by William Skink
At Consortium News, Ray McGovern begins his dismantling of Obama’s snub of Russia by using the term petulant in the title of his piece, which you can read here. It begins like this:
President Barack Obama’s decision to join other Western leaders in snubbing Russia’s weekend celebration of the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe looks more like pouting than statesmanship, especially in the context of the U.S. mainstream media’s recent anti-historical effort to downplay Russia’s crucial role in defeating Nazism.
Though designed to isolate Russia because it had the audacity to object to the Western-engineered coup d’état in Ukraine on Feb. 22, 2014, this snub of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin – like the economic sanctions against Russia – is likely to backfire on the U.S. and its European allies by strengthening ties between Russia and the emerging Asian giants of China and India.
Obama is able to pull off a recklessly childish snub like this because the domestic media landscape has become a bizarro world of echo-chamber distortion when it comes to the happenings of foreign affairs. Ukraine is one of the most dangerous focal points of this world. It’s sucked in otherwise seemingly intelligent people into defending an obviously western-backed coup, opening the door to the rising influence of far-right, Nazi-2.0 shock troops.
Later in the article, McGovern has this to say about the reporting of the New York Times:
Distorting the History
So, the evidence-based history of the Western-sponsored coup in Kiev on Feb. 22, 2014, must be forgotten or covered up. Indeed, about a year after the events, the New York Times published a major “investigative” article that ignored all the facts of a U.S.-backed coup in declaring there was no coup.
The Times didn’t even mention the notorious, intercepted phone call between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt in early February 2014 in which Nuland was handpicking the future leaders, including her remark “Yats is the guy,” a reference to Arseniy Yatsenyuk who – after the coup – quickly became prime minister. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “NYT Still Pretends No Coup in Ukraine.”]
Even George Friedman, the president of the Washington-Establishment-friendly think-tank STRATFOR, has said publicly in late 2014: “Russia calls the events that took place at the beginning of this year a coup d’état organized by the United States. And it truly was the most blatant coup in history.”
McGovern goes on at the link, describing the continued failure of major media outlets.
It might be a good summer to keep the social unrest simmering and erupting every so often as America’s insane global posturing escalates tensions everywhere else, like Syria. At MoA, b puts it this way: It’s Official: The U.S. Collaborates with Al Qaeda.
It amazes me how well the situations in Ukraine and Syria have been run, at the information level, for domestic consumption. They’ve come a long way since Vietnam at playing the information game. It’s going to totally suck if WWIII is a consequence.
by William Skink
I did my best to be in attendance tonight at Krakauer’s panel at the Double Tree, but I stopped for a sandwich and was maybe a dozen people away from getting in fifteen minutes after the doors opened. Instead I went back home and tried listening to the crappy feed from MTPR (not all their fault).
Jon Krakauer did an amazing job articulating how he came to focus on victims of rape in Missoula and their experience with the criminal justice system. And the crowd, maybe to Krakauer’s surprise, was loudly supportive, overloading the audio feed several times with what seemed like vigorous applause. There were tough questions, detailed answers, and even a few naughty words from Krakauer.
Here is one of the big takeaways: this story is far from over. A line of attack against Krakauer is his book reopened old wounds. What Krakauer expounded on tonight regarding his legal battle with the University of Montana means more bad press will be coming. Why? Because the University of Montana doesn’t want to explicitly disclose how Jordan Johnson, who was found to have raped his accuser through the University system’s lower standard of proof multiple times, was ultimately reinstated.
Griz Nation still wields serious influence, just ask Pat Williams. Or maybe ask Christian Clayton.
From the tone of the audience, and how they collectively reacted to some asshole lawyer who went off on Krakauer and called him, I believe, a fucking liar, it was hip, liberal Missoula out in force. From my anecdotal interactions walking back and telling people their attempt to see Krakauer was futile, most everyone I talked to had already read the book and was supportive of it being written and titled with our town’s name.
Here is the footage of the Idaho lawyer and Krakauer taking away his microphone:
Jon Krakauer came to Missoula to answer questions. I think he did a pretty damn good job. He defended writing the book the way he did, and he gave tons of credit to the reporting of Gwen Florio. Krakauer also credits the reforms made in Missoula, citing correspondences he’s received from people going through the system now.
That work to implement change is ongoing. Clearly, there is room for improvement within the University System and the County Attorney’s office.
I mentioned hip, liberal Missoula in strong attendance tonight. That’s all well and good, but I would even challenge that part of Missoula to acknowledge the sentiment of Our Missoula is deeply flawed. There are lots of different social striations in Missoula, and any claim to OUR is a bit presumptuous.
Instead of making posters, let’s make a real change.
with Jade at the Helm
those hostiles in Texas
will be pacified
with Jade at the Helm
Utah will fall
with New Mexico
Jade, and his best pal
FEMA cat (meow)
will prowl the hinterlands
looking for white meat
to bring the black man
they stood tall in Nevada
they stand now in Oregon
to keep the oath
the noose is never far behind
while Jade escapes
on a horned goat
by William Skink
There was an interesting hearing last month in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, chaired by Ed Royce (R-Calif.) who had this to say about Putin in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed:
“Vladimir Putin has a secret army. It’s an army of thousands of ‘trolls,’ TV anchors and others who work day and night spreading anti-American propaganda on the Internet, airwaves and newspapers throughout Russia and the world. Mr. Putin uses these misinformation warriors to destabilize his neighbors and control parts of Ukraine. This force may be more dangerous than any military, because no artillery can stop their lies from spreading and undermining U.S. security interests in Europe.”
The hearing was titled “Confronting Russia’s Weaponization of Information” which I interpret to imply …because our weaponized information isn’t working in Syria, Ukraine, Yemen, etc.. Perhaps the ease in which Americans are fed bullshit and believe it to be an accurate representation of what constitutes “news” has made the professional bullshitters a bit lazy in the products they create for public consumption. But never mind us because THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING!!!!
The Committee heard from three witnesses: Elizabeth Wahl, former anchor for the news agency Russia Today (RT) who gained her moment of fame by resigning on camera in March 2014; Peter Pomerantsev, Senior Fellow at the Legatum Institute (a right-wing UK think-tank); and Helle C. Dale, Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy at The Heritage Foundation, a right-wing U.S. think-tank.  The Foreign Affairs Committee website contains video clips of the first two witnesses – well worth watching if you enjoy Orwellian rhetoric passionately delivered.
In her formal (printed) submission, Ms. Wahl referred to the Internet’s “population of paranoid skeptics” and wrote: “The paranoia extends to believing that Western media is not only complicit, but instrumental in ensuring Western dominance.”
Helle C. Dale warned of “a new kind of propaganda, aimed at sowing doubt about anything having to do with the U.S. and the West, and in a number of countries, unsophisticated audiences are eating it up.”
Peter Pomerantsev claimed that Russia’s goal is “to trash the information space with so much disinformation so that a conversation based on actual facts would become impossible.” He added, “Throughout Europe conspiracy theories are on the rise and in the US trust in the media has declined. The Kremlin may not always have initiated these phenomena, but it is fanning them…Democracies are singularly ill equipped to deal with this type of warfare. For all of its military might, NATO cannot fight an information war. The openness of democracies, the very quality that is meant to make them more competitive than authoritarian models, becomes a vulnerability.”
Is Western media instrumental in ensuring Western dominance? As a paranoid skeptic how can I say this delicately? Fuck yeah Western media has been instrumental in ensuring Western dominance. But after the invasion and occupation of Iraq based on lies peddled by the NYT and other publications, it might be slightly more accurate to say Western media has ensured Western dominance won’t be able to stop the new, multi-polar world from emerging.
Unless we go full berserker Dr. Strangelove, which is entirely possible.
The historical context of Saigon falling on April 30th, 1975 adds another layer to the present insanity unfolding. It’s been forty years since the senseless mayhem in Vietnam ended. Thinking back on that time period can be painful for lots of people. Ray McGovern revisits those tumultuous times with considerable pain because he was in the unique position of potentially leaking information that would have shown, early on, the resistance US troops were up against numbered twice as much as what the Army was saying.
Here is a lengthly excerpt detailing McGovern’s interaction with a fellow CIA analyst:
Many of my Junior Officer Trainee Program colleagues at CIA came to Washington in the early Sixties inspired by President John Kennedy’s Inaugural speech in which he asked us to ask ourselves what we might do for our country. (Sounds corny nowadays, I suppose; I guess I’ll just have to ask you to take it on faith. It may not have been Camelot exactly, but the spirit and ambience were fresh — and good.)
Among those who found Kennedy’s summons compelling was Sam Adams, a young former naval officer out of Harvard College. After the Navy, Sam tried Harvard Law School, but found it boring. Instead, he decided to go to Washington, join the CIA as an officer trainee, and do something more adventurous. He got more than his share of adventure.
Sam was one of the brightest and most dedicated among us. Quite early in his career, he acquired a very lively and important account — that of assessing Vietnamese Communist strength early in the war. He took to the task with uncommon resourcefulness and quickly proved himself the consummate analyst.
Relying largely on captured documents, buttressed by reporting from all manner of other sources, Adams concluded in 1967 that there were twice as many Communists (about 600,000) under arms in South Vietnam as the U.S. military there would admit.
Dissembling in Saigon
Visiting Saigon during 1967, Adams learned from Army analysts that their commanding general, William Westmoreland, had placed an artificial cap on the official Army count rather than risk questions regarding “progress” in the war (sound familiar?).
It was a clash of cultures; with Army intelligence analysts saluting generals following politically dictated orders, and Sam Adams aghast at the dishonesty — consequential dishonesty. From time to time I would have lunch with Sam and learn of the formidable opposition he encountered in trying to get out the truth.
