Saturday, April 18, 2015

Hillary, about your logo: CHANGE IT. NOW. (Updated)

A RED arrow -- pointing us to the RIGHT?

No. No no no.


I never thought I'd make an endorsement based on something as cosmetic as a logo, but....NO. I will not vote for Hillary Clinton if she continues to use that logo. Period. No backing down.

I don't care if she favors jailing Dick Cheney and Lloyd Blankfein. I don't care if she says she is going to make Max Blumenthal Secretary of State. I don't care if she favors reverting the tax rates to what they were under Eisenhower. I don't care if she promises to reveal who killed Kennedy.

I don't care if her opponent is Mike Huckabee. I don't care if Huckabee runs on a "Nuke the world for Jesus!" platform.

I will never, ever vote for any Democratic candidate who keeps such a logo. The symbolism tells us that we cannot trust Hillary Clinton. The sight of that logo instantly transformed me from a tentative Hillary supporter to a fierce Hillary opponent.


If it is not changed within the next thirty days, I will irrevocably devote all of my energy to opposing Hillary Clinton in the primary and in the general.

This is better.

Update: I quickly whipped up an image of my own. (It's not really a logo.) The intent here is to sum up the impact of the current administration's "Democratic neocon" policies -- as seen in Syria, Ukraine and Israel. Hillary was Obama's Secretary of State, and thus bears no small degree of responsibility for those policies.

If she's not going to distance herself from the worst aspects of her recent past -- if she is going to announce to the world that she is taking us even further to the right -- then the above image represents my view of Hillary Clinton.
LOL and I do love yours.
Hillary seems to have [political] gender identity issues.
From Washington's Blog

Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin: Wall Street Owns Hillary Clinton, But She Still Might Lose
Posted on April 17, 2015 by Eric Zuesse.

"Halperin says (1:13 on the video) that, “She’s terrified of the left, their demands will never end.” In other words: The only way that Hillary Clinton will be able to convince enough liberals to vote for her to become the Democratic nominee will be for her to say things that will be inconsistent with other things she says, so that, in the following general election campaign (if she gets that far), only Wall Street and a few still-trusting liberals will support her, which will give the Republican nominee a much clearer and bigger field of political appeal. The Republican nominee will be able to maintain a less self-contradictory conservative line, by adhering, presumably, to the Ronald Reagan model — one which holds together both the religious and the aristocratic bases of the conservative movement, to draw far more conservatives to the polls come Election Day, than the by-then-demoralized Democratic Party will be able to motivate to the polls.

Halperin is basically saying that the only way Hillary Clinton will be able to win the Democratic nomination (since Wall Street is in the bag for her, and only the Party’s liberal base can block her from winning the nomination) will be for her to spout a line that is so “everything-for-everybody” as to depress the Democratic Party’s turnout come Election Day."

I think she's just telegraphing her potential presidency--red, not blue, and straight to the right.

For comparison look at Obama's logo--a rainbow that's nothing but blue (with half a pie in the sky) or is Blue Sky with a sun which may be rising or setting. Beneath this a red-striped road (that's probably supposed to invoke plowed fields) leading to the right.

They're trying to use red, white, and blue. I suppose defenders can say the red-to-the-right motif suggests the Republicans will be forced to the right.

The five-minute alternative is interesting. It suggests that the true blue twin towers Democrats are static and Hillary's dynamic Democrat-lite forces are eviscerating them while moving energetically to the right. It would make a great animated gif if the blue verticals then collapsed.

How about H's vertical bars rendered as arrows pointing up, standing in front of a skinny and ineffectual and wavery red horizontal bar?

I suppose someone could imagine the verts as legs and the red as blood. This is why the logo designers get paid the big bucks.

I'd suggest that placing the red in the background would be neutral. I'd suggest a flat plowed landscape of horizontal red and blue stripes getting narrower as they receded into the distance. The H rendered as a white 4-lane freeway heading for the horizon with a lighter two-lane road crossing horizontally for the crossbar.

The sky could be dark blue with white stars and even a shooting star or two.
Oh, brother. This hyperventilating over the logo is getting tiresome. Maybe she's shooting an arrow at the right. Thought of that? Whatever. Anyone can make promises. Keep dissing Hillary and fans like me will be outta here.
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The SNAP challenge: Here's the REAL way

A lot of people are poking gentle fun at Gwennyth Paltrow's attempt to create what she considers a reasonable diet from the SNAP allotment of $29 a week. Her recipes do look rather tasty. They are also impractical.

Look, I'm not the kind of person who derives cheap pleasure from insulting Hollywood celebrities. The low, catty remarks seen here are not my style. I admire Paltrow's expressions of support for working women. Don't mock her: Mock the Marie Antoinette-types who gravitate toward the GOP. An affluent woman whose heart is in the right place beats an affluent women with no heart at all.

That said: Paltrow's diet doesn't offer much in the way of calories. Her plan serves up 1000 calories a day. Laborers in Auschwitz got 1700 calories a day.

Paltrow bought seven limes and a head of lettuce. Ridiculous. Poor people don't buy limes, and they rarely buy lettuce.

Poor people do not buy food based on the kind of nutritional concerns that matter to the people in Paltrow's world. Desperate Cookery requires one to think very differently from the way successful people in Hollywood think.

If you are poor, calories are good. Fat is good. Carbs are good. Sugar is good. Meat protein is glorious. Your job is to get as many calories, fats, carbs, sugars and dead animal chunks into your body as you can, for the least amount of money.

I know these things because I am poor myself, and have often had to feed two or three people on roughly $29 a week. Let's be clear: I'm not talking about $29 per person, which was Paltrow's challenge. I know how to feed three adult human beings for that amount total.

(Plus the dog. Bella ate meat every day. In fourteen years, there were only one or two days when she had to make do with rice cooked in bouillon.)

First and foremost: You need to plan your shopping strategy the way Ike planned the Normandy invasion. Be thorough; be thrifty. Every penny counts. Seriously: If you can save nine cents on pasta, save the nine cents.

If you're poor, middle class gorcery stores are not for you. If you live in California, what you want are stores that cater to Hispanics. Does the sign feature a sombrero or a cactus? Are customers greeted with a blast of loud mariachi music? Welcome home!

If Store A has a special on veggies and Store B, a mile away, has a special on meat, walk that mile and shop at both stores. I said walk. Use a backpack.

What you are looking for, first and foremost, are specials on these items: Chicken, potatoes, onions, rice.

Avoid bagged rice. Hispanic markets usually have binned rice that you scoop up and bag yourself, for less than 50 cents a pound.

Keep an eye out for specials on potatoes in ten pound sacks. Remember, you'll probably have to carry those potatoes with you as you walk a mile to get your chicken. Still, if you can get ten pounds for under three bucks, you've done well. Occasionally, stores have incredible deals -- ten pounds for $1.50 or thereabouts.

You're also looking for a bag of onions for a good price. Maybe two bucks.

Look for the cheapest prices on corn tortillas and salsa. Paltrow would have you make salsa yourself from fresh ingredients. Home-made is wonderful, but unless you find some specials (study the marked-down veggies), you'll probably do better to look in the cold foods section for pre-made salsa in plastic containers.

Home-made tortillas save money and taste great, but they do take time.

Your best friend is the humble chicken. Boneless breast meat is great, but don't buy it unless the price is very low -- two bucks a pound or under. Often, you are better off buying whole chickens. Low-end stores often have sales on whole chickens --  roughly a buck a pound.

So let's say five, six, seven dollars for your chicken. That's a feast.

You'll also want some cheap veggies. For poor people, this usually means carrots (unpeeled), Italian squash, canned corn (or on the cob, when in season), frozen or canned peas, or cabbage.

First night: Roast chicken with mashed potatoes. Simple and superb.

It is nice but not necessary to stick a lemon (or an orange or a lime) inside the chicken as it cooks. Swipe the citrus fruit from someone's tree. (Californians have plenty of opportunities.) Do not buy the fruit: Not enough calories to justify the price. Learn to recognize fresh rosemary that you can scoop up for $0.00.

Preparation is easy: Rub the skin of the chicken with salt, pepper, garlic and any appropriate spices you may have. Cook very, very low for four or more hours. I don't care about crispy skin, but others do. How do you know when the bird is done? What you are looking for is the ability to rotate the drumstick freely, which tells you that the meat inside is incredibly juicy. The "low and slow" method of cooking means that you don't have to be very careful about cooking times.

At the same time, whip up some mashed potatoes. If you're serving three people, five potatoes of varying sizes should suffice. (You can mix real potatoes with the boxed stuff, but don't tell anyone.) Do not use real butter; nobody will taste the difference. Poor people buy large tubs of the cheapest spread available, and they make it last.

Use the chicken juices to make a gravy -- a thick, stick-to-yer-ribs gravy, made with a roue (flour and oil) and some milk. You may want to toss in spices and a bit of onion.

Behold, the first night's bounty: Chicken and potatoes with thick, savory gravy -- perhaps with a side dish of carrots (one carrot per person, cooked in oil). This meal is wonderful. If this is the last meal I have in this life, I shall die a happy man.

