in times of danger, the lawsuit further alleges that the U.S. government’s refusal so far to conduct evacuation operations in Yemen represents the continuation of longstanding policies that effectively deny full citizenship rights to Yemeni-Americans.

You would think, since American intelligence is no doubt helping coordinate Saudi Arabia’s bombardment, that extracting these American citizens would be a relatively risk-free matter. So why hasn’t it happened? Is it those funny sounding foreign names? You would think a president who has had his own citizenship questioned by racist Republicans would be a little more sensitive to the plight of these stranded citizens in Yemen.

And then there’s Egypt, where as of last month weaponry is once again flowing. Weeks after that decision, a judge in Egypt sentenced a U.S. citizen (along with many other) to life imprisonment:

CAIRO — An Egyptian court on Saturday sentenced an American citizen, Mohamed Soltan, to life imprisonment for supporting an Islamist protest against the military ouster of President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in the summer of 2013.

The presiding judge, Mohammed Nagi Shehata, sentenced more than 35 other defendants in the case to the same penalty and also confirmed death sentences in the same case for about a dozen defendants, including the Muslim Brotherhood’s top spiritual guide, Mohamed Badie, 71, as well as Mr. Soltan’s father, Salah Soltan.

Would there be more vigorous efforts to help these citizens if they had names like Mike or Sally?

The erosion of what it means to be an American citizen is a very disturbing trend. If you are not white and wealthy, there is more and more evidence that you simply don’t matter. The policies you want won’t be supported by your elected officials, the government won’t help you if you’re trapped abroad, and the constitution won’t protect you if the President decides you’re a terrorist and wants to kill you.

by William Skink

Hillary Clinton will finally announce she’s running for president tomorrow. There is absolutely no compelling progressive argument for supporting her, but many progressives will because REPUBLICANS ARE EVIL and SHE’S A SHE. That about sums up the arguments that will be deployed in defense of her candidacy.

Many issues will need to be glossed over, ignored and suppressed in order to promote what will surely be a slick PR campaign to artfully bludgeon us with her inevitability, like how Clinton used the State Department to sell fracking to the world (Mother Jones):

ONE ICY MORNING in February 2012, Hillary Clinton’s plane touched down in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, which was just digging out from a fierce blizzard. Wrapped in a thick coat, the secretary of state descended the stairs to the snow-covered tarmac, where she and her aides piled into a motorcade bound for the presidential palace. That afternoon, they huddled with Bulgarian leaders, including Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, discussing everything from Syria’s bloody civil war to their joint search for loose nukes. But the focus of the talks was fracking. The previous year, Bulgaria had signed a five-year, $68 million deal, granting US oil giant Chevron millions of acres in shale gas concessions. Bulgarians were outraged. Shortly before Clinton arrived, tens of thousands of protesters poured into the streets carrying placards that read “Stop fracking with our water” and “Chevron go home.” Bulgaria’s parliament responded by voting overwhelmingly for a fracking moratorium.

Clinton urged Bulgarian officials to give fracking another chance. According to Borissov, she agreed to help fly in the “best specialists on these new technologies to present the benefits to the Bulgarian people.” But resistance only grew. The following month in neighboring Romania, thousands of people gathered to protest another Chevron fracking project, and Romania’s parliament began weighing its own shale gas moratorium. Again Clinton intervened, dispatching her special envoy for energy in Eurasia, Richard Morningstar, to push back against the fracking bans. The State Depart­ment’s lobbying effort culminated in late May 2012, when Morningstar held a series of meetings on fracking with top Bulgarian and Romanian officials. He also touted the technology in an interview on Bulgarian national radio, saying it could lead to a fivefold drop in the price of natural gas. A few weeks later, Romania’s parliament voted down its proposed fracking ban and Bulgaria’s eased its moratorium.

And for progressives already squeamish about Hillary the corporate shill, it gets worse. Preempting her announcement is news of Clinton changing her position after the Clinton Foundation received money. This is just one example of what is essentially her modus operandi:

For union organizers in Colombia, the dangers of their trade were intensifying. When workers at the country’s largest independent oil company staged a strike in 2011, the Colombian military rounded them up at gunpoint and threatened violence if they failed to disband, according to human rights organizations. Similar intimidation tactics against the workers, say labor leaders, amounted to an everyday feature of life.