Commiserating with Sam over lunch one day in late August 1967, I asked what could possibly be Gen. Westmoreland’s incentive to make the enemy strength appear to be half what it actually was. Sam gave me the answer he had from the horse’s mouth in Saigon.
Adams told me that in a cable dated Aug. 20, 1967, Westmoreland’s deputy, Gen. Creighton Abrams, set forth the rationale for the deception. Abrams wrote that the new, higher numbers (reflecting Sam’s count, which was supported by all intelligence agencies except Army intelligence, which reflected the “command position”) “were in sharp contrast to the current overall strength figure of about 299,000 given to the press.”
Abrams emphasized, “We have been projecting an image of success over recent months” and cautioned that if the higher figures became public, “all available caveats and explanations will not prevent the press from drawing an erroneous and gloomy conclusion.”
No further proof was needed that the most senior U.S. Army commanders were lying, so that they could continue to feign “progress” in the war. Equally unfortunate, the crassness and callousness of Abrams’s cable notwithstanding, it had become increasingly clear that rather than stand up for Sam, his superiors would probably acquiesce in the Army’s bogus figures. Sadly, that’s what they did.
When the media finally started reporting—and showing Americans images on their televisions—of what was really happening in Vietnam, it got more difficult to send off young Americans to kill and die. The response? Blame the media for losing the war in Vietnam.
Now, 40 years later, the only lesson learned appears to be better control of the message. Yet once again it’s getting more difficult to sell Americans more wars. Even with a more articulate Democrat as President, and the repackaging of wars as “humanitarian interventions”, it’s just not going to fly with a populace that has the lived experiences of definitely NOT recovering from the Wall Street Casino blowing up 7 years ago.
Also, this pie chart:
Over half the pie for the military is insane. And what has it gotten us? New havens in Iraq, Syria and Libya for jihadists, radicalized survivors of drone strikes in places like Pakistan and Yemen, and an integration of Russia and China that will shape the 21st century.
Good job, America.
by William Skink
While some white people want to focus on what those thugs were doing in Baltimore this week, it might be more illuminating to focus on why.
The violence that erupted at the beginning of the week was sparked by a ridiculous overreaction to a high school rumor. The concern over a “purge” of violence now appears to be quite unfounded:
Turns out the teen social media “purge” may have been more a police and media creation than an actual threat.
Early Monday afternoon, the Baltimore Sun (4/27/15) reported on a mass police presence that had descended on Baltimore’s Mondawmin Mall. The reason for this military-like occupation, pinning in high schoolers? A flier advocating a “purge”—a term based on the 2013 dystopian film The Purge, supposedly signifying an outbreak of lawlessness—was, according to the Sun, “widely circulated” among the students.
Surely the police had to come down hard because “teens” on “social media” had planned on doing something that in the past had turned out to be a hoax. Nevertheless, the Sun would do most of the PR heavy lifting, reporting on the “purge” as if it was an existential threat—pinning the incident entirely on this mysterious flier:
The incident stemmed from a flier that circulated widely among city school students via social media about a “purge” to take place at 3 p.m., starting at Mondawmin Mall and ending downtown.
The real-world, non-social media evidence of this purge?
When 3 p.m. came, 75 to 100 students heading to Mondawmin Mall were greeted by dozens of police officers in riot gear. The mall is a transportation hub for students from several nearby schools.
So the students left class (at they always do at 3 p.m.) and headed to Mondawmin Mall (as they always do at 3 p.m.) and were met with hundreds of police in riot rear. That’s not what you’d call a smoking gun.
The only social media images we could find of the supposedly viral “purge” meme were spread by people who were condemning it.
As for the evidence of this “purge” spreading on social media? It’s murky at best. After getting vague responses from the Baltimore Sun reporters in question as to the actual, linked evidence that the flier had gone viral, I took to Twitter asking for evidence that evidence that the flier was spread by high school students before the Sun tweeted it out.
After a few hours and a lot of searching, all that came back were two tweets (one of which is now deleted)—neither of which were from high schoolers, and both of which were upset by the idea of a “purge,” not promoting it. Even if one assumes that the flier actually did go viral on other social media (which it may well have–it’s more difficult to search Instagram and Facebook), the social media activity we could observe was sharing the flier in disgust—not to promote the “purge” at all.
The actions by police—stopping buses and keeping kids from getting home—was unnecessary and provocative. It was definitely a factor in creating the conditions for unrest.
To further understand why Baltimore erupted, read this conversation with David Simon. It turns out a Democrat politician with career-climbing ambition incentivized shitty police work for his own political advancement. From the link:
Originally, early in his tenure, O’Malley brought Ed Norris in as commissioner and Ed knew his business. He’d been a criminal investigator and commander in New York and he knew police work. And so, for a time, real crime suppression and good retroactive investigation was emphasized, and for the Baltimore department, it was kind of like a fat man going on a diet. Just leave the French fries on the plate and you lose the first ten pounds. The initial crime reductions in Baltimore under O’Malley were legit and O’Malley deserved some credit.
But that wasn’t enough. O’Malley needed to show crime reduction stats that were not only improbable, but unsustainable without manipulation. And so there were people from City Hall who walked over Norris and made it clear to the district commanders that crime was going to fall by some astonishing rates. Eventually, Norris got fed up with the interference from City Hall and walked, and then more malleable police commissioners followed, until indeed, the crime rate fell dramatically. On paper.
How? There were two initiatives. First, the department began sweeping the streets of the inner city, taking bodies on ridiculous humbles, mass arrests, sending thousands of people to city jail, hundreds every night, thousands in a month. They actually had police supervisors stationed with printed forms at the city jail – forms that said, essentially, you can go home now if you sign away any liability the city has for false arrest, or you can not sign the form and spend the weekend in jail until you see a court commissioner. And tens of thousands of people signed that form.
Please read the whole piece. It’s incredibly illuminating.
by William Skink
When the rape scandal we still haven’t recovered from as a community was playing out in the media a few years back, Kirsten Pabst blogged about her discontent with the media. And jhwygirl blogged back.
Pabst actually comments on the post, which really you public officials should probably just avoid doing. It just encourages us anonymous bloggers to keep at it.
I hope jhwygirl is encouraged by the acknowledgment Krakauer recently gave her in a question/answer you can read here (h/t Patrick Duganz). From the link:
I gotta say since some of you are bloggers: I’m a big fan. I was able to get those posts [from Kirsten Pabst] because a blogger in Montana has this killer blog, and that’s where I got this. She archived them unofficially. She’s impressive. I have no idea how many readers/followers she has, but she’s this thorn in the side of Missoula county officials, and it’s people like her that keep them honest. I think it would be easy to ignore someone like that if you’re some official, or think you can ignore it, but you can’t, with the world as it is and the internet as it is.
The accolades are well deserved. Congrats on getting some well-deserved credit, jhwygirl.
by William Skink
The story of a detained 11 year old first caught my attention because Lego click bait. Because I like Legos, like a lot. My 6 year old likes Legos as well, so when he’s shopping for Legos, I’m always attending his searches and purchases.
The story of a detained 11 year old is ridiculous. It comes via BoingBoing:
Doug Dunlop’s 11 year old, Lego-obsessed son is a frequent customer at the Lego store in Calgary’s Chinook Mall, where he spends his odd-job savings on new materials — until this week, when the Lego store management had the mall’s security take him into custody.
When Dunlop arrived to pick up his son, the manager revealed the store’s secret policy banning children under 12 from shopping on their own. Dunlop asked why this policy wasn’t posted and the manager said, “It should be obvious to any good parent that children under 12 shouldn’t be in a store unattended. We have the policy for child safety reasons.” When asked why the policy was in place, the manager said “If I have to explain THAT to you, then you shouldn’t be a parent.”
by William Skink
I’ve been listening incessantly to the new Sufjan Stevens album, Carrie & Lowell. It’s amazing. Stevens is a phenomenal song writer, and I’ve always been curious about what may have influenced him. I was surfing around earlier today, and came across an interesting rambling monologue from Stevens’ recent show in his hometown, Detroit. Here it is, enjoy:
We moved to Romulus for a few years in a little house that my grandpa built that’s still there. Then we got tired of the jet fumes. So we moved back to the city. A couple neighborhoods. Then we ended up in the north part of the city, just off of Jefferson on Parker Street, near Indian Village.
My parents — yes, they wanted to live in Indian Village, but couldn’t afford it, of course. So we just lived, like, a few roads down, in a little duplex. But they told all their friends they lived in Indian Village.
We moved out of the city when I was 9, and moved up north. But I remember a few things about Detroit — very obscure, kind of abstract and mysterious. I remember Devil’s Night, and my dad would stay up late with the dog. We had a Bouvier, which is a Flemish sheep-herding dog. It was genetically engineered to bite anything that moves. So he would stay all night to watch the house during Devil’s Night, but then we would sneak out to throw eggs and toilet paper at the neighbor’s house.
I remember fishing on the river, but we could never eat them because they were polluted. But we were so hungry that one day my dad said, “Maybe we will eat them,” and we did anyway. It was good.
I remember my grandma lived at Pink Flamingo Trailer Court in Farmington Hills. We would visit her, and she always had these glass jars of cinnamon candies, and she only gave us one. But she didn’t have good eyesight and I would just stuff every pocket with candies. She had a crazy collection of Cabbage Patch dolls. We weren’t allowed to play with them, they were just on display. I was so confused why a woman her age had so many Cabbage Patch dolls.
I remember when they imploded Hudson’s. The younger generation probably has no idea what I’m talking about.
