by lizard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by lizard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by lizard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by lizard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by lizard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by lizard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so it goes.

by lizard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by lizard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right on, Ed.

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

by lizard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To stop it, that’s why.

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

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

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

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

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

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

by lizard

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

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

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

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

Strange. More from the article:

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

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

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

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

Not so, said the attorney.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by lizard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The struggle continues.

Back to Work

by lizard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rep. Jeffrey Welborn, R-Dillon, $972

Sen. Cliff Larsen, D-Missoula, $732

Rep. Kelly Flynn, R-Townsend, $324

Rep. Don Roberts, R-Billings, $271

Sen. Alan Olson, R-Roundup, $47

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by lizard

Let’s be realistic, 2015 is going to be a very challenging year for those of us who want to see truth, justice and peace ascend to their ideal roles in the day to day governance of our lives. Without adherence to these principles we face another year where lies will dominate our discourse, injustice will inflame our populous and war will continue moving world powers into a confrontation that none of us may escape the consequences of.

In what has to be one of the most audaciously deceitful proclamations from a sitting president, Obama declared the Afghanistan war is over. That is a lie, it is not over. The Chicago Tribune has a good headline emphasizing this deceit: Afghan War is over, except it’s not. From the link:

In a ceremony in Kabul Sunday, the U.S. commander of the NATO forces in Afghanistan grandly proclaimed the “end” of the 13-year combat mission against the Taliban and other terrorist foes. But in doing so, he emphasized that NATO personnel will continue to train home-grown Afghan forces taking up the actual fighting.

President Obama in a written statement declared, “Our combat mission in Afghanistan is ending and the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion.” And in Kabul, a leading NATO official optimistically declared the beginning of “a new chapter for NATO as an enduring partner of the Afghan government.”

However, the war obviously has not ended, and Obama acknowledged the obvious in adding that Afghanistan is still “a dangerous place.” The American military, in its annoying penchant for pasting cheerleading labels on its endeavors, dubbed this ongoing mission “Resolute Support.”

This is just insane. Last month, when Chuck Hagel resigned, I noted how the Obama regime casually declared the exact opposite of what Obama said this month. What a difference a month makes.

Here is what the New York Times reported on November 21st:

President Obama decided in recent weeks to authorize a more expansive mission for the military in Afghanistan in 2015 than originally planned, a move that ensures American troops will have a direct role in fighting in the war-ravaged country for at least another year.

Mr. Obama’s order allows American forces to carry out missions against the Taliban and other militant groups threatening American troops or the Afghan government, a broader mission than the president described to the public earlier this year, according to several administration, military and congressional officials with knowledge of the decision. The new authorization also allows American jets, bombers and drones to support Afghan troops on combat missions.

In an announcement in the White House Rose Garden in May, Mr. Obama said that the American military would have no combat role in Afghanistan next year, and that the missions for the 9,800 troops remaining in the country would be limited to training Afghan forces and to hunting the “remnants of Al Qaeda.”

The Obama regime must think Americans are the stupidest people on the planet. Is he right? Are we so brainwashed that the liar in chief can say one thing while doing the exact opposite? It’s insane, and the silence from his Democrat supporters is maddening.

Those of us paying attention know why the war in Afghanistan must continue. It was never about fighting the Taliban and al Qaeda. It’s about maintaining US hegemony by any means possible, ensuring Russia and China can’t emerge as viable counter-weights to America’s psychotic quest for full spectrum dominance.

Will 2015 be the year this reality seeps up to the surface? Doubtful.

Remaining in this state of willful ignorance could have dire consequences. We can’t talk about solutions if the scope of the problems we are facing can’t be accurately described.

Truth, justice and peace are just words if we don’t do something to make them breathe. And right now they can’t breathe.

It’s up to us, the people, to change that.

by lizard

My default reaction to anything our government says or does is one of suspicion, that I readily admit. When all the mainstream sources of our state media say it’s this, I starting wondering if maybe it’s not that. This default reaction has certainly caused some rifts. In July, after flight MH17 was shot down over Eastern Ukraine, my suspicion that it was the coup government, not Russia, sparked this reaction from James Conner, who had this to say:

4and20blackbirds has become an alternate reality blog, a realm of conspiracy theories and rants by angry leftists driven by hatred of their nation and soured on humanity. Once an oasis of fact and reason, it’s now a well poisoned by fury and anti-Americanism. I can no longer in good conscience keep it on Flathead Memo’s blogroll.

Two things caused me to reflect on that spat over a controversial issue. The first was a piece of self-congratulation James put up at his blog yesterday. Here’s the first paragraph:

An old verity — when the subject is controversial, the speaker should supply the facts and the audience should supply the indignation — governs my approach to reporting and discussing the issues. Too many adjectives usurp the reader’s prerogative to draw his own conclusions. Insults dishonor the human rights of readers and subjects. Profanity — an occasional hell or damn excepted — offends, and gratuitously; and as my grandfather used to say, is the effort of a weak mind to express itself forcefully. I don’t always abide by those principles perfectly, but I try to.

Getting the facts can be difficult. In the case of MH17, the investigation is incredibly secretive and there’s no telling when, if ever, the results will be made known, considering the non-disclosure agreement the countries involved in the investigation apparently signed. There have been facts that emerged (After James supplied the indignation) that calls into serious question the official narrative. Consortium News has been a great source for those of us “angry leftists”.

The second thing, which reinforces my default reaction, is the pathetic government spin of the Sony hack, which is starting to fall apart. From Zerohedge:

First it was, with “absolute certainly”, North Korea. Then, out of the blue, an even more ridiculous theory emerged about the origin of the Sony hackers: Russia. Now, we finally get the truth, and as it turns out it was neither of the abovementioned sovereign actors who had nothing better to do than to hack movie scripts and racist emails: it was Sony’s own disgruntled worker who was the source of the hack. According to Politico, FBI agents investigating the Sony Pictures hack were briefed Monday by a security firm that says its research points to laid-off Sony staff, not North Korea, as the perpetrator.”

Researchers from the cyber intelligence company Norse have said their own investigation into the data on the Sony attack doesn’t point to North Korea at all and instead indicates some combination of a disgruntled employee and hackers for piracy groups is at fault.

I guess it pays to be suspicious. Facts are a luxury we don’t often get in an information landscape littered with spin and propaganda. James Conner should remember that before swallowing more government whoppers, hook, line and sinker.

by lizard

What the hell does the NYPD expect to accomplish by taking a page from the Westboro Baptist Church and using the funeral of officer Ramos to further escalate tensions in their political war against the Mayor’s office? Chief Bratton is trying to do some damage control, but it’s yet to be seen if his words will have any effect. At least he’s trying:

De Blasio has faced expressions of open hostility from New York’s police unions since two officers were killed last weekend. On Saturday a cordon of officers turned their back on the mayor’s image as it was being screened outside Christ Tabernacle church in Queens, where de Blasio was addressing the funeral of one of the murdered officers , Rafael Ramos.

Bratton condemned the silent protest of the police officers. “I certainly don’t support that action,” he said. “That funeral was held to honor officer Ramos, and to bring politics into that event was very inappropriate.”

Today Democracy Now featured a NYPD officer, Adhyl Polanco, speaking out about what’s going on in New York City. Here is a portion of the interview:

AMY GOODMAN: Your reaction to your fellow officers turning their back on Mayor de Blasio, not in the church, but outside, because there were so many, they couldn’t all fit in the church?

