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This Week in Doom, April 9, 2017


That-Was-The-Week-That-W-That-Was-The-Week-473964gc2smFrom the keyboard of Surly1
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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on April 9, 2017

“We see these beautiful pictures at night from the decks of these two U.S. Navy vessels in the eastern Mediterranean. I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen: ‘I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.’”

 ― Brian Williams, MSNBC anchor  


It's been a week in which we took several steps toward our own Appointment in Samarra. We are expected to believe that the nation's Chief Executive, who heretofore has demonstrated absolutely no empathy for anyone, reversed his own stated foreign policy based on news pictures of children, ostensibly suffering from a Syrian government gas attack. Just the week before, said executive's Secretary of State had affirmed a new policy in which the US would be content to let the destiny of Bashar Al-Assad be settled by the Syrian people.

And who exactly are we fighting in Syria? Is it ISIS? Al Qaeda? Jabhat al Nusra? But Assad purchased oil from ISIS, yes? How did that work? And now we're bombing Assad? All of the Jihadis in opposition to Assad are Sunni, whereas Assad's regime belongs to the Alawite sect of Islam, related somehow to the Shia branch of Islam. One needs a scorecard…

As difficult as this might be to sort out, when the newest atrocity pictures appeared on FOX News, they hit our non-reading president right in the feels. And like Xanadu, a military action was decreed. Meanwhile, trump's legions of right-wing zealots were discomfited that he had bombed Syria and thus had gone "full neocon." Great was the hue and cry therefrom. Meanwhile, in the West Wing, Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon wrestled for primacy. If you're not the president's son-in-law, I don't like your chances. Mitch McConnell got clean away with the heist of a Supreme Court seat, and, oh yes, in spite of the Trump administration's decision to ban the phrase "climate change", the Arctic north is melting and we are awash in icebergs. Can global sea level rise be far behind?


The Rockets' Red Glare

We are told the short-fingered vulgarian "became president" by sending a volley of Tomahawk missiles, costing $1-1.5 million the each, to light up a Syrian airstrip, the assets of which had been moved by previously-alerted Russians and Syrians who, unlike Congress, had received prior notice. The air show on a virtually deserted airstrip avoided most of the runways, such that Syrian planes are reported to be flying missions as I write. Thus the US spent about $93,810,000, blowing up very little in order to show them that "we mean business."

The Palmer Report estimates that Donald Trump's ineffective Syria attack could have fully funded Meals on Wheels through 2029.

 The MSM, hot on the trail of #trumpRussia connections, were captivated. On MSNBC, which we are constantly reminded is the "left" news network, fake news parolee Brian Williams waxed rhapsodic about the beauty of the rocket launches, if not the tumescence of the manhood which unleashed them. CNN's Fareed Zakaria proudly asserted Trump’s missile strike in Syria shows him emerging from the chrysalis and displaying the same bloodthirsty qualities as America’s past leaders. Friday morning on CNN’s “New Day," I stood openmouthed in astonishment as Zakaria said

“I think Donald Trump became president of the United States last night. I think this was actually a big moment.”

Making this Zakaria's Van Jones moment, and exposing him as another to-be-ignored careerist. Neocon Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham swooned, and were observed to have rare swellings in their crotches at the audacity of dope. If these last for more than four hours, they should call a doctor. Or a Capitol Hill reporter.

Leading papers published opinions like "Trump’s Chance to Step Into the Global Leadership Vacuum," "Trump Has an Opportunity to Right Obama’s Wrongs in Syria," "Syrian Opposition Leader: Trump Has a Chance to Save Syria" and "Syria Missile Strike Could Lead to Political Solution"–but no pieces opposing an unauthorized military attack against a sovereign nation. Dan Rather had a few choice words.

"War must never be considered a public relations operation. It is not a way for an Administration to gain a narrative," Rather continued. "It is a step into a dangerous unknown and its full impact is impossible to predict, especially in the immediate wake of the first strike."

On other news, Raytheon, the company that makes the Tomahawk missiles used in the air strikes, was rising in early stock trading Friday. In related news, Lockheed Martin, helps Raytheon make the Javelin missile launcher system, gained nearly 1%. We may be headed for the End Times, but we're creating some beautiful opportunities for profit in arms.