Unless the bird was tiny, you'll surely have enough meat left over for chicken tacos the next night. Make these with a can of refried or black beans, some cubed potatoes crispy-fried in oil with onion, and some of that salsa we talked about earlier. Swankpots will top these tacos with sour cream and cheese. If you have those items, great -- but go easy. You have to make these luxuries last.

Reserve some chicken meat to make up a small pot of chicken-and-rice for the dog. This concoction, which offers more meat protein than do most fancy kibbles, would keep my dog well-fed for several days.

At this point, most people would toss out the chicken carcass. Wrong!

Put the carcass (including skin and all of the icky bits) into a big pot of water (but not too much water). Bring to a boil, then let it simmer for thirty minutes to an hour. This makes a wonderful, useful broth. Use a strainer to separate the broth from the bones, then rinse the carcass under cold water. You'll discover leftover bits of meat that you didn't know were there. Carefully pick these off and set them aside in a bowl: You'll be surprised at how much meat you were about to toss out.

(That bird died to keep you alive, and you dishonor the creature if you waste any part of its sacrifice.)

The third day is soup day.

Make the soup with broth, little bits of chicken, an onion or two, a cup of rice, a small handful of pasta, a bit of roue, and whatever veggies (fresh, canned, frozen) you may happen to have in the house. The pot will grow to a respectable size. Serve with bread, toast, or grilled cheese sandwiches. Yes, this soup is thick and starchy: Dr. Atkins would have hated it. But it fills you up and keeps you going, and it tastes good.

The next day, you'll have leftover soup for lunches.

Now buy another chicken and start the process all over again. You probably won't need to buy the other ingredients.

On the seventh day, serve pasta (cost: $1) topped with canned sauce (cost: $1). If you have some pork or beef to put into the sauce, thank the powers above. Serve with some sort of veggie and maybe some garlic toast.

Other "poor foods" include home-made chili over pasta or potatoes followed by chili-drenched hot dogs the next day. Also consider beef stroganoff (made with ground beef -- easier and cheaper), shepherd's pie, jambalaya, and breakfast-for-dinner. (Make pancakes from scratch. Cheaper than Bisquick.)

One of my favorite poor foods is frittata. You can get fancy-schmancy with frittata ingredients, but all you really need is frozen spinach, onion, a little cheese if you have it, and maybe some tomato on top. (Consider growing your own tomatoes and squash.) Any leftovers in your fridge -- even potatoes -- can slip into a frittata. For the dairy, you can use powdered milk as needed. (Powdered milk is an important weapon in the arsenal of Desperate Cookery. Real milk often sours before you can use it all, and Desperate Cooks hate to waste even a single molecule.) Avocados on top are wonderful, but they can get pricey.

Some would suggest ramen for lunches. Maybe, but I hate that stuff. I prefer a bowl of pasta noodles served in a spartan "sauce" composed of nothing more than oil, butter, spices and parm (if you have it). A sprinkling of peas won't hurt. For an Asian equivalent, try sobe noodles in a sauce made of chicken broth, a scoop of peanut butter, soy sauce, garlic and ginger. (Actually, regular spaghetti noodles also work in that dish.)

If you must go the boxed mac-n-cheese route -- we all do it, and don't pretend otherwise -- get the store brand for 50 cents a box. Mix two boxes. Stir in butter, milk and real cheese if you have it. Again, peas won't hurt. If you have bread crumbs, use that as a topping and bake for ten minutes.

And that, my friends, is how you feed three people for roughly thirty bucks a week. I am not skinny, and neither was my dog.
Beans, rice and corn tortillas.
You list a large number of things I've never seen, and some I've never heard of. What is "Italian squash"? Tacos? I've actually heard of tacos, on American TV, but I've never seen one in the wild.

Since the Tory government came in I've been worse of to the tune of about £30 a week, and the biggest problem is certainly not food, but extraordinary expenditures. Which, in total, aren't very extraordinary. New clothes, new shoes, replacement parts for bikes, repairs, so on. Each one a small and rare expenditure, together a large and regular drain.

Walking to the other end of town to save a bit of money requires time I might not have and a pair of shoes I can wear for walking without making my feet bleed or show through the holes.

When it comes to food, vegetables and especially rice are a waste. Not suitable for sustaining your physical or psychological needs. Nice sweet fruit like apples, yes.

Cheese sandwiches. Steamed potatoes with baked beans. Beans on toast. Biscuits. A full English as often as possible, sometimes more than once a day.

To quote Orwell:

"Would it not be better if they spent more money on wholesome things like oranges and wholemeal bread or if they even, like the writer of the letter to the New Statesman, saved on fuel and ate their carrots raw? Yes, it would, but the point is that no ordinary human being is ever going to do such a thing. The ordinary human being would sooner starve than live on brown bread and raw carrots. And the peculiar evil is this, that the less money you have, the less inclined you feel to spend it on wholesome food. A millionaire may enjoy breakfasting off orange juice and Ryvita biscuits; an unemployed man doesn’t. Here the tendency of which I spoke at the end of the last chapter comes into play. When you are unemployed, which is to say when you are underfed, harassed, bored, and miserable, you don’t want to eat dull wholesome food. You want something a little bit ‘tasty’. There is always some cheaply pleasant thing to tempt you. Let’s have three pennorth of chips! Run out and buy us a twopenny ice-cream! Put the kettle on and we’ll all have a nice cup of tea! That is how your mind works when you are at the P.A.C. level. White bread-and-marg and sugared tea don’t nourish you to any extent, but they are nicer (at least most people think so) than brown bread-and-dripping and cold water. Unemployment is an endless misery that has got to be constantly palliated, and especially with tea, the English-man’s opium. A cup of tea or even an aspirin is much better as a temporary stimulant than a crust of brown bread."
-- The Road to Wigan Pier, Chapter 6

The More things change, eh? The whole chapter could easily be about either of our countries today, other than the fact that neither of our countries currently use shillings.

I never saw that Orwell quote before, but it makes sense. Italian squash is zucchini, one of the most popular veggies in America.

Tacos and burritos are easy, and I know that you can get tortillas at Tescos inexpensively. Grill some chicken (fresh or leftover) in oil with a sprinkling of chili powder. And some chopped onion. Place this on a flour tortilla or a corn tortilla. If you use corn, that's a taco. If you use flour, it's a burrito. Tacos are served open-faced and eaten by hand gently folded in the middle. (REAL tacos us soft corn tortillas, but many gringos use hard shell tortillas.) Burritos are larger and folded up and eaten with a fork, especially if you ladle a mexican sauce and some cheese over the whole thing.

You need only a dab of meat in a taco. (You can also use pork or beef, but the chili powder is mandatory.) Also include any combination of the following ingredients: Refried beans, black beans, rice, guacamole (smushed up avocado), shredded lettuce, bell peppers, chiles, chopped tomato, black olives, sour cream, cheese, green onion, regular onion, cilantro, avocado, corn, roasted corn. In my household, we include fried potato, but that is not common.

Some sort of taco sauce or salsa is mandatory. The end result should be somewhat wet and runny. And spicy and tasty.

You can fancy up this sort of food to serve to guests or you can keep things cheap in order to stretch your budget. That is the beauty of Mexican food. Even the cheap variants taste good.

(Oh: There are also fish tacos. But that's a different recipe involving cabbage and a special sauce.)
Wow, Joseph, I thought I was a frugal cook but you take the cake. You even got the powdered milk! The taste takes some getting used to but it's always there, it doesn't go stale, and it makes a convenient protein additive to anything.

Prices are indeed much better at the Supermercado than at the Safeway. Some place turnips and rutabegas are cheap--Safeway prices them like exotic delicacies.

You didn't say much about beans or exotic grains. With a pressure cooker it becomes much easier to take advantage of grains like lentils, barley, wheat berries, millet, split peas, and about a zillion kinds of dried beans. Pressure cookers can be found at thrift stores missing parts like handles, weights, or gaskets. Check the manufacturer website for parts. (And get an experienced pressure cooker user to instruct you in its use!)

Another thrift store or flea market item would be used mason jars--the ones with nicked lips that have been discarded as unsafe for canning. If you have some of those you can buy the big cans of beans and hominy and tomato sauce at the supermercado and when you open one you store the unused portion in your fridge.

Is "fish taco" a euphemism? If so, is "special sauce" a euphemism?

There's no Tesco near my house, but I expect I could find some sort of flatbread, probably a naan or pitta bread. Never had it, but I think I could get it. Nonetheless I don't like any sort of hot stuff, let alone a lengthy list of herbs and spices I'm not familiar with. Simple food without excessive tastes is better. Fish and chips. Sausage cobs. Cheese sandwiches. Potatoes and beans. Any combination of bacon, eggs, mushrooms, fried tomatoes, baked beans, fried bread, toast, sausages, white pudding, brown sauce and bovril.

There's a reason the expression is "meat and two veg", not "meat and horrible maizen flat bread and a never-ending cocktail of exotic spices".

"Then there are the various ways of cooking potatoes that are peculiar to our own country. Where else do you see potatoes roasted under the joint, which is far and away the best way of cooking them? Or the delicious potato cakes that you get in the north of England? And it is far better to cook new potatoes in the English way — that is, boiled with mint and then served with a little melted butter or margarine — than to fry them as is done in most countries."
-- "In Defence of English Cooking", George Orwell
Fish tacos are a real thing, Stephen. If ever you are in L.A., look for a chain called Rubios.

