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Both companies claim to be “disruptive innovators” that shake up the status quo in the out-of-date taxi industry that still relies on human beings to do the work of matching people with rides through dispatch offices.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

Champion

CHAMPION

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 Missoulian.com.

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.

Right?

A Poem for Art Wittich

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.

WHO GETS TAGGED WHAT AND WHY

what does a white
man have to do to
be called terrorist?

what does a white
man have to do to
get the angry photo
put in the paper?

what does a white
man have to do to
not be the lone wolf
not be depressed
but a terrorist, a terrorist!?!

answer: not be white

—William Skink

OVERHEARD AT FAIRMONT HOT-SPRINGS

the storm system has been blowing in
all day

it’s March, which means madness—a madness
reaching far beyond
basketball

at the Hotsprings resort, killing time with the kids,
I assume all the nicely dressed people are here
for a wedding

some of the older men are wearing gold,
ceremonial necklaces, no biggie

they are gathering by the hallway to the
conference center, the girls in brightly colored
dresses…

but then I start listening to a conversation
near me; I hear “Grand Master” and “initiate”

the older man speaking is from Wyoming
and says Montana chapters
are down, fallen off
I hear another man say
they have 5 boys being initiated this year

after sneaking a pic with my phone
I tell my kids it’s time to go
we walk through the sliding glass doors
as another man wearing a gold necklace
walks in

a couple inquires what he’s here for
“just a gathering of a youth group,” he says

I scoff within earshot of this couple
and lock eyes—“are you ok?” she asks

I pause, thinking what to say back

“what I just overheard,” I say, “freaked
me out”

I pause again, then

“I think they’re KKK”

I turn and keep walking, no longer chilled
by just the wind

—William Skink

by William Skink

What was supposed to be a nice getaway with the family after a difficult, emotionally draining week turned into a maddening endurance test of disappointment. Both kids were going to have ski lessons, but the oldest got an ear infection he’s still fighting, so skiing was out. We tried to find something to do in Butte, but that was a bust. The mine tour wasn’t open and we hadn’t really planned ahead, so drove around aimlessly with the kids screaming. We drove all the way to Philipsburg for lunch, which was delicious (UpNSmokin BBQ House!!!) but the high winds kept the kids from wanting to do anything outside, so after a few meltdowns, we got back in the car and drove back to the Hotsprings.

What happened next made the whole trip seem beyond absurd, but before I get to that, I’ve had a few hours today (thanks Grandma!) to dig into a few things that have come up, like how the territory that became Montana had strong confederate/secessionist sympathies during the Civil War. One interesting article explores how an argument can be made that the Civil War was won in Virginia City, Montana. The short of it? Gold.

I suggest reading the whole article. For the purpose of the post, I’ll start with this:

When the war began, Montana, then part of the Dakota Territory, was sparcely populated. As the war progressed (regressed would be more accurate), settlers of every variety and origin, including many from the South, moved in, first to the western slope of the Rockies (present day Idaho) and then to the eastern (present day Montana). The lure? Gold, of course. It was discovered in 1861 in the area of the Mullan Road in present-day Idaho, in 1862 along Grasshopper Creek near Bannack, Montana, and in 1863 in Virginia City (Alder Gulch), Montana, originally to have been named Verona City (a misspelling of Varina, Jefferson Davis’s wife), but named Virginia City by a newly elected miners’ court judge, Dr. G. G. Bissell, a Connecticut Unionist who could live with Virginia, but not with Varina.

….

With the settlers, who sought nothing more than a better life, came drunkards, gamblers, pimps, prostitutes, robbers, killers and deserters from Union and Confederate armies. Just as they did in Tombstone, Arizona Territory, when silver was discovered there in 1881, they quickly established a culture of decadence, lawlessness and violence, a perfect condition for the emergence of a strongman or strongmen and counter-law-lessness, i.e. vigilantism.

To the Lincoln Administration, of course, it was absolutely imperative that all this gold flow into Federal coffers and that not a nugget find its way to the Confederacy. How much gold? In Virginia City alone, $600,000 worth of gold was being mined every week, according to quotes sent to Lincoln in 1864. In today’s dollars, that is $33 million per week or $1.7 billion a year and is in addition to the value of gold mined in nearby Nevada City and Bannack. The Federal Government thus took immediate steps to preserve this immense wealth. It established in the spring of 1863 a new political entity known as Idaho Territory, comprising the present states of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, with its capital at Lewiston in present-day Idaho. Lincoln then appointed W. W. Wallace as Governor of the new territory. As Chief Justice of the new territory, Lincoln appointed his friend, and one of the founders of the Republican Party, Sidney Edgerton. The latter arrived in Bannack on September 17, 1863, with his family and a nephew, Wilber Fisk Sanders. They were originally supposed to travel to Lewiston, but went instead to Bannack, which was only seventy-five miles from Virginia City and its gold.

