Archive for May, 2015
by William Skink
Well, this may be my last post. When the clock strikes midnight tonight our defenses against the terrorists will sunset, and who knows what tomorrow may bring. If you are reading this during the daylight hours of June, 2015, then you haven’t already succumbed to the onslaught. Good. I imagine a movie scene similar to the zombie hordes breaching Israel’s defenses in World War Z. Upon seeing that zombie flick, David Denby, writing for the New Yorker, described his feeling walking through New York:
On Broadway, there were no zombies in immediate sight, only a happy and friendly crowd. Yet I felt a vague uneasiness at the sheer number of people milling about—a sense that they could all be transformed into something malevolent or frightened. Absurd? Mere paranoia?
Chilling. God only knows what seemingly happy and friendly crowds may harbor.
It’s clear from the hashtag #standwithRand the apocalypse is near. We can only hope the anarchy let loose will purify the hinterlands so the libertariat can uninhibit themselves wherever they choose.
By the time most of you read this it will be June. If your homes haven’t yet fallen to ISIS, that’s probably because you aren’t in the hostile zones, once referred to as “Texas” and “Utah”. Here’s words from a fringe site you can laugh at:
Apparently it was two homegrown ISIS fighters from Arizona that showed up in Dallas bent on a shooting spree at a cartoon contest lampooning Islam earlier this month in what seemed a staged event, the same state deemed “hostile” by the Jade Helm game plan. Then came the bizarre mass biker gang shootout killing 9 in Waco, Texas a week ago. Evidence is coming to light that hidden ISIS recruiters are presently embedded in US, UK and Canada college campuses around those Western nations attempting to entice non-Muslims to join their cause. Based on a recent UN report almost two months ago, more than 25,000 new recruits did join from most countries in the world just since June last year. Whether ISIS is really here in North America amongst us or not, Washington’s been hyping the eminent dangers posed by right wing domestic terrorists lurking to kill government authorities like police, almost as if to prep us for an upcoming false flag that could occur during Jade Helm.
A different take about the same military exercise from the same site wonders if watching the reactions from strategic leaks like this isn’t more to the point:
On a higher, meta level, the intention is to gather game theory-style data on the target audience, which in this case is not merely the alternative media and tea party niche, but also the mainstream media and its response to the tea party response, and back and forth. Like a game of Pong, the game theorist can sit back and watch mass trends, movements and reactions between these two sides with social media and search engine algorithmic tracking.
I’d like to report to the meta level that fear is working. But you already knew that. Still, you should have seen how annoyed my dad was when my mom talked about moving some of their money from stocks to something more tangible, like gold. He’s a smart guy, but he cannot face the degree of deceit we’re dealing with. He’s had nothing but post-WWII prosperity as the backdrop for his contextual understanding of the systems and processes he believes in. Questioning core assumptions is too disorienting for him. I can sympathize.
Anyway, good luck tomorrow, dear citizens. For the preservation of the stars and stripes, stay locked and loaded.
by William Skink
This country makes me sick. The rapacious greed and corruption will destroy us, eventually. And the next crash is just around the corner.
While health insurance executives get six figure bonuses for the disaster that STILL is our health care system, my take home pay went down because my employer-provided health care plan keeps going up and up and up, a trajectory that shows no signs of abating. From the link:
Health insurance companies that sold policies on the Montana Internet “marketplace” reported some substantial losses in 2014 – but that didn’t stop their executives from collecting some big bonuses.
Patricia Hemingway Hall, the head of Health Care Service Corp., which is the Illinois-based parent firm of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana, received a $10.4 million bonus for 2014, on top of her $1.25 million salary, for total compensation of $11.7 million.
The company increased its 2014 revenue from $22.7 billion to $27.7 billion, but had a net loss of $281 million – about $1 billion lower than its 2013 net revenue of $684 million.
In Montana, Blue Cross President Mike Frank’s total compensation for 2014 was $849,000, including a $355,000 bonus and salary of $488,000.
Montana Blue Cross spokesman John Doran said Frank’s total compensation package in 2014 was slightly lower than Frank’s $870,000 compensation for the previous year.
If you want to hear the hilarious reason for this obscenity, check out the rationale:
“Compensation is a way to attract and retain experienced professionals who will serve our members’ long-term interests at a time when the health-care system is undergoing historic changes,” he said. “We need the best and the brightest at all levels of our business to ensure insurance works for everyone over the long term.”
I can just imagine this statement being made, then the fucker who made it laughing maniacally. Long term interests of your members? Insurance that works for everyone? Yeah right, you worthless parasites. Fuck off.
It’s also maddening to think a Lee Newspaper is reporting this when their corporate leeches siphon bonuses for themselves while destroying their capacity to report news.
The other article about the insurance industry woes, written by Mike Dennison, is one of the last articles to come from the shuttered state bureau. It tells the tale of these pieces of shit going hat in hand to Monica Lindeen asking to fuck its rate payers just a little bit more next year:
Blue Cross’ parent company, Health Care Service Corp., reported losses of $282 million for 2014 – almost $1 billion less than its $684 million net gain for the previous year.
Blue Cross, the co-op and two other companies are now filing rates for next year’s policies in Montana. Those rates haven’t been made final or reviewed yet by Montana’s insurance regulator, state Auditor Monica Lindeen, but insurance officials said they’ve asked for increases.
Lindeen said Friday her office has just begun reviewing the 2016 rates. She’ll likely object to parts of the increases, and it’s possible insurers are overestimating some expected costs or other factors, she said.
“There are a lot of different issues on why these rate increases may be so high,” Lindeen said. “We’re hoping through our process we can decrease the increases.”
I have a wild idea? No increase unless every goddamn bonus is returned. Now. Or fuck you. Please, Monica, relate my subtle message to these assholes.
Speaking of greed-driven insanity, since there were no real consequences for the Wall Street fuckers who blew up the economy, housing is once again a re-inflated bubble waiting to burst. From Zerohedge:
And now we come to present day and something really smells fishy again. Home prices crashed by 40% between 2005 and 2012, putting prices back to 1978 on an inflation adjusted basis. All of the bubble gains were wiped out in the blink of an eye. Bernanke and his Wall Street owners had a real problem with this development. Wall Street banks had/have billions in toxic mortgages on their books and only accounting fraud by not having to mark them to market has kept these banks from having to declare bankruptcy. Bernanke, Geithner, and the Wall Street banks hatched their master plan to save themselves at the expense of young people in 2011/2012.
We know for a fact that real median household income is still 7% below 2007 levels and sits at the same level as 1989. We know for a fact that wages have been stagnant since 2007. We know for a fact GDP has barely broken 2% since 2009. We know for a fact the price of healthcare, food, energy, tuition, rent, and a myriad of other daily living expenses are dramatically higher since 2009. We know mortgage originations are at 1997 levels. We know housing starts are 60% below the 2005 highs and at levels seen during the 1991 and 1981 recessions. Existing home sales are 30% below the 2005 high, only up 10% from 2012 levels, and sitting at levels reached in 1999 before the boom.
A critical thinking person might wonder how median single family home prices could possibly skyrocket by 37% in the last three years when household incomes are falling, living expenses rising, and the number of houses being sold are at recessionary levels. The stinking rotting fish again sits in the hallways of the Eccles Building in Washington D.C. Janet “Yellowfish” Yellen has inherited the bubble blowing machine from Ben “Blowfish” Bernanke and has continued to inflate a new housing bubble, because one housing bubble just isn’t enough.
As America the global cop goes after FIFA corruption, it might want to consider cleaning its own house first.
There is a word for the appropriate type of housing the banksters responsible for this mess deserve: prison. Or maybe they want to see how far they can push the US population before we start considering the French approach: guillotines.
Because, seriously, fuck them.
by William Skink
I’m going to start this post with the simple premise that politics = corruption. And because politics touches everything from birth to death to the air we breathe, so does corruption.
There are of course gradations of corruption throughout the various political systems that govern the people on this planet, but one surefire way of gauging the level of corruption is determining how much money is involved. If it’s a lot of money, then there’s sure to be a lot of corruption.
Defenders of corrupt politicians, like Hillary Clinton, will want to see the nitty-gritty quid pro quo before acknowledging this obvious axiom about politics. The most recent analysis, I think, speaks for itself:
Under Clinton’s leadership, the State Department approved $165 billion worth of commercial arms sales to 20 nations whose governments have given money to the Clinton Foundation, according to an IBTimes analysis of State Department and foundation data. That figure — derived from the three full fiscal years of Clinton’s term as Secretary of State (from October 2010 to September 2012) — represented nearly double the value of American arms sales made to the those countries and approved by the State Department during the same period of President George W. Bush’s second term.