Pepe nonplussed

Trump's troll army was not pleased, and the alt-right crowd broke with the president over his perfidy. The web-savvy, anti-establishment "alt-right" neo-nazis at the passionate core of Trump’s online support last year, have become apoplectic over the strikes. This "America First" wing, which includes Milo Yiannopolis, Mike Cernovich, Ann Coulter, and the famously punched-in-the-face Richard Spencer, (he of the memes), as well as those basement dwellers on The_Donald subreddit and the /pol/ section of 4Chan, warn of a slippery slope to intervention in Syria.

As recently as last week, they believed Trump would keep the country out of unnecessary wars. Last Thursday on a trip to Turkey, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, the “longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.” And then came the news pictures of Syrian children being gassed. Whereupon, we are told, the president decided to "follow his heart."

Leaving aside for a moment the notion of how a Republican Congress or the American public would react did if a female president had decided to "follow her heart," and launch 59 Tomahawk missiles, we are left to marvel at 180° whipsaw-like change in the direction of American foreign policy.

Meanwhile, about those pictures, and who was responsible for them. Many on the fascist fringe scream that Trump has been duped into a war a "false flag" operation. "The Syrian gas attack was done by deep state agents," tweeted alt right agitator and Pizzagate auteur Mike Cernovich. And other marginal voices, including Alex Jones and Paul Joseph Watson, as well as Ron Paul, Scott Adams and Michael Savage, have upped the ante, blamed the attack on George Soros, and condemned Trump for surrendering to "Republican hawks."

Plus, Julian Assange, believed to have sole control of the WikiLeaks Twitter account,  shared a video from a Syrian activist in Germany on Thursday that said Islamist extremists were probably behind the chemical attack, not the Syrian government. Even left-wing observers have opined that the chemical strikes may have originated with Syrian rebels. Assessing the truth is to walk in a hall of mirrors.

Speaking of a hall of mirrors, Tina Nguyen of Vanity Fair does exemplary reporting on all things Trump, and made the following salient observation:

The missile strike came only hours after Bannon, the de facto representative of the alt-right in the White House, had been removed from the National Security Council Principals Committee, cutting off his access to military decision-making. His supporters quickly, and not without logic, blamed the Syria situation on the same people they believed were responsible for Bannon’s ouster and diminishing stature in the West Wing: Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and the leader of what a White House source described to Politico as the “West Wing Democrats.”

Few things gladden my heart more that a right wing circular firing squad, as headlines broke on Friday that Bannon had called Kushner "a cuck" and a "globalist." What the Bannon-Kushner tussle portends for the future, and for Trump's relationship with the reclusive Mercer family (which bankrolled his electoral victory)  is anyone's guess. 

 


It Stays Stole

Mitch McConnell and wife in a rare tender moment.

In 2016, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said: "One of my proudest moments was when I told Obama, 'You will not fill this Supreme Court vacancy,'" and in 2017, he said, "Apparently there's yet a new standard now, which is not to confirm a Supreme Court nominee at all. I think that's something the American people simply will not tolerate."


This week, McConnell invoked a parliamentary maneuver to end the filibuster opposing the nominee, Neil Gorsuch, for the stolen Supreme Court seat, thus clearing the way for Gorsuch to occupy said stolen seat. This legislative coup will ratify the primacy of the corporate state for the next 30 years.

In a related story, hypocrisy stocks were up 12 percent this week.

 


Global melting

A meltwater stream on Greenland’s ice sheet. And in climate change news, which we no longer count anymore because trump, we learn that Greenland’s coastal ice has passed a critical “tipping point,” according to a new study. Which doesn’t bode well for the rest of the island’s ice.

The Greenland ice sheet, which covers about 80 percent of the island’s surface, is the second-largest ice body in the world after the Antarctic ice sheet. The same processes that have caused the accelerated melting of Greenland’s coastal ice bodies could also influence the island’s massive ice sheet — with devastating results, lead study author Bryce Noël said.

“For now, the ice sheet is still safe,” he said. “Its tipping point hasn’t been crossed yet. But if warming continues, it’s very likely that it will be crossed.”

If the entire Greenland ice sheet were to melt, it would cause a global sea level rise of more than 20 feet. 

 

In a related story, The Guardian tells of a swarm of more than 400 icebergs that have drifted into the North Atlantic shipping lanes over the past week, unusually large for so early in the season. 