Edgerton’s and Sanders’s problem was that they had to accomplish their purpose—the preservation of the gold for the Union—in what was essentially enemy territory, which is to say that the great majority of the Territory’s inhabitants were secessionists. They did so by arranging for the creation of a Vigilance Committee, also known as the Vigilantes, in Bannack and Virginia City. In the winter of 1863-1864, the Vigilantes eliminated any and all threats to the flow of gold to the Federal Government, which is a nice euphemism for saying they murdered a lot of people. It worked. Almost all the gold flowed to the Federal Government, thus maintaining the value of greenbacks at home and abroad and producing the means to accomplish westward expansion, i.e. to populate the west with Union sympathizers. The Homestead Act of 1862 had already begun the process. Later, Union-sympathizing emigrants to Montana Territory came in substantial numbers from St. Paul, Minnesota, protected by U.S. troops led by Captain James Liberty Fisk, who had also journeyed to Washington, with two gold nuggets from Alder Gulch, to impress upon Lincoln the importance of controlling the gold flow. This emigration was financed by the United States Congress for obvious reasons. The effect was the desired one.

Ok, so why am I quoting an article about gold, vigilantes and the Civil War?

I went looking for southern/confederate influences in the settling of these western territories because I think there was a KKK social at Fairmont Hotsprings this weekend.

I’m going to leave it at that for now. I’m working on a poem about the experience, what I saw, what I overheard. I’m also debating what to do with the picture I snuck of the guy talking about renewing efforts to get chapters up in Montana. He was from Wyoming.

Stay tuned.

by William Skink

Economic pressure will keep widening the cracks and unraveling the strings of the safety net. The latest housing report shows prices climbing across nearly all housing sectors. In those lower brackets that’s really going to hurt. Why? Medicaid expansion.

What is being celebrated as a bipartisan bill making its way to the Governor’s desk could be a poison pill. When asked, Pogie had this reply:

While Democrats would certainly prefer the more sensible bill they promoted before Art Wittich killed it, SB 405 is better than nothing. The Montana Budget & Policy Center explains it better than I could:
Even with our concerns about the additional hurdles SB 405 places on low-income families, we will support this legislation and we hope policymakers will seriously consider this compromise. We’ve been saying it for over a year now – 70,000 can’t wait. We cannot ask our fellow Montanans to continue to wait for health care. This is too important. –
See more at: http://www.montanabudget.org/the-montana-help-act-a-new-pathway-to-insure-70000-montanans/#sthash.DJgwkVnZ.dpuf

We can agree on that last sentiment, the catchy slogan 70,000 can’t wait, because it’s true. Viscerally so.

But is this bill really better than doing nothing? Conner, at Flathead Memo, disagrees:

The unanimous Democratic support for the blast is proof that Gov. Bullock and the Democratic Party have embraced the perverse axiom that the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many. In this case, the few are the up to 70,000 Montanans who might be helped by SB-405, and the many are the 165,600 poorer people already on Medicaid and CHIP whose incomes will be reduced two percent by SB-405.

That’s right. The people most down and out will have their piggy banks robbed to help people who are not as poor. It’s an economically regressive policy that’s the inverse of everything Democrats say they stand for. But the poorest of the poor are the least likely to vote, so picking their pockets won’t result in payback at the polls.

Is this true? I haven’t read the specific language of this bill, but the link Pogie provides goes into a little more detail:

However, as part of any compromise, there are concerns regarding provisions of this bill. The HELP Act will charge new enrollees a premium for access to health care coverage. While the premiums will be limited to 2% of enrollees’ modified adjusted gross income, this could be a real stretch for Montana’s low-income families. Additionally, the bill requires new enrollees to pay co-pays for certain services (up to another 3% of their modified adjusted gross income). This cost sharing can add up to 5% of their modified adjusted gross income – that is the maximum allowed under federal law. The good news is that co-pays will not be applied to preventative health care, health screenings, immunizations, or generic pharmaceuticals for chronic medical conditions.

Another concern is the penalties for failure to pay premiums. For Montanans who are below 100% of the poverty line ($11,770 for an individual or $20,090 for a family of three), there is no disenrollment for nonpayment, however the unpaid premiums become a collectable debt by the state. For Montanans who are above 100% of the poverty line, failure to pay within 90 days of notice will result in disenrollment. They can be reenrolled upon payment.

The Governor has yet to overtly signal if he’ll sign this “compromise”. If it gets that far, I hope he vetoes it.

by William Skink

Today Saudi Arabia started bombing targets in Yemen, undoubtedly with some level of US support.

Besides exporting oil, Saudi Arabia also exports Islamic extremism in the form of Wahhabism. That means America’s oil pals aren’t shy about demanding the occasional beheading of alleged witches and sorcerers because hey, that’s just how they roll.

Though Wahhabism adherents despise the Shiite sect of Islam, they are not opposed to going after Sunnis as well:

Since the foundation of the Wahhabi sect in the 18th C it has shown extreme hostility towards Sunnis. In fact Saudi Arabia emerged through a series brutal wars with non-Wahhabi Sunnis.

The plight of Shiites in Saudi Arabia is well known, but few know about the rampant discrimination against Sunnis. When the Wahhabi army of Abdelaziz ibn Saud invaded Mecca in 1924 scores of Sunni scholars were killed and Sunnis books burned. Through violence and intimidation the Wahhabis managed to destroy all other Islamic schools of thought in the occupied city.