If need be, make your own tortillas out of flour or masa. Instructions online.

This is phony baloney. SNAP stands for SUPPLEMENTAL NUTRITION assistance program. Understand my highlighted words. The program is intended to be supplemental--not supposed to be what you will spend for food for the entire month. Many single people like me never got the entire 200 a month allotment (give or take a few dollars) because of pensions and employment. I currently get 16 a month and probably won't be eligible for too much longer since I have finally started regular part-time employment that could lead to regular full-time.

So let's stop with the beans and rice diet crap because that is not what the SNAP program is about. I ate perfectly normal food with my allotment and supplemented my diet out of pocket. Just like most people with SNAP benefits.
Susan, there are plenty of cash-poor people who need to stretch food dollars, so this is not a phony topic! My neighbor often needs me to pick up stuff for her and she relies on large non-brand loaves of wheat bread, luncheon meat and bananas....she gets lettuce when she can. I've also stood in church lines to pick up some potatoes and cabbage, etc, for her.

Good stuff, Joseph, but I can add a few tidbits. Buy the real butter and the smallest size milk. To mash potatoes, boil them in half water, half milk. Drain most of the liquid off but reserve enough to mash the tender potatoes with. They are creamy and hot this way and you only need one or two small pats of butter....superb!

Also, cook your meat or veggies in oil with one pat of butter for flavor and browning. You can make butter last a long while.

Incidentally, at G mart and some other places you can get 5 or 6 limes for a dollar! Limes are much cheaper than lemons.

And even at Safeway, their manager specials on meat mean you can get steak, pork, and other meats for half off or more. You just have to be very strict and, as you say, only go to certain stores for sale items.

Aldi's has very cheap eggs and a few other good deals. Eggs are the most versatile! Omelets and soups feed you very well.

Even if your milk goes sour you can add it to corn meal blends for awesome corn cakes.

Feeding one person has its own challenges, so freezing portions and leftovers is key.

Parmesan is a good cheese where a little goes a long way....and it keeps. Cabbage and cauliflower keep for a long while likewise. Try bulking pasta with cauliflower and add just a little parm and butter. Very filling and yummy.

Susan, I think you misunderstood the nature of my post. I wrote to demonstrate the ways in which poor people stretch every food dollar. I said nothing about where the dollars come FROM.

I myself have never applied for food stamps.
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Friday, April 17, 2015

Russ, Dick, and a mystery death

Looks like there's a good chance that Russ Feingold will return to the Senate. Bravo!

Frankly, Feingold should be running for President right now. He's quietly courageous, he has excellent stances on most issues, and he once bought me soup. (That bowl of soup remains the sole political bribe I've ever taken -- although, to be fair, the minestrone came without an explicit quid pro quo, and I shall so testify to any investigating committee.)

Besides, Feingold is the only politician in America who could possibly get away with telling Bibi Netanyahu to go to hell.

Meanwhile, in DickWorld: Dick Cheney has argued that anyone who helps Iran in any way -- as Obama allegedly has -- should be considered a traitor. But there is video of Cheney, in the late 1990s, demanding the lifting of sanctions on Iran, because Haliburton -- then run by Cheney -- wanted to do business there. In the end, Haliburton did do business there, through a foreign cut-out. Dick made that decision.

Let me add another example: Ronald Reagan's administration sold arms to Iran. Why do Republicans hate to mention that discomforting fact of history?

Dick's hypocrisy inspired the superb Jon Stewart segment embedded above. What the hell are we going to do without Jon Stewart?

(We can do without Dick just fine.)

Mystery Death. I'm sure you recall Viktor Yanukovych. He's the democratically-elected Ukrainian leader we deposed in a coup that we're not supposed to call a coup even though everyone knows full well that it was a goddamned coup. Ever since he was ousted, funny things have been happening to folks who happened to work for the old (democratic) government.

And by "funny" I mean deadly.

The latest victim is Oleg Kalashnikov. His death is being called a suicide. Maybe; maybe not. There has been an awful lot of "suicide" going around lately. Let's face it: It's pretty easy to stage such a thing, especially when you know that the local cops aren't going to cross the Powers That Be.

The American media never talks about the Ukrainian mystery deaths, because the American media has been trying to brainwash all of us into liking the ghastly regime that the neocons installed in that country. At the same time, the American media continually screamed "Putin Did it!" after Boris Nemtsov was killed, despite the utter lack of evidence implicating Putin. Double standard!

(Nemtsov was indeed a Putin critic, but he posed no serious threat to the government. Nil nisi bonum and all that, but frankly, he was kind of shitty.)
I hate to burst your bubble, Joe, but even if Russ Feingold somehow managed to get himself elected, he'd quickly learn just how little latitude a president actually has in today's fascist America.

As someone who's spent considerable time studying and contemplating the JFK assassination, I assume you realize that the faction - or syndicate - responsible for that death has remained in power ever since.

While we as the proletariat voting public are presented with the illusion of choice, the cynical reality is that the systems of power and control are by this point so well entrenched, so redundant, and so pure ideologically that nothing short of a mass awakening of the sleeping masses could ever challenge their rule.

This is why movements like Occupy and any semblance of coherent opposition to the police state, the war on drugs, perpetual war, or the generally symbiotic relationship between government and big business are so quickly infiltrated, discredited, slandered, or otherwise dissolved: as soon as people understand who's really working against them, the jig is up.

I'm not saying that the power structure is vulnerable; in fact I fear the opposite is closer to the truth. The synthetic reality they've managed to create is so ubiquitous and so misleading that even considering the possibility that the call is coming from inside the house, so to speak, causes painful cognitive dissonance in the deeply indoctrinated masses.

As for the spate of deaths currently plaguing members of the former Ukrainian government, unfortunately it's more likely the rule than the exception. Power is never given away and maintaining it requires effort. The ruling elite did not become the ruling elite by negotiating with their detractors and they certainly haven't maintained their grasp on power by allowing potential threats to their machinations continue to exist.

It doesn't matter if you're talking about Russia, the United States, the UK, or most likely any other political entity on the planet: those who seek power at all costs will always triumph over those who play by the rules. The forces of darkness will continue to make advances against the forces of benevolence because we're ultimately ruled by evil.

Speaking of Dick Cheney, now might be as good a time as any to re-assess the deaths of Paul Wellstone, Pat Tillman, and Deborah Jean Palfrey in the context of potential threats having been neutralized.
Anon makes a good point.

In any competition, sociopaths always have an advantage over normal humans, because sociopaths have no moral restraints on what they can do to win. They are only restrained by material factors. Hence, sociopaths tend to rise to the tops of any hierarchies.
I have a lot of respect for Sen. Feingold, though it was clear that he was bought off by his appointment to the Obama campaign effort and a mealy-mouthed speech I saw him give in the fall of 2012 was very disappointing to me.

Maybe someday we'll have a viable candidate who has the courage and the honesty to tell it like it is and to reveal when they've been blackmailed and threatened.

Giving up before we've tried is a poor choice. If the candidates of emerging parties can get on the ballot and get media coverage and get in on the debates, they have a chance to bring new thinking to the process.

Those who promote cynicism and futility and despair as if it were wisdom are helping to make the world a bworser place.

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

2016 and all that

I've decided to ramble a bit about politics before I shut down my computer for some much-needed repairs.

So far, I haven't said anything about Hillary's big announcement. Most of the coverage has been insipid. The mainstream media's inane hyper-scrutiny of her meal at Chipotle made me want to swear off burritos, until I realized that it would make more sense to swear off the mainstream media.

Frankly, I'm starting to warm to the idea of a Hillary presidency. Every attack story makes me like her more. If she doesn't pose a threat to the Powers That Be, why do the PTB hate her so much?

In recent days, there has been a concerted effort in the media to brand Hillary Clinton as an out-of-touch aristocrat. At the same time, Jeb Bush has been repackaged as a working class Hispanic. If he doesn't win the presidency, you can find him pacing outside of Home Depot.

Brent Budowsky, who has been a friend to this blog in the past, offers the following:
Clinton is making political reform one of the cornerstone issues in her campaign for the White House. She has begun a frontal assault against the widely unpopular Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case, which would allow the wealthiest Americans to buy elections and dominate policymaking in Washington by spending unlimited money, often in secret, on political campaigns.

By taking this bold position and calling for a national movement supporting a constitutional amendment to achieve this goal if necessary...
Yeah, but what are the chances? If something as simple and rational as the ERA couldn't get through, then an amendment focused on election reform will surely be demagogued to death.

That said, it is true that more than three-quarters of poll respondents think that the Supreme Court made a huge mistake when it issued the Citizens United ruling. So there is a chance that the demagogues will lose this time around. Bravo to Hillary for taking the right stance on this issue.

Budowski argues that Hillary's campaign is skewing populist, at least on the domestic front. I've read that she was advised to chart such a course by no less a figure than Elizabeth Warren.

Warren isn't going to run, you know. You do know that, don't you?

Nevertheless, we need someone to run against Hillary from the left, for the very purpose of pushing her to the left.

Some observers have mentioned Maryland governor Martin O'Malley. No. Trust me, folks: You don't want the national conversation in 2016 to be about Baltimore.