ADHYL POLANCO: Absolutely wrong, absolutely wrong. Mayor de Blasio came to the police department, that had a lot of issues with before he got to this police department. Mayor de Blasio came with the attitude that “I can fix this police department.” But this police department has a culture that is going to make whoever tried to change that culture and life impossible, including the mayor. It’s absolutely wrong to turn their back on the mayor. It absolutely don’t show—this is not what we’re made of. This is—I was not taught—you know, this does not represent the police department. This does not represent how, when a family calls for peace and unity, you’re going to have a hundred officers doing the absolute opposite.

AMY GOODMAN: Do other officers feel as you do?

ADHYL POLANCO: There’s many. There’s many officers that feel like I do.

It takes true courage for someone in Officer Polanco’s position to come forward. Within the 7th largest army in the world, I hope there are more people like Officer Polanco.

It’s too bad the insurrectionary faction of the NYPD don’t understand their actions will inevitably make their job more dangerous. Or maybe they don’t care. Maybe another tragedy is something this faction knows they can exploit to—to what? Enact regime change in NYC?

Whatever the motivation, the effect will be further escalation.

by lizard

Community Medical Center had a 75 million dollar choice to make. Seeing as how this money came from the sale of a non-profit hospital, lots of people had lots of hope that this money could be used to positively impact our community. But instead of engaging the public, the CMC board has essentially spit in the face of Missoula by dumping 10 million on the UM foundation and taking the rest to create another non-profit, because that is what Missoula needs, another non-profit. Dave Woolhiser, a founding board member of the Missoula Community Foundation, wrote a letter about this decision and I’m going to repost it here because Dave says what needs to be said:

As an alumnus of the University of Montana who, through charitable giving and volunteerism, supports much within the Missoula community and across Montana, I am offended by the recent decision of the Community Medical Center’s board.

The board has reached an agreement with Billings Clinic and RegionalCare Hospital Partners to sell Community, a non-profit, community-focused hospital, to become a for-profit entity. No dissatisfaction there. I think they did their homework and can justify their decision intelligently.

My dissatisfaction lies with the board’s decision, after an inadequate and unsatisfactory amount of due diligence regarding the disposition of approximately $75 million of charitable assets from the sale — “our” money. The board has decided to give over $10 million to the University of Montana Foundation and use the remainder to create yet another nonprofit organization in Missoula. The process used by the board, lack of concern for the community’s benefit and ultimate decision are three areas of great concern.

To my knowledge, the board did not undergo any sort of rigorous review of existing organizations with which to partner, nor did they conduct any sort of meaningful public discussion regarding this matter. They did host a few meetings, yet those were not community engagement sessions. Community administration was unwilling to share any meaningful information about disposition of the funds with attendees of the sessions I attended. In fact, in one of them we were directly told the process would remain closed “out of respect to the CMC board”!

Transparency and community focus should have been paramount in this situation. It appears to me that the decision has been clouded by board members’ personal agendas rather than meeting the public good. This is evidenced by many members’ inability to check their personal interests, and in some cases employment relationships, at the door when making this decision. Those relationships weren’t disclosed in CMC’s conflict of interest documents.

In a letter from the attorney for Community to the Attorney General, he states that various partnership options were reviewed. I take great exception to this statement. Two highly qualified organizations were invited to make 30-minute presentations to the CMC board about partnership options. Thirty minutes for a $75 million decision – really? It is clear that the board was going through this step merely to check another box in hopes this would satisfy the AG. The organizations’ presentation times were then reduced to approximately 20 minutes each.

While UM is a solid education institution, depositing $10 million in its Foundation does not meet the cy pres requirement of providing funds that most closely serve the charitable purpose of Community. CMC was built through community support and community generosity. Funds from the CMC sale should be used for charitable purposes within the Missoula/western Montana community for the benefit of all its members. The future board tasked with making grants from the sale proceeds should be the entity making the decision as to which charities receive grants.

I am also disappointed that the CMC board voted to create another nonprofit organization. A new organizational structure creates yet more unnecessary administrative structures and cost centers which could be much more efficiently managed by partnering with an existing organization. Two organizations worthy of consideration are the Montana Healthcare Foundation and the Montana Community Foundation. They happen to be the two organizations the board gave 20 minutes each.

Finally, I have contributed to both UM and Community and a multitude of other charitable efforts in Missoula. When I gave to the hospital it was for health care. When I gave to UM it was for education. If I wanted my donation to the hospital to go to the university, I would have given to the university, and vice versa. That the board would not honor charitable intent is simply dishonorable.

As for the UM’s part in this deal, I feel they are absconding with funds that rightly belong to the poverty-stricken, the aged, the infirm, even the unborn of not just Missoula, but our entire region. UM’s acceptance of such a gift is unconscionable. To solicit and accept gifts from the willing rich is one thing, to take it from the unwitting and ignorant poor is quite another. Shame on you.

This money could have been a game changer. How about looking at the mental health issues and addiction issues we waste millions of dollars triaging in the ER and jail? Nope. I hope there will be some investigative journalism examining the process of how the CMC board produced this unfortunate outcome.

A Thought Experiment

by lizard

I came across an interesting thought experiment I’m going to feature first before describing where I found it. Without any introduction, The Fish Farming Story:

As a thought experiment, let’s consider aquaculture (fish farming) in a lake. Imagine a lake with a thousand identical fish farms owned by a thousand competing companies. Each fish farm earns a profit of $1000/month. For a while, all is well.

But each fish farm produces waste, which fouls the water in the lake. Let’s say each fish farm produces enough pollution to lower productivity in the lake by $1/month.

A thousand fish farms produce enough waste to lower productivity by $1000/month, meaning none of the fish farms are making any money. Capitalism to the rescue: someone invents a complex filtering system that removes waste products. It costs $300/month to operate. All fish farms voluntarily install it, the pollution ends, and the fish farms are now making a profit of $700/month – still a respectable sum.

But one farmer (let’s call him Steve) gets tired of spending the money to operate his filter. Now one fish farm worth of waste is polluting the lake, lowering productivity by $1. Steve earns $999 profit, and everyone else earns $699 profit.

Everyone else sees Steve is much more profitable than they are, because he’s not spending the maintenance costs on his filter. They disconnect their filters too.

Once four hundred people disconnect their filters, Steve is earning $600/month – less than he would be if he and everyone else had kept their filters on! And the poor virtuous filter users are only making $300. Steve goes around to everyone, saying “Wait! We all need to make a voluntary pact to use filters! Otherwise, everyone’s productivity goes down.”

Everyone agrees with him, and they all sign the Filter Pact, except one person who is sort of a jerk. Let’s call him Mike. Now everyone is back using filters again, except Mike. Mike earns $999/month, and everyone else earns $699/month. Slowly, people start thinking they too should be getting big bucks like Mike, and disconnect their filter for $300 extra profit…

A self-interested person never has any incentive to use a filter. A self-interested person has some incentive to sign a pact to make everyone use a filter, but in many cases has a stronger incentive to wait for everyone else to sign such a pact but opt out himself. This can lead to an undesirable equilibrium in which no one will sign such a pact.

Now, for how I came across this little tidbit.

The thought experiment comes from a blog called Slate Star Codex, specifically from a post titled Meditations on Moloch which opens with a look at the Moloch section of Allen Ginsberg’s poem, Howl. Before yesterday I’d never heard of this blog. I stumbled across the link at Rigorous Intuition, one of the better online communities of conspiracy theorists centered around the author Jeff Wells. The guy who posted the link is Wombaticus Rex, an interesting fellow in his own right.