The Clinton-led State Department also authorized $151 billion of separate Pentagon-brokered deals for 16 of the countries that donated to the Clinton Foundation, resulting in a 143 percent increase in completed sales to those nations over the same time frame during the Bush administration. These extra sales were part of a broad increase in American military exports that accompanied Obama’s arrival in the White House. The 143 percent increase in U.S. arms sales to Clinton Foundation donors compares to an 80 percent increase in such sales to all countries over the same time period.
I don’t know why I’m still amazed at the capacity of partisans to rationalize away these icky implications, but they do, over and over and over again.
Yesterday I was involved in a Twitter spat with Jay Stevens, one of the founders of this humble blog. He was incredulous that Putin would defend FIFA corruption. But Putin, IMHO, isn’t defending FIFA corruption, he’s just playing geopolitics, same as the US. Anyone who thinks Russia is more corrupt than the US when it comes to getting the World Cup (or the Olympics) to gravy train corporate loot into their respective spheres is delusional.
So what’s the deal with America’s sudden interest in FIFA corruption?
At Moon of Alabama, b opens his post with this:
Today the U.S. ordered Swiss police to raid, incarcerate and extradite to the U.S. six FIFA officials for alleged corruption. The raid, with obviously pre-alarmed New York Times reporters on the scene, comes shortly before a FIFA vote to expel Israel from the association.
This Friday the world football association FIFA is meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, for its 65th regular World Congress. One of the votes on the agenda (pdf) is about the “Suspension or expulsion of a member”. There is also an “Update on Israel-Palestine”.
When dealing with equally corrupt nation-states, especially cold war adversaries, there’s always something else going on than what the surface story describes. I wish more people in this particular nation-state were more discerning.
But we’re not, so any Putin-demonizing angle that can be conjured up will be enthusiastically consumed.
Politics = corruption. Proceed from that premise, and you may start understanding the movements behind the posturing.
by William Skink
If this sounds like a set-up for a Mad Men episode, don’t blame the Missoulian. The paper exists solely for passing cash up to the bosses, and it’s not in the interest of the Lee overlords to report on how it’s toxic work environment has bred defectors jumping ship with alleged proprietary material.
David Crisp covers how the story of Lee Newspapers closing its Capitol bureau wasn’t covered by Lee Newspapers. News spread instead via social media. Ed Kemmick slightly amends Crisp by acknowledging the Billings Gazette did at least run two guest editorials and a letter to the editor.
And now we have the juicy account of a demoted publisher leading a coordinated defection from the Missoulian. Reported by David Erickson, writing for…the Missoulian. Go get ’em, Tiger!
In a civil lawsuit filed Tuesday in Missoula County District Court, Lee Enterprises Inc. seeks a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction against Jim McGowan, Tia Metzger, Brooke Redpath, Tara Halls and Megan Richter.
Their conduct is allegedly “continuing to cause immediate and irreparable injury to Lee Enterprises,” the lawsuit contends. It also accuses the former employees of deliberate and malicious conduct and of violating several Montana laws, including the Trade Secret Act.
Thems fighting words. And frankly, the whole scenario just heightens the absurdity of what our local media has become.
But weight, it gets even more ridiculous.
I clicked over to ID and read Pogreba’s reaction to the Independent Record trolling him so hard it’s like he’s been sucked down the rabbit hole:
Today the daily paper of record in Helena—part of the same chain that can’t afford to pay its top political reporters salaries commensurate with their experience—put on its web page a slideshow called Ranking the best facial hair in Montana political history.
Among the featured politicians were eminent politicians like Wm. Clark, Marcus Daly, Jon Tester and more.
The only catch about the slideshow (aside from the fact that the paper has the resources to “cover” this but not the statehouse) is that last Friday, I posted my own slideshow called “the best facial hair in MONTANA POLITICAL HISTORY” in an effort to satirize the direction the Lee papers seemed to be embracing. Nine minutes of work later, I felt like I had captured the direction of a news chain more interested in Facebook shares than real reporting.
It’s hard to understand what motivated the IR to post their homage to my work today. Did someone at the Independent Record read my story and actually think to himself that it was a good idea for a story? Worse yet, did someone independently come up with the idea? Is the IR giving up its waning credibility to troll me?
Trolling bloggers, litigation against defectors…is this what our local media has become?
This morning there are sketchy reports that Sheri Devlin, the Missoulian editor, is part of the Lee Newspaper purge. I guess the hits just keep coming. Stay tuned…
by William Skink
Lee Newspapers’ further degradation of the media landscape with wikipedia rip-offs (Pogreba says plagiarism because Walsh’s take down still stings) is sad, but small potatoes compared to what the New York Times can pull off with it’s reporting on foreign affairs. The most recent example, ferreted out at Moon of Alabama, involves a smokescreen excuse of a sandstorm for why US air strikes weren’t more vigorously pursued against ISIS as they took Ramadi.
Most Americans probably think it’s preposterous that the psychos running US foreign policy would want ISIS to take Ramadi, but as far back as 2007, politicians like Joe Biden were advocating for breaking Iraq into three pieces:
At least Caesar was just commenting on reality when he wrote that “all Gaul is divided into three parts.” Last week, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Joe Biden attempted to create reality when an overwhelming majority of the U.S. Senate voted for his non-binding resolution to divide Iraq into three parts — Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish autonomous zones. Shailagh Murray of the Washington Post reported that the 75-23 Senate vote was “a significant milestone …, carving out common ground in a debate that has grown increasingly polarized and focused on military strategy.” Murray added, “The [tripartite] structure is spelled out in Iraq’s constitution, but Biden would initiate local and regional diplomatic efforts to hasten its evolution.”
In Iraq, the plan was termed a “disaster” by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki; a representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani called the Senate resolution “a step toward the breakup of Iraq.” He added, according to Juan Cole’s Informed Comment website, “It is a mistake to imagine that such a plan will lead to a reduction in chaos in Iraq; rather, on the contrary, it will lead to an increase in the butchery and a deepening of the crisis of this country, and the spreading of increased chaos, even to neighboring states.” In the meantime, Sunni clerics and various political parties joined in the denunciations. Only the Kurds, eager for an independent state, evidently welcomed the plan.
Seymour Hersch also wrote about this plan 8 years ago for The New Yorker, in a piece titled The Redirection.
So why would this be a US objective? Because destroying Iraq and creating a power vacuum has significantly increased Iran’s influence in the region. The US reaction has been to assist our lovely allies in the region, like Saudi Arabia, in the creation of a jihadist counter-weight to this influence.
This isn’t some whacked out conspiracy theory. Former ambassador to the UN, Joe Bolton, recently stated the goal explicitly on Fox News:
I think our objective should be a new Sunni state out of the western part of Iraq, the eastern part of Syria run by moderates or at least authoritarians who are not radical Islamists. What’s left of the state of Iraq, as of right now, is simply a satellite of the Ayatollahs in Tehran. It’s not anything we should try to aid.
This puts the deceit regarding the taking of Ramadi into sharper focus. ISIS isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.
by William Skink
Quick hits for a short week. Here are some articles I’ve been meaning to write posts about, but haven’t had the time.
First, when that daylight gunfight erupted in Waco, Texas, plenty of astute observers looked at the pictures of bikers mulling around amidst law enforcement and wondered if the scene would look different if the gun-toting gang members were black. Well, a leaked report examined by The Intercept sheds a little more light on the demographics of these bike gangs, and some of its membership may surprise:
A year before the deadly Texas shootout that killed nine people on May 17, a lengthy report by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives detailed the involvement of U.S. military personnel and government employees in outlaw motorcycle gangs, or OMGs. A copy of the report was obtained by The Intercept.
The report lays out, in almost obsessive detail, the extent to which OMG members are represented in nearly every part of the military, and in federal and local government, from police and fire departments to state utility agencies. Specific examples from the report include dozens of Defense Department contractors with Secret or Top Secret clearances; multiple FBI contractors; radiological technicians with security clearances; U.S. Department of Homeland Security employees; Army, Navy and Air Force active-duty personnel, including from the special operations force community; and police officers.
It’s unclear what incentive drives these people to join outlaw biker gangs. Maybe they pay better than Uber? On that topic, Naked Capitalism has a piece on a surprising Wall Street Journal article about the “sharing” economy. One would assume the WSJ would be an ally of Uber, but the report doesn’t seem to pull any punches as it unpacks the myth of the sharing economy, calling out Uber specifically. From the WSJ article:
In the minds of critics, perhaps the worst offender in how it controls its labor force is Uber. Uber sets the prices that its drivers must accept, and has lately been in the habit of unilaterally squeezing drivers in two ways, both by lowering the rates drivers are paid per trip and increasing Uber’s cut of those wages….