Jim Webb is a populist, as is Warren, although Warren is further to the left. I like Webb and wouldn't mind seeing him take either spot on a Democratic ticket.

Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island just announced that he is officially in the race. He's hitting Hillary hard on her Iraq vote. Isn't that a dead issue? In 2008, Democrats went for the guy who made all of one speech against the looming Iraq war and then positioned himself as the anti-war candidate, even though, as a Senator, he would not vote to defund the war. Barack Obama taught us not to let the authorization of military force vote be the sole criterion for choosing a president.

If Chaffee wants to be really bold, he should hit Hillary on Syria. That's an issue on which she needs hitting.

She can't escape the fact that she was the Secretary of State in an administration that has pursued a foreign policy best described as Neocon Lite. Maybe not so Lite. At some point, the American government made a bizarre decision to favor jihad-crazed Sunni rebels against the great (and peaceful) Shiite powers of Syria and Iran. This mad policy has had horrific consequences.

We need much more information about how that policy was formulated. We do not yet know all that we should know about who-said-what behind the scenes. In particular, we do not know Hillary's true role.

When did Hillary Clinton climb aboard the high-speed train to Crazy Town? Why did she get on that train? Did she step on board of her accord, or was she pushed?

Here's a clue: In 2013, Hillary pointedly did not add her voice to the mob calling for war with Assad. Did she ever say one word pushing the Big Lie about the sarin attack? If memory serves, she did not -- and her silence said much.

Later, Hillary offered the bizarre claim that Obama's Syria policy went awry because he failed to support the Free Syria Army, the so-called "good" rebels (as opposed to ISIS or Nusra). She made this claim in order to distance herself from Obama's foreign policy without transgressing the boundaries of what the neocons and the hawks consider the range of permissible opinion.

As this UK anti-war site notes:
The most aggressive of her claims, that Obama's unwillingness to give support to the Syrian rebels has led to the rise of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) -- is not true. The US and allies have supported the rebels, though the exact numbers and means are unknown as the operations have been mostly covert. The policy was mistaken from the start: it has contributed to more than 160,000 dead in Syria, and in fact helped to open the way for ISIS to threaten both Syria and Iraq. This failure is both Clinton's and Obama's, and to this day is obscured in a cloud of lies and deceit.
Two anti-government insurrections broke out, one in Libya and the other in Syria. In both cases, Obama and Clinton, together with the UK and France, decided to use these local uprisings as opportunities for "regime change."
The Syrian situation is even more absurd and tragic. On March 27, 2011, on Face the Nation, our then-Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, praised Bashar al-Assad: "There's a different leader in Syria now. Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he's a reformer."
Republicans have repeatedly misquoted this line, representing Hillary as the one who called Assad a reformer. even though she was actually talking about the opinions held by others. Paul Ryan, you will recall, recited this same fib during his debate with Biden.

(A number of people have indeed argued that Assad was a reformer before the civil war took hold. Even if he has no reformist inclinations, his government is certainly preferable to the hell that ISIS and Nusra will inflict on Syria.)

The right, displaying its usual penchant for False Quotation Syndrome, is making full use of this one. They are so desperate to portray Hillary as squishy on Assad that they feel compelled to stand history on its head. It is well-known that the administration decided on regime change in Syria in August of 2011. Result: ISIS.

Of course, the Republicans won't tell you that part. Neither will the Democrats. The Syrian debacle presents us with one of those odd, rare instances in which both parties conspire to present a narrative at a 180 degree remove from the truth.

In sum: Hillary may be good on domestic issues, but she has been a true horror on Syria. Time for some questions:

1. Who was the architect of the Syrian policy?

2. Can Hillary claim that she was just executing a policy set by the President -- or was she recommending policy to the President?

3. Does she now see that this administration's policy was mistaken?

4. If she does now see that the policy on Syria was mistaken, will electoral politics (and the media) allow her to make that admission in public?

My answers (as of this writing): 1. I wish I knew. 2. I wish I knew. 3. She'd have to be an idiot not to see it. 4. Forget it: She can't say a word. Similarly, JFK could not have discussed his Vietnam withdrawal plans, had he lived to run in 1964.

This administration's despicable policy of regime change in Syria has left me feeling (shall we say) somewhat less than enthusiastic about Hillary. In fact, I'm angry at her.

And yet...

There's the Blumenthal factor, about which I seem to be the only one writing. You've no doubt seen the articles about Hillary's new "posse" -- her aides and advisers. Those articles do not mention Sidney Blumenthal, even though he was the one who seems to have headed up her private intelligence network. I suspect -- hope -- that Blumenthal will have an important role to play in a Hillary Clinton administration.

Regular readers know that I am a great admirer of Sidney Blumenthal's son Max.

Not only does Hillary maintain close ties to the Blumenthal family, she is almost a mother figure to Huma Abedin, whom the Islamophobes hate with a passion more purple than Pilate's toga.

Perhaps there are two Hillary Clintons. Perhaps she cannily refuses to let us glimpse her real self until after the election.
The PTB don't hate her, Joe, they just need to maintain the illusion that they do so that they can effectively divide the population and drive would-be progressive and/or liberal voters towards the Clinton, Inc. ticket.
Surely someone running to the left of Clinton would be pulling her to the left, rather than pushing her.

Clinton v Bush, round 2. This time it's...

Any election reform measure has to take into account more than funding. Racial disenfranchisement. Electronic voting machines. Another story today about machines used in elections in more than one state turning out to be trivially hacked into, with weak wifi encryption and easily guessed, hard coded passwords like "admin" and "shoup" (AVS were formerly Shouptronic).

Frankly, I think the anger at Citizens United would be better directed at Buckley, which first established the dubious equivalence of money and speech and has crippled every effort at finance reform ever since.
You might want to take a look at this; Strobe Talbott is Clinton's choice for Sec. of State.
He appears to be the origin of bad Russia policy and was Victoria Nuland's mentor:

Revisiting the Prophetic Memoir of Clinton's Top Russia Adviser
A fresh look at Strobe Talbott’s The Russia Hand: A Memoir of Presidential Diplomacy
I'm glad you mentioned Jim Webb. I think he would be ideal, but for some reason his exploratory bid doesn't seem to be getting much traction. Why not write a blog post or something on his potential?

I've heard it said he's not VP material -- too strong headed. That's why I really wish he had a shot at the top slot.

I view Jim as a fuck-you to the Democratic establishment--to their obsession with putting culturally divisive issues ahead of economically uniting ones. He's the rare Dem who has the potential to appeal to the Republican working-class base.
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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

How libertarians screw the poor

Today, I started listening to a radio adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's Resurrection, which is one of those books you can spend a lifetime meaning to read. In this story, a prostitute named Maslova is wrongfully convicted of murder, and is sentenced to four years.

Okay, we're talking about four years in Siberia. Not a piece of cake. Still: That's a mere four years for a murder rap. In 1890s Russia, this sentence was considered harsh. (And keep in mind: Back then, it was easier for a former convict to get a job.)

In Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, the protagonist -- convinced that he is the new Napoleon -- uses an ax to murder an old woman. For that crime, he is sentenced to eight years in Siberia, where he finds redemption. His girlfriend and his sister go with him.

In this country, in the 21st century, we've given up on the unprofitable concept of redemption. There's too much money to be made by making working-class people pay endlessly for their crimes, even for the most minor infractions.

The Ferguson controversy focused our attention on the ongoing scandal of municipalities that fund day-to-day operations by gouging poor people guilty of speeding, jaywalking and other petty wrongs. This vile new system derives from the libertarian concept of privatizing government.
These fines that come from small infractions will grow rapidly when people can’t afford to pay them immediately, much less hire lawyers to handle the complicated procedures. So you have a large population with warrants and debts living in a city that functions as a modern debtors’ prison. This leads to people functioning as second-class citizens in their own communities.
How did we get here? As Sarah Stillman noted in a blockbuster New Yorker story, this is referred to as an “offender-funded” justice system, one that aims to “to shift the financial burden of probation directly onto probationers.” How? “Often, this means charging petty offenders—such as those with traffic debts—for a government service that was once provided for free.”

As Stillman notes, this process has grown alongside state-level efforts to privatize probation and other incarceration alternatives by replacing them with for-profit companies. (Missouri is one of many states that does this.) There are significant worries that this privatized probation industry has severe corruption and abuse problems. Crucially, their incentive is less rehabilitation or judging actual threats to the public, and more to keep people in a permanent debt peonage. The state, in turn, gets funded without having to raise any general taxes.
John Oliver's segment, embedded above, demonstrates the full extent of the problem.

Collection of nearly-unpayable debts has been turned over to private firms, which siphon off steep monthly fees. Those fees go to the company, not to the city. A fifty-buck traffic fine thus results in a working-class person forking over a large portion of his or her yearly earnings to a private firm.

It's bad enough when libraries and parks are funded by what amounts to a shakedown operation targeting those least able to pay. But what Oliver discusses (at around the 8:45 mark) is something much worse: The money goes to vampire capitalists who contribute nothing -- absolutely nothing -- to our society.

Taxpayers pay the police and the courts to force poor people to feed the vampire capitalists. The vampire capitalists grow fat, and the goods and services necessary to our society remain underfunded. Government actually spends more money to make the libertarian system function.