For the United States, these were precisely the sorts of discomfiting accounts that were supposed to be prevented in Colombia under a labor agreement that accompanied a recently signed free trade pact liberalizing the exchange of goods between the countries. From Washington to Bogota, leaders had promoted the pact as a win for all — a deal that would at once boost trade while strengthening the rights of embattled Colombian labor organizers. That formulation had previously drawn skepticism from many prominent Democrats, among them Hillary Clinton.

Yet as union leaders and human rights activists conveyed these harrowing reports of violence to then-Secretary of State Clinton in late 2011, urging her to pressure the Colombian government to protect labor organizers, she responded first with silence, these organizers say. The State Department publicly praised Colombia’s progress on human rights, thereby permitting hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid to flow to the same Colombian military that labor activists say helped intimidate workers.

At the same time that Clinton’s State Department was lauding Colombia’s human rights record, her family was forging a financial relationship with Pacific Rubiales, the sprawling Canadian petroleum company at the center of Colombia’s labor strife. The Clintons were also developing commercial ties with the oil giant’s founder, Canadian financier Frank Giustra, who now occupies a seat on the board of the Clinton Foundation, the family’s global philanthropic empire.

The details of these financial dealings remain murky, but this much is clear: After millions of dollars were pledged by the oil company to the Clinton Foundation — supplemented by millions more from Giustra himself — Secretary Clinton abruptly changed her position on the controversial U.S.-Colombia trade pact. Having opposed the deal as a bad one for labor rights back when she was a presidential candidate in 2008, she now promoted it, calling it “strongly in the interests of both Colombia and the United States.” The change of heart by Clinton and other Democratic leaders enabled congressional passage of a Colombia trade deal that experts say delivered big benefits to foreign investors like Giustra.

If elected, Hillary Clinton will be a disaster (except for her true constituency, the 1%). That she would be the first woman president is a small consolation considering the potential damage she will inflict. Anyone who thinks she won’t be the same corporate-serving warmonger she’s been throughout her political career is delusional.

by William Skink

I’m not sure how I feel about this video of homeless and formerly homeless people reading mean tweets, but I think it’s worth watching. I’d like to dedicate the video to the ignorant monsters who comment frequently at

by William Skink

James Conner, at Flathead Memo, is one of the few people writing about the actual reality of Medicaid expansion in Montana. He should be commended. And Montana Democrats should listen.

As it stands, the online Twitter hashtag #70000cantwait has become disingenuous. Politicians using this hashtag should stop using it, because the reality makes the use of it deceitful. Regardless of what happens today, tens of thousands of Montanans will continue to wait, and over a hundred thousand Montanans will be essentially taxed to cover 45,000 of the 70,000. From the link:

The Senate’s version of SB-405 provides health insurance for up to 45,000 of the 70,000 or so thought to be eligible for expanded Medicaid. It also slaps a de facto two percent income tax on all Medicaid recipients, including the poorest of the poor. It’s a mean spirited, teach the poor a lesson, piece of legislation. See my 18 March and 19 March posts for more details.

I commend the determination of the legislators who blasted the bill out of committee. I condemn the legislation into which they breathed new life. It violates the principle of first, do no harm.

It’s easy to focus on the disgusting antics of the Tea Party over this issue. The last few days have shown just how hard these soulless ideologues are willing to work to hurt poor people and kill job creation in Montana. It’s been dumbfounding to watch how this has all played out.

That said, if SB-405 passes today—and that’s a big IF—the de facto tax will have as-of-yet unknown consequences for the poorest in our state. Those consequences can then be used down the line by conservatives as proof that the expansion wasn’t worth it in the first place. And the half that won’t be covered, along with the 160,000+ people who will be taxed, will mean roughly 200,000 Montanans will be left behind and/or adversely affected by this “compromise” that Conner explains isn’t really a compromise at all.

Is it worth it?

While some Democrats are enjoying the media attention and retweeting accolades, health workers and social service providers should prepare for 2 more years of exacerbated struggle. I fear the situation on the ground won’t noticeably improve, and in some instances, may even worsen. 2% may not sound like a big number to most people, but for those barely hanging on, it could be hugely significant.

Knowing this reality, it’s difficult to be optimistic about the value of winning this political fight. I guess time will tell.

by William Skink

I’m glad Steve Bullock vetoed two gun bills this session. I don’t always share the same gun regulation fervor that erupts after every gun-related tragedy, but I also don’t see the point of legislating guns onto college campuses and trying to insert poorly constructed wedges between local law enforcement and the Feds (a move that certainly had Infowars fired up).