Boosters of companies like Uber counter that they allow for relatively well-compensated work, on demand. When I asked them for comment, Uber officials pointed to previously released data suggesting just that. The most recent report, a collaboration between Uber and economist Alan Krueger, paints a fairly rosy picture of Uber’s job-creation abilities. Uber has said in the past that world-wide it is hiring 20,000 new drivers a month, and in this report it claims that in major American cities like Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., drivers are averaging more than $17 an hour.
But this data doesn’t reflect what Uber drivers actually make, for the simple reason that it doesn’t include drivers’ expenses. Work by investigative journalist Emily Guendelsberger, for example, shows that Uber drivers in Philadelphia, a fairly typical city for the service, are probably earning only a fraction of that. According to Ms. Guendelsberger’s admittedly limited sample of 20 drivers, including herself, it was around $10 an hour after expenses.
Exploiting labor is as American as apple pie. And it’s even easier to exploit if you own the labor directly. I’m not talking about slaves, I’m talking about the products of procreation, exemplified by the cult of Duggar. This extended work camp referred to as a “family” recently came under fire after revelations that one of its cult members enjoys molesting girls, presumably including his sisters. Luckily this family has a presidential contender willing to go to bat for them:
Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee made a statement on Facebook Friday addressing the revelations that eldest son Josh Duggar admitted to sexually molesting “girls,” presumably his own sisters, as a teenager.
The former Arkansas governor largely defended the actions of the family since the abuse and said he wanted to “affirm” support for the family. “Josh’s actions when he was an underage teen are as he described them himself, ‘inexcusable,’ but that doesn’t mean ‘unforgivable,’” Huckabee’s statement said. The Duggar family endorsed former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in the 2012 election, but have backed Huckabee for the Republican presidential nomination this time around.
Huckabee continued, “No purpose whatsoever is served by those who are now trying to discredit Josh or his family by sensationalizing the story. Good people make mistakes and do regrettable and even disgusting things. The reason that the law protects disclosure of many actions on the part of a minor is that the society has traditionally understood something that today’s blood-thirsty media does not understand—that being a minor means that one’s judgement is not mature.”
I’m sure Huckabee would say the same thing if this family was black, right? And I’m sure Huckabee will make reforming laws that charge minors with adult crimes a major plank in his bid for the presidency, right? Here is an article from last year about minors in New York:
Every year, almost 50,000 16- and 17-year-olds are prosecuted as adults in New York State, and more than three-quarters of these charges are for misdemeanors like shoplifting and marijuana possession. Some 70% of the children arrested are black or Latino, as well as 80% of those incarcerated.
As Cuomo reminded us, now is the time for a change. The New York State Legislature needs to Raise the Age of criminal responsibility, and they need to do it this year.
Teens are far from perfect, and they certainly are not always innocent. That’s part of growing up. A teen’s brain develops well into his or her 20s, and as cognitive skills improve, so does impulse control. As a result, teens are often unable to focus on the consequences of their behavior.
Yeah, I won’t hold my breath in hopes that Huckabee sees minority teens in the same glowing light as the cult of Duggar.
Have a good week!
by William Skink
Nostalgia for this 36 year old is me buying a CD at Best Buy (the new Faith No More album). Before I was old enough to have my own moments of nostalgia, I was sold Baby Boomer nostalgia for their counterculture movement. I distinctly remember watching the movie The Lost Boys (though not when it was first released in 1987). The Doors were a featured part of the soundtrack. I was hooked.
Discovering the music and writing of the 60’s, and the Beats they sprouted from, felt like a rite of passage to a new level of understanding. This was the rebellion against the cul-de-sacs of suburbia I was trapped in. This was how to dig the deeper veins of reality, where the truth hides.
I’m not sure when the disillusionment began, but 9/11 was the shock that re-calibrated my senses. I had just turned 22, and was still jumping through undergrad hoops at UM. It’s fair to say the government’s conspiracy theory explaining events that day didn’t sit well with me, so I looked elsewhere. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the beginning of a journey into the depths of chapel perilous.
The link is to a post by horror writer Matt Cardin, from his blog The Teeming Brain. It’s a good exploration into the concept of chapel perilous, weaving his personal experiences with the deep history of the term, which can be traced back to mythical quests for the Holy Grail.
What got me thinking about all this is the movie Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s crime novel of the same name. The movie is a brilliant take on the paranoia that infused the decade of decadence, a decade that killed off any lingering hope that the opening of the doors of perception would lead to something good, something positive for our species on this planet.
I no longer buy into 60’s nostalgia as peddled by the aging Baby Boomer generation. My coming of age occurred as the end of the millennium turned into the age of terror. Whether you know it or not, we are all stuck in chapel perilous.
by William Skink
Lee Newspapers, an innovator in self-destruction, sent two seasoned reporters from its State Bureau walking with buy-outs. The news is just now breaking, and my TL on Twitter has erupted with tweets of dismay. Rightly so. Here’s Ed Kemmick reacting:
The news is out that news coverage in Montana is taking a huge hit.
Lee Newspapers is closing its State Bureau in Helena, the Great Falls Tribune has reported, and KXLH TV in Helena has a story that adds some details. Chuck Johnson, who has been covering Montana politics for more than 40 years, will take a buyout and retire.
Mike Dennison, who has done the same kind of reporting for almost 25 years, will be taking a buyout while he looks for a new job. I couldn’t reach Johnson, but Dennison told me Lee offered the two veteran reporters continued employment—if they would accept quite substantial pay cuts.
I get people reacting strongly to this news about news, but no one should be surprised. The slow self-immolation that is perversely rewarded at the executive level continues. A post from Pogreba a year ago tracks the continued decline. It ends with a quote from media analyst Ken Doctor:
If the company continues to cut staff in order to make repayments, it risks diminishing its product to a point that readers won’t pay for it.
If you are reading this post you and I are partly to blame for this critical diminishment of traditional reporting. This is what disruptive technology looks like. Old methods get broken apart and people lose their jobs.
So what fills the vacuum? If the answer is bloggers, we’re screwed.
jhwygirl retweeted an interesting tweet from @bozelandia about one MT blogger who recently gussied up “her” virtual space:
Notified today @TEDTalks starting investigation into similarities between @_ericstern’s Ted talk & Cowgirl posts/possible plagiarism #mtpol
Curious. Maybe plagiarism is contagious?
Regardless, Cowgirl is definitely an important source of news from Helena, trafficking tips from little birds all across the state, but that’s no replacement for 70+ combined years of reporting from real-name professionals. What articles will I copiously quote from and link to now? How does Lee Newspapers expect to cobble together this new gaping hole in their state-wide coverage?
Maybe they just don’t.
Don Pogreba has done a great job tracking the years of newsprint decline, repeatedly bringing attention to the fact Lee Newspapers seems to reward failure:
Lest anyone forget, Lee’s CEO Mary Junck took a bonus of $500,000 during a quarter when the company she leads lost $26 million dollars.
On the surface, this seems absurd. How can a bonus for losing money be justified? But what if losses to justify stripping newsrooms is the actual objective?
As the old salaries go away, freshly minted journalism students will happily snatch up the crumbs. Give them a job and a byline, and you know they’ll work their social media platforms 24/7.
Retaining seasoned professionals just doesn’t pencil out for shareholders. It’s a brave new world. Act accordingly.
by William Skink
Los Angeles didn’t become the largest city to increase its minimum wage to $15 because people waited around every few years to cast votes for politicians, it happened because there is a growing worker’s movement changing the reality on the ground, day by day, city by city.
Elections still have consequences, but what politicians say—their “message”—is inconsequential because we know politicians say what they think we want to hear in order to get elected. Once in office, their true allegiance is to the deep donor pockets that got them there.
Democrats have a serious problem in 2016 and her name is Hillary Clinton. There is a lot of grass roots momentum on a variety of fronts building up, and the best way to destroy that momentum is to allow Clinton to transform it through her billion dollar alchemy into useless votes for a hopelessly corrupted political product.
By now it’s pretty obvious that Big Money has totally corrupted our political system. The Citizens United era is obscene and getting worse. But there are political conquerers within this cesspool who know how to win elections, and if you’ve limited yourself to swimming within the cesspool, the sage advice from someone like Jim Messina probably seems worth considering.
For a quick take, Pete Talbot boiled down the Politico piece to these four take-aways:
Of all the ways of communicating to voters, using Facebook and other social media, was the most effective because it was often a message shared by their friends or others they trusted versus politicians and the media that they don’t trust. We found that the undecided voters were moving our way as a result.