Libertarians keep telling us that private enterprise is always more efficient. Really? How the hell can anyone say that the old system was somehow less efficient than the legalized robbery inflicted by private probation companies?

Libertarian ideologues, who continually try to commie-bait us into compliance with their vampiric schemes, will try to convince you that the only alternative to private probation companies is socialism. With libertarians, it's always Dracula or Stalin: No third choice. I do not accept that false dichotomy. But if we are forced to accept it, then what alternative do we have? Come comrades, come rally, this last fight let us face...

From the ACLU website:
In a 2010 report, In for a Penny: The Rise of America's New Debtors' Prisons, we described how in Georgia the profit motive gave private companies a clear financial interest in extending probation terms in order to collect additional fees and drove certain probation officers to engage in abuse and coercion to secure payments from poor probationers, including by threatening jail time and seeking court-issued arrest warrants for those who miss debt payments. Human Rights Watch's extensive investigation confirm that these problems have only worsened since 2010 as the private probation industry has grown. The result is a system that illegally discriminates against the poor and disproportionately affects racial and ethnic minorities, who are over-represented in the criminal justice system.

The evidence is clear: incarcerating poor people for failing to pay criminal justice debts they cannot afford is not only illegal, but senseless. Taxpayers are left footing the bill for jailing the poor. And both incarcerating and extending probation for those too poor to pay fines and fees erect major barriers to their successful reentry into society, imposing serious costs on probationers who seek to move on with their lives, and the public at large—all while private probation companies profit.
In other words, a struggling person who axed an old woman in Czarist Russia had an easier time of it than someone caught driving without a license in modern America.

Much of that "tough on crime" rhetoric we've heard from conservatives over the past half-century was bullshit. Vampire capitalists were simply seeking yet another way to make profits without making shoes or sandwiches or anything of value.

It's a scandal.

Libertarians will try to convince you to blame the dreaded gummint. No: Government is to blame only to the extent that our political system has been taken over by libertarianism.

Things were better in the old days, before libertarian ideology defined the boundaries of permissible debate. At one time, traffic tickets were reasonable, privatized probation agencies were unheard-of, and our libraries and parks were funded by the civilized method of steeply progressive taxation.

In Scandinavian countries, traffic fines are based on income and ability to pay. Sounds good to me.

(I would argue that, in much of this country, a certain amount of speeding is subtly tolerated -- and thus encouraged -- in order to insure a constant revenue flow. Transplanted Californians, such as myself, are often surprised to learn that jaywalking is the norm on the east coast. Everyone does it, even though, technically, you can be fined for it. I once had a cop question me because I stood at the corner waiting for the light to change -- late at night, on a street with no traffic. He thought I was acting suspiciously.)

Let's bring this back to Tolstoy. If you want to glimpse the future that the libertarians have in store for us, check out Wikipedia's summary of the plot:
Nekhlyudov goes to visit her in prison, meets other prisoners, hears their stories, and slowly comes to realize that all around his charmed and golden aristocratic world, yet invisible to it, is a much larger world of oppression, misery and barbarism. Story after story he hears and even sees people chained without cause, beaten without cause, immured in dungeons for life without cause, and a twelve-year-old boy sleeping in a lake of human dung from an overflowing latrine because there is no other place on the prison floor, but clinging in a vain search for love to the leg of the man next to him, until the book achieves the bizarre intensity of a horrific fever dream.

It may shock you to learn that jaywalking is perfectly legal in most of the world, at least unless you intentionally block traffic. Pedestrians have right of way on most English roads.

As for lighter sentences in the past, the sentence for axe-murdering an ol woman at that time in Britain would have been death, as I suspect it would have been in America. Russians got Siberia because their government wasn't as merciful as most.
The goal of Libertarianism is essentially a corporatist police state with legalized drugs and prostitution offered as a sweetener. In the ideal Libertarian future drugs and prostitutes will be delivered to your door by Uber as part of it's high tech labor racketeering scheme.
So many people think that if you are just deferential and respectful of cops you won't have problems. Of course, ALL of these people are middle to upper middle class white folks like myself. This approach always worked for me, so for a long time I figured minorities just didn't know how to talk to cops. As it turns out, that is simply not true. Minorities and the poor are being targeted as revenue streams by modern police departments, whether consciously or not, because those are the people they've persecuted all along. Assuming guilt and creating it if it didn't actually exist. I've been in a few situations where, by all rights, I probably should have been arrested or at least gotten a stiff fine, and been let go with a warning. I know a couple African Americans who have been far more upstanding citizens than myself who get harassed on an almost daily basis for simply being out in public or driving a nice car. Yet people (white people, pretty much exclusively) think racism is a thing of the past in this country. If anything, it's getting worse all the time. I love how the politician in the article about the license suspensions say he's "had no complaints". Because poor people have so much time and inclination to write to their representatives. He probably has has copious complaints that his staffers have tossed in the trash so he can claim that no one has complained about his medieval legislation. How anyone with half a brain can fail to see the problem of privatized prisons, probation, and criminal justice is beyond my comprehension. Meanwhile, those on the right seem only concerned with one of the constitutional amendments while pretty much ignoring the rest (unless it effects them directly of course, then they shout bloody murder that Liberals are taking away their freedoms). It's enough to drive one to despair, and I'm not even the type of person that gets targeted (yet). I guess I have something called empathy, that those on the right seem to have somehow lost, despite being largely "Christians". Why have we allowed this to happen to our nation?
thanks joseph.. good overview.. i like the comments from everyone as well.. - james
Libertarians see life as a competitive sport, they admire winners and despise losers, and they don't mind rigging the game here and there to see that the right people (themselves and their friends) win.
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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Film note

I don't know whether I've mentioned this before, but the most entertaining nun movie of all time -- by far -- has got to be Girls Town. Just a few minutes ago, I finished what must be my ninth or tenth viewing, and lemme tell ya: It just keeps getting better.

The scene where Paul Anka sings Ave Maria to Mamie Van Doren is one of the few truly transcendental moments in American cinema. It's a lot like the final episode of Twin Peaks, except Paul Anka sings Ave Maria to Mamie Van Doren. (Believe it or not, David Lynch is in this movie. He sings. I'm not kidding.)

Mamie is actually very good in this film. There. I said it, and I won't take it back. Let's face it: Any woman with a figure like that is never going to get credit for a good line reading.

Yeah, I know: This is supposed to be a political blog. But right now, the news is filled with war and more war and still more war and Marco Rubio, and I just don't want that crap in my head. Not after I've worked for, like, fifteen straight hours.  Besides, Mamie is political. She spurned the advances of both Henry Kissinger and Spiro Agnew, so I figure that she has done more for the cause of peace and justice than most people can claim. 
Don't forget Mel Torme and "baby chick" Elinor Donahue feeling like fish out of water.

Mamie was a real hoot in that film. I used to have it on VHS and saw it many times.
Um, not that David Lynch...
Mamie is very active on Facebook (where she posts a lot of her cheesecake photos, both old and new). She links to oddball stuff from all over the political spectrum, but I surmise she leans forward. So to speak.
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Monday, April 13, 2015

ISIS, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen

ISIS is smashing 3000 year-old historical relics in the Iraqi city of Nimrud, in what has been called an orgy of destruction. In the picture below, barrels filled with explosives have been placed next to ancient Assyrian bas-reliefs:

Here's what came next:

The video cuts to jihadists speaking directly to the camera with one declaring they destroyed the site because it is 'worshipped instead of God'.

Last month, ISIS terrorists were pictured toppling crosses, smashing Christian relics with hammers and erecting the black flag of ISIS on churches in Nineveh, the ancient capital of the Assyrian empire.
ISIS has also been
destroying ancient works displayed in the Mosul museum.

Our mainstream media won't tell you that this outrage might have been prevented if the United States had worked with Iran from the start. From CNN last month:
A CNN team that's seen the offensive at close quarters noted that Iraqi army commanders appeared to be taking a subordinate role to leaders of the Shia militia, notably Hadi al Ameri, leader of the Badr Organization. Iranian military advisers are on hand, and highly influential on the battlefield...

So just why are the ISF incapable of reclaiming territory seized by ISIS?
Because George W. Bush stupidly disbanded the Iraqi military. That's why.

Right now, the Iranians have soldiers and advisers fighting ISIS in the field. Our anti-Muslim hatemongers continually tell us that the Iranians are extremists, even though Iranian soldiers are putting their asses on the line in the fight against Sunni extremism.

The following excerpt quotes Christopher Harmer of the Institute for the Study of War:
"The U.S. may not like Iranian influence in Iraq," says Harmer, "but what it absolutely cannot do is provide direct support to an Iranian-led military operation."
Why not?

Seriously. The time has come to ask that question.

Why shouldn't we support what the Iranians are doing in Iraq? If Iran and the US had worked together, those irreplaceable historical artworks might not have been blown to bits. If we could work with Stalin to combat Hitler, why is it so unthinkable for us to forge a truce with Tehran in order to polish off ISIS?

The alleged Iranian nuclear program is not the problem. Eric Margolis gets us closer to the truth:
Israel’s anguished alarms over Iran’s supposed nuclear “threat” were not even believed by its own crack intelligence services or those of the United States, but the relentless drumbeat of hate Iran propaganda convinced many in North America and even better-informed Europe that Iran is a menace.