Regulating gun sales domestically is a Democratic wedge issue. That said, there are good reasons to try and keep guns out of the hands of unstable individuals. A local road rage incident highlights that reality:

Brian Richard Parini, 40, posted bond Monday afternoon and was released from the Missoula County Detention Facility shortly after he appeared in Missoula County Justice Court earlier in the day.

Parini allegedly became irate when a man driving his wife and three children, including an 8-day-old infant, attempted to pass him while driving north from Lolo on U.S. Highway 93.

According to the alleged victim, Parini was driving below the posted speed limit, and when the victim tried to pass Parini prevented him from doing so by switching lanes and “brake checking” him.

“He said the driver flipped him off several times,” the affidavit stated.

The situation came to a head, when the victim and Parini were side-by-side at the intersection of Blue Mountain Road and Highway 93. Parini allegedly pulled out a black semiautomatic pistol and waved it at the family.

“Don’t (expletive) with me,” he allegedly said.

Once the victim saw the gun, he ran the red light and called 9-1-1. Missoula police officers arrested Parini in the Rosauers parking lot on South Reserve Street and found a loaded .45 caliber semiautomatic pistol and holster on the front passenger seat.

Later in the article we find out Parini just got off felony probation, should not have had a gun, and also has a traumatic brain injury and PTSD.

Trying to keep guns out of the hands of unstable people is a worthy endeavor. The problem with Democrats, though, is this interest doesn’t seem to extend beyond domestic markets. And there are some very disturbing numbers about the Obama regime’s sales of weaponry to foreign nations, like the fact Obama has peddled more weapons than any other president since WWII:

With the end of the Obama presidency just around the corner, discussions of his administration’s foreign policy legacy are already well under way. But one central element of that policy has received little attention: the Obama administration’s dramatic acceleration of U.S. weapons exports.

The numbers are astonishing. In President Obama’s first five years in office, new agreements under the Pentagon’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program—the largest channel for U.S. arms exports—totaled over $169 billion. After adjusting for inflation, the volume of major deals concluded by the Obama administration in its first five years exceeds the amount approved by the Bush administration in its full eight years in office by nearly $30 billion. That also means that the Obama administration has approved more arms sales than any U.S. administration since World War II.

The majority of the Obama administration’s arms sales—over 60 percent–have gone to the Middle East and Persian Gulf, with Saudi Arabia topping the list at $46 billion in new agreements. This is particularly troubling given the complex array of conflicts raging throughout the region.

Those numbers are astonishing. And considering Obama still has that Nobel Peace Prize, also sickening. But where are Democrats on this issue?

Many of the regimes American weapons manufacturers export their hardware to are despicable. Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt, to name a few, do terrible, terrible things with American-made weapons. Egypt only recently began receiving weapons again; Obama personally told the Egyptian dictator about the change in U.S. policy toward his repressive regime at the end of last month:

Today, the White House announced that during a telephone call with Egyptian despot Abdelfattah al-Sisi, President Obama personally lifted the freeze on transferring weapons to the regime, and also affirmed that the $1.3 billion in military aid will continue unimpeded. Announced the White House:

President Obama spoke with Egyptian President Abdelfattah al-Sisi today regarding the U.S.-Egyptian military assistance relationship and regional developments, including in Libya and Yemen. President Obama informed President al-Sisi that he will lift executive holds that have been in place since October 2013 on the delivery of F-16 aircraft, Harpoon missiles, and M1A1 tank kits. The President also advised President al-Sisi that he will continue to request an annual $1.3 billion in military assistance for Egypt.

But for those who think the U.S. should not lavish vicious tyrants with arms and money, don’t worry! During the call, “President Obama also reiterated U.S. concerns about Egypt’s continued imprisonment of non-violent activists and mass trials,” and “encouraged increased respect for freedom of speech and assembly and emphasized that these issues remain a focus for the United States.” To read that is to feel the sincerity and potency of those presidential words.

Before the next flare-up of the gun debate, Democrats might want to do some soul-searching about the legacy Obama is leaving behind regarding arming despotic nations. If it’s bad that unstable people can easily get guns here in the states (and I agree that it is) then it follows that selling guns to tyrants who repress their own people is really bad.