… an emphasis on enlisting known friends and trusted influencers to share the campaign’s message–restoring some believability to political messaging for low-information voters.
Mick (Jagger) was right, of course. No matter where you go, successful election campaigns are always about the future, not the past.
(And in the U.S.) by demonstrating that the Democratic Party had moved beyond an old agenda and toward a platform of nurturing a vibrant global economy and making the United States the dominant player in it … (that’s how) President Clinton and President Obama won two elections each.
Using social media to unwittingly con your Facebook friends with political calibrations geared toward some hopeful future won’t mean a goddamn thing if the future we’re talking about is a continued delusion about America’s dominant role in the world (as an antidote, check out Pepe Escobar’s piece, titled U.S. Wakes Up to New (Silk) World Order).
The work to produce incremental change is slowly being realized thanks to the relentless efforts of people on the ground. The work of establishment politicians, on the other hand, is producing Arctic drilling and sovereignty-killing trade agreements because that is the work they are being paid to do by the carousel of corruption.
Where you choose to allocate your time and energy is up to you. I’m glad I know where I stand.
by William Skink
Until Uber is able to replace humans drivers with robots, problems between the company and the drivers will continue. To Uber, drivers are nothing more than portals to profit, and apparently Uber isn’t satisfied with its margin, so the company is “testing” a higher fee, 30%. From the link:
Uber Technologies Inc. is experimenting with taking 30% of the revenue from fares booked through its car-hailing app, the highest commission it has charged drivers.
The higher so-called take-rate quietly went into effect in April in two cities, San Francisco and San Diego, and only applied to drivers who signed up for its UberX service since then, a company spokeswoman confirmed.
Uber’s rise is stratospheric, and the numbers are mind boggling. Forbes digs into Uber’s 50 BILLION dollar valuation to try and understand what velocity of growth must be achieved for Uber to deliver:
If you assume a normalized long-term free cash flow margin of about 35% (yes, this is quite high, but Uber’s business model is very efficient), Uber’s $50 billion valuation means that they will need to generate about $35.7 billion dollars of gross revenue and about $7.1 billion dollars of net revenue to justify the recent valuation. Perhaps more interestingly, the company will have to have an annual growth rate of about 286% each year over the next five years to hit these numbers. To put those numbers into perspective for a moment, it means that Uber is currently valued at 125x trailing annual net revenue.
Uber’s massive market value surpasses 80%+ of all S&P 500 companies, many of which have been around for 20, 30, 50 or more years (Uber was started in 2009). At first glance, the $50 billion valuation seems absurd. However, if the company manages to continue its current growth trajectory (seemingly doubling revenue every 12 months or less), it is not as crazy as one might presume. Still, this sky-high valuation isn’t without risk.
Uber inching up its take-rate in select markets makes more sense now. Just imagine the take when those inconvenient human drivers, with those those sometimes inconvenient proclivities, can be removed from the equation. I think it’s safe to say these numbers will incentivize further take-no-prisoner tactics against anyone who stands in their way, be it journalist, regulator or aggrieved customer.
At Pando, Paul Carr reports on how a Clinton crony, David Plouffe, has been replaced by a Cameron crony, Rachel Whetstone. Carr does a deep dive on Whetstone, something his media peers have made little to no effort reporting on. And they should, considering Uber is tapping a Margaret Thatcher 2.0 type:
Everyone in UK politics who I asked about Whetstone was agreed on one thing: She’s the person you bring in if you need to convince everyone that your company isn’t quite as nasty as it appears, and if your current spin doctors aren’t delivering the results you want. First that was Google, and now comes the biggest challenge of her career: Uber.
I have low hopes when it comes to the American business press covering Uber, but even I was surprised at how few journalists bothered to share even the most basic details of Whetstone’s background with their readers. That stuff sits barely below the surface and speaks volumes about the famously ultra-libertarian Travis Kalbnick’s decision to replace Plouffe with her at Uber: An Obama liberal booted upstairs to make way for a multi-generation Cameron conservative/libertarian.
Less shocking is the American’s media’s unwillingness to delve any deeper into the other bizarre web of connections that link Uber with Whetstone and her British political pals. People who go up against those folks rarely come away unsmeared, and we all know what Uber is capable of on that front. In any case, it takes a whiteboard and a lot of patience to even begin to get the threads straight — and there’s little evidence that anyone in Washington, Wall Street or Silicon Valley really cares what lurks under Uber’s hood, so long as it keeps proving fancy limos and killer profits.
Closer to home, Pete Talbot wonders how progressives can get ahead of these times that be a-changin’. Unfortunately I think the way he frames this issue shows that the conversation is already passing him by:
On one side you have entrepreneurs, smart phones, and the trendy, on the other: unions, regulations and institutions.
What’s a progressive to do?
I will hazard an answer. Progressives should start by understanding the scope of what they’re dealing with. Uber has quickly grown beyond the trendiness of disruptive technology into a regulation-smashing juggernaut without concern for labor or consumer safety. Local support by Montana Democrats is short-sighted. The trendy are a fleeting lot, and opportunists who take advantage will just be on to the next self-serving opportunity, leaving the consequences of their short-sightedness for others to deal with.
by William Skink
After nearly 8 years of liberal apologists making excuses for the Obama regime, it might be time to start reflecting on a two-term reign that set the tone of fealty to Wall Street within the first months of Obama’s inauguration.
Paul Street did just that in a Counterpunch piece that appeared Friday, titled The Liberal Apologies for Obama’s Ugly Reign. The way Street frames the decisive moment Obama met with the 13 titans of Wall Street is gut-wrenching to read 7 years later. Remember, back then Democrats had full control of Congress, they had just taken the White House after 8 disastrous years of Bush, Wall Street was in shambles, so there were possibilities. There was hope. And then there was this:
In his important book Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President (2011), the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Suskind tells a remarkable story from March of 2009. Three months into Barack Obama’s supposedly progressive, left-leaning presidency, popular anger at Wall Street was intense and the nation’s leading financial institutions were weak and on the defensive in the wake of the financial collapse and recession they had created. The new president called a meeting of the nation’s top 13 financial executives at the White House. The banking titans came into the meeting full of dread. As Suskind noted:
“They were the CEOs of the thirteen largest banking institutions in the United States… And they were nervous in ways that these men are never nervous. Many would have had to reach back to their college days, or even grade school, to remember a moment when they felt this sort of lump-in-the-throat tension…As some of the most successful men in the country, they weren’t used to being pariahs… [and] they were indeed pariahs. The populist backlash against the financial sector—building steadily since September—was finally beginning to cause grave discomfort on Wall Street. As unemployment ballooned and credit tightened, the country began to look inward, toward the origins of the panic and its disastrous consequences.”
In the end, however, the anxious captains of high finance left the meeting pleased to learn that Obama was totally in their camp. For instead of standing up for those who had been harmed most by the crisis—workers, minorities, and the poor – Obama sided unequivocally with those who had caused the meltdown. “My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks,” Obama said. “You guys have an acute public relations problem that’s turning into a political problem. And I want to help…I’m not here to go after you. I’m protecting you…. I’m going to shield you from congressional and public anger.”
For the banking elite who destroyed millions of jobs in their lust for profit, there was, as Suskind puts it, “Nothing to worry about. Whereas [President Franklin Delano] Roosevelt had [during the Great Depression] pushed for tough, viciously opposed reforms of Wall Street and famously said ‘I welcome their hate,’ Obama was saying ‘How can I help?’” As one leading banker told Suskind, “The sense of everyone after the meeting was relief. The president had us at a moment of real vulnerability. At that point, he could have ordered us to do just about anything and we would have rolled over. But he didn’t – he mostly wanted to help us out, to quell the mob.” When “the bankers arrived in the State Dining Room,” Suskind notes, “Obama had them scared and ready to do almost anything he said…. An hour later, they were upbeat, ready to fly home and commence business as usual” (Confidence Men).
Throughout the subsequent years, the stock market recovered. Wall Street recovered. And interest-free liquidity still flows to the too-big-to-jail financial institutions, keeping the party going.
But the party can’t go on forever.
On a day when plenty of graduates are still bleary-eyed from last night’s revelries, realistic market watchers hear the ticking of the clock counting down to the next crash. Because politics. From the link:
Warning bells just keep getting louder and louder as the countdown to the Crash of 2016 keeps ticking. Wall Street’s in denial, but the Washington Post warns: “U.S. economic growth slows to 0.2 percent, grinding nearly to a halt.” USA Today hears “Bubble Talk” at the Vegas “Davos for Geeks.” Earlier the Wall Street Journal warned, “declining population could reduce global economic growth by 40%.” Then recently the “slow-growth Fed” was blamed.