Until today non-Wahhabi Sunnis are prohibited from giving sermons or lectures in any mosque in Saudi Arabia. Wahhabi preachers routinely insult and condemn Sunnis and their beliefs, but Sunnis are not allowed to even gently criticize Wahhabism. Anybody who dares to do so is fined, thrown in jail or tortured. Non-Wahhabi Sunni books, like classic collections of poetry praising the Prophet (pbuh), are banned and if found, confiscated.

In Yemen, some recent history for context would be helpful, so here’s a bit of background from Moon of Alabama:

In 2012 the U.S. and its Wahhabi Arabic Gulf allies expelled the longtime Yemeni president Saleh and replaced him with his vice president Hadi. There was some hope that Hadi would change the quarrel on the ground and the dysfunctional state but the unrest in the country kept growing and as the oil prices went down so went the Yemeni government.

Hadi could only beg the Saudis to finance him and in return had to fulfill their political demands. Meanwhile al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula kept growing in Yemen, U.S. drone strikes killed more and more tribe members in the south and deserved revenge and a southern independence movement added to the tumult. All this led to the rise of the Houthis (video, 45min).

The Houthis, allied with the former president Saleh and some parts of the dysfunctional Yemeni army, decided to take on the state. In 2014 they captured parts of the capitol Sanaa and expanded the territory they controlled. In January Hadi fled to Aden in the south. Many people belonging to the Houthi groups are Zaidi Shia. Their belief differs from Iranian 12er Shia belief and their religious rituals have more in common with Sunni rituals than with mainstream Shia. Yemen is in general not as sectarian as other gulf countries. Various variants of belief mix and often use the same mosques.

But Houthi, like many other Yemenis, despise the Saudis and their Wahhabism. It is mostly therefore that they are accused of being allied with Iran. While there are certainly some sympathies between Iran and the Houthi groups there is no evidence of outright support.

Ah, there we are, the great boogeyman, Iran. Keeping the propaganda pressure going gets really weird when you start to realize jihadist berserkers are supported by our allies, who behead witches, yet it’s Iran that must be perpetually demonized, sanctioned, and attacked with cyber assaults and assassinations of scientists.

One despicable craftsman of propaganda can be found regurgitated on the Missoulian’s opinion page, Rich Lowry. There is no end to the hilarity that ensues as this tool decries a diplomatic revolution:

The socialist government in France usually doesn’t have much in common with congressional Republicans, for whom both France and socialism tend to be anathema. But the French, according to a Wall Street Journal report, are taking the toughest line among the powers negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program and are alarmed by the Obama administration’s accommodating approach.

“Some U.S. officials,” the Journal writes, “privately believe France is seeking in part to maintain strong ties to Israel and to Arab countries deeply skeptical of Washington’s outreach to Tehran.”

When the Quai d’Orsay is more concerned than Foggy Bottom with maintaining warm ties to Israel, it is a sign of a world turned upside down.

Consider the bizarre confluence of the perhaps-imminent Iran agreement with the administration’s apoplexy over Bibi Netanyahu’s re-election in Israel. The Iran deal will nullify the half-dozen U.N. resolutions calling on Iran to halt all uranium enrichment, at the same time the administration is floating the idea of going along with a new effort to isolate Israel at the U.N., in effect for the offense of re-electing Bibi Netanyahu.

There are barely words for the perversity of this turnabout. It would be a step toward normalizing a rogue state and making a rogue state out of a normal country. It would be a rapprochement with a sworn enemy and a breach with a tried-and-true friend. It would be a diplomatic revolution in keeping with President Barack Obama’s purported realism that has little regard for either our deepest-held values or coldblooded interests.

This is just amazing stuff, and it get’s even better:

Israel holds free-and-fair elections in which Arabs can freely vote, even if Netanyahu made an ill-advised election-day comment about them turning out in droves; in country after country, Sunni and Shia forces kill and maim one another in a vicious fight for dominance by force. Israel builds settlements (mostly in areas that will stay part of Israel in any peace deal); Bashar al-Assad drops cluster bombs on people, and has reportedly returned to using chemical weapons.

It doesn’t take great discernment to see the differences. It takes only a modicum of perspective, which President Obama can’t muster as he sets about engineering a rupture with our only democratic ally in the Middle East.

Wow. Just wow. Where to start?

The racist state of Israel, armed with nukes, no longer even maintains the illusion of desiring a two-state solution. Israel has committed countless war crimes with the assurance that the US will always have its back at the UN. American citizens have been killed, like Rachel Corrie crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer on March 16th, 2003. American soldiers were slaughtered by Israeli war planes in the attack on the USS Liberty.

And just two days ago the Wall Street Journal reported on Israel’s spying on US negotiations with Iran:

Soon after the U.S. and other major powers entered negotiations last year to curtail Iran’s nuclear program, senior White House officials learned Israel was spying on the closed-door talks.

The spying operation was part of a broader campaign by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to penetrate the negotiations and then help build a case against the emerging terms of the deal, current and former U.S. officials said. In addition to eavesdropping, Israel acquired information from confidential U.S. briefings, informants and diplomatic contacts in Europe, the officials said.

What nice friends we have.

While all this is very complicated and depressing to try and sort out, the US/Israel objective seems pretty straight forward: What can’t be controlled must be destroyed.