I didn’t want the content to be weighed down with the baggage of how I came across it, because I know how easily certain perspectives are judged and dismissed. But for those interested in looking deeper, any one of those links is an interesting thread to follow.

by lizard

I would like to ask every moron who thinks they are championing free speech by going to “The Interview” what they think about some other opportunities to support free speech in America. A decade ago, on the eve of America’s war against Iraq, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks made some comments in London against the war. Conservatives across the nation threw a collective hissy fit:

In March of 2003, the drumbeat for war in Iraq had reached a fevered pitch. Despite massive protests throughout the world, over 70 percent of Americans supported the invasion. In that month, presidential approval also shot over 70 percent, the highest it would be for the remainder of George W. Bush’s tenure in office. Despite these currents, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks spoke out during a London show on the eve of the war, saying “Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas.”

When media reports about the concert got back to the United States, all hell broke loose. Their record sales plummeted, they fell down the Billboard charts and a full scale boycott swept through their largely right-wing country music fan base. Country radio stations across the U.S. pulled them from circulation, with radio network giant Cumulus banning the Dixie Chicks from its more than 250 local stations. Former fans gathered to burn previously-purchased CDs and even, in one media spectacle, crush them with a giant farm tractor.

Unsurprisingly, conservatives welcomed this effort to economically discipline political speech. President Bush himself said of the debacle: “The Dixie Chicks are free to speak their mind. They can say what they want to say … they shouldn’t have their feelings hurt just because some people don’t want to buy their records when they speak out. … Freedom is a two-way street. ”

And how about criticizing the brutal, apartheid state of Israel? Chris Hedges recently found out that those nice University speaking gigs can go south when associating Israel with ISIS. From Mondoweiss:

I had been invited to talk next April 3 at the University of Pennsylvania at a peace conference sponsored by the International Affairs Association, but last week after Truthdig published my column “ISIS—the New Israel” the lecture agency that set up the event received this email from Zachary Michael Belnavis, who is part of the student group:

“We’re sorry to inform you that we don’t think that Chris Hedges would be a suitable fit for our upcoming peace conference. We’re saying this in light of a recent article he’s written in which he compares the organization ISIS to Israel (here’s the article in question). In light of this comparison we don’t believe he would be suitable to a co-existence speaker based on this stance he’s taken.”

Being banned from speaking about the conflict between Israel and Palestine, especially at universities, is familiar to anyone who attempts to challenge the narrative of the Israel lobby.

Here is the offending article. And here is another article by Hedges discussing banning dissent in the name of civility:

Dershowitz has called on Israel to use bulldozers to demolish entire Palestinian villages, rather than individual houses, in retaliation for Palestinian terrorist attacks, although collective punishment violates international law. In another context he defends the use of torture and proposes methods that include shoving a “sterilized needle underneath the nail.” He lambastes as an anti-Semite nearly everyone who has criticized the Israeli state; he once said “there is a special place in hell” for former President Jimmy Carter and that South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu is “one of the most evil men in the world.”

When Dershowitz spoke at Penn in 2012, David Cohen, the chairman of the university board of trustees and executive vice president of Comcast Corp., read to the audience a letter written for the occasion by the school’s president, Amy Gutmann, who was in California at the time. In the letter Gutmann praised Dershowitz and castigated the BDS movement, saying “Penn is blessed to have one of the largest and most active Hillel chapters in the country. And we are unwavering in our support of the Jewish state. Let me say it in the clearest possible words: we do not support the goals of BDS.”

The code word that the Israel lobby and its facilitators at universities use to silence critics is “civility.” Israel supporters are permitted to spout hate and calls for indiscriminate violence against Palestinians. Critics of Israel, however, even if they are careful to denounce violence and not to demonize Jews, are banned in the name of “civility.” It is the height of academic duplicity.

There is a similar duplicity at work within the dynamics of the emerging movement to address police brutality. Protestors are in the streets because black lives don’t seem to matter. The list of names is long, unlike the list of cops held accountable for their actions, even when caught on camera. And while the NYPD is busy fomenting an insurrection against the Mayor, the LAPD is investigating an incident that occurred at a party for a retired LAPD officer where a Jim Croce classic was transformed into an ugly piece of racial incitement:

“Michael Brown learned a lesson
about a messin’ with a bad … police man
And he’s, bad, bad Michael Brown
Baddest thug in the whole darn town
Badder than an ol’ King Kong
Meaner than a junkyard dog
Two men took to fightin’
And Michael punched in through the door
and Michael looked like some old Swiss cheese
His brain was splatter on the floor.”

So cops can say and do whatever they want, but when anger and rage is expressed by non-cops, you better believe arrests will be made. According to CNN, 9 people have been arrested in NYC for “making threats”:

Of the arrests, police said, at least three stemmed from postings made on social media, and at least two came from misdemeanor charges of false report incident, in which the suspects allegedly called 911 reporting threats made by a third party that were later debunked.

One arrest was made after the suspect phoned in a direct threat to 911.

And on Wednesday, a man was arrested on weapons, drug and harassment charges after he was overheard threatening to kill cops while talking on his cell phone inside a bank in Queens, according to the NYPD.
That man is accused of saying on the phone that he was going to kill a cop, and that Brinsley should have killed white police officers, according to a criminal complaint filed in court. The complaint says that when police interviewed the suspect, he elaborated that two white officers should have been killed “if the guy really wanted to send a message.”

In a tweet Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio thanked the police department and the civilian who saw something suspicious and acted:

“Thank you to the NYPD officers who today arrested a man who threatened to kill cops, and to the good Samaritan who provided key information.”

So how invested are those moronic movie goers in defending free speech in America? From artists to academics to disgruntled New Yorkers grappling with their wartime police department, speech is banned, marginalized, suppressed and outright criminalized.

It turns out there are different prices to pay for what is allegedly free in America, and that price depends on who has the power. Confused? Here’s a recap.

You can commit war crimes and lie a nation into war with no accountability but if you criticize that war you will be economically punished.

You can talk openly about killing, torturing and sterilizing Arabs and destroying whole villages as collective punishment and still retain an ability to talk to American college kids, but if you point out the depraved nature of the apartheid state of Israel you will be banned from campus.

You can kill black people with impunity if you have a badge and escape indictment nearly every time, even when there is video evidence of the crime, but if you make verbal threats you will be arrested.

Free speech in America, baby. Love it or leave it!

by lizard

An article that first appeared in The Atlantic two years ago seems to be getting some recent attention again. Maybe it’s because the absurd premise of Millennials being The Cheapest Generation keeps warranting derisive reminders that Millennials aren’t buying shit because they’re fucking broke. Instead of acknowledging that, we get crap like this:

In a bid to reverse these trends, General Motors has enlisted the youth-brand consultants at MTV Scratch—a corporate cousin of the TV network responsible for Jersey Shore—to give its vehicles some 20-something edge. “I don’t believe that young buyers don’t care about owning a car,” says John McFarland, GM’s 31-year-old manager of global strategic marketing. “We just think nobody truly understands them yet.” Subaru, meanwhile, is betting that it can appeal to the quirky eco-­conscious individualism that supposedly characterizes this generation. “We’re trying to get the emotional connection correct,” says Doug O’Reilly, a publicist for Subaru. Ford, for its part, continues to push heavily into social media, hoping to more closely match its marketing efforts to the channels that Millennials use and trust the most.