Wrong, former Fed chief Ben Bernanke counterattacked: “I’m waiting for the Journal to argue for a well-structured program of public infrastructure development, which would support growth in the near term by creating jobs and in the longer term by making our economy more productive.” But for years the Fed “has been pretty much the only game in town as far as economic policy goes.” Today “we should be looking for a better balance between monetary and other growth-promoting policies, including fiscal policy.”
Fiscal policy? No, Ben, not a chance. The GOP controls economic policy. And they will never give “growth-promoting fiscal policy” victories to President Obama and Hillary Clinton before the presidential election of 2016. Never. In spite of Bernanke’s obviously rational solution to the core problems of the American economy, one that would help the American people, the GOP will never, ever agree to fiscal stimulus programs that give the Democrats bragging rights and make Obama and Clinton look good before the elections.
I think it’s pointless to parse GOP/Obama/Clinton fiscal policy. Democrats had all the cards in 2009, and look what happened. Now it’s 2015, and Democrats are trying to fire up the Clinton engine again. Cue obligatory story on HRC money problem:
Almost a decade ago, as Hillary Clinton ran for re-election to the Senate on her way to seeking the presidency for the first time, the New York Times reported on her unusually close relationship with Corning, Inc., an upstate glass titan. Clinton advanced the company’s interests, racking up a big assist by getting China to ease a trade barrier. And the firm’s mostly Republican executives opened up their wallets for her campaign.
During Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, Corning lobbied the department on a variety of trade issues, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The company has donated between $100,000 and $250,000 to her family’s foundation. And, last July, when it was clear that Clinton would again seek the presidency in 2016, Corning coughed up a $225,500 honorarium for Clinton to speak.
In the laundry-whirl of stories about Clinton buck-raking, it might be easy for that last part to get lost in the wash. But it’s the part that matters most. The $225,500 speaking fee didn’t go to help disease-stricken kids in an impoverished village on some long-forgotten patch of the planet. Nor did it go to a campaign account. It went to Hillary Clinton. Personally.
Since the economy is going to more than likely blow up again in the next few years, maybe it would be preferable for a Republican take the White House. Crazy talk, I know.
Enjoy the real world, college graduates, you’re going to have one hell of a ride.
I’ve been spending far more time reading than writing lately, as writing and nursing blog posts eats up more time than I’m willing to expend. However, I think it time well spent to point folks to articles that begin to make sense of the precarious position our nation or world finds itself in.
So pull up a comfy chair on this grey and dreary spring day (thought the rain is most wonderful), pour a cup of coffee, tea or what have you and dig in.
Today’s reading comes from William R. Polk, Losing the American Republic. Here’s the end of Part 1 (Part 2 hasn’t been published yet, but I’m looking forward to it).
Lessons Needed Learning
It would be rewarding if one could say that our experience in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan has made us wiser in our approaches to Somalia, Syria, Libya and Yemen, but it is hard to substantiate that conclusion. Yet the lessons are there to be learned. There are more, but consider just these few:
- Military action can destroy but it cannot build;
- Counterinsurgency does not work and creates new problems;
- Nation building is beyond the capacity of foreigners;
- Piecemeal, uncoordinated actions often exacerbate rather than solve problems;
- The costs of military action are multifold and usually harm not only the attacked but also the attacker’s society and economy;
- Reliance on military action and supply of weapons to the client state encourages it to undertake actions that make peace-seeking harder rather than easier;
- War radiates out from the battlefield so that whole societies are turned into refugees. In desperation they flee even far abroad and create unforeseen problems.
- The sense that the attacker is a bully spreads and converts outsiders into enemies;
- Failure to understand the society and culture even of the enemy is self-defeating;
- Angry, resentful people eventually strike back where they can and so create a climate of perpetual insecurity.
The result of such actions is deforming to the central objective of an intelligent, conservative and constructive American foreign policy — the preservation of our well-being.
by William Skink
A recent move by the Obama administration is tantamount to letting a convicted pedophile run a daycare. There is such a high degree of complicit recklessness in what will inevitably happen, it’s difficult to comprehend.
Three years ago the pedophile equivalent, Shell, ran an oil rig aground off the coast of Alaska. An Interior Department report showed that Shell ‘screwed up‘ its exploratory drilling efforts. From the link:
Shell failed to oversee contractors that were central to its bungled efforts to explore for oil in the Arctic waters off Alaska last year, the Interior Department has concluded.
“Shell screwed up in 2012,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
Salazar, whose agency released a review of Shell’s efforts Thursday, said the company won’t be allowed to drill again off the Arctic coast until it presents a plan showing that it can better handle conditions there.
The Interior Department’s report said Shell’s problems have raised serious questions about its ability to operate safely and responsibly in the challenging conditions off Alaska. The report said Shell entered the drilling season “not fully prepared in terms of fabricating and testing certain critical systems and establishing the scope of its operational plans.”
“One of the recurring themes that we identified throughout the review was the failure on the part of Shell to oversee contractors that they relied on for critical components of their operations,” Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Tommy Beaudreau, who led the probe for the Interior Department, said in a conference call with reporters.
Despite this alarming incompetence, the Obama administration wants the pedophiles to run the day care. It’s beyond disgusting. It’s unfathomable. But the plan is moving forward anyway:
The US government has given Shell approval to restart drilling in the Arctic despite repeated warnings from environmentalists that it could lead to an ecological disaster.
The Obama administration on Monday approved Shell’s plan to resume drilling for oil and gas in the treacherous and fragile waters off the coast of Alaska, three years after the Anglo-Dutch oil giant was forced to suspend operations following a series of potentially dangerous blunders.
Scientists and environmental groups on Monday attacked the decision and warned that Shell’s “risky and ill-conceived exploration” plan could “lead to a disaster in the Arctic”.
I don’t think it “could” lead to a disaster, I think it absolutely “will” lead to a disaster. It’s just a matter of time before something happens.
Resistance to this insanity is now mobilizing in Seattle. The link is a recent piece from Democracy Now:
The Port of Seattle has voted to seek the blockade of rigs used by the oil giant Shell for its planned drilling in the Arctic this summer. Shell has signed a lease to station its rigs in the Puget Sound while it drills for oil in pristine and highly remote waters in the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska. The Port of Seattle’s board called for a legal review of Shell’s plans and a temporary postponement of its docking. The move came after a wave of activism in Seattle challenging Shell’s effort. On Tuesday, activists set up a tripod to block work at the site of a fuel transfer station. Meanwhile, thousands of kayakers will try to block the arrival of a Shell rig on Saturday, the start of a three-day Festival of Resistance.
It’s not just the Arctic drilling that’s posing new threats to the maritime environment. Despite the fact there are still 30 million gallons of oil polluting the Gulf of Mexico, new drilling is being ok’d there as well.
It’s hard not to let blind rage take over at this point. These are game over moves being undertaken by a truly despicable political regime.
Fuck this administration and the spineless Democrats who go along with destroying the planet. They are the enemies of my children’s children and must be stopped at all costs.
by William Skink
I was exposed to a new Twitter account that’s quickly become one of my favorite: @nihilist_arbys. At the writing of this post, there are only 241 tweets, but the account has quickly drawn over 60,000 followers. I’m not going to include any of the tweets in this post. Instead I’m going to share a poem the tweets have inspired.
But before I do that, I’d like to draw some attention to a collection of poems I first read 3 years ago, titled Letters To Wendy’s. I wrote a post about this collection of poems, which you can read here. I just reread the post, and had to kind of chuckle at this somewhat audacious claim: I’m only a third of the way through, but I already think this is one of the most important books of poetry so far written by my generation.
If the poet who wrote Letters to Wendy’s, Joe Wenderoth, were to transform the speaker of his poems into a Twitter feed, it would be @nihilist_arbys. Check it out, if you dare.
Anyway, I should probably just preemptively apologize for the poem you are about to read. It’s kind of gross. And perfect. Enjoy!
ARBY’S: SOMETHING TO FILL THE EMPTINESS WITH
breath moves your meat toward death
like gas fuels cars on the street
so eat Arby’s
embrace the post-feast meat-sweats
and erase guilt
with rivers of cheese drowning
mounds of roast beef
no point holding back
you started as a squirt from “dad”
into mom’s meat sack
Arby’s may hasten your fleshy demise
but it hurts so good
of course you’ll buy the lies
by William Skink
Thanks to the tireless efforts of political opportunists like Missoula Representative Ellie Hill, Montana’s regulatory landscape will be pried open for Uber—a company that investor Peter Thiel called the “most ethically-challenged company in Silicon Valley”.