And so it goes.

by William Skink

There is this quaint notion we get from Economics 101 that supply and demand drive the markets. If you want to pass some standardized test, stick with 101. If you want to grapple with what actually happens in the real world, toss the text book out of the first available window.

It’s not that supply and demand don’t matter. They do. Take, for example, the demand for houses. Most people want to live in one, so there’s demand. For supply, there are plenty of laborers and resources to make use of. But we’re talking some big numbers if you want to play the home buying game. So you need financing.

Well, a few years ago we saw what happens when supply and demand takes a back seat to greed. Perverse incentives fueled an orgy of sub-prime lending, and the contagion went global.

For Montana, the collapse of the inflated housing boom hit labor hard. Mills closed and construction slowed. But despite the pesky constraints of reality, a bipartisan effort from Jon Tester and Steve Daines aims at using big government to shelter an industry from the impacts of Economics 101. And always happy to oblige, the Missoulian is more than willing to stack the story for panhandling loggers:

The U.S. Forest Service needs to quadruple forest restoration acres, while logging could reasonably triple over current levels in Montana, Chief Tom Tidwell said under questioning from Montana’s senators.

Tidwell was before the Senate Appropriations Interior Subcommittee on Wednesday lobbying for a nearly $5 billion budget in fiscal year 2016. Democratic Sen. Jon Tester and Republican Sen. Steve Daines questioned the chief on goals for Montana, pushing for increases in timber production to saw mills and other wood products.

“I don’t need to tell you how important saw mills are as a partner to the Forest Service. We don’t need to drive these folks out of business, and it becomes a taxpayer-funded problem as far as forest management,” Tester said.

Forest restoration, including logging, produced 113 million board feet (see info box) of saw logs, posts and poles and firewood on 9,000 acres in Montana during FY2014. Tester asked if current work was adequate to properly manage 17 million acres of forests.

“It’s not near enough of what we need to be doing to change the conditions on the landscape, to restore the resiliency of those forests and reduce the wildland fire threat to our communities,” Tidwell said, citing workforce reductions and shifting funds to fire budgets. “I’ve tried to be really clear about the challenge we have in front of us, and the need for us to increase the pace and scale of restoration of our nation’s forests.”

Tidwell went on to say that the number of restored acres needed to increase at least four times. He added that individual project size, with authorities granted under the 2014 Farm Bill, needed to significantly expand.

“Especially in your state, we need to be able to move forward with some larger landscape projects similar to what we’ve done in some neighboring states where we can look at not thousands but tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of acres with one environmental assessment,” Tidwell told Tester.

Daines echoed the frustrations of Montana timber mill owners, many running at two-thirds capacity. Many mills are facing layoffs due to lack of logs while surrounded by millions of acres of available timber, he said.

“They’re healthier forests; environmentally the best thing we can do are responsible timber practices,” he said.

Sustainable timber harvest figures are much higher than the 113 million board feet cut in Montana, Daines said. He then asked Tidwell if 300 million board feet was a reasonable goal.

“Three hundred million board feet is very reasonable,” Tidwell replied.

Reasonable? Based on what? Certainly not market fundamentals.

Here are some numbers worth considering, reported on five years ago:

About 3.5 million US residents (about 1% of the population), including 1.35 million children, have been homeless for a significant period of time. Over 37,000 homeless individuals (including 16,000 children) stay in shelters in New York every night. This information was gathered by the Urban Institute, but actual numbers might be higher.

Fox Business estimates, there are 18.9 million vacant homes across the country.

3.5 million people without homes; 18.9 million homes without residents.

And don’t you know, it ain’t all about subprime:

While subprime loans have justly captured much of the ink as the culprit, overdevelopment is a major factor in the dramatic number of vacancies there are today. These are not just the homes of people who took on a mortgage they couldn’t afford; these are newly constructed houses without a buyer on the horizon. It’s not about taking a residence from someone who can’t pay his or her bills and giving it to another person who can’t make payments either, it’s about using resources we have in excess.

If environmentalists weren’t so easily scapegoated, one wonders how the tag-team effort from a Democrat and a Republican to push through big government logging subsidies, while absconding from the principals for free market Capitalism, would be accepted.

The article quoted at length above is fascinating because it tries to acknowledge reality, via quotes from Mike Garrity, but still drifts toward industry propaganda:

The dip in timber for mills came with the downturn in housing demand of the Great Recession, said Garrity, an economist. The downturn was coupled with cheaper logs from Canada via NAFTA, he added.

Whether a 300 million board feet target was attainable would simply depend on where the logs came from and challenges were likely if it harmed fish and wildlife, Garrity said.

Timber-dependent industries in Montana spoke favorably of the potential for increased harvest.

“The exchange between the senators and chief is encouraging,” said Keith Olson, executive director of the Montana Logging Association. “The ability of industry to ramp up will be dependent upon certainty of access to increasing harvest levels.”

“The mills can handle it,” said Julia Altemus, executive vice president of the Montana Wood Products Association. “The mills are running at 60 percent capacity. All the mills would love an opportunity to run at 100 percent.”

Altemus cautioned that the Forest Service in the short term may not have enough current projects in the pipeline to meet a 300 million board feet goal as the cut is typically closer to 100 million board feet.