What Israel really feared was not Iran’s non-existent nuclear threat but rather its ongoing support for the beleaguered Palestinians.

Iran became the last Mideast nation giving strong backing to creation of a Palestinian state. The Arab states opposing Israel have been silenced: Syria, Libya and Iraq crushed by war and torn asunder, Egypt and Jordan bought off with huge bribes. The Saudis have secretly allied themselves to Israel. So only Iran was left to champion Palestine.

That is why Israel made such a determined effort to push the US into war with Iran. With the feeble Arab states largely demolished or gelded, Israel’s hold on the Occupied West Bank and Golan would be unchallenged.
Everything comes down to Israel's ruthless determination to fulfill a slow but merciless campaign of ethnic cleansing. If a nation aids the Palestinians, that nation must fall.

The last time Iran invaded another country was more than two centuries ago. Iran signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Iran spends less on its military than do other regional powers.

And what if Iran did get the bomb? They are almost encircled by nuclear weapons located in Russia, Pakistan and India. It is very hard to make the argument that Pakistan may be trusted with nuclear weapons while Iran may not.

While I am hardly an admirer of  the Ayatollah Khameini, the Iranian government does have some of the trappings of democracy. Saudi Arabia does not. Yet we are aiding the Saudis in their unjustifiable war of aggression against the Houthis in Yemen.

Absurdly, we have aided in the rescue of Saudi pilots in Yemen, even though we've abandoned our own citizens.
A Michigan family with two toddlers and an infant was stranded in Yemen after being forced from its home by rebel gunmen. A California woman tried to flee through an arrangement with the embassy of Djibouti, but failed. A mother of four from New York also tried that route, at the State Department’s suggestion, only to hear the same reply: There would be no help.
At least eight other countries – including Russia, China and India – have rescued their citizens, but the United States has refused to launch an evacuation effort. U.S. officials claim that Yemen, where a U.S.-backed, Saudi-led air campaign is pummeling targets, is too dangerous for U.S. personnel to risk their lives, though U.S. aircraft have refueled Saudi bombers for the last two days, Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said.
Also see here.
Aerial bombardment and street battles have become a daily reality for people in Yemen. “We hear a few bombings a day. It’s very scary right now,” Arwa Al-Iraine, a US citizen trapped in Yemen told RT.

“Nobody will help us evacuate. The reply [of the US government] was an automated message that they do not have any evacuation plans. Basically we are left on our own.”

Another US citizen Shamsan Mansoob stranded in the strife-stricken country hit out at Washington, saying that “we never heard anything from them.” He told RT that his family - a pregnant wife and his son – couldn’t even leave the war zone as “there is no gas at the stations.”
Here's the kicker: Very recently, 300 foreign citizens trapped in Yemen -- including US nationals -- were rescued by Russia. Have you seen any coverage of that rescue on mainstream cable news? I haven't.

We did nothing to help U.S. citizens trapped in a war zone, yet we have done everything possible to aid the invaders who created that war zone.

"Scandalous" is too small a word to describe US policy in the region. Don't expect the Republicans to discuss any of this. Conservatives will slam Obama on Benghazi endlessly, but Saudi Arabia remains untouchable.
Joseph, I thought I'd draw to your attention two outstanding pices that may interest you.

Dilip Hiro has written a terrific commentary on the current geopolitics of Afghanistan.

And Philip Giraldi has written a history of the US-Israeli dealings with Iran.

These are terrific pieces, as good a summary of those countries as I've seen in a while.

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Saturday, April 11, 2015

Free community college...?

In theory, I like Joe Biden's proposal to make community college free for the first two years.
Biden argued that Americans insisting on free high school had produced a competitive U.S. workforce in years past. With other countries catching up, he added, the time was ripe for reaching new heights on educational access.

“Folks, the source of our economic power and middle-class strength in the 20th century was the fact that we were among the first major nations in the world to provide twelve years of free education to our citizens,” Biden claimed.

“But in the 21st century, other countries have already caught up and 12 years is simply no longer enough,” he added. “A minimum of 14 years is necessary for families to have a surer path to the middle class and for the United States to be able to out-compete the rest of the world.”
My quibble here is that young adults, being young, are idiots. They may not understand the value of the gift Biden proposes to give. Instead, they will view those two years of college the way we all learned to view high school: As a stultifying annoyance, not as a chance to get ahead.

In high school, the dumb kids and the jerks bring things down for everyone. I would not want something like that to happen in higher education.

That said, the fees for community college have become outrageously high. Part of the problem here, as for all colleges and universities, has to do with the high cost of administration. I'd like to see the government do something about that.

Still, nice to see someone in this administration talking like a Democrat...
I wouldn't trust Biden on anything.

How does this concept fit with the assault on public education which has been a signature of the two Obama terms? While there may be some correlation between education and economic brackets, there was far more of a causal link between pressure from Labor and increased living standards. The economy right now has no jobs to offer, and ones that do exist are at reduced pay scales. A work force with college degrees does not change that fact. Another facet of the Obama terms has been continued diminishment of what is left of the trade unions.

I think it is Democrat strategy to find toothless programs which make people feel the system is there to help them, so as to continue the fruitless two-party mendacity.
"Part of the problem here, as for all colleges and universities, has to do with the high cost of administration."

Suppliers always increase their prices to soak up government subsidies. Always.
Thanks for a fresh perspective, Joseph, and challenging the assumptions of those of us who start with an opinion that more free education has got to be a good thing.

I don't know what they do in Germany today, but 50 years ago they had an examination for high schoolers called the Abitur. If you tested high, you'd go to college. If you test low, you go to vocational school.

You should always recognize that whether you believe it or not, you are probably important enough that many of your subjective experiences may be street theater propaganda.
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Sorry I could not post. There was another family crisis, which I may discuss one day. Suffice it to say that we will no longer be criticizing Obamacare on this blog.

Also, there was a rush assignment, gig-wise. Reminds me of the old days.

Perhaps later today...

Added note: I just stumbled across this NYT opinion piece from 1993, titled "The CIA Drug Connection Is as Old as the Agency."
Recent news item: The Justice Department is investigating allegations that officers of a special Venezuelan anti-drug unit funded by the CIA smuggled more than 2,000 pounds of cocaine into the United States with the knowledge of CIA officials - despite protests by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the organization responsible for enforcing U.S. drug laws.

That is a huge amount of cocaine. But it was hardly a first for the CIA. The agency has never been above using individuals or organizations with known links to drug trafficking if it thought they could help it further its national security mission.
From there we get an excellent short history of the Agency's links to the global drug trade. It's all right the New York Times.

My question is this: Why do we never see such stories in the NYT or any comparable major media outlet these days? What changed? Who flipped the "off" switch?

Here's another question for you to ponder: What would happen if you placed this 1993 Op-Ed piece in front of the average 20-something of today, without giving any indication of the place or date of original publication? Said 20-something would probably presume that the author must be one of those annoying conspiracy nuts. The information, though quite true, would be dismissed out of hand.

Yet there are many young people who would accept the information as true, even if you didn't tell 'em that this article appeared in the NYT. Those same young people also believe in a lot of nonsense about Sandy Hook, aliens, the Bohemian Grove, the Illuminati and Building Fucking Seven.

True facts about the CIA have been consigned to an intellectual ghetto. I've said it before and I'll say it again: The best way to hide a chocolate bar is in a pile of shit. Alex Jones and his partners in paranoia are the most useful friends the Agency ever had. They happily provide the shit.
"Building fucking seven" is a pile of shit?
Can you elaborate?
Well, at least AJ's s#!t has a chocolate bar hidden inside, unlike the MSM's which you rightly point out no longer contains any chocolate at all.
Tried to many times, J. Back in 2006. The results were so distasteful I practically shut down this blog. We now have a rule, and those who comment here must follow it. No exceptions.

If that displeases you, there ARE other sites.
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Thursday, April 09, 2015

Do we have maniac cop -- or a maniac country?

Michael Slager, the cop who shot unarmed civilian Walter Scott, was previously involved in a very surprising incident. Early one morning in 2013, Slager banged on the door of a young black man named Mario Givens. Without giving a reason, Slager demanded entrance, and then barged inside.

Once inside, Slager told Givens to "come outside or I'll taze you." Givens put his arms up and Slager tazed him anyways. Then Slager and another cop dragged the young man off. Givens was charged with resisting arrest. Soon after, he was let go without explanation.

It is said that Givens was targeted because he had the same last name as someone accused of another (rather minor) crime, even though the two Givenses look nothing alike.

If this report is accurate, Slager should have been fired in 2013. One thing's for sure: That guy really, really likes his Taser.

The grim joke used to hold that "driving while black" was a crime. In too many parts of today's America, the crime is breathing while black.

We should also note that the man who shot the video of Slager killing Scott, Feidin Santana, considered erasing the evidence because he feared retribution. That's the kind of country we now live in. 