Salon has conveniently compiled a number of controversies Uber faced last year, which you can read here. The article opens with this:
2014 has been the year of Uber, as millions have forsaken their city’s fleet of ubiquitous yellow and black cabs in favor of the handy, app-based ride-sharing system. Uber is one of the success stories of the sharing economy and has completely revolutionized how we think about getting from A to B. Yet its ascent has also come at a steep cost: This year has seen Uber racked by a seemingly endless string of scandals and P.R. disasters, with investor Peter Thiel calling Uber the “most ethically-challenged company in Silicon Valley.” Uber had its fair share of controversy in 2013 as well — particularly the debate over its controversial surge pricing tactics — but 2014 was truly the year of the Uber scandal.
For instance: Uber vs. its customers (as we have seen the many sexual assault and abuse claims against drivers); Uber vs. its drivers (as drivers around the world have protested the company’s unfair fare cuts, fee hikes and all-round bad business practices); Uber vs. its competitors (as seen in the ongoing sabotage war between Uber and Lyft); Uber vs. journalists; Uber vs. regulators around the world, and on and so on.
The list is long, but who cares about all that noise when you’re wasted downtown and in need of a ride home. Enter Rep. Hill to the rescue:
Hill said her own experiences trying to call a cab in Missoula played a role in her passion for this bill.
“I came to this issue as a former prosecutor who lives and works and plays in downtown Missoula,” she said. “And I frankly heard from constituents that you can’t get a taxi in downtown Missoula on any weekend night. The regulatory scheme was a lie. That’s why the Missoula County DUI Taskforce and the city of Missoula supported this legislation.”
Hill said the old law was out of date.
I have no doubt Rep. Hill has had plenty of experiences trying to call a cab in Missoula. And I agree the regulatory system is antiquated. But last years long litany of problems should serve as cautionary tales for Missoula and other Montana communities. Here are some of the stories the Salon piece has compiled:
March 24, 2014
A Chicago passenger sues her Uber driver Jigneshkumar Patel for sexual assault, alleging that he locked the car doors and groped her legs, breasts and groin before eventually letting her out.
March 28, 2014
Daily Beast writer Olivia Nuzzi shares an experience of Uber harassment: “At the end of the ride, the Uber driver asked me if I had been near Lincoln Center a few hours earlier. I said I hadn’t, since I didn’t remember walking past there. Then he took out his iPad. ‘Really?’ he asked. ‘Because you look like this girl.’ He turned the iPad around to face the back seat. To my surprise, I saw a full-length, close-up picture of me, wearing the workout clothes I’d had on an hour previously.” Her piece also reveals flaws in Uber’s privacy system, including the fact that drivers can see passengers’ full names.
June 3, 2014
An Uber driver is arrested for allegedly kidnapping a woman in West Hollywood with the intent to sexually assault her. After passing out drunk in the car, the woman reportedly woke up in a motel to find the driver in the bed with her.
Sept. 10, 2014
A lawsuit accuses Uber of violating the Americans With Disabilities Act after encountering numerous incidents of drivers refusing to drive blind passengers with service dogs, and once even putting a dog in the trunk.
Sept. 27, 2014
A San Francisco Uber driver hits a passenger on the head with a hammer after an argument. Recently it was revealed that his injuries may cause the passenger to lose his eye.
Uber sounds like a great opportunity for sexual predators to gain access to potential victims.
Weekend nights in downtown Missoula are identified by Rep. Hill as a specific time period where supply isn’t currently meeting demand. That’s because weekend nights in Missoula are totally saturated with young drunk people.
It’s a good thing Missoula police have made ‘tremendous‘ progress in responding to allegations of rape, because with Uber drivers starting to prowl downtown for “customers” it’s only a matter of time before something bad happens.
I hope I’m wrong.
by William Skink
Here are some Monday quick takes to get your work-week started. First, Seymour Hersh is making quite a splash with his reporting on The Killing of Osama bin Laden. Needless to say the Obama administration is not portrayed as altogether accurate or truthful in its account of what transpired. If there is more accuracy in Hersh’s account, it also exposes the movie Zero Dark Thirty as being shameless propaganda to solidify the lies told by the administration. For us cynics, no surprise there.
At the state level, Ochenski’s column this week reports on what those in the environmental community expected after Tester broke his promise to not use riders on must-pass legislation. Tester did anyway, in order to delist wolves from the Endangered Species Act, and now the precedent he set is being used again, this time to stall a potential listing for Sage Grouse.
Last Friday on Democracy Now, this segment focused on the Obama administration’s interest in doubling the money flowing to charter schools. Lisa Graves, executive director of The Center for Media and Democracy, lambasted charter schools and the “choice” argument for diverting federal taxpayer money into these privatized, money-making schemes. She was especially critical of the profit motive behind online schools, and explained that these charter schools are using millions to advertise and lobby congress for more taxpayer loot. If this sounds similar to the argument put forth by Rep. Hill (D-Missoula) regarding deregulating taxi service in Montana, it’s because online companies like Uber are making similar declarations that their interest in elbowing into new markets with the kind of legislation Rep. Hill co-sponsored is all about choice. That’s a lie, of course. It’s all about money.
Now, let’s get back to work!
by William Skink
At what point should a nation’s people enact the violent overthrow of their government? When the government loses legitimacy? What does that mean? Let’s ask a few questions.
Would a legitimate government order the extra-judicical killing of its own citizens?
Would a legitimate government engage in the systematic, illegal spying of its own citizens?
Would a legitimate government charge and imprison whistleblowers for exposing government criminality?
Would a legitimate government enforce racist policies to subjugate and oppress entire communities of color?
When other governments in other nations (not aligned with Western interests) lose legitimacy, it becomes ok to use violence to overthrow the government.
Not so in America. If you are “hippies” (OWS) or “thugs” (people of color) then state violence is seen as a legitimate response to protests against illegitimate state actions, especially if the latter show any violent proclivity in expressing anger over generations of racist subjugation.
Personally I don’t think violence against the state is ever effective, however seemingly justified one may argue it is. Violence just perpetuates an endless cycle of more violence, and those trends of escalation can be difficult to manage.
So as U.S. foreign policy supports the use of violence in places like Ukraine and Syria, U.S. citizens should be prepared for the more extremist elements within our own borders to see violence as the solution to their grievances, especially on the far right, where violence has already been justified and utilized as an asymmetrical tactic against a militarily much stronger opponent.
If you don’t want to see it here, then speak out against the violence America is spreading across the globe.
by William Skink
Today Obama opened his mouth and some words came out. As usual, they were pretty nice sounding words:
Obama called on Americans not to just simply mark this historic day, but to “rededicate ourselves to the freedoms for which they fought.”
“Let’s make sure that we keep striving to fulfill our founding ideals — that we’re a country where no matter who we are or where we’re from or what we look like or who we love, if we work hard and take responsibility, every American will have the opportunity to make of our lives what we will,” Obama said. “Let’s stand united with our allies, in Europe and beyond, on behalf of our common values — freedom, security, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law around the world — and against bigotry and hatred in all their forms so that we give meaning to that pledge: ‘Never forget. Never again.'”
I have never seen a list of “common values” rendered so utterly meaningless by the context and speaker of the words. By standing united with our allies, does that include supporting Saudi Arabia’s use of cluster bombs in Yemen? And Neo-Nazis in Ukraine? And Al Qaeda in Syria? Are these the factions who will respect human rights and the rule of law around the world?
About those human rights, the groups that allegedly watch for human rights violations can’t even manage a good Assad smear in Syria, where a picture tweeted out by HRW’s director, Kenneth Ross, of alleged barrel bombing in Aleppo turned out to be a picture of the carnage in Gaza. Whoops.
One common value many nations seem to share is the desire to provide assistance to their citizens when they are in harms way. Let’s say, for example, you arm an oil-rich monarchy with cluster munitions and they start using them on one of the poorest nations in the Middle East. Let’s say this horrific, totally unnecessary war strands hundreds of your citizens. Would the common value be to say sorry, we told you not to be there?
WARNER: Her family’s journey began in Sanaa, the capital, where they were visiting Rhonia’s Yemeni father. When the rebels started bombing the city in late March, they fled to the village with relatives, but then her mom had to figure out how to get out of the country.
ALJAHMI: We went from villages to villages, from cities to city. And they had no electric, no place to stay.
WARNER: Aljahmi says she tried to get over the land border to Saudi Arabia – cheaper and safer than a sea passage. But they told her that she and her daughters were not allowed without a male escort. Her husband doesn’t have an American passport. He couldn’t go with them.
ALJAHMI: I asked Saudi Arabia. They said without a guy with me, I cannot go through.