A Poem for Art Wittich


I wish I was a man like Art
to whom rules do not apply
I would walk up to his person
and punch him right in the eye

ASSAULT! I’m sure he would say
my reply: no, I am like you
perched high above man’s law
and there is nothing you can do

then, if he tried to get up
I would kick him hard in the ribs
you do this metaphorically, I’d say
to poor men, women and kids

but alas, I am not like Art
and would quickly end up in jail
with the infirm and mentally ill
who cannot afford their bail

—William Skink

Reality Vs. Fantasy

by William Skink

It’s been interesting to watch the attacks roll in lately, sparked by my hasty use of a source tied to the John Birch Society and exacerbated by the calling out of Democrats for being corporate enablers. As one commenter went apoplectic, a quote emerged from the noise, worthy of its own post. It comes from the Hatewatch Blog, an effort of the Southern Poverty Law Center:

A public that loses the ability to separate reality from fantasy will eventually become, one loopy logic leap at a time, a threat to the Constitutional rights of all Americans.

This quote, because of the source, is obviously directed at right-wing sovereign citizen types. But beyond that targeted group, I think a larger question could be posed: how does any American go about the challenging task of separating reality from fantasy?

The task is challenging because Americans have been subjected to very effective methods of propaganda. A writer at Daily Kos a few years back wrote a piece titled In Defense of the Phrase Conspiracy Theory in which the master propagandist, Edward Bernays, is given his proper due:

A really interesting character was Mr. Bernays. He was a double nephew of psychoanalysis pioneer Sigmund Freud. His mother was Sigmund’s sister Anna, and his father was Ely Bernays, brother of Freud’s wife, Martha Bernays. Did you get that? Frued’s sister married his wife’s brother. That union produced the son, Edward.

Born in 1891, when he was just a year old he was brought by his parents from his native Austria to America. It is hard to overestimate his mark on the American social consciousness. Bernays worked for the administration of Woodrow Wilson during World War 1. As part of the Committee on Public Information, he was influential in promoting the idea that America’s war efforts were primarily aimed at “bringing democracy to all of Europe”. That’s right. It was the idea of Bernays to sell warfare as the spreading of democracy, an idea that rules the American thought process to this very day.

To this day, there are plenty of Democrats who believe in the fantasy that American foreign policy is all about spreading Democracy. I guess that’s how they must cope with their team doing the war thing. Bernays was wildly successful in manipulating group think. Sometimes all you have to do is change a few words, and presto! From the link:

Stunned by the degree to which the democracy slogan had swayed the public both at home and abroad, he wondered whether this propaganda model could be employed during peacetime. Due to negative implications surrounding the word propaganda because of its use by the Germans in World War 1, he promoted the term “Public Relations”. According to the BBC interview with Bernays’s daughter Anne, Bernays felt that the public’s democratic judgment was “not to be relied upon” and he feared that “they [the American public] could very easily vote for the wrong man or want the wrong thing, so that they had to be guided from above”. This “guidance” was interpreted by Anne to mean that her father believed in a sort of “enlightened despotism” ideology.

Here is that thought in Bernays’ own words: “If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, is it not possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing about it?”

The answer is a resounding yes.

The political duopoly in this country has been astoundingly successful in keeping the pesky public divided and easily conquerable. The Southern Poverty Law Center, for example, can keep the threat to our constitutional rights focused on right-wing extremists while ignoring the much more tangible threat—a Democrat President who can kill an American citizen by drone, sans due process (an executive power that will be passed on to his successor).

Sticking with drones, a Washington Post article last year looked at the accidents occurring with the increase domestic use of drones. Tucked away in that article is this little tidbit:

With the Afghan war waning, Pentagon officials are planning where their drones will go next.

“Assuming the president of the nation decides we’re going to have a very small presence, if any, in Afghanistan after 2014, they’re going to by and large come home,” said Steve Pennington, the Air Force’s director of bases, ranges and airspace.

In an April 2012 report, the Defense Department notified Congress it was planning to base drones at 110 sites in U.S. territory by 2017. A new Pentagon document, obtained by The Post, suggests that ambitions have grown. It states that the military is preparing to fly drones from 144 U.S. locations.

The sites will be used primarily for training. Pentagon officials said they also expect to receive more requests from civil authorities to deploy drones during natural disasters and other emergencies.