Public sentiment had largely turned to support for increasing timber harvest and other forest restoration, Daines said. Collaborative based forest projects have the greatest chance of success, and the number of diverse groups agreeing that responsible forest management would have positive economic and environmental impacts was encouraging, he added.

“The level of agreement we have is greater today than it’s ever been in my career,” Tidwell said of collaborative pushes for increased forest restoration.

Restoration? What a joke. The push to “restore” Montana forests is happening despite a lack of demand for home construction, and that’s problematic from several different political angles. For Steve Daines, he’s aiding and abetting Big Government’s intrusion on the Free Market. For Jon Tester, he’s continuing to alienate the people he expects to help reelect him in a few years.

Both politicians will blab about jobs, as if cutting trees is the only kind of work possible in our forests. Instead of government subsidized logging, why not invest in trail maintenance? Well-kept trails would be good for our tourism industry, right?

But that would make too much sense, so don’t expect it to happen. Instead we will be treated to more shill-reporting and deceitful rhetoric from our elected officials.

by William Skink

I came across a very interesting Alternet article titled The More a Society Coerces Its People, the Greater the Chance of Mental Illness. Then, from my free-associative Twitter feed, I read another article about the crisis in our detention facility.

Here is a bit from the first link:

Modernity is replete with institutional coercions not present in most indigenous cultures. This is especially true with respect to schooling and employment, which most Americans, according to recent polls, find alienating, disengaging and no fun. As I reported in July, a Gallup poll released in January 2013 reported that the longer students stay in school, the less engaged they become, and by high school, only 40% reported being engaged. Critics of schooling from Henry David Thoreau and Paul Goodman to John Holt and John Taylor Gatto have understood that coercive and unengaging schooling is necessary to ensure that young people more readily accept coercive and unengaging employment. As I reported in the same article, a June 2013 Gallup poll revealed that 70% of Americans hate their jobs or have checked out of them.

Unengaging employment and schooling require all kinds of coercions for participation, and human beings pay a psychological price for this. In nearly three decades of clinical practice, I have found that coercion is often the source of suffering.

Here’s one situation I’ve seen hundreds of times. An intelligent child or teenager has been underachieving in standard school, and has begun to have emotional and/or behavioral problems. The child often feels coerced by standard schooling to pay attention to that which is boring, to do homework that has no value they can see, and to stay inside a building that feels sterile and suffocating. Depending on the child’s temperament, this coercion results in different outcomes—none of them good.

Some of these kids get depressed and anxious. They worry that their lack of attention and interest will result in dire life consequences. They believe authorities’ admonitions that if they do poorly in school, they will be flipping burgers for the rest of their lives. It is increasingly routine for doctors to medicate these anxious and depressed kids with antidepressants and other psychiatric drugs.

Other inattentive kids are unworried. They don’t take seriously either their schooling or admonitions from authorities, and they feel justified in resisting coercion. Their rebellion is routinely labeled by mental health professionals as “acting out,” and they are diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorder. Their parents often attempt punishments, which rarely work to break these kids’ resistance. Parents become frustrated and resentful that their child is causing them stress. The child feels this parental frustration and resentment, and often experiences it as parental dislike. And so these kids stop liking their parents, stop caring about their parents’ feelings, and seek peers whom they believe do like them, even if these peers are engaged in criminal behaviors.

And why are we, as a society, so quick to medicate? Money of course. From the same link:

Once, when doctors actually listened at length to their patients about their lives, it was obvious to many of them that coercion played a significant role in their misery. But most physicians, including psychiatrists, have stopped delving into their patients’ lives. In 2011, the New York Times reported, “A 2005 government survey found that just 11 percent of psychiatrists provided talk therapy to all patients.” The article points out that psychiatrists can make far more money primarily providing “medication management,” in which they only check symptoms and adjust medication.

So much needs to change if we want to have a healthy, well-adjusted population. The coercion inherent in our late-stage capitalist system produces misery, even among the monetary winners.

Another article has been making the rounds online. It’s about addiction and the role isolation plays. From the link:

If you had asked me what causes drug addiction at the start, I would have looked at you as if you were an idiot, and said: “Drugs. Duh.” It’s not difficult to grasp. I thought I had seen it in my own life. We can all explain it. Imagine if you and I and the next twenty people to pass us on the street take a really potent drug for twenty days. There are strong chemical hooks in these drugs, so if we stopped on day twenty-one, our bodies would need the chemical. We would have a ferocious craving. We would be addicted. That’s what addiction means.

One of the ways this theory was first established is through rat experiments — ones that were injected into the American psyche in the 1980s, in a famous advert by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. You may remember it. The experiment is simple. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself.

The advert explains: “Only one drug is so addictive, nine out of ten laboratory rats will use it. And use it. And use it. Until dead. It’s called cocaine. And it can do the same thing to you.”

But in the 1970s, a professor of Psychology in Vancouver called Bruce Alexander noticed something odd about this experiment. The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently? So Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat about town could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, will happen then?

In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn’t know what was in them. But what happened next was startling.

The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.

So here’s a quick summation: our society is sick, and those who can’t be coerced into adhering to the status quo are isolated. Addiction in our society runs rampant, and we further isolate people by throwing them in jail. Treating the symptoms is pointless if we continue ignoring the core problems.

Will we start addressing these core problems before it’s too late? That remains to be seen.