WARNER: The Saudis sent her and her daughters back to the war zone. She’s still furious. Aren’t they are allies, she says? And Yemeni-Americans say they feel abandoned by America. While other countries have evacuated their citizens – Russia sent an army plane, India sent a navy vessel – the U.S. has declined to use its military to rescue its citizens. The State Department says it’s been warning Americans for years not to go to Yemen. Rhonia remembers the day that the Russian evacuation plane arrived. It took one of her friends in the Koranic school where she’s studying.
ALADASHI: She’s a Russian and they came for her – airplane. I got so jealous that day.
I added the emphasis because damn, that’s some harsh shit right there.
So, a quick recap: Obama says some meaningless crap, a guy looking for human rights abuses tweets a picture of Gaza and calls it Aleppo, and American citizens trying to escape a hell where American allies are using widely banned weapons look longingly to the Russian citizens who get a plane rescue instead of a callous state department saying we told you not to come, so tough shit.
by William Skink
At Consortium News, Ray McGovern begins his dismantling of Obama’s snub of Russia by using the term petulant in the title of his piece, which you can read here. It begins like this:
President Barack Obama’s decision to join other Western leaders in snubbing Russia’s weekend celebration of the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe looks more like pouting than statesmanship, especially in the context of the U.S. mainstream media’s recent anti-historical effort to downplay Russia’s crucial role in defeating Nazism.
Though designed to isolate Russia because it had the audacity to object to the Western-engineered coup d’état in Ukraine on Feb. 22, 2014, this snub of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin – like the economic sanctions against Russia – is likely to backfire on the U.S. and its European allies by strengthening ties between Russia and the emerging Asian giants of China and India.
Obama is able to pull off a recklessly childish snub like this because the domestic media landscape has become a bizarro world of echo-chamber distortion when it comes to the happenings of foreign affairs. Ukraine is one of the most dangerous focal points of this world. It’s sucked in otherwise seemingly intelligent people into defending an obviously western-backed coup, opening the door to the rising influence of far-right, Nazi-2.0 shock troops.
Later in the article, McGovern has this to say about the reporting of the New York Times:
Distorting the History
So, the evidence-based history of the Western-sponsored coup in Kiev on Feb. 22, 2014, must be forgotten or covered up. Indeed, about a year after the events, the New York Times published a major “investigative” article that ignored all the facts of a U.S.-backed coup in declaring there was no coup.
The Times didn’t even mention the notorious, intercepted phone call between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt in early February 2014 in which Nuland was handpicking the future leaders, including her remark “Yats is the guy,” a reference to Arseniy Yatsenyuk who – after the coup – quickly became prime minister. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “NYT Still Pretends No Coup in Ukraine.”]
Even George Friedman, the president of the Washington-Establishment-friendly think-tank STRATFOR, has said publicly in late 2014: “Russia calls the events that took place at the beginning of this year a coup d’état organized by the United States. And it truly was the most blatant coup in history.”
McGovern goes on at the link, describing the continued failure of major media outlets.
It might be a good summer to keep the social unrest simmering and erupting every so often as America’s insane global posturing escalates tensions everywhere else, like Syria. At MoA, b puts it this way: It’s Official: The U.S. Collaborates with Al Qaeda.
It amazes me how well the situations in Ukraine and Syria have been run, at the information level, for domestic consumption. They’ve come a long way since Vietnam at playing the information game. It’s going to totally suck if WWIII is a consequence.
by William Skink
I did my best to be in attendance tonight at Krakauer’s panel at the Double Tree, but I stopped for a sandwich and was maybe a dozen people away from getting in fifteen minutes after the doors opened. Instead I went back home and tried listening to the crappy feed from MTPR (not all their fault).
Jon Krakauer did an amazing job articulating how he came to focus on victims of rape in Missoula and their experience with the criminal justice system. And the crowd, maybe to Krakauer’s surprise, was loudly supportive, overloading the audio feed several times with what seemed like vigorous applause. There were tough questions, detailed answers, and even a few naughty words from Krakauer.
Here is one of the big takeaways: this story is far from over. A line of attack against Krakauer is his book reopened old wounds. What Krakauer expounded on tonight regarding his legal battle with the University of Montana means more bad press will be coming. Why? Because the University of Montana doesn’t want to explicitly disclose how Jordan Johnson, who was found to have raped his accuser through the University system’s lower standard of proof multiple times, was ultimately reinstated.
Griz Nation still wields serious influence, just ask Pat Williams. Or maybe ask Christian Clayton.
From the tone of the audience, and how they collectively reacted to some asshole lawyer who went off on Krakauer and called him, I believe, a fucking liar, it was hip, liberal Missoula out in force. From my anecdotal interactions walking back and telling people their attempt to see Krakauer was futile, most everyone I talked to had already read the book and was supportive of it being written and titled with our town’s name.
Here is the footage of the Idaho lawyer and Krakauer taking away his microphone:
Jon Krakauer came to Missoula to answer questions. I think he did a pretty damn good job. He defended writing the book the way he did, and he gave tons of credit to the reporting of Gwen Florio. Krakauer also credits the reforms made in Missoula, citing correspondences he’s received from people going through the system now.
That work to implement change is ongoing. Clearly, there is room for improvement within the University System and the County Attorney’s office.
I mentioned hip, liberal Missoula in strong attendance tonight. That’s all well and good, but I would even challenge that part of Missoula to acknowledge the sentiment of Our Missoula is deeply flawed. There are lots of different social striations in Missoula, and any claim to OUR is a bit presumptuous.
Instead of making posters, let’s make a real change.
with Jade at the Helm
those hostiles in Texas
will be pacified
with Jade at the Helm
Utah will fall
with New Mexico
Jade, and his best pal
FEMA cat (meow)
will prowl the hinterlands
looking for white meat
to bring the black man
they stood tall in Nevada
they stand now in Oregon
to keep the oath
the noose is never far behind
while Jade escapes
on a horned goat
by William Skink
There was an interesting hearing last month in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, chaired by Ed Royce (R-Calif.) who had this to say about Putin in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed:
“Vladimir Putin has a secret army. It’s an army of thousands of ‘trolls,’ TV anchors and others who work day and night spreading anti-American propaganda on the Internet, airwaves and newspapers throughout Russia and the world. Mr. Putin uses these misinformation warriors to destabilize his neighbors and control parts of Ukraine. This force may be more dangerous than any military, because no artillery can stop their lies from spreading and undermining U.S. security interests in Europe.”
The hearing was titled “Confronting Russia’s Weaponization of Information” which I interpret to imply …because our weaponized information isn’t working in Syria, Ukraine, Yemen, etc.. Perhaps the ease in which Americans are fed bullshit and believe it to be an accurate representation of what constitutes “news” has made the professional bullshitters a bit lazy in the products they create for public consumption. But never mind us because THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING!!!!
The Committee heard from three witnesses: Elizabeth Wahl, former anchor for the news agency Russia Today (RT) who gained her moment of fame by resigning on camera in March 2014; Peter Pomerantsev, Senior Fellow at the Legatum Institute (a right-wing UK think-tank); and Helle C. Dale, Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy at The Heritage Foundation, a right-wing U.S. think-tank.  The Foreign Affairs Committee website contains video clips of the first two witnesses – well worth watching if you enjoy Orwellian rhetoric passionately delivered.
In her formal (printed) submission, Ms. Wahl referred to the Internet’s “population of paranoid skeptics” and wrote: “The paranoia extends to believing that Western media is not only complicit, but instrumental in ensuring Western dominance.”
Helle C. Dale warned of “a new kind of propaganda, aimed at sowing doubt about anything having to do with the U.S. and the West, and in a number of countries, unsophisticated audiences are eating it up.”
Peter Pomerantsev claimed that Russia’s goal is “to trash the information space with so much disinformation so that a conversation based on actual facts would become impossible.” He added, “Throughout Europe conspiracy theories are on the rise and in the US trust in the media has declined. The Kremlin may not always have initiated these phenomena, but it is fanning them…Democracies are singularly ill equipped to deal with this type of warfare. For all of its military might, NATO cannot fight an information war. The openness of democracies, the very quality that is meant to make them more competitive than authoritarian models, becomes a vulnerability.”
Is Western media instrumental in ensuring Western dominance? As a paranoid skeptic how can I say this delicately? Fuck yeah Western media has been instrumental in ensuring Western dominance. But after the invasion and occupation of Iraq based on lies peddled by the NYT and other publications, it might be slightly more accurate to say Western media has ensured Western dominance won’t be able to stop the new, multi-polar world from emerging.
Unless we go full berserker Dr. Strangelove, which is entirely possible.