Now pair that with this chilling memo, released last year by Federal courts:

A federal appeals court on Monday released a redacted version of the U.S. Justice Department’s memorandum of justification for a 2011 drone attack that killed Anwar al Awlaki, an American-born Islamist preacher suspected of having ties to al Qaeda.

The memo says that because the U.S. government considered al Awlaki to be an “operational leader” of an “enemy force,” it was legal for the Central Intelligence Agency to attack him with a drone even though he was a U.S. citizen.

The memo says the killing was further justified under Congressional authorization for the use of U.S. military force following the Sept. 11, 2001 hijacked-plane attacks.

This justification, as flimsy as it is, could never apply to the other 3 extra-judicial killings, including Anwar al Awlaki’s teenage son.

Four U.S. citizens have been killed with drone strikes by the Obama administration. That is not a fantasy; it’s the reality of the authoritarian creep of the war on terror, which relies on fear and fantasy to keep Americans too scared and docile to realize their constitutional rights are already gone.

Democrat apologists are very uncomfortable with the reality of what the Obama regime has accomplished in 8 years. It’s so much easier to attack messengers than to acknowledge it is they who are enmeshed in the fantastical public relations that frames death and destruction as “humanitarian intervention”. To that end, junk thinking attacking conspiracy theorists is always appreciated, like this article bashing the intellectual character of conspiracy theorists:

Meet Oliver. Like many of his friends, Oliver thinks he is an expert on 9/11. He spends much of his spare time looking at conspiracist websites and his research has convinced him that the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC, of 11 September 2001 were an inside job. The aircraft impacts and resulting fires couldn’t have caused the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center to collapse. The only viable explanation, he maintains, is that government agents planted explosives in advance. He realises, of course, that the government blames Al-Qaeda for 9/11 but his predictable response is pure Mandy Rice-Davies: they would say that, wouldn’t they?

Polling evidence suggests that Oliver’s views about 9/11 are by no means unusual. Indeed, peculiar theories about all manner of things are now widespread. There are conspiracy theories about the spread of AIDS, the 1969 Moon landings, UFOs, and the assassination of JFK. Sometimes, conspiracy theories turn out to be right – Watergate really was a conspiracy – but mostly they are bunkum. They are in fact vivid illustrations of a striking truth about human beings: however intelligent and knowledgeable we might be in other ways, many of us still believe the strangest things. You can find people who believe they were abducted by aliens, that the Holocaust never happened, and that cancer can be cured by positive thinking. A 2009 Harris Poll found that between one‑fifth and one‑quarter of Americans believe in reincarnation, astrology and the existence of witches. You name it, and there is probably someone out there who believes it.

You realise, of course, that Oliver’s theory about 9/11 has little going for it, and this might make you wonder why he believes it. The question ‘Why does Oliver believe that 9/11 was an inside job?’ is just a version of a more general question posed by the US skeptic Michael Shermer: why do people believe weird things? The weirder the belief, the stranger it seems that someone can have it. Asking why people believe weird things isn’t like asking why they believe it’s raining as they look out of the window and see the rain pouring down. It’s obvious why people believe it’s raining when they have compelling evidence, but it’s far from obvious why Oliver believes that 9/11 was an inside job when he has access to compelling evidence that it wasn’t an inside job.

I want to argue for something which is controversial, although I believe that it is also intuitive and commonsensical. My claim is this: Oliver believes what he does because that is the kind of thinker he is or, to put it more bluntly, because there is something wrong with how he thinks. The problem with conspiracy theorists is not, as the US legal scholar Cass Sunstein argues, that they have little relevant information. The key to what they end up believing is how they interpret and respond to the vast quantities of relevant information at their disposal. I want to suggest that this is fundamentally a question of the way they are. Oliver isn’t mad (or at least, he needn’t be). Nevertheless, his beliefs about 9/11 are the result of the peculiarities of his intellectual constitution – in a word, of his intellectual character.