All of these strategies share a few key assumptions: that demand for cars within the Millennial generation is just waiting to be unlocked; that as the economy slowly recovers, today’s young people will eventually want to buy cars as much as their parents and grandparents did; that a finer-tuned appeal to Millennial values can coax them into dealerships.

Perhaps. But what if these assumptions are simply wrong? What if Millennials’ aversion to car-buying isn’t a temporary side effect of the recession, but part of a permanent generational shift in tastes and spending habits? It’s a question that applies not only to cars, but to several other traditional categories of big spending—most notably, housing. And its answer has large implications for the future shape of the economy—and for the speed of recovery.

There should be an entirely different assumption here, but it would be too troubling for the people who want to sell cars and houses: Millennial buying behavior reflects their reality of debt and service-sector job opportunities serving lunch to smug Baby Boomers who were born into opportunity and decided to tear the whole thing apart then blame the kids.

Some of the recent reactions to this article include a post featured on Moyers & Co. by Donovan Ramsey, who has this to say:

It’s not about smart phones, selfies or social media. Millennials aren’t making some of life’s biggest purchases because we’re broke. As James Carville might say, “it’s the economy, stupid.”

Reading the money pages of popular publications as a millennial can be infuriating. Every other article seems to stumble through clumsy speculation about my generation’s financial decisions, as if they’re so mysterious.

A recent article for The Atlantic calls millennials “The Cheapest Generation” and expends more than 2000 words to explain “why Millennials aren’t buying cars or houses, and what that means for the economy.”

“The largest generation in American history might never spend as lavishly as its parents did — nor on the same things,” it reads. “Since the end of World War II, new cars and suburban houses have powered the world’s largest economy and propelled our most impressive recoveries. Millennials may have lost interest in both.”

The word “debt” appears only once throughout the entire piece.

Closer to home, Dan Brooks chimed in with a post pointing out that Christmas is over and work still sucks:

Merry Kristmas, Kombat! kids. The holiday is over, but sloth persists. There is no Combat! blog today, because I need to re-metabolize insulin and do a little paying work. Fortunately, the rest of the internet continues apace. If you’d like to become enraged, the New York Times is hosting a Room For Debate on whether it’s smart for millennials to delay adulthood. Nearly all the respondents acknowledge that young people aren’t getting married and buying houses because the job market is terrible and real estate prices are absurdly high, but they go on to suggest that a generation is opting out of adulthood anyway. While we’re characterizing whole generations, I’m going to say that it’s a very Baby Boomer thing to be born into the best economy in American history, wreck it, and then damn your children for not wanting to own homes and work high-paying jobs. Those of you who like your broad statements a little more quantitative are encouraged to consider the four charts the defined the economy in 2014, including the alarming convergence in assets of the wealthiest .1% of Americans and the “bottom” 90%. Can you believe that 90% of this country opted out of getting rich? Neither can I.

Always the optimists, Zerohedge has a guest post about how we just enjoyed the last Christmas in America and another about the destruction of the Middle Class nearing the final stage. From the first link the author offers a little recent historical perspective on how we’ve gotten through the last few decades with energy and technology:

The economic stagnation, despite various stock market rallies and false starts, essentially lasted 10 years, from 1973 to 1982.

The malaise had a happy ending: huge new oil fields were discovered in Alaska, the North Sea, West Africa and elsewhere, ushering in a renewed era of cheap, abundant petroleum. President Reagan re-set Social Security for a generation and introduced a lower taxes, higher permanent deficits ideology that is now accepted as the only possible way to sustain the Status Quo: deficits don’t matter, even when they reach the trillions, because our good friends the Gulf Oil Exporters and Asian exporters will buy all our debt forever and ever, keeping interest low forever and ever.

(And if they drop the ball, then the Federal Reserve prints money and buys trillions of dollars of Treasury bonds. Sweet! We don’t need any external buyers, just the Federal Reserve creating money out of thin air.)

Then the U.S. created and launched two revolutionary technologies which both created new wealth around the globe: the personal computer (microprocessor and cheap RAM) and the Internet (TCP/IP, Ethernet, and the commercialization of Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web with free browsers) spawning the generation-long boom of the 1980s and 90s.

Those “saves from stagnation” were one-offs; there will be no more supergiant energy finds, nor any equivalents of the Internet expansion cycle.

That’s just an opinion, of course. Maybe the next technological breakthrough will be in energy. I’m still hoping there is some value in this planet that will motivate a more evolved species of extra-terrestrials into intervening because this house of cards can’t stand forever.

The other piece posted at Zerohedge comes from Tom Chatham via Project Chesapeake and does such a great job framing the ongoing financial crisis in a succinct, easy to understand manner that I’m going to repost most of it here:

The events of the past few months seem astounding when taken in all at once. The plan to destroy the U.S. dollar and the American middle class is moving at an ever increasing speed.

At the recent G20 meeting the nations agreed that bank deposits would no longer be considered money. These bank deposits become the property of the banking institution and as such can be used any way the bank wants. This means that any money you deposit in a bank now is no longer yours but makes you an investor in the bank and subject to lose that money if a banking crisis takes down the bank.

The spending bill just passed by congress makes the American taxpayer responsible for any derivatives loses that banks may suffer. These derivative holders now have first priority when any funds are paid out and depositors are relegated to last place. FDIC insurance will have to pay out these funds but it has no where near enough money to pay the more than 300 trillion in losses that will be suffered in a banking crisis. That means any depositor has little hope of getting anything back. In order for depositors to get anything back massive money printing would have to take place making any payout amount to only pennies on the dollar.

And if you don’t think there is any danger of a banking crisis in America you may want to keep in mind that the Treasury Dept. has recently ordered $200k worth of 72 hr emergency kits for dispersion to every major bank in America. These are known by many as bug-out-bags and are used to support individuals when disaster strikes and they have to care for themselves for the first few days of crisis.

New legislation now gives pension plans the ability to cut benefits to pensioners in the future making the future welfare of these people uncertain. They say it is necessary to prevent these funds from going bankrupt. It will “apply to multi-employer pensions, where a group of businesses in the same industry join forces with unions to provide pension coverage for employees. The plans cover some 10 million U.S. workers,” You may be happy to know this will not affect congressional pensions, as long as they are funded by the taxpayers.

The sanctions being placed on Russia are beginning to destabilize the world in many ways. The sudden drop in oil prices will send ripples through many foreign nations and cause an already tense situation to become highly flammable. It seems this is what is wanted to provoke a new world war and hide the complicity of bankers and politicians in the coming destruction of the economy.

For the past few years those elite with knowledge of the coming monetary destruction have been putting their fiat dollars into any hard assets they can find. The recent record prices paid at auction for collectables is just one more indication that those in the know are moving into hard assets as fast as they can to preserve their wealth.

This diversification includes precious metals and land as well. I believe when there are no more metals or suitable properties available for purchase, these entities in control of this game will pull the plug and let everything collapse. Those holding fiat paper, electrons or other paper promises will be devastated as those assets evaporate into thin air.

You may feel some security knowing you have a good job but among the deposits that disappear will be billions in commercial accounts that belong to businesses. When these businesses lose this money, many will likely close destroying many jobs in the process. This will send ripples through the transportation, production and distribution system when it happens. In an economy made up of 70% consumer spending, this will be fast and devastating to those with few resources to fall back on when it happens.

There are three lessons that many people will learn in the coming months. If you do not have it already you may not be able to get it. If you do not have it physically in your hands you do not own it. If you cannot protect it you will not have it for long.