I remember when Nancy Kerrigan got the shit beat out of her. I mean, I wasn’t there, but that was a big deal.
I remember “Give us some more of ’84.” Do they still say that? Or no? “Give us less of ’84,” probably. In 1984 there were more house burnings on Devil’s Night than any other year, I think. I think I read that like two years ago and somehow it stayed with me.
I remember going to the Detroit Zoo with my cousin. My parents took us, and we were so excited that we wandered off on our own and got lost for hours, and had no idea where we were. And instead of going to the security guards, we just collected pop cans. Because even at that age, we somehow believed — because there was a 10-cent deposit, you know, on every pop can — we somehow believed that money would solve all of our problems. Even the problem of being lost. When our parents finally found us, we had two garbage bags full of Faygo and Pepsi pop cans. They were like, “What’s going on here?”
Memory is such a funny thing, though, you know. It’s all colored by the imagination. A lot of people ask me, “Well where did you inherit the imagination for songwriting?” For a while I thought it was Waldorf School, because I went to Detroit Waldorf School for many years. And for a while I thought it was because my parents did drugs and were hippies and in a cult. And then for a while I thought it was because I didn’t start reading until I was like 15 years old. I was kind of an illiterate child, because of Waldorf School. So that cultivated my imagination. I’m not sure why.
Sometimes I think it’s just because I’m from here, from Detroit, because I started to think that this is the city of imagination. People talk about it like the city of industry, and you know, automobiles. The city of Motown music. And I hate when people call it, like apocalyptic, and refer to like, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. I think that’s bullshit, because I think it’s actually more like Dungeons & Dragons, which is a land of fierce imagination where anything is possible. We’ve got sexy ladies wielding swords and gargoyles coming to life. It’s Choose Your Own Adventure here. Anyway, I just wanted to say I’m happy to be back so thanks for having us.
by William Skink
When it comes to violence, is America exceptional? I mean, is there any other nation that asserts the right to drone-kill thousands of people at the whim of our dear leader? And we do it in an exceptional way, just ask our exceptional killer-president:
President Barack Obama stood behind the podium and apologized for inadvertently killing two Western hostages – including one American – during a drone strike in Yemen. Obama said, “one of the things that sets America apart from many other nations, one of the things that makes us exceptional, is our willingness to confront squarely our imperfections and to learn from our mistakes.” In his 2015 state of the union address, Obama described America as “exceptional.” When he spoke to the United Nations General Assembly in 2013, he said, “Some may disagree, but I believe that America is exceptional.”
No disagreement here, Mr. killer-president. We all know you make exceptional efforts not to murder civilians with your drone strikes. So what if the actual evidence indicates your exceptional standards are bullshit:
Obama insists that the CIA and the U.S. military are very careful to avoid civilian casualties. In May 2013, he declared in a speech at the National Defense University, “before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured – the highest standard we can set.”
Nevertheless, of the nearly 3,852 people killed by drone strikes, 476 have reportedly been civilians. The Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), which examined nine drone strikes in Yemen, concluded that civilians were killed in every one. Amrit Singh, a senior legal officer at OSJI and primary author of the report, said “We’ve found evidence that President Obama’s standard is not being met on the ground.”
Domestically, American police can be exceptionally violent as well. Take Baltimore. While most media outlets will focus on damage to buildings, a little context about police violence in Baltimore is warranted, because it includes violence toward a pregnant woman and an 87 year old grandma:
The 87-year-old grandmother was named Venus Green. A former teacher with two college degrees, she spent her retirement years as a foster parent for needy children. She was on her porch one day when her grandson ran up crying for an ambulance.
He’d been shot.
The article goes on to tell her story from a legal document in her successful lawsuit:
Paramedics and police responded to the emergency call, but the white officer became hostile. “What happened? Who shot you?” Green recalled the officer saying to her grandson, according to an 11-page letter in which she detailed the incident for her lawyer. Excerpts from the letter were included in her lawsuit. “You’re lying. You know you were shot inside that house. We ain’t going to help you because you are lying.”
“Mister, he isn’t lying,” replied Green, who had no criminal record. “He came from down that way running, calling me to call the ambulance.”
The officer, who is not identified in the lawsuit, wanted to go into the basement, but Green demanded a warrant. Her grandson kept two dogs downstairs and she feared they would attack. The officer unhooked the lock, but Green latched it. He shoved Green against the wall.
She hit the wooden floor. “Bitch, you ain’t no better than any of the other old black bitches I have locked up,” Green recalled the officer saying as he stood over her. “He pulled me up, pushed me in the dining room over the couch, put his knees in my back, twisted my arms and wrist and put handcuffs on my hands and threw me face down on the couch.”
After pulling Green to her feet, the officer told her she was under arrest. Green complained of pain. “My neck and shoulder are hurting,” Green told him. “Please take these handcuffs off.” An African-American officer then walked in the house, saw her sobbing and asked that the handcuffs be removed since Green wasn’t violent. The cuffs came off, and Green didn’t face any charges. But a broken shoulder tormented her for months.
For even more context, let’s compare some numbers. I’ll start with the caveat that we actually have no way of knowing precisely how many people are killed by police every year because police killings aren’t officially tracked. That said, police in America killed more people in just the month of March than the UK police have killed…since 1900:
A total of 111 people were killed by police in the United States in March of 2015. Since 1900, in the entire United Kingdom, 52 people have been killed by police.
Don’t bother adjusting for population differences, or poverty, or mental illness, or anything else. The sheer fact that American police kill TWICE as many people per month as police have killed in the modern history of the United Kingdom is sick, preposterous, and alarming.
I used to claim America is in no way an exceptional nation. Clearly I was wrong.
by William Skink
If you have read a poem by either myself or another poet at 4&20 Blackbirds, congratulations, you are bucking a trend of declining interest spanning at least two decades. The Washington Post, you see, has the empirical evidence that Poetry is going extinct. It’s sobering data that speaks to something, just what I’m not sure. From the link:
Given the widespread availability of poetry on the internet, “it’s possible that poetry’s audience might be greater now than ever,” wrote Kate Angus in The Millions last year. But the numbers below show that that’s emphatically not the case. Some people are still reading it, although that number has been dropping steadily over the past two decades.
In 1992, 17 percent of Americans had read a work of poetry at least once in the past year. 20 years later that number had fallen by more than half, to 6.7 percent. Those numbers come from the national Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA), a massive survey that’s run every few years as part of the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey.
The survey finds that the decline in poetry readership is unique among the arts — particularly the literary arts. “Since 2002, the share of poetry-readers has contracted by 45 percent—resulting in the steepest decline in participation in any literary genre,” the study concludes. Over the past 20 years, the downward trend is nearly perfectly linear — and doesn’t show signs of abating.
According to the latest numbers, poetry is less popular than jazz. It’s less popular than dance, and only about half as popular as knitting. The only major arts category with a narrower audience than poetry is opera — not exactly surprising, given the contemporary state of that art.
So what gives? How has poetry clocked a nearly perfect downward linear trend?
I’ve gotten some recent feedback on a few poetry posts, and I’m always very appreciative. I’ve intentionally written topical poems for immediate consumption to show poetry can respond in real time to world events. It’s an admittedly small gesture with limited impact, but obstinance in the face of futility is a stance I’m comfortable maintaining.
I’m not sure where poetry went wrong. My tendency is to scrutinize the privileged MFA assembly lines fast-tracking literary production, but that’s a somewhat recent phenomena. Something happened to poetry before the gluttony of grad students flooded a dwindling market with poetry that appeals to only a few small literary circles.
I wish one recent publication could better transcend the declining interest in poetry. Claudia Rankine’s book, Citizen, is a powerful work where the author lays out the inner-monologue processing the racial dynamics of everyday stabs and sleights.
For my own selfish reasons, I wish poetry had more influence in popular culture. That it’s trending itself into irrelevance is perhaps just a symptom of a larger societal malaise setting in.
the mountain roars
mountain at the top of the world
a deep shaking of land and buildings
that seem built upon sand
like American black men shot
and cracks appear
in the streets
April, always April
like a covenant signed
pack whatever heat you think
earth and mountain thundering
torrents of ice and stone
make people made
smaller than ants
this is how the world works, son
bow your head,
by William Skink
Of all the characters—and they are to a great extent just that—in Krakauer’s recounting of rape and the justice system in Missoula, Kirsten Pabst is perhaps best positioned to set the tone for how Missoula can move forward. For now she’s the subject of Missoulian cluster reporting, some of it very generous. So she’s got that going for her. And the support of Griz Nation doesn’t hurt.
What will hurt, though, is refusing to genuinely account for well-documented mistakes, opting instead for a media counter-offensive.
One of the initial local reactions worth reading comes from Dan Brooks. Read his whole post here. I like this part:
The book focuses on a half dozen rape allegations in Missoula between 2009 and 2012. Krakauer presents these narratives from the victims’ perspectives, beginning with their own accounts of the alleged assaults. These in-person interviews with traumatized young women—many of whom feel ill-served by the criminal justice system—could easily reflect bias against local police and prosecutors. There is room to tell a misleading story there. But once these victims make contact with police and courts, Krakauer draws most of his narrative from official transcripts.
These transcripts make a lot of people look bad. Detectives keep asking women with rape complaints if they have boyfriends, observing that lots of times, women cheat on their boyfriends and then call it rape later. From a cop’s perspective, this is a statement of experience, a commiseration about how hard it is to do police work. Of course, to the victim—and to the reader—it sounds like an accusation.
The inappropriate questions from detectives, IMO, stems from the Missoula County Attorneys Office. The refusal to prosecute cases that appear to have enough evidence to make a case trickles down to the detectives. They are the ones gathering evidence, recommending prosecution, then, when MCAO doesn’t prosecute, it’s the detectives who have to inform the victims their case is closed and the rapist will walk free.