I will conclude this post with my favorite quote from the above article, which is mostly devoid of actual substance. I like it because it just as easily applies to those who believe America is spreading “Democracy” when it destroys other nations as it does the intended target of derision, the conspiracy theorist:

The gullible rarely believe they are gullible and the closed-minded don’t believe they are closed-minded

What Would Jesus Do?

by William Skink

Since Christians are celebrating Jesus’ resurrection today, I’d like to draw some attention to how un-Christian some Christians can be when it comes to homeless people. Last month a church in San Francisco was media-shamed into removing a sprinkler system installed as a homeless deterrent. This method, awful as it is, is even more abhorrent considering the extreme drought in California:

A San Francisco Catholic church announced it would remove a sprinkler system that was reportedly dousing homeless people as they slept near the building’s sheltered doorways.

The Archdiocese of San Francisco said Wednesday that the sprinklers outside St. Mary’s Cathedral would be turned off following a backlash after a KCBS report about the watering system.

There are several tall doors with sheltered alcoves that attract homeless people at night, KCBS reported. Though there are no signs warning people, the sprinkler system turns on several times during the night, the news station reported.

“Water pours from a hole in the ceiling, about 30 feet above, drenching the alcove and anyone in it,” KCBS reported.

The water runs for about 75 seconds in all four doorways, and KCBS reporters said they watched as the sprinklers soaked homeless people and their belongings.

While it’s nice that this particular method in this particular locale was addressed, a Truthout article captures what I feel is an appropriate amount of bitterness in an op-ed titled Sprinklers Off, Still Homeless:

Reading through all the hype, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit bitter. Yes, I’m bitter at the church for installing such an outrageously heartless sprinkler system. But really what bothers me is that this is just one particularly headline-worthy example of a bigger system that targets poor people in both mundane and shocking ways on a daily basis. And now that this sprinkler system is gone, we can all go back to pretending the other system doesn’t exist.

But in reality, there is a war against homeless people going on right now that extends from the church steps in San Francisco across the Atlantic to London storefronts, where the local government has installed concrete spikes to prevent people from sleeping in front of businesses. It’s happening in Shandong, China, which has installed “pay-per-minute” benches that surprise you with protruding spikes if you overstay your welcome. It’s happening to Los Angeles, where city politicians are fighting to prevent people from feeding the homeless.

In my own town of Berkeley, just across the bay from San Francisco, the city council, rallied by our Downtown Business Association, is working to pass a set of ordinances that would prohibit sleeping on public sidewalks, asking for spare change, using blankets and setting down belongings in our downtown area. In a city with significantly more homeless people than shelter beds available, this amounts to criminalizing behaviors that people engage in to survive.

These laws are passed explicitly to allow local police to target poor people, and homeless people and those with disabilities, and displaced communities of color will bear the brunt of the attacks.

And things are only getting worse.

So, Christians, as y’all are getting dressed up to celebrate the fairytale of resurrection, it might be a good time to reflect on the teachings of Jesus.

by William Skink

I’m going to expound a bit on a bizarre sentiment expressed by the source-scold stinking up the comment thread of my last post. It’s a sentiment I’ve had hurled at me before—a condescending effort to minimize the point of view I share regarding the topics I choose to write about:

“Unlike the people here, who are experts on every international crisis and trade deal from their vantage point in Missoula, I tend to write about local issues.” —Don Pogreba

First off, no one here is making the claim to be “experts on every international crisis and trade deal”. Second, what does the fact I live in Missoula have to do with anything? There’s this thing called the internet, and it’s a tool I use to access information that doesn’t make it to mainstream sources like MSNBC and the NYT. And unlike Don (and his cohort, the Polish Wolf) who write sporadically about countries their Democrat team have wrought havoc in, like Libya and Ukraine, I stand by my opinions and the sources I use to formulate them.

I suspect the reason Don and his cohort no longer write about the chaos berserker America is spreading across globe is because time has exposed the naïveté of their positions. The humanitarian intervention in Libya unleashed violent chaos, which was completely predicable, and it will continue because that’s what America’s foreign policy produces. The policy seems to be this: what can’t be controlled is destroyed.

In Ukraine, any development that can be used to demonize Russia is amplified for maximum effect, while any development that could cast the coup-regime in Kiev in a bad light is suppressed, minimized or flatly omitted. For example William Blum reports on the western media’s lack of interest in a string of mysterious deaths in Ukraine which is a stark contrast to how our media reacted to the assassination of Nemstov in Moscow:

Following the murder of Russian opposition leader, and former Deputy Prime Minister, Boris Nemtsov in Moscow on Feb. 27, the West had a field day. Ranging from strong innuendo to outright accusation of a Kremlin-directed political murder, the Western media and politicians did not miss an opportunity to treat Russian President Vladimir Putin as a football practice dummy.