The historical context of Saigon falling on April 30th, 1975 adds another layer to the present insanity unfolding. It’s been forty years since the senseless mayhem in Vietnam ended. Thinking back on that time period can be painful for lots of people. Ray McGovern revisits those tumultuous times with considerable pain because he was in the unique position of potentially leaking information that would have shown, early on, the resistance US troops were up against numbered twice as much as what the Army was saying.
Here is a lengthly excerpt detailing McGovern’s interaction with a fellow CIA analyst:
Many of my Junior Officer Trainee Program colleagues at CIA came to Washington in the early Sixties inspired by President John Kennedy’s Inaugural speech in which he asked us to ask ourselves what we might do for our country. (Sounds corny nowadays, I suppose; I guess I’ll just have to ask you to take it on faith. It may not have been Camelot exactly, but the spirit and ambience were fresh — and good.)
Among those who found Kennedy’s summons compelling was Sam Adams, a young former naval officer out of Harvard College. After the Navy, Sam tried Harvard Law School, but found it boring. Instead, he decided to go to Washington, join the CIA as an officer trainee, and do something more adventurous. He got more than his share of adventure.
Sam was one of the brightest and most dedicated among us. Quite early in his career, he acquired a very lively and important account — that of assessing Vietnamese Communist strength early in the war. He took to the task with uncommon resourcefulness and quickly proved himself the consummate analyst.
Relying largely on captured documents, buttressed by reporting from all manner of other sources, Adams concluded in 1967 that there were twice as many Communists (about 600,000) under arms in South Vietnam as the U.S. military there would admit.
Dissembling in Saigon
Visiting Saigon during 1967, Adams learned from Army analysts that their commanding general, William Westmoreland, had placed an artificial cap on the official Army count rather than risk questions regarding “progress” in the war (sound familiar?).
It was a clash of cultures; with Army intelligence analysts saluting generals following politically dictated orders, and Sam Adams aghast at the dishonesty — consequential dishonesty. From time to time I would have lunch with Sam and learn of the formidable opposition he encountered in trying to get out the truth.
Commiserating with Sam over lunch one day in late August 1967, I asked what could possibly be Gen. Westmoreland’s incentive to make the enemy strength appear to be half what it actually was. Sam gave me the answer he had from the horse’s mouth in Saigon.
Adams told me that in a cable dated Aug. 20, 1967, Westmoreland’s deputy, Gen. Creighton Abrams, set forth the rationale for the deception. Abrams wrote that the new, higher numbers (reflecting Sam’s count, which was supported by all intelligence agencies except Army intelligence, which reflected the “command position”) “were in sharp contrast to the current overall strength figure of about 299,000 given to the press.”
Abrams emphasized, “We have been projecting an image of success over recent months” and cautioned that if the higher figures became public, “all available caveats and explanations will not prevent the press from drawing an erroneous and gloomy conclusion.”
No further proof was needed that the most senior U.S. Army commanders were lying, so that they could continue to feign “progress” in the war. Equally unfortunate, the crassness and callousness of Abrams’s cable notwithstanding, it had become increasingly clear that rather than stand up for Sam, his superiors would probably acquiesce in the Army’s bogus figures. Sadly, that’s what they did.
When the media finally started reporting—and showing Americans images on their televisions—of what was really happening in Vietnam, it got more difficult to send off young Americans to kill and die. The response? Blame the media for losing the war in Vietnam.
Now, 40 years later, the only lesson learned appears to be better control of the message. Yet once again it’s getting more difficult to sell Americans more wars. Even with a more articulate Democrat as President, and the repackaging of wars as “humanitarian interventions”, it’s just not going to fly with a populace that has the lived experiences of definitely NOT recovering from the Wall Street Casino blowing up 7 years ago.
Also, this pie chart:
Over half the pie for the military is insane. And what has it gotten us? New havens in Iraq, Syria and Libya for jihadists, radicalized survivors of drone strikes in places like Pakistan and Yemen, and an integration of Russia and China that will shape the 21st century.
Good job, America.
by William Skink
While some white people want to focus on what those thugs were doing in Baltimore this week, it might be more illuminating to focus on why.
The violence that erupted at the beginning of the week was sparked by a ridiculous overreaction to a high school rumor. The concern over a “purge” of violence now appears to be quite unfounded:
Turns out the teen social media “purge” may have been more a police and media creation than an actual threat.
Early Monday afternoon, the Baltimore Sun (4/27/15) reported on a mass police presence that had descended on Baltimore’s Mondawmin Mall. The reason for this military-like occupation, pinning in high schoolers? A flier advocating a “purge”—a term based on the 2013 dystopian film The Purge, supposedly signifying an outbreak of lawlessness—was, according to the Sun, “widely circulated” among the students.
Surely the police had to come down hard because “teens” on “social media” had planned on doing something that in the past had turned out to be a hoax. Nevertheless, the Sun would do most of the PR heavy lifting, reporting on the “purge” as if it was an existential threat—pinning the incident entirely on this mysterious flier:
The incident stemmed from a flier that circulated widely among city school students via social media about a “purge” to take place at 3 p.m., starting at Mondawmin Mall and ending downtown.
The real-world, non-social media evidence of this purge?
When 3 p.m. came, 75 to 100 students heading to Mondawmin Mall were greeted by dozens of police officers in riot gear. The mall is a transportation hub for students from several nearby schools.
So the students left class (at they always do at 3 p.m.) and headed to Mondawmin Mall (as they always do at 3 p.m.) and were met with hundreds of police in riot rear. That’s not what you’d call a smoking gun.
The only social media images we could find of the supposedly viral “purge” meme were spread by people who were condemning it.
As for the evidence of this “purge” spreading on social media? It’s murky at best. After getting vague responses from the Baltimore Sun reporters in question as to the actual, linked evidence that the flier had gone viral, I took to Twitter asking for evidence that evidence that the flier was spread by high school students before the Sun tweeted it out.
After a few hours and a lot of searching, all that came back were two tweets (one of which is now deleted)—neither of which were from high schoolers, and both of which were upset by the idea of a “purge,” not promoting it. Even if one assumes that the flier actually did go viral on other social media (which it may well have–it’s more difficult to search Instagram and Facebook), the social media activity we could observe was sharing the flier in disgust—not to promote the “purge” at all.
The actions by police—stopping buses and keeping kids from getting home—was unnecessary and provocative. It was definitely a factor in creating the conditions for unrest.
To further understand why Baltimore erupted, read this conversation with David Simon. It turns out a Democrat politician with career-climbing ambition incentivized shitty police work for his own political advancement. From the link:
Originally, early in his tenure, O’Malley brought Ed Norris in as commissioner and Ed knew his business. He’d been a criminal investigator and commander in New York and he knew police work. And so, for a time, real crime suppression and good retroactive investigation was emphasized, and for the Baltimore department, it was kind of like a fat man going on a diet. Just leave the French fries on the plate and you lose the first ten pounds. The initial crime reductions in Baltimore under O’Malley were legit and O’Malley deserved some credit.
But that wasn’t enough. O’Malley needed to show crime reduction stats that were not only improbable, but unsustainable without manipulation. And so there were people from City Hall who walked over Norris and made it clear to the district commanders that crime was going to fall by some astonishing rates. Eventually, Norris got fed up with the interference from City Hall and walked, and then more malleable police commissioners followed, until indeed, the crime rate fell dramatically. On paper.
How? There were two initiatives. First, the department began sweeping the streets of the inner city, taking bodies on ridiculous humbles, mass arrests, sending thousands of people to city jail, hundreds every night, thousands in a month. They actually had police supervisors stationed with printed forms at the city jail – forms that said, essentially, you can go home now if you sign away any liability the city has for false arrest, or you can not sign the form and spend the weekend in jail until you see a court commissioner. And tens of thousands of people signed that form.
Please read the whole piece. It’s incredibly illuminating.
by William Skink
When the rape scandal we still haven’t recovered from as a community was playing out in the media a few years back, Kirsten Pabst blogged about her discontent with the media. And jhwygirl blogged back.
Pabst actually comments on the post, which really you public officials should probably just avoid doing. It just encourages us anonymous bloggers to keep at it.
I hope jhwygirl is encouraged by the acknowledgment Krakauer recently gave her in a question/answer you can read here (h/t Patrick Duganz). From the link:
I gotta say since some of you are bloggers: I’m a big fan. I was able to get those posts [from Kirsten Pabst] because a blogger in Montana has this killer blog, and that’s where I got this. She archived them unofficially. She’s impressive. I have no idea how many readers/followers she has, but she’s this thorn in the side of Missoula county officials, and it’s people like her that keep them honest. I think it would be easy to ignore someone like that if you’re some official, or think you can ignore it, but you can’t, with the world as it is and the internet as it is.
The accolades are well deserved. Congrats on getting some well-deserved credit, jhwygirl.