In the telling of these stories, one detective plays a very supportive role for one of the survivors: Detective Guy Baker. His advocacy is one of the bright spots in an otherwise bleak landscape. For the most part, Missoula detectives have been doing their jobs. It’s not their role to prosecute the cases they investigate.
If Pabst wants to move her office forward, she should pay close attention to chapter 10. It’s at this point Krakauer uses the “Boston expert” David Lisak to examine some data pointing to the impact of serial rapists:
It’s been estimated that approximately 85 percent of all rapes are in fact committed by assailants who are acquainted in some way with their victims, and that only a small percentage of these “non-stranger rapes” result in teh successful prosecution of the rapist. So Lisak devised a study that would provide insights into offenders who’d managed to avoid both punishment and scrutiny—a population that accounted for the overwhelming majority of rapists. Specifically, he designed his study to reveal whether these “undetected rapists,” like their incarcerated counterparts, showed a propensity to rape more than once and whether they were likely to commit other types of interpersonal violence. The study, titled “Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending Among Undetected Rapists,” co-authored by Paul M. Miller and published in 2002, added significantly to the understanding of men who rape.
Lisak and Miller examined a random sample of 1,882 men, all of whom were students at the University of Massachusetts Boston between 1991 and 1998. Their average age was twenty-four. Of theses 1,882 students, 120 individuals—6.4 percent of the sample—were identified as rapists, which wasn’t a surprising proportion. But 76 of the 120—63 percent of the undetected student rapists, amounting to 4 percent of the overall sample—turned out to be repeat offenders who were collectively responsible for at least 439 rapes, an average of nearly 6 assaults per rapist. A very small number of men in the population, in other words, had raped a great many women with utter impunity. Lisak’s study also revealed something equally disturbing: These same 76 individuals were also responsible for 49 sexual assaults that didn’t rise to the level of rape, 277 acts of sexual abuse against children, 66 acts of physical abuse against children, and 214 acts of battery against intimate partners. This relative handful of male students, as Lisak put it, “had each, on average, left 14 victims in their wake…And the number of assaults was almost certainly underreported.”
The college environment is like a playground for serial rapists, also known as sexual predators. The grooming of potential victims can happen easily, especially once the alcohol starts flowing. Instead of wondering, and then asking, if a rape victim has a boyfriend, detectives should wonder if an alleged rape, when it’s reported, is the act of a serial rapist.
And if you want a peek inside the disturbing mind of a serial rapist, Krakaur excerpts the following from Lisak’s work:
The segment, which I’ve abridged below, begins with “Frank” telling Lisak, “We have parties every weekend.” He goes on:
That’s what my fraternity was known for. We’d invite a bunch of girls, lay out a bunch of kegs or whatever we were drinking that night. And everyone would just get plastered….We’d be on the lookout for the good-looking girls, especially the freshmen, the really young ones. They were the easiest. It’s like they didn’t know the ropes,…like they were easy prey. And they wouldn’t know anything about drinking, or how much alcohol they could handle. SO, you know, they wouldn’t know anything about our techniques….
We’d invite them to the party,…make it seem like it was a real honor. Like we didn’t just invite any girl. Which, I guess, in a way is true….Then we’d get them drinking right away. We’d have all those kegs. But we always had some kind of punch, also….We’d make it with a real sweet juice and just pour in all kinds of alcohol….The girls wouldn’t know what hit them. They’d be guzzling it, you know, because they were freshmen, kind of nervous….The naive ones were the easiest. And they’d be the ones we’d target….
We’d all be scouting for targets during the week….We’d pick ’em out, and work ’em over during the week, and then get ’em all psyched up to come to one of our famous parties….You basically had to have an instinct for it….I had this girls staked out. I’d picked her out in one of my classes….I was watching for her,…and the minute she walked into the door of the party, I was on her….We started drinking together, and I could tell she was nervous…because she was drinking that stuff so fast….
It was some kind of punch we’d made. You know, the usual thing….She started to get plastered in just a few minutes….so I started making my moves on her. I kind of leaned in close,…got my arm around her, and then at the right moment I kissed her….The usual kind of stuff….And after a while I asked her if she wanted to go up to my room, you know, get away from the noise, and she came right away. Actually it wasn’t my room….We always had several rooms designated before the party…that were all prepped for this…
She was really woozy by this time. So I brought up another drink, you know, and sat her down on one of the beds, sat down next to her, and pretty soon I just made my move. I don’t remember exactly what I did first. I probably, you know, leaned her down on the bed, started working on her clothes, feeling her up….I started working her blouse off.
At some point she started saying things like….’I don’t want to do this right away,’ or something like that. I just kept working on her clothes,…and she started squirming. But that actually helped, because her blouse came off easier. And i kind of leaned on her, kept feeling her up to get her more into it. She tried to push me off, so I pushed her back down….
It pissed me off that she played along the whole way and then decided to squirm out of it like that at the end. I mean, she was so plastered that she probably didn’t know what was going on, anyway. I don’t know, maybe that’s why she started pushing on me. But, you know, I just kept leaning on her, pulling off her clothes, and at some point she stopped squirming. I don’t know, maybe she passed out. Her eyes were closed.
Lisak asked Frank, “What happened?”
“I fucked her,” Frank answered.
“Did you have to lean on her or hold her down when you did it?”
“Yeah, I had my arm across her chest like this, you know, that’s how I did it.” As he spoke, Frank demonstrated how he placed his forearm against the victim’s sternum, near the base of her neck, and leaned on it to hold her down.
“Was she squirming?” Lisak inquired.
“Yeah, she was squirming,” Frank said, “but not as much anymore.”
“What happened afterwards?”
“I got dressed and went back to the party.”
“What did she do?” Lisak asked.
“She left,” Frank answered.
Lisak’s interview with Frank was typical of the interviews he did with other rapists. In a part of the interview not included above, Lisak told me, Frank “actually described two other rapes he did, under almost exactly the same circumstances, except the two other victims were unconscious from alcohol at the time. And Frank had no idea that what he was describing to me were acts of rape.”
Frank is a predator, and the Franks on campuses across the nation will rape, over and over, with impunity, unless they are stopped.
by William Skink
It sounds like some MT Democrats are getting annoyed that James Conner keeps writing about the pesky details of Medicaid expansion in Montana. Yesterday Conner wrote about Rachel Maddow spreading MT Medicaid expansion misinformation. It may not technically be misinformation to state that SB-405 expands Medicaid eligibility for the 70,000 Montanans state legislators have been vigorously tweeting about, but it is misleading. As Conner keeps pointing out, the fiscal note puts the number of Montanans that could be covered at around 46,000. That means tens of thousands of Montanans could be eligible, but not covered, under SB-405.
The takeaway? Just because legislators tweet using popular hashtags, you still gotta read the fine print.
Thankfully, not every national publication is drinking the Medikoolaid. Mother Jones takes a look at how the Obama administration’s plan to expand Medicaid in red states is by weakening it. From the link:
Some red states have been coming around, lured by of the enormous infusion of federal funds they’ll receive by expanding Medicaid. And without participating, states soon stand to lose billions in other payments designed to compensate hospitals for care for the uninsured. (Florida could lose more than $2 billion on account of leaving 800,000 residents uninsured who could otherwise be covered under Medicaid.)
Despite that carrot and stick, Republican-controlled states have demanded additional concessions from the Obama administration before taking part in the expansion—and in many cases, as a new paper from the National Health Law Program suggests, the administration has agreed to changes that undermine its own goal of expanding coverage. These changes have made some states’ Medicaid programs more, well, Republican—not to mention punitive.
Montana is choosing the punitive premium approach to Republicanize Medicaid, ceding an opportunity to expose the notorious anti-tax right as pro-tax if it means punching poor people. Gee, I wonder how that’s going to work out. Here’s more from the Mother Jones piece:
Take Arkansas, which in 2013 was allowed to use its Medicaid funds to let poor residents buy private insurance on the state health exchange—policies that may not have the same protections or coverage as traditional Medicaid. Iowa and New Hampshire have followed suit. According to the NHLP, these initial waivers emboldened states to seek even greater concessions. An example is Indiana, where, in exchange for agreeing to expand Medicaid, officials not only won the right to charge poor people premiums and co-payments, but also to lock people out of the program for at least six months if they fail to pay those premiums.
The administration has granted such waivers through its authority to authorize so-called demonstration projects to encourage policy innovation in the states. But NHLP contends that waivers like Indiana’s violate the law, which “requires demonstrations to actually demonstrate something.” As NHLP points out, reams of research have long showed that such premiums dramatically reduce health coverage for low-income people. After the Obama administration granted Indiana’s request, Arkansas went back to ask for permission to charge premiums, too. And it prevailed.
To repeat, premiums DRAMATICALLY REDUCE HEALTH COVERAGE FOR LOW-INCOME PEOPLE. I’m yelling because too many MT Democrats appear to be deaf.
Conner ends one of his recent posts with this:
When Gov. Steve Bullock signs the bill, pay close attention to what he says. Will he speak the truth? Will he condemn the paucity and price of the coverage for 46,000? Or will he sing high praises of bipartisanship, compromise, and Sen. Buttrey’s wisdom and compassion? Will — can — Democrats be honest about legislation that they know, or should know, betrays the poorest of the poor?
by William Skink
Yesterday I bought a copy of Jon Krakauer’s book Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town. I didn’t intend to binge read, but the way Krakauer weaves the narratives of the rape victims and their experiences with the “justice” system, I had a hard time putting it down.