Maybe we should look on the bright side, the terrorists didn’t stop America from watching “The Interview” so good things are happening. And some people, like UM graduate and Obama toadie, Jim Messina, are helping the economy by buying a 2 million dollar house through some anonymous trust.

Kids, if you want to have nice things like your parents, try and be more like Jim Messina.

Cosby Goes to Cuba

by lizard

The frequency of posting I’ve maintained will continue into 2015, but it does come at a cost. I haven’t written a poem in forever, and the cycle of songs I was working on dried up.

But today, two days before Christmas, I am happy to share a poem that came to me this morning, triggered by reading this article at Counterpunch about Cuba.

So here it is!

COSBY GOES TO CUBA

he looked into the pudding pop
saw royalties, saw clout
to soften up her homeland
the foreplay of his snout
can breathe, and did, and will
as we inhaled him in
when Dr. Huxtable broke out
from the blackness of his skin

in Cuba now the Spanish Fly
is pouring down her throat
the embassy is coming
and capital will gloat
now Bill can be dismantled
and piece by piece removed
his usefulness is over
an embargo past its due

a new day here is dawning
old flames eventually burn out
to soften up her homeland
drip drops of drugging doubt
so cars will come to Cuba
and the revolution is dead
and Bill Cosby’s America
lies unconscious on the bed

—William Skink

by lizard

I do my best around family to abstain from overt political diatribes (with limited success), but when my dad mocked North Korea’s request for a joint investigation into the Sony hack at dinner last night, I decided he needed a little more information about what the Sony hack has actually exposed.

For most people, when the laughing subsides, this issue is thought of as a free speech issue. Conservative blogger Douglas Ernst, for example, casts this as a make-it-or-break-it moment for free speech in America:

The Founding Fathers knew that the right to free speech was important, which is why it is covered in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as part of the Bill of Rights. Today, Dec. 17, 2014, is the day that U.S. capitulation clowns at Sony gave a dictator veto power over the free speech rights of its American artists and sent a message to thug regimes that if they have enough tech savvy, then they can make studio executives cower in fear.

The fallacious assumption here is that “The Interview” is a product of American artistry. It’s not. The reality is this movie is actually a piece of propaganda that involved the State Department and the Rand Corporation. From the link:

The Daily Beast reported yesterday on leaked emails from the Sony hack which show that the United States government was involved at high levels with the content development of The Interview, especially its controversial ending depicting the assassination of North Korean ruler Kim Jong-Un. As the report’s headline states, “Sony Emails Say State Department Blessed Kim Jong-Un Assassination in ‘The Interview.’” The emails also reveal that a RAND corporation senior defense analyst who consulted on the film went beyond “blessing” and outright influenced the end of the film, encouraging the CEO of Sony Entertainment to leave the assassination scene as it was (in spite of misgivings at Sony) for the sake of encouraging North Koreans to actually assassinate Kim Jong-Un and depose his regime when the movie eventually leaks into that country. According to the Sony CEO, a senior US State Department official emphatically and personally seconded that advice and reasoning in a separate correspondence. The emails also reveal that the U.S. special envoy for North Korean human-rights issues also consulted with Sony on the film.

While a tiny nation state possibly being involved in scuppering a movie premiere by hacking and threatening a Hollywood studio by proxy may be more novel and sensational than yet another psyop by the US Regime Change Machine, the latter is far more important. The United States, as part of its “Asian Pivot,” made an explicit push for assassination and regime change in yet another foreign country under the cover of art and commerce, and the North Korean regime and its ally China are both now 100% aware of it. That has huge implications for politics in the region, for US relations with those countries, for the character and integrity of American art and media, and for the mischievous, generally havoc-wreaking way our government is secretly using our tax dollars.

The reality of how this “film” was produced undermines the free speech argument conservatives like Ernst are peddling. We aren’t talking about art, here, we are talking about propaganda with real world impacts. Here’s more from the conservative nitwit who thinks he knows what he’s talking about:

Anyone who cares about free speech should be downright terrified that companies operating in the U.S. would run for the hills the moment a nebulous hacking group threatens Americans with violence. The fact that it was even under consideration to torpedo the film is an indicator that America’s cultural rotgut has grown to gargantuan proportions. We have been hollowed out from the inside, and Sony’s reaction to being hacked by the “Guardians of Peace” has exposed that sad reality for everyone to see.

No, what has been exposed here is a pathetic scheme by state and corporate actors to use a film as a sort of Trojan horse to propagate regime change in North Korea.

The free speech red herring was examined on Democracy Now yesterday. Here’s a bit from the transcript of the segment featuring Christine Hong’s perspective:

With regard to this film, one thing that I’d say is that the lines between truth and fiction are extraordinarily thin. I mean, the plot of this film, which very few people have seen, was actually screened in rough-cut form at the State Department. And the content of this film is supposedly—you know, it’s about the CIA using Hollywood entertainment and a talk-show host sort of vehicle as a kind of cover to assassinate the leader of North Korea. What’s interesting about this film is, on the one hand, it’s framed in the United States, in U.S. media, as a kind of free speech issue, but this is really a red herring. You know, what’s interesting to me about this is the fact that if you actually look at what the Sony executives did, they consulted very closely with the State Department, which actually gave the executives a green light with regard to the death scene. And they also consulted with a RAND North Korea watcher, a man named Bruce Bennett, who basically has espoused in thesis that the way to bring down the North Korean government is to assassinate the leadership. And he actually stated, in consulting with Sony about this film, that this film, in terms of the South Korean market, as well as its infiltration by defector balloon-dropping organizations into North Korea, could possibly get the wheels of a kind of regime change plot into motion. So, in this instance, fiction and reality have a sort of mirroring relationship to each other.

This isn’t a free speech issue. This is another example of America weaponizing whatever it can to move forward its agenda of global dominance.

by lizard

The execution of two NYPD officers—an unjustifiable act that I do not condone—is being obscenely exploited to attack Mayor De Blasio and discredit the millions of people who have (and will continue) peacefully protesting police brutality. Two days ago when this cop slaying was unfolding, I put up this post about the response of Pat Lynch and the police union he heads, declaring the NYPD a ‘wartime’ police department. Wasting no time taking advantage to escalate tensions, Lynch confirmed that cops turned their backs on the Mayor as he approached the press conference.

But will the NYPD take any responsibility for escalating tensions? In pro-cop rallies, supporters AND officers were seen wearing I CAN BREATHE t-shirts. Cops are apparently also peddling other merchandise, mocking the last moments of Eric Garner. Disgusting. I understand why Jayceon Taylor, aka The Game, would tweet what he did. From the link:

When NYPD cops and their supporters are so callous and heartless as to wear shirts with the saying, “I can breathe” emblazoned upon them to a pro-police rally, while other cops go so far as to sell “breathe easy don’t break the law” t-shirts that mock the death of Eric Garner, as we reported on earlier this week, should anyone be surprised that The Game or the public at large are extremely disgusted by these actions and let it be known?

The message cops are sending, by wearing/selling those shirts, is one that they are above the law, and that their lives are in some way more valuable than the lives of the people they kill.

People who blame the protesters and the Mayor of NYC for incitement should also take a look at the disgusting editing trick of a Baltimore Fox affiliate. The trick was to cut away from a chant before it was complete. Go to the link for the video evidence. To see, in words, the change, the edited clip turned this:

We can’t stop!

We won’t stop!

’til killer cops are in cell blocks!

into this:

We can’t stop!

We won’t stop!