The European Parliament adopted a resolution urging an international investigation into Nemtsov’s death and suggested that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the European Council, and the United Nations could play a role in the probe.

U.S. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham introduced a Senate Resolution condemning the Nemtsov murder. The Resolution also called on President Barack Obama and the international community to pursue an independent investigation into the murder and redouble efforts to advance free speech, human rights, and the rule of law in Russia.

In addition, it urged Obama to continue to sanction human rights violators in the Russian Federation and to increase U.S. support to human rights activists in Russia.

So it went … all over the West.

Meanwhile, in the same time period in Ukraine, outside of the pro-Russian area in the southeast, the following was reported:

–Jan. 29: Former Chairman of the local government of the Kharkov region, Alexey Kolesnik, hanged himself.

–Feb. 24: Stanislav Melnik, a member of the opposition party (Partia Regionov), shot himself.

–Feb. 25: The Mayor of Melitopol, Sergey Valter, hanged himself a few hours before his trial.

–Feb. 26: Alexander Bordiuga, deputy director of the Melitopol police, was found dead in his garage.

–Feb. 26: Alexander Peklushenko, former member of the Ukrainian parliament, and former mayor of Zaporizhi, was found shot to death.

–Feb. 28: Mikhail Chechetov, former member of parliament, member of the opposition party (Partia Regionov), “fell” from the window of his 17th floor apartment in Kiev.

–March 14: The 32-year-old prosecutor in Odessa, Sergey Melnichuk, “fell” to his death from the 9th floor.

Most Americans will never know about any of these deaths because our media doesn’t inform, it propagandizes. I can try to bring attention to it, but thanks to the gratuitous use of the pejorative label “conspiracy theorist” my efforts are mostly futile.

America will continue down this disastrous path unabated because who is going to stop it? Maybe if McCain was elected instead of Obama, an effective anti-war movement could have been mobilized. But no, liberals were too busy declaring a post-racial America once Obama was elected to pay any attention to the continued carnage, and since then we’ve had nearly a decade of Democrat apologists and lesser-evil scaremongers providing cover for all the betrayals and broken promises.

It makes me sick to my stomach watching this madness unfold. And it makes me mad as hell to be denigrated by partisan hacks for writing about the things that most concern me.

by jhwygirl

Had a coworker say to me this morning as work begun “What’s with Jon Krakauer? Why does he hate UM?” Tone and history told me where they were on the University of Montana – City of Missoula – Mayor John Engen – President Engstrom rape “thing”: The “It’s over!” “Why bring this up again?” “Jordan Johnson was innocent!” “No one ever proved anything!” crowd.

Whatever. I’ll continue to call bs on the matter if anyone discusses to any great degree – and it’s likely they do so just to get a rise out of me. I’m OK with it. I have a decent memory, and I deal with facts. Google is easily accessible. The #truth was revealed in the Department of Justice report; the statutes of limitations haven’t expired; Montana’s current Attorney General Tim Fox has stated he feels the matter has been resolved; both the previous Governor Brian Schweitzer and the current Governor Steve Bullock have done nothing, either, to press for justice; and – the real kicker here that everyone seems to forget – the rapists walk free. Those are facts, but apparently there are many here that feel comfortable to ignore the reality.

It’s not like this isn’t free and open information – the Missoulian did fine reporting on the matter, and I still thank Gwen Florio for her fearless journalism, along with the editor and publisher that stood behind reporting on the matter while there was some huge advertising and Griz Nation backlash.

I wonder how the vicitims feel? I think of them. Do you think Freddie Van Valkenburg does? Or the ever-so-efficient, John Engen-endorsed Missoula County Attorney Kirsten B. Pabst? I doubt it.

Does Montana Attorney General Tim Fox – who was hot on the campaign pulpit on the issue of sexual predators – think about the gang rape that happened? That President Engstrom’s own “independent” investigator – a former Montana Supreme Court Justice – also found and placed in her report?

Does Fox think about the other sexual assaults? The 5 year old victim? I do.