Many readers of this blog will recall posts from jhwygirl, Patrick Duganz, JC and myself during this period of intense scrutiny. I don’t have time right now to compile a list of relevant posts, but I’ve browsed a few and they are certainly validated by Krakauer’s storytelling. It’s a story we wouldn’t be talking about without the courage of the victims and the fearless reporting of Gwen Florio, who brought the public scrutiny to the systemic barriers stacked against victims who report being sexually assaulted.
I’m sure plenty of people will share their impressions as they read the book. For those who don’t read the book, my hope is you keep your mouthes shut and fingers idle. To have an opinion worth sharing, you must read the accounts represented by Krakauer.
The agency most exposed for perpetuating rape culture in Missoula is clearly the Missoula County Attorney’s Office, so before you go out and spend money on an Andy Smetanka’s revisionist rape culture denial poster maybe spend some time reflecting on the fact Missoula elected rape culture enthusiast, Kirsten Pabst, to lead the office she bailed on, mid-scandal, to protect rapists from the consequences of their crimes.
In one of the most disturbing passages, highlighted over at Intelligent Discontent, we see the truly fucked up thinking regarding consent from one of the primary agents of injustice in this sordid story:
So even if you’d given it previously, that doesn’t count if you’re asleep, right?” “Correct,” Pabst replied. A moment later, however, she hedged: “Well, it depends. That’s not really a hard-and-fast rule. But some people would argue that if I go home with someone and we say, ‘Well, we’re going to go have sex,’ and then I fall asleep and wake up and he’s having sex with me—some people would say that’s consensual, and some people would say it’s not.” The questioner followed up: “What does the law say?” “I don’t know the answer to that,” Pabst answered. “There is no hard-and-fast rule.”
There will be more to write, but one thing is clear: Missoula, there is still an immense amount of work to be done.
END TIME RACE
a trail of flame
burns a path
fire on the left
dark plots on the right
and an Iron Cross
to pound bleeding hearts
into bloody stains
oh blessed Lord of lords
a thousand needling pricks
jabs black ink
onto white chests of soldiers mad
in spirit, eager fingers
triggering the gun-blast breath
of vengeful wrath
over the communism of oxygen
in our atmosphere
bless the charred unity
of fire’s disfigurement
in Oklahoma City
where bone fragments of children
hide like poisoned seeds
amidst the rubble
how else shall Cascadia
rise like Phoenix from the ashes
of His wholly deranged
where citizens are seen
an impossible purity
transforms their blood
while all around them
fire purges the countryside
by William Skink
April is National Poetry month. Below the fold, there are over 160 links to the various poetry posts I’ve written over the years. The most recent posts are at the top. The poem that’s gotten the most views is at the first link, Cosby Goes to Cuba.
Enjoy! Continue Reading »
by William Skink
Before our eager MT legislators champion a bipartisan push to deregulate taxi service in Montana for Uber, they might want to read about the Uber battle in Madison, WI.
Here is a good description of the exploitive business model Uber and Lyft have taken advantage of. The municipalities fighting back are facing aggressive marketing campaigns:
Both companies claim to be “disruptive innovators” that shake up the status quo in the out-of-date taxi industry that still relies on human beings to do the work of matching people with rides through dispatch offices.
But there is nothing innovative about serving the function of an exploitative middleman.
In fact, it’s as old as the unregulated market itself.
In this unregulated market, workers can get exploited, price gouging can arise, and the risks to public safety can escalate.
Drivers sign up to be “partners” with Uber or Lyft and access customers through a smart-phone app. Customers give their credit card and social network information to the companies, and then sign into the app and request a ride from the nearest available “partner.” The company takes 20 percent of the charges off the top and the driver keeps the rest.
Drivers are responsible for all operational and maintenance costs. Most people who drive for Uber and Lyft do not carry commercial insurance and are, in fact, committing insurance fraud by not disclosing to their insurer that they are using their vehicle for commercial purposes.
If drivers are injured on the job, they are not covered by workers’ compensation. All the risk and capital investment are shouldered by the driver, while the fat cats at Uber and Lyft headquarters in San Francisco reap a risk-free reward.
In addition to exploiting labor by externalizing risk and vacuuming up profit, Uber drivers are sometimes not on the up and up. Surge pricing gauges customers, and sometimes even worse things happen than an obscene bill:
Uber claims to be matching supply and demand for rides through what it calls “dynamic surge pricing.” When demand for rides outstrips the current supply of drivers, the price for rides multiplies, sometimes up to 775 percent. That’s what happened to New Yorkers last winter during a blizzard, when at least one customer was charged $132 for a six-block ride.
On New Year’s Eve in San Francisco, a man who was allegedly logged in to Uber’s system and had passed a background check as a driver for the company ran over and killed six-year-old Sofia Liu. Her family is suing the company, which has denied any wrongdoing.
In other incidents in Washington and Los Angeles, Uber drivers allegedly kidnapped passengers. One driver took a drunk woman to a cheap motel and spent the night with her, according to the Los Angeles police.
Local and state governments are trying to find a way to deal with aggressive marketing by Uber and Lyft. California and Colorado have passed laws regulating the companies. Public service commissions in Nebraska and New Mexico, as well as the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, have placed explicit bans on their operations.
Some cities—including Baton Rouge, Chicago, Columbus, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Seattle, and Washington—have passed local ordinances to govern them. Ann Arbor, Memphis, and St. Louis have taken a harder line, issuing cease and desist orders, impounding vehicles, and levying fines on drivers.
North Carolina went the other way and actually passed a law prohibiting municipalities from regulating what they call “digital dispatch” services. This effectively gives Uber free rein to operate anywhere in the state without having to abide by taxicab ordinances.
Twenty-one states have now issued consumer alerts warning the public that anyone who steps into an Uber or Lyft vehicle takes a big risk, and the University of California is considering barring employees from using these services during business trips citing liability concerns.
So how does Uber respond? They hire some lovely people to help them:
Uber is responding by bringing out the big guns. In August, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe joined Uber as a senior vice president of policy and strategy, and in mid-September former Defense Secretary Robert Gates signed on as chair of the advisory board to UberMilitary, a program to recruit veterans (and their personal vehicles) as “partners.”
In an attempt to build political support, Uber also sponsors big national conferences and offers discounted fares for attendees.
Last summer it sponsored Urban Shield, a weapons and tactics convention in Oakland. It also used Mothers Against Drunk Driving to promote its service over the Fourth of July weekend.
And the company is recruiting its customers to lobby on its behalf. Uber offers free and discounted rides to new users, and then tries to turn them into political supporters to fight the corporation’s battles with local and state government. Since there is actually no corporate office or local staff in most of the cities in which it operates, Uber exploits the time and energy of its “partner” drivers and customers to wage its ground wars on its behalf.
Uber’s strategy and ideology perfectly mesh with the rightwing attack on government regulation, and it makes no bones about that. It has joined forces with the Republican National Committee and Generation Opportunity, an astroturf group backed by the Koch brothers, to inundate social media with pro-Uber propaganda urging support of the free market and innovative entrepreneurs.
It has also gained the support of government-drowner Grover Norquist. In an opinion piece for Reuters’ website, Norquist explained why Republicans are so keen on promoting Uber. His piece was entitled: “Why Uber Can Help the GOP Gain Control of the Cities.” These new-fangled taxi companies “are favorites of city dwellers, which means most of the leading Democratic constituencies—including educated professionals, gays, minorities, single women and working mothers,” he wrote. “Cities may soon be up for grabs. For the party’s refusal to embrace the innovative technology and disruptive businesses that have greatly improved city life presents a challenge to Democrats — and an opportunity for Republicans.” He hailed the companies as shining examples of the post-union “share economy.”
Uber and Lyft entered the market in Madison, Wisconsin, this February, kicking off a major political battle.
“This is more than a discussion about taxicabs. It’s about place and values,” Paul Soglin, the mayor of Madison, said as he began his presentation to a city committee charged with exploring ordinance changes to regulate Uber and Lyft.
Reminding committee members that regulation exists to “bring equity to the marketplace and to ensure the health and safety of the public,” Soglin mounted a vigorous case for thorough regulation.
In case you missed it, let me highlight this part:
It has joined forces with the Republican National Committee and Generation Opportunity, an astroturf group backed by the Koch brothers, to inundate social media with pro-Uber propaganda urging support of the free market and innovative entrepreneurs. (my emphasis added)
Backed by the Koch brothers, huh? Normally I see our tech-savvy legislators on Twitter bemoaning the influence of the Koch brothers. Kind of awkward to see one of those legislators now cheerleading for the same thing a Kock-backed group is being paid to advocate for.
by William Skink
Extreme skepticism of our corporate media is absolutely necessary to discern what’s true and what’s propaganda. For me, blogs like Moon of Alabama have been crucial in that difficult task. Some recent mainstream news reporting on the 2012 Richard Engel kidnapping story validates what MoA’s host, b, was saying over two years ago. In a new blog post b touts his scoop of the MSM, and rightly so. From the link:
The New York Times had recently started a new investigation about the case and only that has led Engel to “revisit” the issue that is to cover his old lies with new ones.
Two years ago it was clear to the Angry Arab and to me that the Engel account was very wrong from start to end. How is that now, more than two years later, “new information”?
The alleged “Shabiah” show of the “kidnapped” Engel was clearly fake and the “rescue” by the fake journalist pointed to a bigger plot.
Engel’s lies continue. He now admits that the dead “he had seen” were not seen by him at all.
In his Vanity Fair article, Mr. Engel described one of his captors lying dead. In his statement Wednesday, he acknowledged that he did not see bodies during the rescue.