MT Legislature

MT LEGISLATURE

they do not stalk their prey with sword
they do not call it war on poor
they get their dick pills on our dime
they have no shame, they waste our time

I, as poet, send voodoo curse
discarded ghosts will rise again
you will not elude the reach
of unquiet desperation

—William Skink

by William Skink

Tomorrow David Lenio is being arraigned on felony charges for his hate-filled, threatening escalation online. It will be an interesting case to follow. My first reaction was one of weariness at the 9/11 conspiracist angle national media outlets, like Salon, were using.

Locally, the Cowgirl is making use of this case to bash the habitual push by Montana Republicans to put guns everywhere:

As the fight to nullify federal gun laws, force guns into college campuses and workplaces and encourage the proliferation of concealed weapons and ammunition stockpiles rages in in the Montana legislature, the Missoulian is reporting today that a man who threatened to kill hundreds of school kids and Jewish leaders will be arraigned in district court in Missoula this Thursday for “felony charges of intimidation and criminal defamation.”

David Lenio is the white -supremacist, 9/11 conspiracy theorist, and holocaust denier who tweeted comments saying he wants to execute “grade school students” and “shoot up a school” and a synagogue, and put “two in the head” of a rabbi or Jewish leader. He also said he hoped to go on a killing rampage until “cops take me out.”

What hasn’t been acknowledged so far is the economic angle. This is a grouping of tweets Salon highlights because the time and frequency of the tweets indicates an increased level of agitation:

2:55 a.m. – 12 Feb. 2015: “Talk mental health all you want but if I must work for piss poor #homeless slave #wages & can’t get property in my homeland..I may kill kids”

2:57 a.m. – 12 Feb. 2015: “I bet I could get at least 12 unarmed sitting ducks if I decide to go on a killing spree in a #school Sounds better than being a wage slave”

3:38 a.m. – 12 Feb. 2015: “USA needs a Hitler to rise to power and fix our #economy and i’m about ready to give my life to the cause or just shoot a bunch of #kikes…”

3:50 a.m. – 12 Feb. 2015: “If I had to pick between being homeless or shooting up a school and becoming dead, I’d say shooting up the school… Social security my ass”

Lenio can be prosecuted and imprisoned for whatever length of time the court deems appropriate, but that won’t change the core economic reality guaranteed to exacerbate social unrest. I’ll say it again, what we are seeing play out in Helena and across the nation is class warfare. David Lenio is a symptom of a larger sickness, a canary in the coal mine warning the air is too toxic to breathe.

Will we listen?

by William Skink

I associate spring with death. While there are personal reasons for this, there are also quantitative reasons that scientists still can’t quite figure out, and it has to do with suicide (May, 2005):

Psychiatrists have been scratching their chins over this one for years. Counterintuitively, the arrival of spring and the long sunny days it ushers in, mark a staggering rise in suicide rates.

This week, mental health experts at the Priory group said that May is the peak month for suicides in Britain. “The increase can be dramatic, with up to 50% more successful suicides in some cases,” says Chris Thompson, director of healthcare at the Priory group. In Britain, about 6,300 people take their own lives each year, 90% of whom are likely to have mental health problems.

The seasonal effect is seen all over the world, with the northern hemisphere witnessing a big rise in suicides in May and June and the southern hemisphere seeing a similar rise in November. While no one has a complete explanation as to why, the leading theory is that the increase is down to the effects of sunlight on our hormones.

According to Thompson, the seasonal changes that bring most of us out of winter apathy may work against those who are coming out of severe depression. “It is a harsh irony that the partial remission which most depression sufferers experience in the spring often provides the boost of energy required for executing a suicide plan,” he says. “Spring is a time for new beginnings and new life, yet the juxtaposition between a literally blooming world and the barren inner life of the clinically depressed is often too much for them to bear.”

This topic comes to mind after reading reports that one of the three UM student deaths over the weekend was an apparent suicide.

In 2013, the Governor appointed 6 members of the state’s first suicide review team. There are of course warning signs and strategies of prevention to implement and a National Suicide Prevention Hotline, but is it working? Hardly. And it’s not just the seasons, there may also be generational trends:

Suicide rates among middle-aged Americans have risen sharply in the past decade, prompting concern that a generation of baby boomers who have faced years of economic worry and easy access to prescription painkillers may be particularly vulnerable to self-inflicted harm.

More people now die of suicide than in car accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which published the findings in Friday’s issue of its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. In 2010 there were 33,687 deaths from motor vehicle crashes and 38,364 suicides.

Suicide has typically been viewed as a problem of teenagers and the elderly, and the surge in suicide rates among middle-aged Americans is surprising.

From 1999 to 2010, the suicide rate among Americans ages 35 to 64 rose by nearly 30 percent, to 17.6 deaths per 100,000 people, up from 13.7. Although suicide rates are growing among both middle-aged men and women, far more men take their own lives. The suicide rate for middle-aged men was 27.3 deaths per 100,000, while for women it was 8.1 deaths per 100,000.

The most pronounced increases were seen among men in their 50s, a group in which suicide rates jumped by nearly 50 percent, to about 30 per 100,000. For women, the largest increase was seen in those ages 60 to 64, among whom rates increased by nearly 60 percent, to 7.0 per 100,000.