So kill a cop!

Tensions are so high right now that another incident on either side of the growing divide could blow the lid off. Too bad the NYPD is escalating those tensions, because they are the ones with the lethal authority to kill with impunity.

Our Longest, Darkest Night

by lizard

The winter solstice this year coincides with a new moon, making the longest night of the year also one of the darkest. Seems like a good time to take a trip down memory lane to the weeks after 9/11, specifically the Anthrax attacks that occurred in the aftermath of 3 buildings being totally demolished from 2 airplane strikes. Here’s wikipedia with some surface-level context:

The 2001 anthrax attacks in the United States, also known as Amerithrax from its Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) case name, occurred over the course of several weeks beginning on Tuesday, September 18, 2001, one week after the September 11 attacks. Letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to several news media offices and two Democratic U.S. Senators, killing five people and infecting 17 others. According to the FBI, the ensuing investigation became “one of the largest and most complex in the history of law enforcement”.[1]

A major focus in the early years of the investigation was a bio-weapons expert named Steven Hatfill, who was eventually exonerated. Another suspect, Bruce Edwards Ivins, became a focus of investigation around April 4, 2005. Ivins was a scientist who worked at the government’s biodefense labs at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland. On April 11, 2007, Ivins was put under periodic surveillance and an FBI document stated that “Bruce Edwards Ivins is an extremely sensitive suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks.”[2] On July 29, 2008, Ivins died from an overdose of acetaminophen.[3]

On August 6, 2008, despite having no direct evidence of his involvement,[4][5] federal prosecutors declared Ivins to be the sole culprit of the crime.[6] Two days later, Senator Charles Grassley and Rep. Rush Holt called for hearings into the DOJ and FBI’s handling of the investigation.[7][8] On February 19, 2010, the FBI formally closed its investigation.[9]

A review of the scientific methods used in the investigation at the National Academy of Sciences,[10] published in February 2011, cast doubt on the U.S. government’s conclusion that Ivins was the perpetrator. The review report said that, although the type of anthrax used in the letters was correctly identified as the Ames strain of the bacterium, there was insufficient scientific evidence for the FBI’s assertion that it originated from Ivins’ laboratory.

A few days ago ABC reported on another report that came to a similar conclusion that the FBI’s Anthrax investigation was flawed. This is the same FBI now claiming North Korea was responsible for the Sony hack. From the link:

The FBI used flawed scientific methods to investigate the 2001 anthrax attacks that killed five people and sickened 17 others, federal auditors said Friday in a report sure to fuel skepticism over the FBI’s conclusion that Army biodefense researcher Bruce Ivins was the sole perpetrator.

The 77-page report from the Government Accountability Office says the FBI’s research, including novel microbial forensic tests, did not provide a full understanding of how bacteria change in their natural environment and in a laboratory. This failure to grasp the reason for genetic mutations that were used to differentiate between samples of anthrax bacteria was a “key scientific gap” in the investigation, the report says.

The GAO also found a lack of rigorous controls over sampling procedures and a failure to cite the degree of uncertainty in measurement tools used to identify genetic markers.

“Although the complexity and novelty of the scientific methods at the time of the FBI’s investigation made it challenging for the FBI to adequately address all these problems, the agency could have improved its approach,” the report said.

The GAO didn’t take a position whether Ivins, who worked at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland, made and mailed the anthrax-filled envelopes.

For Americans who can’t fathom domestic involvement in the attacks that radically altered the trajectory of our country, the Anthrax attacks offer a fascinating window into the final push to get the Patriot Act passed and to ensure the media understood the consequences of not falling into line.

7 years ago a Bush insider, Francis Boyle, weighed in on the Anthrax attacks. Here is a bit from his wikipedia resume:

Francis Anthony Boyle (born 1950) is a professor of international law at the University of Illinois College of Law.[1] Boyle received a A.B. (1971) in Political Science from the University of Chicago, then a J.D. degree magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, and A.M. and Ph.D. degrees in Political Science from Harvard University. He also practiced tax and international tax with Bingham, Dana & Gould.

And here is a lengthy excerpt from an article by Steve Watson for more context:

Is it possible that the anthrax attacks were launched from within our own government? A former Bush 1 advisor thinks it is.

Francis A. Boyle, an international law expert who worked under the first Bush Administration as a bioweapons advisor in the 1980s, has said that he is convinced the October 2001 anthrax attacks that killed five people were perpetrated and covered up by criminal elements of the U.S. government. The motive: to foment a police state by killing off and intimidating opposition to post-9/11 legislation such as the USA PATRIOT Act and the later Military Commissions Act…

And that is exactly what has happened. Here’s more:

“Senators Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) were holding it up because they realized what this would lead to. The first draft of the PATRIOT Act would have suspended the writ of habeas corpus [which protects citizens from unlawful imprisonment and guarantees due process of law]. Then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, come these anthrax attacks.”

“At the time I myself did not know precisely what was going on, either with respect to September 11 or the anthrax attacks, but then the New York Times revealed the technology behind the letter to Senator Daschle. [The anthrax used was] a trillion spores per gram, [refined with] special electro-static treatment. This is superweapons-grade anthrax that even the United States government, in its openly proclaimed programs, had never developed before. So it was obvious to me that this was from a U.S. government lab. There is nowhere else you could have gotten that.”

Boyle’s assessment was based on his years of expertise regarding America’s bioweapons programs. He was responsible for drafting the Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989 that was passed unanimously by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush.

After realizing that the anthrax attacks looked like a domestic job, Boyle called a high-level official in the FBI who deals with terrorism and counterterrorism, Marion “Spike” Bowman. Boyle and Bowman had met at a terrorism conference at the University of Michigan Law School. Boyle told Bowman that the only people who would have the capability to carry out the attacks were individuals working on U.S. government anthrax programs with access to a high-level biosafety lab. Boyle gave Bowman a full list of names of scientists, contractors and labs conducting anthrax work for the U.S. government and military.

Bowman then informed Boyle that the FBI was working with Fort Detrick on the matter. Boyle expressed his view that Fort Detrick could be the main problem. As widely reported in 2002 publications, notably the New Scientist, the anthrax strain used in the attacks was officially assessed as “military grade.”

“Soon after I informed Bowman of this information, the FBI authorized the destruction of the Ames cultural anthrax database,” the professor said. The Ames strain turned out to be the same strain as the spores used in the attacks.

The alleged destruction of the anthrax culture collection at Ames, Iowa, from which the Fort Detrick lab got its pathogens, was blatant destruction of evidence. It meant that there was no way of finding out which strain was sent to whom to develop the larger breed of anthrax used in the attacks. The trail of genetic evidence would have led directly back to a secret government biowarfare program.

This FBI agent, “Spike” Bowman, is an important name for those who aren’t satisfied with the government account of what transpired on 9/11. Why? Because he’s the guy who kept the laptop computer of Zacarias Moussaoui from being examined. From the link:

Mike Maltbie and Rita Flack of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) forward a request for a warrant to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 21, 2001) to National Security Law Unit chief Spike Bowman. The request was submitted by the Minneapolis field office (see August 22-28, 2001), which has been trying to obtain a warrant for some time. Earlier in the day, Maltbie edited the request, removing information connecting Moussaoui to al-Qaeda through a rebel group in Chechnya (see August 28, 2001). RFU chief Dave Frasca was to attend the meeting, but is called away at the last minute. According to Bowman, who is already very familiar with the facts in this case, Maltbie is adamant that there is not enough evidence to issue the warrant. Bowman agrees, saying that the evidence fails to implicate Moussaoui as an agent of a foreign power. The FBI thus abandons the effort to obtain a FISA warrant and begins planning his deportation (see (August 30-September 10, 2001)). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 164-6, 168 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 3/1/2006 pdf file]

I sympathize with those who don’t want to look too closely into this stuff. I actually appreciate these two comments from Turner in a previous post about Fascism:

Count me among the many who can’t process the thought that elites were behind 9/11.