Most icebergs entering the North Atlantic have “calved” off the Greenland ice sheet. Michael Mann, director of the earth system science center at Pennsylvania State University, said it was possible climate change was leading to more icebergs in the shipping lanes, but wind patterns were also important.

US Coast Guard Commander Gabrielle McGrath, who leads the ice patrol, said she had never seen such a drastic increase in such a short time. Adding to the danger, three icebergs were discovered outside the boundaries of the area the Coast Guard had advised mariners to avoid, she said.

Another week in which we incrementally slip towards the doom which awaits us for our fecklessness and irresponsibility for failing to summon the will to be good stewards of what we have inherited.


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, screeds and spittle-flecked invective here and elsewhere, and once quit barking and got off the porch long enough to be active in the Occupy movement. Where he met the woman who now shares his old Virginia home and who, like he, is grateful that he is not yet taking a dirt nap, and like he, will be disappointed to not be prominently featured on an enemies list compiled by the incoming administration.

This Week In Doom: What Muslim Ban?


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Hampton Roads Light Brigade at direct action January 31, 2017

 


Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on February 5, 2016

"First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me."

–Pastor Martin Niemoller 


Our foreign policy requires an externalized enemy, as our economy requires a state of permanent war. Were peace to break out across the world, the US economy would shudder to a halt within 60 days.

Ever since Reagan announced "Morning in America" we have been tempted with the promise of returning America to the golden postwar era when white male colossi like Patton, Marshall and MacArthur strode like heroes astride a grateful world. And the corresponding postwar boom in which American industry sold everything it could make to a prostrate world. Who paid for it with money we lent them.

Trump's call to "Make America Great Again," prints nicely on red ball caps but is short on specifics. One example put in practice is the recently announced Muslim Ban, giving color of law to demonization of the Muslim "other." [Note: On Friday night, U.S. District Judge James Robart blocked the entirety of trump’s de facto Muslim ban from taking effect. His ruling, which applies nationwide, froze all relevant provisions of trump's executive order.]

In a recent Harper's article, Lawrence Jackson ruminates about the leaders of the Atlantic-facing victors, usually known as "the West:"

The most arrogant inhabitants of these nations …understood themselves to be the ordained directors of human beings across the globe, across space and time. They were committed to civilization by the sword. Yet not even Reagan was mighty enough to reinstall the American militants who ached to battle the Russians and the Chinese. Reagan took to politics for what he couldn’t achieve in his original profession, acting. He stood in the shadow of John Wayne, a cultural hero who… declared that the problem was that the values of white rule weren’t being exported vigorously enough. Wayne’s films gave audiences a steady dose of what historian Richard Slotkin calls “regeneration through violence.” Both civilization and capitalist bonanza depend on violent encounters and imperial expansion. If the country is to be healthy, it needs some frontier populated by some brand of enemy.

After 9-11, to forestall a "peace dividend" breaking out, America's best minds concocted the Global War on Terror, a concept plastic enough to permit many interpretations, and unwinnable enough to guarantee the Permanent War Economy. Having recently defined that enemy as brown people planet-wide coming for our golfs and guns, now they have infiltrated our borders! Clear and present danger! Wearing hijab! Sharia Law in our streets! Can female genital mutilation for Barbie be far behind?

Enter trump. In our empathy-free times, we think little and care less about what such reckless decisions mean to individuals. Today I am going to challenge you to care.

Demonstrators march from a Department of Homeland Security office through the West Loop on Feb. 1, 2017 against President Donald Trump's ban on refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

Several weeks ago, I listened to a Ted Talk by Deeyah Khan, raised in Norway by an Afghan mother and Pakistani father. Khan recounted the rejection and isolation felt by Muslim kids growing up in the West, and the way they get squeezed between two worlds. At a time when executive action careens towards an unconstitutional ban on immigrants fleeing the very countries we bomb, this talk opened my eyes—and ears.

Khan recounted the story of how she had to subsume her own dreams for her life and take on those given her by her father. To be famous, he said, “it's either got to be sports, or it's got to be music." So he threw away her toys and dolls at age seven, and was given a ratty Casio keyboard. She practiced music for hours each day.

Khan started singing and playing, and became good enough to perform before growing audiences. Let her tell it:

I became almost a kind of poster child for Norwegian multiculturalism. I felt very proud, of course. Because even the newspapers at this point were starting to write nice things about brown people, so I could feel that my superpower was growing.