If you know a friend or family member struggling, say something. Suicide prevention is possible. This story of a would-be-jumper off the Golden Gate bridge is a powerful reminder of what human connection can do.

Remember Ukraine?

by William Skink

I decided to take a quick stroll down memory lane by rereading the shallow assessment of how The American Left has Failed on Ukraine. Written by the Polish Wolf nearly a year ago, it’s clear, at least to me, that his arguments have not aged well. Because there isn’t really that much substance to it, there isn’t much worth quoting. PW simply makes two claims, without evidence, that supposedly prove this alleged leftist failure, and those are:

1. The government currently in Ukraine is not a threat to Russians living in Ukraine. Quite the opposite – Russians in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea are actively undermining the government of Ukraine (No, the status of Russian as an official regional language, by the way, has not changed. Russia Today reported that it had, and to my knowledge has failed to note that the president of Ukraine never signed into law that act).

2. The government is not dominated by neo-fascists, at least, not yet. Svoboda and Pravy Sektor are both still extreme minority parties, and the armed right wing is under heavy police pressure by the Ukrainian government. Indeed, the only party that has anything to gain from the radical right gaining power, and the only party acting to make that more likely, is Russia. Both Svoboda and Pravy Sektor have loudly opposed admission to the EU or the involvement of the IMF in Ukraine (interestingly, the exact same position toward Ukraine advocated by our local ‘progressive’ blogs), making it seem highly unlikely that they will continue to have Euro-American backing. Hard core nationalism in a multi-ethnic state like Ukraine can only lead to instability, the exact outcome Russia desires, and it can only be strengthened by the constant threat (and fact) of Russian intervention.

A few weeks after PW wrote this, the tragedy in Odessa occurred. Since then, things have only gotten worse.

After that April post, PW stopped writing about Ukraine at ID. It was an issue he obviously felt strongly about, so I’m not sure why the sudden stop. It’s an issue I feel strongly about as well, seeing as how this civil war is a brutal, bloody trap set for Russia by the west, and has the potential to spark a global conflagration between two countries with lots of nukes on hand.

I did keep writing, and whoa boy did it make some people upset. I’ve been called lots of things, but the visceral reaction by James Conner to our speculation about the circumstances of MH17 being shot down was one of the best denouncements I’ve had the pleasure of receiving:

…their arguments verge on hysteria. They don’t trust the mainstream media, such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, or the Guardian. They seem to see a conspiracy behind every sunflower. They hate the United States and its government with a black bile that corrodes their judgment.

Like PW, James Conner is not writing about the current status of the MH17 investigation, an issue that he must feel passionately about to make such a public, and personal, display of breaking ties with this corrosive, bile-soaked blog.

But Robert Parry, at Consortium news, is definitely still interested in what happened to MH17 and he doesn’t believe the laughable assertion that our intelligence agency has added ZERO updates to the report since it was released 5 days after the MH17 was shot out of the sky, killing everyone on board:

Despite the high stakes involved in the confrontation between nuclear-armed Russia and the United States over Ukraine, the U.S. intelligence community has not updated its assessment on a critical turning point of the crisis – the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 – since five days after the crash last July 17, according to the office of the Director of National Intelligence.

On Thursday, when I inquired about arranging a possible briefing on where that U.S. intelligence assessment stands, DNI spokesperson Kathleen Butler sent me the same report that was distributed by the DNI on July 22, 2014, which relied heavily on claims being made about the incident on social media.

So, I sent a follow-up e-mail to Butler saying: “are you telling me that U.S. intelligence has not refined its assessment of what happened to MH-17 since July 22, 2014?”

Her response: “Yes. The assessment is the same.”

I then wrote back: “I don’t mean to be difficult but that’s just not credible. U.S. intelligence has surely refined its assessment of this important event since July 22.”

When she didn’t respond, I sent her some more detailed questions describing leaks that I had received about what some U.S. intelligence analysts have since concluded, as well as what the German intelligence agency, the BND, reported to a parliamentary committee last October, according to Der Spiegel.

While there are differences in those analyses about who fired the missile, there appears to be agreement that the Russian government did not supply the ethnic Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine with a sophisticated Buk anti-aircraft missile system that the original DNI report identified as the likely weapon used to destroy the commercial airliner killing all 298 people onboard.

Butler replied to my last e-mail late Friday, saying “As you can imagine, I can’t get into details, but can share that the assessment has IC [Intelligence Community] consensus” – apparently still referring to the July 22 report.

I’m glad there are people like Robert Parry continuing to track events in Ukraine. Ukraine might not be getting mainstream headline attention right now, but spring is coming, and with spring comes war. I suspect the recent flurry of Putin is ill/dead speculation is prepping the American psyche for Russian regime change.

It seems plausible, at least to me, that our entire political class is insane. Of course I’m just an anonymous blogger in Montana, so what the hell do I know, right?

by William Skink

It was requested of me to cut some slack. Instead, I’ll write another post to address a question brought up in yesterday’s attempt to add a little context to the Daines as Dangerous as the Ayatollahs post at ID. Here are the question:

But are you saying that Iran should have nukes, liz, as a deterrent, and that Libya wouldn’t be in the mess it’s in today if it had them? Maybe everyone should have nukes, then.