Krakauer may be facing an unfriendly welcome here in Missoula when (and if) he comes to sign books. Or speak. But it sure isn’t going to be from me. I’m glad he took the rape issue on. I’m glad it’s the rape issue here. I hope he continues to push for the University papers. I hope he finds the alleged connections that are there between the former Governor’s office and his cronies and friends that came to the Board of Regents, and the weave of politics behind the whole sordid mess.

But getting back to my cowoker…..

I said that I wouldn’t be so sure that he hates the University of Montana – that maybe Krakauer loves Montana and just looks for any excuse to come here to write. (I was in a jolly mood this morning – and as I mentioned above, all parties know where I stand on the rape matter. Plus I added my own little sprinkle of sarcasm.)

The reply was that “Well, he hates the Two Cups of Tea guy too.”

And I love pink ponies and rainbows.

Addendum: One of my favorite posts from the University of Montana rape scandal is this from Patrick Duganz, as it epitomizes the head-in-the-sand Good-Ole-Boy’s Club and seemingly socially acceptable rape and sexual assault is (or was, depending on who you ask) here in Missoula: Rape is not “knuckleheaded,” Rape is a felony.

by William Skink

It took Bill Clinton and his merry band of Neoliberals to twist the knife in the heart of organized labor by throwing all-in with NAFTA, financial deregulation and the criminal syndicate known as Wall Street. Now the Big Banks want to make sure Democrats know who calls the shots with a brazen threat to freeze campaign donations over fairly tame criticism from politicians like Elizabeth Warren:

Four major banks are threatening to withhold campaign donations to Senate Democrats in anger over Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) attacks on Wall Street.

Representatives from financial powerhouses Citigroup, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America recently met in Washington and discussed the growing hostility towards big business within the Democratic ranks, according to a Reuters report Friday.

Bank officials cited Warren and Senate Banking Committee ranking member Sherrod Brown (Ohio) as the two main lawmakers leading the charge against them. But the banks have not agreed on how to respond together, with each firm making its own decision on donations, Reuters reported.

This weak reporting from the Hill fails to provide the proper context to this obscene display of corporate whining. For a better take, here’s Zerohedge:

Having already proven that their institutions are above the law in the aftermath of the financial crisis, executives at the “Too Big to Fail and Jail” banks have decided it’s time to teach Senate Democrats a lesson. Not being content with trillions in taxpayer backed bailouts to protect and further consolidate virtually all wealth within their oligarch fiefdoms, these bankers are irate at the notion that a commoner would dare criticize their unassailable crony privilege.

However, the worst part of this story, is that while Warren is harsher than most of her completely bought and paid for colleagues, she is still pretty meek when it comes to the big bank oligopoly. In her most misguided position, she doesn’t even support an audit of the largest organized crime institution operating within these United States, the Federal Reserve.

So what are you gonna do about it, Democrats? You abandoned your base decades ago and wonder why elections are getting harder to win. You blame anything save the actual policies that have paved the road to get us to where we are today. And instead of learning lessons from what trade agreements and deregulation have done to the American population, more of the same is being devised in secret, like the despicable Trans-Pacific Partnership:

Although it is called a “free trade” agreement, the TPP is not mainly about trade. Of TPP’s 29 draft chapters, only five deal with traditional trade issues. One chapter would provide incentives to offshore jobs to low-wage countries. Many would impose limits on government policies that we rely on in our daily lives for safe food, a clean environment, and more. Our domestic federal, state and local policies would be required to comply with TPP rules.

The TPP would even elevate individual foreign firms to equal status with sovereign nations, empowering them to privately enforce new rights and privileges, provided by the pact, by dragging governments to foreign tribunals to challenge public interest policies that they claim frustrate their expectations. The tribunals would be authorized to order taxpayer compensation to the foreign corporations for the “expected future profits” they surmise would be inhibited by the challenged policies.

Over at Montana Moogirl, this post lamenting how the architect of Montana’s disastrous energy deregulation is still holding forth at the state capitol does include the parenthetical acknowledgment of the three Democrats it took to get this boondoggle pushed through. And that’s good, because a true reading of history must include Democrat complicity in the wholesale sell-out of American labor to corporate interests.

And Democrats are at it again with the secret TPP talks, the latest barrage of trade negotiations that will undoubtedly be the final nail in the coffin for our national sovereignty if fast-tracked into existence. Any illusions that we live in a Democracy will vanish once the true scope of what’s being negotiated starts percolating into the dim consciousness of the American populace.

But by the time that happens, it will already be too late.

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