Actually, I’m not much of a seeker. Most of the time I’m willing to settle for appearances. They’re damning enough.

Unfortunately I disagree, appearances aren’t damning enough, they are masterfully controlled, making it so much easier to ignore, minimize, rationalize, attack, ridicule, dismiss and deny the connections that implicate foreknowledge and complicity of domestic actors in the greatest terror show ever sold.

It’s almost 2015. Babies born after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 are now teenagers. Psychic shock fades over time.  That said, now that programs of torture are out in the open and mostly accepted by the American people, maybe another 9/11 won’t be necessary.  Just little jolts as reminders to remain compliant while they play the global chessboard for the spoils.

by lizard

Before executing two police officers while they sat in their car, 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley allegedly murdered shot his girlfriend (she is expected to survive—earlier reports had her dead), then telegraphed his intentions via Instagram:

A gunman who announced online that he was planning to shoot two “pigs” in retaliation for the police chokehold death of Eric Garner ambushed two officers in a patrol car and shot them to death in broad daylight Saturday before running to a subway station and killing himself, authorities said.

The suspect, 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley, wrote on an Instagram account: “I’m putting wings on pigs today. They take 1 of ours, let’s take 2 of theirs,” officials said. He used the hashtags Shootthepolice RIPErivGardner (sic) RIPMikeBrown.

I’ve been following these events as they’ve unfolded on Twitter and it’s been surreal.

The NYPD is essentially going off the rails now by declaring itself a ‘wartime’ police department. Pat Lynch, head of the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association (PBA), has explicitly blamed Mayor De Blasio for race incitement and protestors for having the audacity to declare that black lives matter. Things are about to get really ugly.

Buzzfeed has been all over this story from the beginning (unlike worthless weekend cable news). The ‘wartime’ reaction by the NYP comes directly from a statement by the PBA:

FROM NYC PBA: Starting IMMEDIATELY- At least two units are to respond to EVERY call, no matter the condition or severity, no matter what type of job is pending, or what the opinion of the patrol supervisor happens to be. IN ADDITION: Absolutely NO enforcement action in the form of arrests and or summonses is to be taken unless absolutely necessary and an individual MUST be placed under arrest. These are precautions that were taken in the 1970’s when Police Officers were ambushed and executed on a regular basis. The mayors hands are literally dripping with our blood because of his words actions and policies and we have, for the first time in a number of years, become a “wartime” police department. We will act accordingly. FORWARD MESSAGE IN ITS ENTIRETY TO ANY AND ALL MOS

This is bad, really bad. Especially when taken with the additional context of an article from two days ago, reporting on secretly recorded comments from Pat Lynch:

Mayor Bill de Blasio acts more like the leader of “a f- -king revolution” than a city, police union president Pat Lynch said at a recent delegate meeting.

“He is not running the City of New York. He thinks he’s running a f- -king revolution,” said Lynch, head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, during the private gathering in Queens last Friday.

Lynch, who was secretly recorded, also all but ordered a rule-book slowdown, according to the seven-minute tape obtained by Capital New York.

“If we won’t get support when we do our jobs . . . then we’re going to do it the way they want it,” Lynch said. “Let me be perfectly clear: We will use extreme discretion in every encounter.”

Lynch, when referring to de Blasio, encouraged members to be wary of what he called “enemies.” “Our friends, we’re courteous to them. Our enemies, extreme discretion,” he said. “The rules are made by them to hurt you. Well, now we’ll use those rules to protect us.”

Merry Christmas, New Yorkers. The war is now right outside your door.

by lizard

Looking for a book for that geopolitical enthusiast in your family? Look no further than Pepe Escobar’s compilation, titled Empire of Chaos: The Roving Eye Collection. From the link:

The essential features of the empire of chaos, “where a plutocracy progressively projects its own internal disintegration upon the whole world,” are “a progressive drift towards not conventional war but above all economic war – manifestations of Liquid War.” The purpose of that chaos is “to prevent an economic integration of Eurasia that would leave the U.S. a non-hegemon, or worse still, an outsider.”

The book covers the era from early 2009 up to late 2014. The central idea being the empire of chaos and its range of activities to thwart the Eurasian integration by way of pipelines (Pipelinestan), road, rail, and cyberlinks from China through various routes to western Europe, the “New Silk Road.” Along the way it touches on what are considered by the western mainstream media to be separate topics, perhaps united by an underlying violence, but nothing of a unified geopolitical attempt at preventing the loss of western (Washington) hegemony.

It is a wonderful read, occasionally repetitive due to the nature of it being a series of compiled distinct articles into a whole, sometimes humorous – generally rather dark – accounting of modern history or current events. It is sometimes whimsical when writing about a particular cultural aspect of his sojourns or when critiquing another author or activist. If history could be written/read this way, there would be far more historians in academic circles – this is not the history of the dominant media, but that of an educated roving eye capable of putting ideas and actions together into a coherent, somewhat scary whole.

The long-anticipated rise of China passed a statistical mark that Forbes was quick to dismiss as not mattering a darn:

There’s much worrywarting over the new figures from the IMF telling us the fact that China is now the world’s number one economy in terms of size. The truth is though that, other than for collectors of statistical trivia, this really isn’t important. Perhaps on a par with wondering how Lady Gaga is going to dress next but no more than that. Because the whole idea of “an economy” as defined by the borders of a nation state is pretty arbitrary anyway and further, it matters a great deal more how many people that economy is spread over than it does the size of it. Luxembourg’s economy is considerably smaller than that of India but with 400,000 people not 1.4 billion who is living better?

I like how Forbes parses out their perspective with a Lady Gaga reference. That’s how much this doesn’t matter, right? But there’s more to the not mattering that Forbes wants its readers to understand, and that’s the per capita breakdown:

There’s simply so many people in that area of land that, barring any truly stupid set of economic policies (here’s lookin’ at you, Marxism) the place is simply going to be one of the larger, if not the largest, component of the global economy. Think of it this way: why shouldn’t 18% of the people on the planet have 18% of the economy of the planet?

So apart from the obviousness of this there’s also that other thing that we might want to consider: its importance. And it’s not important. For what determines how well people live (and yes, aiding people in living well is pretty much the point of this whole having an economy thing) is economic output per capita. That total economy divided by the number of people who get to consume the output. Here the US is well ahead (north of $50,000 a year in the US, only just over $5,000 a year in China and yes, that is after adjusting for price differences) and China would need another three generations of breakneck growth to close that gap.

There are other realities beyond the continuing abysmal living standards for the majority of the Chinese population, and that’s the sheer scale of the infrastructure being developed, and for a look at that reality we can go to Pepe Escobar’s latest piece, titled Go West, Young Han. From the link:

November 18, 2014: it’s a day that should live forever in history. On that day, in the city of Yiwu in China’s Zhejiang province, 300 kilometers south of Shanghai, the first train carrying 82 containers of export goods weighing more than 1,000 tons left a massive warehouse complex heading for Madrid. It arrived on December 9th.