I’m not going to answer directly. There are consequences to how the US wielded NATO to decapitate the Libyan state, consequences this blog (sans Pete) brought up repeatedly. One of those consequences was the message it sent to Iran regarding the wisdom of abandoning its nuclear program. But don’t take it from me, take it from this Harvard guy who has a “Dr.” in front of his name. Writing for the Belfer Center, Dr. Eugene Kogan describes how coercive diplomacy in Syria could rehab the damage done by NATO’s destruction of Libya. On Syria Kogan has this to say:

As the world watches whether Iran will give up its nuclear work, Tehran is watching what will happen to Bashar al-Assad once all of his chemical weapons are destroyed. While seemingly unrelated, the nuclear negotiations with Iran and the (halting) disarmament of Syria share a strategic connection. At stake is the efficacy of coercive diplomacy—the use of threats to persuade another actor to change its behavior.

Coercion is an important tool of statecraft because it allows a state to achieve its objectives “on the cheap”—without resorting to war. The possibility that the United States might employ military force no doubt contributed to Bashar al-Assad’s decision to give up his chemical arsenal.

Nobel Prize winner Thomas Schelling wrote almost 50 years ago that coercion works if punishment for miscreants is contingent on their behavior. The threat “one more step and I shoot,” Schelling wrote, would only be effective if one added, “And if you stop I won’t.” Reassurance inherent in this statement is critical for coercion to work. The speaker threatens devastating consequences for noncompliance, yet promises to lift the threat if the target does as he is told. “To be coercive, violence has to be anticipated,” Schelling explained, “And it has to be avoidable by accommodation.”

So how does Libya damage coercive diplomacy, and why does it matter for Iran. Kogan continues:

In negotiations over weapons of mass destruction, quid pro quos are particularly important. No rational actor can be expected to give up a deterrent capability if there is a possibility that in doing so he would be increasing the possibility of becoming a target for regime change. Yet, this fundamental idea was seriously damaged by the Libyan example. In 2003 Muammar Qaddafi gave up his nuclear weapons program and for several years basked in international limelight, including by giving lengthy diatribes at the United Nations. Yet, in 2011, a NATO military coalition enabled the domestic rebellion to overthrow (and eventually kill) the Libyan dictator.

This created a damaging perception: if you give up weapons of mass destruction, the United States just might decide to violate its promises and overthrow you. Those who make this argument point to Iraq (no nuclear deterrent—Saddam overthrown) and North Korea (a nuclear deterrent—Kim Jong Un succeeded his father Kim Jong Il with no end in sight for the Kim dynasty). Both countries have engaged in horrific human rights abuses; the only factor that accounts for their wildly different fates was that one of them had nuclear weapons to keep the superpower at bay, and the other did not.

Given the fate of countries that can’t deter America’s truly dangerous foreign policy, Iran has good reason to be weary. The evidence exists in the smoldering remnants of Libya and the re-ignition of the Cold War with Russia. Speaking about the latter, here’s someone who knows what it’s like to be lied to—Gorbachev:

With both sides flaunting their respective nuclear arsenal, Gorbachev told German magazine Der Spiegel the world “will not survive the next few years” if either side lost its nerve in the current stand-off. “Moscow does not believe the West, and the West does not believe Moscow. The loss of confidence is catastrophic.”

Although critical of his successor, the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize winner nonetheless believed Mr Putin was just reacting based on NATO’s flamboyant aspirations to expand, fuelled by the United States’ “dangerous winning mentality.” He said US-led NATO’s eastward expansion has destroyed the very essence of the European security order which was written in the Helsinki Final Act of 1975. The bloc’s expansion, he claimed, was a 180-degree turn away from the Paris Charter of 1990. He said the latter was made together with all European states to finally leave the Cold War in the past.

“We won’t survive the coming years if someone loses their nerve in this overheated situation,” Gorbachev said. “This is not something I’m saying thoughtlessly. I am extremely concerned.”

Focusing on the borderline treasonous behavior of 47 Republicans may make Democrats sleep better at night, but when it comes to the threat of nuclear weapons being used, I think we need to be more worried about the only nation in the world that has actually used them. And we should also be worried about Israel, a country that refuses to sign the non-proliferation treaty (Dec 3, 2014):

The United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday criticized Israel for failing to join the international non-proliferation treaty and urged it to renounce its arsenal of nuclear weapons. The U.N. also approved a resolution, introduced by Egypt and backed by all Arab nations, calling on Israel to place its nuclear facilities under international oversight, according to media reports.

The U.N. General Assembly reportedly said that Israel, which has so far refused to officially admit to having nuclear weapons, is the only country in the Middle East that has not ratified the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and urged it to “accede to that treaty without further delay … not to develop, produce test or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons, to renounce possession of nuclear weapons.”

Going back to the Kogan piece, he concludes with this:

“Perceptions are reality in international politics,” Mike Mansfield, former U.S. ambassador to Japan, once wrote. The U.S. would be well-advised to pay attention to the perceptions its actions create. Iran is carefully watching whether Assad without chemical weapons will suffer the same fate as did the dictators in a non-nuclear Iraq and a denuclearized Libya.

Well said.

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