There is, predictably, a support fund for Michael Slager. If the killing of Martin Luther King had happened in today's America, there would be a support fund for James Earl Ray. The people contributing to that fund would not be conspiracy buffs convinced that someone else was the shooter. The contributors would be folks who wanted to send a message: "Attaboy, Jimmy!"
Joseph, I'm guesing you agree with me that James Earl Ray was not the lone nut who killed Martin Luther King. (Last week, I bought for $1 at a Salvation Army a copy of the Mark Lane/Dick Gregory book about the MLK case called "Code Name: Zorro." When I got it home, I was shocked to discover it was signed by Lane--and James Earl Ray!) Ray was allowed to rot in jail and even give interviews. (He also escaped once.) But I might actually disavow my abhorrence of the death penalty to see this cop punished in the way that Southerners best understand.
Well, that book is quite a find. I bought the same book at a thrift store, but no signatures.

The story I heard about the escape is interesting. Do you remember the film "Marie," about the pardons-for-pay racket in TN? (It's a good movie; stars Sissy Spacek.) Allegedly, one prisoner got an unfathomable pardon even though there was no pay-off. That same fellow helped Ray to escape.

As I recall, this was around the time of the HSCA. The escape certainly did much to place a "guilty" sign around Ray's neck.

Now, that's the story I heard. To be honest, I never put much effort into finding a written source for it. Do you know anything further?
Joseph, I too think you do us a disservice by sneering at James Earl Ray. My limited examination of the case suggests to me that Dr. Pepper may have gone a bridge too far with his material about the military snipers, but I would not be at all surprised that an investigation of the magnitude of his should be targeted by disinfo operatives charged with making his findings seem incredible.

American police killed 100 people last month.
What we have is a nation of idiots, does no one else realize that if you just don't be an asshole criminal, don't resist arrest, don’t run, and use common sense that no one would get shot? I'm not saying all the deserved to die that have, I'm just saying the whole situation could've been avoided.

Btw, people are just falling right in their trap and the media uses to fuel the fire so the fking morons that watch tv for knowledge get worked up and riot and you know what will be after that right? Outlawed guns, marshal law, civil war, and Armageddon
What we have is deep institutional corruption of our police forces, where crossing the blue line is considered worse than murdering someone in cold blood. People with too high of an IQ can not become police officers. This is also true of people with too much formal education. Police departments and district attorneys routinely cover up police misconduct and outright criminal acts. Police quite routinely shoot people or taser people who have not committed any crime, have not resisted, have not run. The only idiot here is Overkill_MSA.
I guess the problem as far as the killings is that we allow people with weak constitution to bare arms and be in place of authority. People who are ready to wet their pants every time they are confronted by a bully so they pull their guns out. They don't have the training or strength of character to stand up to adverse situations withouthout guns. Having said that, the last one is murder pure and simple, evil and cold one at that

Yes, these situations could be avoided if black people just submitted to being beaten, choked, tortured with a taser or shot by a psychopath in uniform. Then we could avoid having a police state. The logic is infallible, assuming you are smoking meth.
Mr. Overkill, I beg to sorta differ. Since I'm fairly well crippled by Father Time, I won't be running from any cops. However, I'm also not gonna obey any random words that come out of a cop's mouth. He is not the boss of me or thee. I've seen cops do a couple of noxious things but on the whole my interactions have been professional. That does not mean I will laying down in a muddy road just because some kid with a badge tells me to. Oh, and Mr.Joe, the SC cops immediately fired and charged the cop with murder. The same immediate firing and charging happened in NC a couple of years ago-- and there was no video. What happened with Garner in NYC? Being in the South has nothing to do with rampaging racist cops. I rather doubt that every cop north of the Mason Dixon line is Tom Sellack.
I vote for schizophrenic country, one that bleats freedom and liberty and exceptionalism but has repeated instances of justice denied, particularly for the average joe but consistently for the poor.

If we as a people are 'falling into a trap' as Overkill suggests then it might have to do with continuing breaches of authority, a pattern of shoot first, ask questions later.

Btw, my husband worked on a small municipal police force years ago. During training, one of the first training shoot/don't shoot instructions was simply: you do not shoot anyone in the back. Duh.

The police have an important job to do. But they need to clean up their act in all departments. Taxpayers pay police salaries to protect them, not shoot them down in the streets like dogs. We've over-militarized our forces and too many of these guys act as if it's them against the rest of us.

Enough is enough! How many sick videos do we need to see before a total revamping is required, demanded??

Both. We have maniac cops because we have a maniac country.
In defense of South Carolina (where I currently live) this is the only state that has at least charged police officers in relation to police shootings. In the last three years, three officers have been charged with offenses related to shootings–I suspect this is way more than other states even though I doubt cops here are all that much more trigger happy. (Oh, Chicago in the '80s!) One especially tragic case involved a man trying to sort out a problem with his daughter's traffic ticket. The first trial resulted in a hung jury with the majority voting to convict...

On the other hand, and this speaks to the gentleman who thinks that if you just don't run, you'll be fine, there is that video that showed a man shot by an officer (the former black, the later white and again in South Carolina) after he reached back into his car to get his license. Fortunately the officer was a piss poor shot. (He has been fired and charged with assault.)
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What are we DOING?

Because Norman Finkelstein was one of the participants, I attempted to watch this debate on the topic of Bibi Netanyahu's victory. Unfortunately, the fellow on the other side of the fence made me too angry to continue. I forget the guy's name, but he's a flack for Israel. In his opening remarks, he argues that we must support Holy Bibi because Israel is standing up to jihadis who behead people. An obvious reference to ISIS.

The sight of this lying sack of crap made me want to shoot my computer monitor. For some reason, Finkelstein did not tell a necessary truth: Israel supports ISIS.

The reason for this sub rosa alliance is simple: ISIS wants rid of Assad of Syria, and so does Israel.

That goal is also shared by the regional allies of the United States and Israel. I'm talking about Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. They are the ones who funded ISIS.

Many articles have established this point. The most recent example is a piece by Lawrence Davidson, published in The Consortium.
U.S. allies in the region, specifically Israel and Saudi Arabia, had no problem with the drone attacks against al-Qaeda until 2011. That was when civil war broke out in Syria and when al-Qaeda and its offshoots showed up to fight against the embattled Assad regime in Damascus.

Keep in mind that Assad was seen as an enemy of Israel.
Unfortunately, Israel, and by extension the American Zionist lobby, had lost interest in U.S. concerns about al-Qaeda. Indeed, Tel Aviv had come to take the opposite point of view, seeing some merit in Islamic terrorists as long as they were Sunnis.

One has to keep in mind that the Israelis are obsessed with Shiite Iran and its nuclear energy program, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has hysterically proclaimed a danger to the survival of Israel. From that point of view any enemy of Iran is a friend of Israel – even if it is al-Qaeda.
Indeed, in 2013 Michael Oren, then Israeli ambassador to the United States (actually he grew up in West Orange, New Jersey), told the Jerusalem Post, “We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran.”

A year later, Oren was at an Aspen Institute Conference and declared that Israel would prefer the victory of ISIS to the continuation of an Iranian-backed Assad. Nor have the Israelis been shy about acting on this preference.
Ah, those "Aspen roots." They wormed their way into Judy Miller's heart, and they've been strangling our foreign policy ever since.

It is consummately infuriating to see pseudo-pundits pretend that Bibi Netanyahu is an enemy of ISIS and Al Qaeda. The opposite is true: Israel supports ISIS and Al Qaeda.

If you are against Al Qaeda, you must be against Israel. If you are for Israel, you are for Al Qaeda. Israel is using the Sunni maniacs as proxy warriors against the Shiite states of Syria and Iran.

This country's blinkered support for Israel has caused the American government to do the unthinkable: We have forged a de facto alliance with the very jihadis whom most Americans despise. This is an "across the board" sin, committed by both Republicans and Democrats -- neither one of whom will tell you what's really going on.

What are we doing in that part of the world?

Did we engage in those cruel, seemingly endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan simply to become the de facto allies of fundamentalist Muslim maniacs?

The report. Physicians for Social Responsibility has issued a report which reveals that our incursions into Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan have resulted in as many as two million civilian deaths. This is a controversial finding, and I urge readers to read the report and follow the details of the argument.

One thing is for sure: Our government and our media have played games with the evidence. They have told many lies in order to convince the citizens of this country that the body count is much lower than it actually is.

As you read this report, keep in mind this important quote from Noam Chomsky's book Media Control:
One of the questions asked in that study was, How many Vietnamese casualties would you estimate that there were during the Vietnam war? The average response on the part of Americans today is about 100,000. The official figure is about two million. The actual figure is probably three to four million. The people who conducted the study raised an appropriate question: What would we think about German political culture if, when you asked people today how many Jews died in the Holocaust, they estimated about 300,000? What would that tell us about German political culture?
That quote provides the heading for this essay by Simon Wood, which also looks at the findings of Physicians for Social Responsibility.
This report, published by a serious, credible, respected and decorated organization, makes it very clear that a war built on deliberate lies propagated uncritically by the corporate-owned media has led to the deaths of 1.3 million people, possibly 2 million. It will come as no surprise, therefore, that this landmark report has been greeted with absolute silence by the very same media outlets, while little effort is required to imagine the blanket response if this report concerned the actions of a current official enemy: Russia or Venezuela in particular. For Western leaders and other establishment figures, it seems mass killings on this scale - 'holocausts' - only occur when firmly esconced in (approved) history books, when they can safely bow their heads once a year and solemnly swear 'never again' and 'we shall not forget them'.