Engel still speaks of dead kidnappers and a firefight during which he was “rescued”. But the NYT found a witness that lets one seriously doubt this:
Thaer al-Sheib, another local man connected with the rebel movement who sought the NBC team, said that on the day of the release “we heard some random shots for less than a minute coming from the direction of the farm.” He said that Abu Ayman, the rebel commander credited with freeing the team, is related by marriage to Mr. Ajouj, and that he staged the rescue.
So Engel still does not say how he was really “rescued” and how he immediately thereafter came to sit down with the video and news faker Khaled Abu Saleh.
This comes on the heels of the Brian Williams fiasco. It seems our corporate media is rife with liars who misrepresent events to manipulate the public. This should come as no surprise to the discerning readers of this blog.
I’m going to shift from Engel’s bunk story to an interesting piece of mainstream reporting on the 9/11 cover-up. Most people who talk about a 9/11 cover-up are quickly dismissed as conspiracy theorists, but ex-Senator Bob Graham is not most people. Graham’s quiet, persistent pursuit of Saudi ties to the 9/11 attacks has garnered him some attention from the New York Times. From the link:
The episode could have been a chapter from the thriller written by former Senator Bob Graham of Florida about a shadowy Saudi role in the Sept. 11 attacks.
A top F.B.I. official unexpectedly arranges a meeting at Dulles International Airport outside Washington with Mr. Graham, the former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, after he has pressed for information on a bureau terrorism inquiry. Mr. Graham, a Democrat, is then hustled off to a clandestine location, where he hopes for a breakthrough in his long pursuit of ties between leading Saudis and the Sept. 11 hijackers.
This real-life encounter happened in 2011, Mr. Graham said, and it took a startling twist.
“He basically said, ‘Get a life,’ ” Mr. Graham said of the F.B.I. official, who suggested that the former senator was chasing a dead-end investigation.
Mr. Graham, 78, a two-term governor of Florida and three-term senator who left Capitol Hill in 2005, says he will not relent in his efforts to force the government to make public a secret section of a congressional review he helped write — one that, by many accounts, implicates Saudi citizens in helping the hijackers.
“No. 1, I think the American people deserve to know the truth of what has happened in their name,” said Mr. Graham, who was a co-chairman of the 2002 joint congressional inquiry into the terrorist attacks. “No. 2 is justice for these family members who have suffered such loss and thus far have been frustrated largely by the U.S. government in their efforts to get some compensation.”
He also says national security implications are at stake, suggesting that since Saudi officials were not held accountable for Sept. 11 they have not been restrained in backing a spread of Islamic extremism that threatens United States interests. Saudi leaders have long denied any connection to Sept. 11.
Mr. Graham’s focus on a possible Saudi connection has received renewed attention because of claims made by victims’ families in a federal court in New York that Saudi Arabia was responsible for aiding the Sept. 11 hijackers and because of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed against the F.B.I. in Florida.
In sworn statements in the two cases, Mr. Graham has said there was evidence of support from the Saudi government for the terrorists. He also says the F.B.I. withheld from his inquiry, as well as a subsequent one, the fact that the bureau had investigated a Saudi family in Sarasota, Fla., and had found multiple contacts between it and the hijackers training nearby until the family fled just before the attacks.
Despite the F.B.I.’s insistence to the contrary, Mr. Graham said there was no evidence that the bureau had ever disclosed that line of investigation to his panel or the national commission that reviewed the attacks and delivered a report in 2004.
“One thing that irritates me is that the F.B.I. has gone beyond just covering up, trying to avoid disclosure, into what I call aggressive deception,” Mr. Graham said during an interview in a family office in this Miami suburb, which rose on what was a dairy farm operated by Mr. Graham’s father, also a political leader in Florida.
Graham should be commended for keeping up pressure on the agencies still involved with keeping uncomfortable questions from being adequately answered.
Remain skeptical, dear readers. Time shows skepticism is warranted, and sometimes, years later, even validated.
to be your champion
fuck your breath
to be your mad, befuddled left
bend for banks, yes, thanks
fair you well you welfare cry
badge says woman, blind your eyes
fuck the breath you occupy
black of berry, lie of lips
give me money, switch of hits
swan song swoon
the crowd erupts
ready, ready, hut-hut-hut
but breath escapes
you’ll lose your fear
until then I’ll say
I’m the best
to be your champion
fuck your breath
by William Skink
Counterpunch if featuring a 3-part series on Hillary Clinton. The first part—from Nixon girl to Watergate—is out today. For those unfamiliar with the person who would help launch Bill Clinton and destroy the Democrat Party from the inside, it’s worth reading. Here’s an excerpt:
The setting of Hillary’s political compass came in the late Sixties. The fraught year of 1968 saw the Goldwater girl getting a high-level internship in the House Republican Conference with Gerald Ford and Melvin Laird, without an ounce of the Goldwater libertarian pizzazz. Hillary says the assassinations of King and Robert Kennedy, plus the war in Vietnam, hit her hard. The impact was not of the intensity that prompted many of her generation to become radicals. She left the suburb of Park Forest and rushed to Miami to the Republican Convention where she fulfilled a lifelong dream of meeting Frank Sinatra and John Wayne and devoted her energies to saving the Party from her former icon, Nixon, by working for Nelson Rockefeller.
Nixon triumphed, and Hillary returned to Chicago in time for the Democratic Convention where she paid an afternoon’s visit to Grant Park. By now a proclaimed supporter of Gene McCarthy, she was appalled, not by the spectacle of McCarthy’s young supporters being beaten senseless by Daley’s cops, but by the protesters’ tactics, which she concluded were not viable. Like her future husband, Hillary was always concerned with maintaining viability within the system.
by William Skink
Last year a Princeton study showed that without the influence of wealth, people don’t impact policy. This is quantifiable proof that America is an oligarchy:
The two professors came to this conclusion after reviewing answers to 1,779 survey questions asked between 1981 and 2002 on public policy issues. They broke the responses down by income level, and then determined how often certain income levels and organised interest groups saw their policy preferences enacted.
“A proposed policy change with low support among economically elite Americans (one-out-of-five in favour) is adopted only about 18% of the time,” they write, “while a proposed change with high support (four-out-of-five in favour) is adopted about 45% of the time.”
On the other hand:
When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organised interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favour policy change, they generally do not get it.
Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organisations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.
This economic powerlessness was on tragic display over the weekend at our nation’s capitol. While tourists swarmed DC a man allegedly committed suicide on the steps of the Capitol building. One witness claimed he had a sign that said “something about taxing the 1%”.
As it becomes more obvious that America is not a Democracy, there is a correlating diminishment of what it means to be a citizen.
A few days ago I wrote about the Obama regime peddling more weaponry than any president since WWII (he exceeded Bush’s 8 year sales total by year 5 of his presidency). What does that have to do with American citizenship? Allow me to explain.
One of America’s best customers is Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is currently bombing the poorest nation in the Middle East, Yemen. And in Yemen there are American citizens who have been abandoned by their government:
Khalid Awnallah, a Yemeni-American, is safe today in Michigan, but his wife and four children are among the thousands of American citizens believed stranded in the midst of an escalating civil war in Yemen.
“They are in a bad situation there, they are hearing bombs all the time and are scared to go out,” said Awnallah, whose family is in the Rada’a district of southern Yemen, a site of frequent battles between Houthi rebels and members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Despite the ongoing danger to their lives, Awnallah says that his family has received no assistance from the U.S. government. “[My family] has tried to get in touch, but no one is helping them,” he said. “They are asking me all the time if they are going to die here.”
On April 9, the Council on American-Islamic Relations filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government on behalf of Awnallah’s family and dozens of other Yemeni-Americans trapped in the country. Citing Executive Order 12656, which obligates “protection or evacuation of U.S. Citizens and nationals abroad” in times of danger, the lawsuit further alleges that the U.S. government’s refusal so far to conduct evacuation operations in Yemen represents the continuation of longstanding policies that effectively deny full citizenship rights to Yemeni-Americans.
You would think, since American intelligence is no doubt helping coordinate Saudi Arabia’s bombardment, that extracting these American citizens would be a relatively risk-free matter. So why hasn’t it happened? Is it those funny sounding foreign names? You would think a president who has had his own citizenship questioned by racist Republicans would be a little more sensitive to the plight of these stranded citizens in Yemen.
And then there’s Egypt, where as of last month weaponry is once again flowing. Weeks after that decision, a judge in Egypt sentenced a U.S. citizen (along with many other) to life imprisonment:
CAIRO — An Egyptian court on Saturday sentenced an American citizen, Mohamed Soltan, to life imprisonment for supporting an Islamist protest against the military ouster of President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in the summer of 2013.
The presiding judge, Mohammed Nagi Shehata, sentenced more than 35 other defendants in the case to the same penalty and also confirmed death sentences in the same case for about a dozen defendants, including the Muslim Brotherhood’s top spiritual guide, Mohamed Badie, 71, as well as Mr. Soltan’s father, Salah Soltan.
Would there be more vigorous efforts to help these citizens if they had names like Mike or Sally?
The erosion of what it means to be an American citizen is a very disturbing trend. If you are not white and wealthy, there is more and more evidence that you simply don’t matter. The policies you want won’t be supported by your elected officials, the government won’t help you if you’re trapped abroad, and the constitution won’t protect you if the President decides you’re a terrorist and wants to kill you.
by William Skink
Hillary Clinton will finally announce she’s running for president tomorrow. There is absolutely no compelling progressive argument for supporting her, but many progressives will because REPUBLICANS ARE EVIL and SHE’S A SHE. That about sums up the arguments that will be deployed in defense of her candidacy.