Welcome to the new trans-Eurasia choo-choo train. At over 13,000 kilometers, it will regularly traverse the longest freight train route in the world, 40% farther than the legendary Trans-Siberian Railway. Its cargo will cross China from East to West, then Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, France, and finally Spain.

You may not have the faintest idea where Yiwu is, but businessmen plying their trades across Eurasia, especially from the Arab world, are already hooked on the city “where amazing happens!” We’re talking about the largest wholesale center for small-sized consumer goods — from clothes to toys — possibly anywhere on Earth.

The Yiwu-Madrid route across Eurasia represents the beginning of a set of game-changing developments. It will be an efficient logistics channel of incredible length. It will represent geopolitics with a human touch, knitting together small traders and huge markets across a vast landmass. It’s already a graphic example of Eurasian integration on the go. And most of all, it’s the first building block on China’s “New Silk Road,” conceivably the project of the new century and undoubtedly the greatest trade story in the world for the next decade.

Escobar calls this new silk road the project of the new century, which seems legit from where I sit, December 20th, 2014. 14 years ago the Neocons were day dreaming of their Project for a New American Century. The goals of that little project outlined a decade and a half ago went something like this:

* Reposition permanently based forces to Southern Europe, Southeast Asia and the Middle East;
* Modernize U.S. forces, including enhancing our fighter aircraft, submarine and surface fleet capabilities;
* Develop and deploy a global missile defense system, and develop a strategic dominance of space;
* Control the “International Commons” of cyberspace;
* Increase defense spending to a minimum of 3.8 percent of gross domestic product, up from the 3 percent currently spent.

The fourth bullet point is an interesting one, considering the Sony hack. While conservatives freak out, b at Moon of Alabama is skeptical:

A Japanese company with some offices in California was hacked. Several terrabytes of data were copied off its internal networks and some of it was put on file sharing sites. One of the items copied was a film produced in Canada that depicts as comedy the terror act of killing of a current head of state. The U.S. State Department applauded that movie scene. But there were tons of other data like social security numbers, payroll data, and internal emails stolen all of which that might have been the real target of the hackers.

The tools to hack the company are well known and in the public domain. The company, Sony, had lousy internal network security and had been hacked before. The hackers probably had some inside knowledge. They used servers in Bolivia, China and South Korea to infiltrate. There is zero public evidence in the known that the hack was state sponsored.

But the U.S. is claiming that the event is a “national security matter”. Who’s national security? Japan’s? Canada’s? Why? A private Japanese entertainment(!) company left the doors open and had some equipment vandalized and some of its private property stolen. Why, again, is that of U.S. “national interest”? Why would the U.S. even consider some “proportional response”?

Good questions.

As Americans idiotically whine about being deprived of a stupid movie, time would be better spent reading up on Stuxnet:

In 2011, the US government rolled out its “International Strategy for Cyberspace,” which reminded us that “interconnected networks link nations more closely, so an attack on one nation’s networks may have impact far beyond its borders.” An in-depth report today from the New York Times confirms the truth of that statement as it finally lays bare the history and development of the Stuxnet virus—and how it accidentally escaped from the Iranian nuclear facility that was its target.

The article is adapted from journalist David Sanger’s forthcoming book, Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power, and it confirms that both the US and Israeli governments developed and deployed Stuxnet. The goal of the worm was to break Iranian nuclear centrifuge equipment by issuing specific commands to the industrial control hardware responsible for their spin rate. By doing so, both governments hoped to set back the Iranian research program—and the US hoped to keep Israel from launching a pre-emptive military attack.

The code was only supposed to work within Iran’s Natanz refining facility, which was air-gapped from outside networks and thus difficult to penetrate. But computers and memory cards could be carried between the public Internet and the private Natanz network, and a preliminary bit of “beacon” code was used to map out all the network connections within the plant and report them back to the NSA.

That program, first authorized by George W. Bush, worked well enough to provide a digital map of Natanz and its industrial control hardware. Soon, US national labs were testing different bits of the plan to sabotage Natanz (apparently without knowing what the work was for) using similar centrifuges that had come from Libya’s Qadaffi regime. When the coders found the right sets of commands to literally shake the centrifuges apart, they knew that Stuxnet could work.

Empire of Chaos indeed.

by lizard

It’s not surprising that Americans have a difficult time understanding geopolitics today. One of the big contributing factors to our perpetual misunderstanding of global dynamics is this: the lies of the past continue to inform the present.

So as the ruble collapses and the U.S. relationship with Cuba thaws, it might be helpful to go back a half century in order to reassess the good war and the bad guy America vanquished.

In an article titled Fascism and War: Elite Tools to Crush and Kill Dissent two underlying tensions beneath WWI and WWII are examined. From the link:

Both WWI and WWII had two dimensions: the vertical dimension, namely the rivalry between empires, and the horizontal one, class warfare, Pauwels explains.

These wars were actually the best way for the western elite to cope with the ever growing revolutionary and democratic movements fueled by dire economic conditions and which threatened the established order.

In Nietzsche’s view for example, Pauwels says “war was the solution against revolution, since in a war, there are no discussions, like there is in a democracy. In a war, the minority, the elite, decides and the majority, the proletarians, obey.”

For members of the elite like Malthus, “the system could not be the cause of poverty since they were profiting from it. The cause of poverty was the poor: there were too many of them. Therefore the solution to poverty and threatening revolutionary movements was simply to eliminate poor people and what better solution than war to kill poor people?”

After WWI though, “revolution was no longer a simple idea but rather something concrete: the Soviet Union.” That’s when fascism came to the rescue. “Fascism was the instrument used by the elite to further the objectives of 1914, namely put an end to revolutions and communism.”

The problem with American thinking is we identify with our empire, not our class status. That is not true for the class that runs our empire. Because of this misidentification, Americans simply can’t process certain scenarios, like the possibility of American elites colluding in the terrorist attack of 9/11, or the possibility of the US-backed Ukrainian regime being responsible for the MH17 shoot-down (which would explain the unprecedented secrecy surrounding the investigation).

Here’s more from the first link:

According to popular belief Western leaders were defending democracy, engaged in a war against Germany to save humanity from fascism and the US involvement in the war led to the downfall of Hitler’s war machine. Nothing is further from the truth. “Hitler was supported by other European countries and the US because they wanted him to destroy the USSR, the cradle of the revolution.” The exact opposite occurred: it was the USSR that defeated Nazi Germany, losing over 20 million souls in the battle.

The Good War is the psychological lynch pin holding the American psyche together. It prevents the kind of corrosion that would exist if exposed to our ruling class’s penchant for using fascism to keep the peasants in line. Americans are therefore effectively insulated from the reality that what we were told we were fighting half a century ago is what we have actually become today: a hyper-nationalist imperial force of consumers providing our ruling elite with a foundation from which to attack the 21st century version of the USSR.

The concept of the big lie comes from that infamous historical character who, when mentioned, creates immediate mental hysteria, collapsing dialogue and freezing critical thinking. From wikipedia:

A big lie (German: Große Lüge) is a propaganda technique. The expression was coined by Adolf Hitler, when he dictated his 1925 book Mein Kampf, about the use of a lie so “colossal” that no one would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.”

Thus concludes today’s brief history lesson.

“Long live justice. Es lebe die Gerechtigkeit”
– Diren’s father Celal

By JC

At approximately 1:15pm today, the jury found Markus Kaarma guilty of deliberate homicide in the murder of Diren Dede.

Open thread for discussion. Keep it clean.

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