The lesson here should be simple: journalistic negligence of any sort - which can be caused by conflict of interest, editorial framing, or fear of challenging powerful figures for career reasons (loss of future access) - has cost innocent lives by the million.
Why did so many civilians die? What was the purpose of it all?

Most Americans would say that the war in Iraq was fought because we had to destroy Al Qaeda -- even though Al Qaeda had no connection to Saddam Hussein.

Most Americans would now say that we must support the Israelis because they are a regional bulwark against ISIS.

Yet Israel and Saudi Arabia are now partners. To a large degree, the Saudis created Al Qaeda. To a large degree, the Saudis created ISIS.

And Israel is obviously quite willing to see both ISIS and Al Qaeda (rebranded as the Nusra Front) prevail in the war against Assad. Michael Oren (as noted above) has made that fact quite clear.

For what cause did we kill so many civilians? For what cause did our own soldiers lose their limbs, their reason, their lives? For what cause did we blacken our name on the pages of history?

And for god's sake, why is Dick Cheney (a key architect of this massive crime) allowed to spew bile in the media when he should spending the rest of his life in prison? Rudolf Hess got exactly what he deserved when he was sentenced at Nuremberg -- yet what Hess did was nothing compared to the crimes of Dick Cheney.

What has happened to this country?

What are we DOING?
We're doing what we always have done.......pursuing our "national interests". I.e., the interests of corporations and elites. We've been a colonial power since our earliest days. Only American lives matter, the rest is "collateral damage", of course. When was the last time we had a truly representative government? The continental congress? Maybe, but they were all "elites" by today's standards, so when have we ever had a nation by and for the people? I'm starting to wonder if that was ever the case. I probably shouldn't let my cynicism paint the past with the brush of the present, but it's hard not to at this point. Certainly in my lifetime there hasn't been true "rule by the people". Corporations, bankers, and generational elites have called the shots since before I was born. I understand that sounds Alex Jonesy, but it's hard to feel any differently these days when media is so obviously pure propaganda and so many of my fellow citizens have no clue they are being lied to every minute of every day. Hell, my own parents think what they see on CBS news and CNN is the whole truth of what the US is doing in the world (and they are liberal Democrats, highly educated, in the case of my father, and certainly not stupid in the case of my mother). It's enough to drive one to despair. However, I won't do that, because there seem to be more and more people catching on, starting to see the wool they are trying to pull over our eyes. It's getting more obvious, maybe because the powers that be are confident there is nothing we can do about it. History shows they are most likely wrong. It's just a matter of how much damage they can do before the facade is torn down and they are led to the proverbial guillotine. Let's hope, anyway.
I like much of what you said, Gus, but this is not about corporations. I'm not sure what it IS about, but I honestly think that most corporations in this country would rather see the US pursue a more sensible and even-handed policy in the Middle East.
You are probably correct Joseph, though I think corporations will do whatever brings in profits for their shareholders, with no other considerations. Military contracting is huge business, for a lot more than just weapons. My reaction was mostly cynicism, though these days it probably seems more like realism.
It seems possible the USS America has no rudder and is simply drifting from one incoherent "policy" to another out of sheer ignorance, incompetence or just plain old hubris. Not long ago, we were allegedly at war with Al Qaeda. Now we're supporting them in Yemen and Syria. We're supposedly fighting ISIS, but we also support those that created it. We've also armed them to their hearts' content.

Pepe Escobar calls the US, "Empire of Chaos." That seems apropos. We're an empire and we act like it, but thanks to 30 years of Neo-Liberal misrule, we've also destroyed much of our economic power. Instead, we have financial power, which isn't worth all that much, considering all the trouble it causes everyone. So we're an empire already in decline and that makes us very dangerous indeed.

The biggest fear in Washington seems to be of "losing control," even of things we never really controlled to begin with. We're so obsessed with "regime change," we're willing to leave a couple dozen failed states in our wake and condemn all those people to a chaotic hellscape of despair.

Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Central African Republic, Mali, Niger, Somalia....... and now Yemen. The Saudis are bombing food supplies, refugee camps and their only remaining refinery just shut. So no food, medicine, fuel or even functioning water pumps for them! And while we're rushing fresh ordnance to the Saudis, the ever delusional John Kerry is accusing Iran of interfering in Yemen!

Empire of Chaos? Yeah, it fits.
What Gus said with an addendum-- power & control, allied with ego deficiencies, is a key motivator in all evil actions.
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Wednesday, April 08, 2015

From Walter Scott to Edward Snowden: Our lying media

By now, you have no doubt read about Michael Slager, a police officer in North Charleston, South Carolina, who is going to face trial for the murder of of an unarmed black man named Walter Scott. As a result of this incident, many cops in that town will be required to wear video cameras.

Why? Because a bystander shot a video which showed what really happened when Scott was killed. Before that piece of evidence was produced, the cops told a ludicrously false version of what happened.

Before the video became known, a local journalist named Andrew Knapp wrote an account of the incident. That report tells us much about what is wrong with American journalism. In one sense, the way Knapp covered the story is more significant than the story itself.

Here is how he described the situation:
A North Charleston police officer felt threatened last weekend when the driver he had stopped for a broken brake light tried to overpower him and take his Taser.

That’s why Patrolman 1st Class Michael Thomas Slager, a former Coast Guardsman, fatally shot the man, the officer’s attorney said Monday.
We now know that things went down very differently.

Should we excuse Knapp because he did not yet know of the video's existence? No.

Look at the way the opening of his piece is worded. Knapp could have chosen more neutral phrasing which did not presume that Slager was incapable of lying. The first paragraph conveys the impression that the "threat" was an objectively-determined fact of history, as opposed to one man's self-interested version of events.

All of the news coverage of the earlier Ferguson incident should be reconsidered in light of this initial news report about the killing of Walter Scott.

In Ferguson, the good news is that elections are making the city government more representative of the people. The bad news is that millions of Americans still accept the painfully ludicrous claim that an unarmed black man standing in the street somehow posed a threat to a cop in a car.

The North Charleston incident tells us much about the way this country is policed. It tells us even more about the way our news distorts reality. The problem is simple: Journalists habitually genuflect before power. 

(Journalists question power only when one side of the power structure does battle with another.)

Coverage of the North Charleston incident resembles coverage of Ed Snowden.

If you have not yet seen the John Oliver segment embedded above, you will be appalled to learn how many of your fellow citizens have never even heard of Edward Snowden. (Yet their votes count as much as yours!)

You will be even more appalled by those who have heard of the guy.

These people have formed all sorts of nonsensical opinions about Snowden based on what they've heard from mainstream news sources. What the media told them about Snowden was every bit as bullshitty as what that mainstream newspaper in South Carolina said about the death of Walter Scott.

All across the spectrum -- from international stories to the coverage of a local killing -- our newsfolk refuse to tell the truth.
My awakening came when I very reluctantly and only as a civic duty went to see Fahrenheit 911. The reviews I saw in the papers all said it was lies (and Christopher Hitchens claimed it was so bad that fact-checking was beside the point). I went, I saw, I was shocked. I did my own fact-checking and found it was not lies--and i felt betrayed by my "liberal media" that they had not told me any of this.

So I read Greg Palast and learned about the election fraud in 2000 in Florida and then I read the blood-curdling articles in Popular Science and Popular Mechanics about the dangers of the hackable electronic voting machines. And then I read the concerns of the statisticians about the divergence between the electronic vote returns and the exit polls. I've never studied statistics, so wasn't in a position to evaluate their concerns, but when the NYT dismissed concerns about the 2004 elections as a bunch of crazy conspiracy theories and on NPR Bob Simon sneered about "exit polls, snort" as if they were a joke, I felt even more betrayed.

And that's when I turned to guys like Brad Friedman and Joseph Cannon--guys who have shown their commitment to journalistic principles--to keep me informed.

I watched "Control Room" about al Jazeera coverage of the Iraq war, and I watched "Outfoxed" and "Orwell Rolls in his Grave" about news media, and I attended media reform conferences and conferences and panel discussions at the university and I learned a lot about distinguishing news from propaganda.

And it angered me that in its Iraq coverage NPR correspondents would tell us about violence in provincial Iraq cities--tell us as if their reports were facts, as if they were there, when I knew they never even left the Green Zone and were simply repeating what their military sources had told them.

And then every time a car bomb blew up in a market square NPR would report it as "sectarian violence" as if they had been there and they knew who had perpetrated the bombing--when they hadn't and they didn't.

But it got worse. NPR had young woman reporters breathlessly gifting us with their strategic analyses of the military situation in Iraq and Afghanistan--as if they knew anything about military tactics--when we knew full well that their analyses came straight from their military sources, and we had good reason to think they were embedded with their military sources.

Media Reform is essential to the restoration of Democracy. Kristina Borjesson's "Into the Buzzsaw" is a good place to start.

Thank gawd. Please. Who needed the footage to know the psychopath who was so FEARFUL of his life had to .....shoot a fleeing unarmed man in the back???
It's gonna be real interesting to see if this obvious liar is going to be able to find a competent defense attorney, and if so, what the defense will be. Temporary insanity?
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