Many issues will need to be glossed over, ignored and suppressed in order to promote what will surely be a slick PR campaign to artfully bludgeon us with her inevitability, like how Clinton used the State Department to sell fracking to the world (Mother Jones):
ONE ICY MORNING in February 2012, Hillary Clinton’s plane touched down in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, which was just digging out from a fierce blizzard. Wrapped in a thick coat, the secretary of state descended the stairs to the snow-covered tarmac, where she and her aides piled into a motorcade bound for the presidential palace. That afternoon, they huddled with Bulgarian leaders, including Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, discussing everything from Syria’s bloody civil war to their joint search for loose nukes. But the focus of the talks was fracking. The previous year, Bulgaria had signed a five-year, $68 million deal, granting US oil giant Chevron millions of acres in shale gas concessions. Bulgarians were outraged. Shortly before Clinton arrived, tens of thousands of protesters poured into the streets carrying placards that read “Stop fracking with our water” and “Chevron go home.” Bulgaria’s parliament responded by voting overwhelmingly for a fracking moratorium.
Clinton urged Bulgarian officials to give fracking another chance. According to Borissov, she agreed to help fly in the “best specialists on these new technologies to present the benefits to the Bulgarian people.” But resistance only grew. The following month in neighboring Romania, thousands of people gathered to protest another Chevron fracking project, and Romania’s parliament began weighing its own shale gas moratorium. Again Clinton intervened, dispatching her special envoy for energy in Eurasia, Richard Morningstar, to push back against the fracking bans. The State Department’s lobbying effort culminated in late May 2012, when Morningstar held a series of meetings on fracking with top Bulgarian and Romanian officials. He also touted the technology in an interview on Bulgarian national radio, saying it could lead to a fivefold drop in the price of natural gas. A few weeks later, Romania’s parliament voted down its proposed fracking ban and Bulgaria’s eased its moratorium.
And for progressives already squeamish about Hillary the corporate shill, it gets worse. Preempting her announcement is news of Clinton changing her position after the Clinton Foundation received money. This is just one example of what is essentially her modus operandi:
For union organizers in Colombia, the dangers of their trade were intensifying. When workers at the country’s largest independent oil company staged a strike in 2011, the Colombian military rounded them up at gunpoint and threatened violence if they failed to disband, according to human rights organizations. Similar intimidation tactics against the workers, say labor leaders, amounted to an everyday feature of life.
For the United States, these were precisely the sorts of discomfiting accounts that were supposed to be prevented in Colombia under a labor agreement that accompanied a recently signed free trade pact liberalizing the exchange of goods between the countries. From Washington to Bogota, leaders had promoted the pact as a win for all — a deal that would at once boost trade while strengthening the rights of embattled Colombian labor organizers. That formulation had previously drawn skepticism from many prominent Democrats, among them Hillary Clinton.
Yet as union leaders and human rights activists conveyed these harrowing reports of violence to then-Secretary of State Clinton in late 2011, urging her to pressure the Colombian government to protect labor organizers, she responded first with silence, these organizers say. The State Department publicly praised Colombia’s progress on human rights, thereby permitting hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid to flow to the same Colombian military that labor activists say helped intimidate workers.
At the same time that Clinton’s State Department was lauding Colombia’s human rights record, her family was forging a financial relationship with Pacific Rubiales, the sprawling Canadian petroleum company at the center of Colombia’s labor strife. The Clintons were also developing commercial ties with the oil giant’s founder, Canadian financier Frank Giustra, who now occupies a seat on the board of the Clinton Foundation, the family’s global philanthropic empire.
The details of these financial dealings remain murky, but this much is clear: After millions of dollars were pledged by the oil company to the Clinton Foundation — supplemented by millions more from Giustra himself — Secretary Clinton abruptly changed her position on the controversial U.S.-Colombia trade pact. Having opposed the deal as a bad one for labor rights back when she was a presidential candidate in 2008, she now promoted it, calling it “strongly in the interests of both Colombia and the United States.” The change of heart by Clinton and other Democratic leaders enabled congressional passage of a Colombia trade deal that experts say delivered big benefits to foreign investors like Giustra.
If elected, Hillary Clinton will be a disaster (except for her true constituency, the 1%). That she would be the first woman president is a small consolation considering the potential damage she will inflict. Anyone who thinks she won’t be the same corporate-serving warmonger she’s been throughout her political career is delusional.
by William Skink
I’m not sure how I feel about this video of homeless and formerly homeless people reading mean tweets, but I think it’s worth watching. I’d like to dedicate the video to the ignorant monsters who comment frequently at Missoulian.com.
by William Skink
James Conner, at Flathead Memo, is one of the few people writing about the actual reality of Medicaid expansion in Montana. He should be commended. And Montana Democrats should listen.
As it stands, the online Twitter hashtag #70000cantwait has become disingenuous. Politicians using this hashtag should stop using it, because the reality makes the use of it deceitful. Regardless of what happens today, tens of thousands of Montanans will continue to wait, and over a hundred thousand Montanans will be essentially taxed to cover 45,000 of the 70,000. From the link:
The Senate’s version of SB-405 provides health insurance for up to 45,000 of the 70,000 or so thought to be eligible for expanded Medicaid. It also slaps a de facto two percent income tax on all Medicaid recipients, including the poorest of the poor. It’s a mean spirited, teach the poor a lesson, piece of legislation. See my 18 March and 19 March posts for more details.
I commend the determination of the legislators who blasted the bill out of committee. I condemn the legislation into which they breathed new life. It violates the principle of first, do no harm.
It’s easy to focus on the disgusting antics of the Tea Party over this issue. The last few days have shown just how hard these soulless ideologues are willing to work to hurt poor people and kill job creation in Montana. It’s been dumbfounding to watch how this has all played out.
That said, if SB-405 passes today—and that’s a big IF—the de facto tax will have as-of-yet unknown consequences for the poorest in our state. Those consequences can then be used down the line by conservatives as proof that the expansion wasn’t worth it in the first place. And the half that won’t be covered, along with the 160,000+ people who will be taxed, will mean roughly 200,000 Montanans will be left behind and/or adversely affected by this “compromise” that Conner explains isn’t really a compromise at all.
Is it worth it?
While some Democrats are enjoying the media attention and retweeting accolades, health workers and social service providers should prepare for 2 more years of exacerbated struggle. I fear the situation on the ground won’t noticeably improve, and in some instances, may even worsen. 2% may not sound like a big number to most people, but for those barely hanging on, it could be hugely significant.
Knowing this reality, it’s difficult to be optimistic about the value of winning this political fight. I guess time will tell.
by William Skink
I’m glad Steve Bullock vetoed two gun bills this session. I don’t always share the same gun regulation fervor that erupts after every gun-related tragedy, but I also don’t see the point of legislating guns onto college campuses and trying to insert poorly constructed wedges between local law enforcement and the Feds (a move that certainly had Infowars fired up).
Regulating gun sales domestically is a Democratic wedge issue. That said, there are good reasons to try and keep guns out of the hands of unstable individuals. A local road rage incident highlights that reality:
Brian Richard Parini, 40, posted bond Monday afternoon and was released from the Missoula County Detention Facility shortly after he appeared in Missoula County Justice Court earlier in the day.
Parini allegedly became irate when a man driving his wife and three children, including an 8-day-old infant, attempted to pass him while driving north from Lolo on U.S. Highway 93.
According to the alleged victim, Parini was driving below the posted speed limit, and when the victim tried to pass Parini prevented him from doing so by switching lanes and “brake checking” him.
“He said the driver flipped him off several times,” the affidavit stated.
The situation came to a head, when the victim and Parini were side-by-side at the intersection of Blue Mountain Road and Highway 93. Parini allegedly pulled out a black semiautomatic pistol and waved it at the family.
“Don’t (expletive) with me,” he allegedly said.
Once the victim saw the gun, he ran the red light and called 9-1-1. Missoula police officers arrested Parini in the Rosauers parking lot on South Reserve Street and found a loaded .45 caliber semiautomatic pistol and holster on the front passenger seat.
Later in the article we find out Parini just got off felony probation, should not have had a gun, and also has a traumatic brain injury and PTSD.
Trying to keep guns out of the hands of unstable people is a worthy endeavor. The problem with Democrats, though, is this interest doesn’t seem to extend beyond domestic markets. And there are some very disturbing numbers about the Obama regime’s sales of weaponry to foreign nations, like the fact Obama has peddled more weapons than any other president since WWII:
With the end of the Obama presidency just around the corner, discussions of his administration’s foreign policy legacy are already well under way. But one central element of that policy has received little attention: the Obama administration’s dramatic acceleration of U.S. weapons exports.
The numbers are astonishing. In President Obama’s first five years in office, new agreements under the Pentagon’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program—the largest channel for U.S. arms exports—totaled over $169 billion. After adjusting for inflation, the volume of major deals concluded by the Obama administration in its first five years exceeds the amount approved by the Bush administration in its full eight years in office by nearly $30 billion. That also means that the Obama administration has approved more arms sales than any U.S. administration since World War II.
The majority of the Obama administration’s arms sales—over 60 percent–have gone to the Middle East and Persian Gulf, with Saudi Arabia topping the list at $46 billion in new agreements. This is particularly troubling given the complex array of conflicts raging throughout the region.
Those numbers are astonishing. And considering Obama still has that Nobel Peace Prize, also sickening. But where are Democrats on this issue?
Many of the regimes American weapons manufacturers export their hardware to are despicable. Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt, to name a few, do terrible, terrible things with American-made weapons. Egypt only recently began receiving weapons again; Obama personally told the Egyptian dictator about the change in U.S. policy toward his repressive regime at the end of last month:
Today, the White House announced that during a telephone call with Egyptian despot Abdelfattah al-Sisi, President Obama personally lifted the freeze on transferring weapons to the regime, and also affirmed that the $1.3 billion in military aid will continue unimpeded. Announced the White House:
President Obama spoke with Egyptian President Abdelfattah al-Sisi today regarding the U.S.-Egyptian military assistance relationship and regional developments, including in Libya and Yemen. President Obama informed President al-Sisi that he will lift executive holds that have been in place since October 2013 on the delivery of F-16 aircraft, Harpoon missiles, and M1A1 tank kits. The President also advised President al-Sisi that he will continue to request an annual $1.3 billion in military assistance for Egypt.
But for those who think the U.S. should not lavish vicious tyrants with arms and money, don’t worry! During the call, “President Obama also reiterated U.S. concerns about Egypt’s continued imprisonment of non-violent activists and mass trials,” and “encouraged increased respect for freedom of speech and assembly and emphasized that these issues remain a focus for the United States.” To read that is to feel the sincerity and potency of those presidential words.
Before the next flare-up of the gun debate, Democrats might want to do some soul-searching about the legacy Obama is leaving behind regarding arming despotic nations. If it’s bad that unstable people can easily get guns here in the states (and I agree that it is) then it follows that selling guns to tyrants who repress their own people is really bad.
I wish I was a man like Art
to whom rules do not apply
I would walk up to his person
and punch him right in the eye
ASSAULT! I’m sure he would say
my reply: no, I am like you
perched high above man’s law
and there is nothing you can do
then, if he tried to get up
I would kick him hard in the ribs
you do this metaphorically, I’d say
to poor men, women and kids
but alas, I am not like Art
and would quickly end up in jail
with the infirm and mentally ill
who cannot afford their bail
by William Skink
It’s been interesting to watch the attacks roll in lately, sparked by my hasty use of a source tied to the John Birch Society and exacerbated by the calling out of Democrats for being corporate enablers. As one commenter went apoplectic, a quote emerged from the noise, worthy of its own post. It comes from the Hatewatch Blog, an effort of the Southern Poverty Law Center:
A public that loses the ability to separate reality from fantasy will eventually become, one loopy logic leap at a time, a threat to the Constitutional rights of all Americans.
This quote, because of the source, is obviously directed at right-wing sovereign citizen types. But beyond that targeted group, I think a larger question could be posed: how does any American go about the challenging task of separating reality from fantasy?
The task is challenging because Americans have been subjected to very effective methods of propaganda. A writer at Daily Kos a few years back wrote a piece titled In Defense of the Phrase Conspiracy Theory in which the master propagandist, Edward Bernays, is given his proper due:
A really interesting character was Mr. Bernays. He was a double nephew of psychoanalysis pioneer Sigmund Freud. His mother was Sigmund’s sister Anna, and his father was Ely Bernays, brother of Freud’s wife, Martha Bernays. Did you get that? Frued’s sister married his wife’s brother. That union produced the son, Edward.
Born in 1891, when he was just a year old he was brought by his parents from his native Austria to America. It is hard to overestimate his mark on the American social consciousness. Bernays worked for the administration of Woodrow Wilson during World War 1. As part of the Committee on Public Information, he was influential in promoting the idea that America’s war efforts were primarily aimed at “bringing democracy to all of Europe”. That’s right. It was the idea of Bernays to sell warfare as the spreading of democracy, an idea that rules the American thought process to this very day.
To this day, there are plenty of Democrats who believe in the fantasy that American foreign policy is all about spreading Democracy. I guess that’s how they must cope with their team doing the war thing. Bernays was wildly successful in manipulating group think. Sometimes all you have to do is change a few words, and presto! From the link:
Stunned by the degree to which the democracy slogan had swayed the public both at home and abroad, he wondered whether this propaganda model could be employed during peacetime. Due to negative implications surrounding the word propaganda because of its use by the Germans in World War 1, he promoted the term “Public Relations”. According to the BBC interview with Bernays’s daughter Anne, Bernays felt that the public’s democratic judgment was “not to be relied upon” and he feared that “they [the American public] could very easily vote for the wrong man or want the wrong thing, so that they had to be guided from above”. This “guidance” was interpreted by Anne to mean that her father believed in a sort of “enlightened despotism” ideology.
Here is that thought in Bernays’ own words: “If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, is it not possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing about it?”
The answer is a resounding yes.
The political duopoly in this country has been astoundingly successful in keeping the pesky public divided and easily conquerable. The Southern Poverty Law Center, for example, can keep the threat to our constitutional rights focused on right-wing extremists while ignoring the much more tangible threat—a Democrat President who can kill an American citizen by drone, sans due process (an executive power that will be passed on to his successor).
Sticking with drones, a Washington Post article last year looked at the accidents occurring with the increase domestic use of drones. Tucked away in that article is this little tidbit:
With the Afghan war waning, Pentagon officials are planning where their drones will go next.
“Assuming the president of the nation decides we’re going to have a very small presence, if any, in Afghanistan after 2014, they’re going to by and large come home,” said Steve Pennington, the Air Force’s director of bases, ranges and airspace.
In an April 2012 report, the Defense Department notified Congress it was planning to base drones at 110 sites in U.S. territory by 2017. A new Pentagon document, obtained by The Post, suggests that ambitions have grown. It states that the military is preparing to fly drones from 144 U.S. locations.
The sites will be used primarily for training. Pentagon officials said they also expect to receive more requests from civil authorities to deploy drones during natural disasters and other emergencies.
Now pair that with this chilling memo, released last year by Federal courts:
A federal appeals court on Monday released a redacted version of the U.S. Justice Department’s memorandum of justification for a 2011 drone attack that killed Anwar al Awlaki, an American-born Islamist preacher suspected of having ties to al Qaeda.
The memo says that because the U.S. government considered al Awlaki to be an “operational leader” of an “enemy force,” it was legal for the Central Intelligence Agency to attack him with a drone even though he was a U.S. citizen.
The memo says the killing was further justified under Congressional authorization for the use of U.S. military force following the Sept. 11, 2001 hijacked-plane attacks.
This justification, as flimsy as it is, could never apply to the other 3 extra-judicial killings, including Anwar al Awlaki’s teenage son.
Four U.S. citizens have been killed with drone strikes by the Obama administration. That is not a fantasy; it’s the reality of the authoritarian creep of the war on terror, which relies on fear and fantasy to keep Americans too scared and docile to realize their constitutional rights are already gone.
Democrat apologists are very uncomfortable with the reality of what the Obama regime has accomplished in 8 years. It’s so much easier to attack messengers than to acknowledge it is they who are enmeshed in the fantastical public relations that frames death and destruction as “humanitarian intervention”. To that end, junk thinking attacking conspiracy theorists is always appreciated, like this article bashing the intellectual character of conspiracy theorists:
Meet Oliver. Like many of his friends, Oliver thinks he is an expert on 9/11. He spends much of his spare time looking at conspiracist websites and his research has convinced him that the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC, of 11 September 2001 were an inside job. The aircraft impacts and resulting fires couldn’t have caused the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center to collapse. The only viable explanation, he maintains, is that government agents planted explosives in advance. He realises, of course, that the government blames Al-Qaeda for 9/11 but his predictable response is pure Mandy Rice-Davies: they would say that, wouldn’t they?
Polling evidence suggests that Oliver’s views about 9/11 are by no means unusual. Indeed, peculiar theories about all manner of things are now widespread. There are conspiracy theories about the spread of AIDS, the 1969 Moon landings, UFOs, and the assassination of JFK. Sometimes, conspiracy theories turn out to be right – Watergate really was a conspiracy – but mostly they are bunkum. They are in fact vivid illustrations of a striking truth about human beings: however intelligent and knowledgeable we might be in other ways, many of us still believe the strangest things. You can find people who believe they were abducted by aliens, that the Holocaust never happened, and that cancer can be cured by positive thinking. A 2009 Harris Poll found that between one‑fifth and one‑quarter of Americans believe in reincarnation, astrology and the existence of witches. You name it, and there is probably someone out there who believes it.
You realise, of course, that Oliver’s theory about 9/11 has little going for it, and this might make you wonder why he believes it. The question ‘Why does Oliver believe that 9/11 was an inside job?’ is just a version of a more general question posed by the US skeptic Michael Shermer: why do people believe weird things? The weirder the belief, the stranger it seems that someone can have it. Asking why people believe weird things isn’t like asking why they believe it’s raining as they look out of the window and see the rain pouring down. It’s obvious why people believe it’s raining when they have compelling evidence, but it’s far from obvious why Oliver believes that 9/11 was an inside job when he has access to compelling evidence that it wasn’t an inside job.
I want to argue for something which is controversial, although I believe that it is also intuitive and commonsensical. My claim is this: Oliver believes what he does because that is the kind of thinker he is or, to put it more bluntly, because there is something wrong with how he thinks. The problem with conspiracy theorists is not, as the US legal scholar Cass Sunstein argues, that they have little relevant information. The key to what they end up believing is how they interpret and respond to the vast quantities of relevant information at their disposal. I want to suggest that this is fundamentally a question of the way they are. Oliver isn’t mad (or at least, he needn’t be). Nevertheless, his beliefs about 9/11 are the result of the peculiarities of his intellectual constitution – in a word, of his intellectual character.
I will conclude this post with my favorite quote from the above article, which is mostly devoid of actual substance. I like it because it just as easily applies to those who believe America is spreading “Democracy” when it destroys other nations as it does the intended target of derision, the conspiracy theorist:
The gullible rarely believe they are gullible and the closed-minded don’t believe they are closed-minded