Until one day, she was headed into a store for candy, and found her way blocked by a man intent on making sure she understood who really ran things in Norway.

There was this grown white guy in the doorway blocking my way. So I tried to walk around him, and as I did that, he stopped me and he was staring at me, and he spit in my face, and he said, "Get out of my way you little black bitch, you little Paki bitch, go back home where you came from." I was absolutely horrified. I was staring at him. I was too afraid to wipe the spit off my face, even as it was mixing with my tears. I remember looking around, hoping that any minute now, a grown-up is going to come and make this guy stop. But instead, people kept hurrying past me and pretended not to see me.

So she learned that when faced with persecution of brown people, white people tend to not want to get involved. But her fellow brown people would have her back, right? Not exactly.

Some men in my parent's community felt that it was unacceptable and dishonorable for a woman to be involved in music and to be so present in the media. So very quickly, I was starting to become attacked at my own concerts. I remember one of the concerts, I was onstage, I lean into the audience and the last thing I see is a young brown face and the next thing I know is some sort of chemical is thrown in my eyes and I remember I couldn't really see and my eyes were watering but I kept singing anyway. I was spit in the face in the streets of Oslo, this time by brown men.

The threats continued and the oppression, this time from her fellow Muslims, got worse. And it took the edge that we often hear that the Islamic world visits upon women:

The death threats were endless. I remember one older bearded guy stopped me in the street, and said, "The reason I hate you so much is because you make our daughters think they can do whatever they want." A younger guy warned me to watch my back. He said music is un-Islamic and the job of whores, and if you keep this up, you are going to be raped and your stomach will be cut out so that another whore like you will not be born.

Her family realized they could no longer keep her safe, so they sent her to London. She resumed her music career, but with similar results.

Different place, but unfortunately the same old story. I remember a message sent to me saying that I was going to be killed and that rivers of blood were going to flow and that I was going to be raped many times before I died. By this point, I have to say, I was actually getting used to messages like this, but what became different was that now they started threatening my family.

Eventually after transitioning to work as a maker of films, she moved again, this time to the US. She makes this point:

What most people don't understand is that there are so many of us growing up in Europe who are not free to be ourselves. We're not allowed to be who we are. We are not free to marry or to be in relationships with people that we choose. We can't even pick our own career. This is the norm in the Muslim heartlands of Europe. Even in the freest societies in the world, we're not free. Our lives, our dreams, our future does not belong to us, it belongs to our parents and their community.

So this lack of freedom to choose personal autonomy is what we decry in our conflict with Islam: "Islam is a death cult." "Look how it treats women." Yet compare and contrast with the policies announced and espoused by the current trump/pence regime.

Denying women reproductive freedom has long been the Holy Grail of Christian Dominionists who have never gotten over The Pill. The Pill gave women the ability to control pregnancy, and with it far more autonomy over their lives. Couple these efforts with the assault on programs that combat violence agaist women, and you begin to trace the outlines of a program to re-chattelize women that sounds positively… Islamist.

Consider in the singular example of Deeyah Khan how Islamists treat women, and realize that this story is re-enacted across the world millions of times over. Then compare with announced trump/pence policies designed to deny women access to services won over decades of activism and legislation. It would appear that the difference is merely one of degree. Policies to repress the rights of women stem from the same shrunken root: an insecure manhood and a need for control. Women, beware short fingered vulgarians and the men who serve them.

 


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, screeds and spittle-flecked invective here and elsewhere, and once quit barking and got off the porch long enough to be active in the Occupy movement. Where he met the woman who now shares his old Virginia home and who, like he, is grateful that he is not yet taking a dirt nap, and like he, will be disappointed to not be prominently featured on an enemies list compiled by the incoming administration.

The Quality of Compassion

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Ben fields

Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on November 1, 2015


“The highest form of wisdom is kindness."
 
 –The Talmud


A man with whom I have crossed rhetorical swords many times over the past several years, a frequent contributor to the Diner Forum, recently made an important point that this week's news reaffirms: it's essential to look beyond the surface to get at the truth of a given set of news reports. Events of this past week bear this out.

In an age of bloggers, self-defined citizen journalists, paid shills, and clickbait sites that proliferate like mushrooms after a summer rain,  this is good advice. And anyone who has forwarded a Facebook meme only to be chastened to find it's a scurrilous rumor has lived to regret it, and learned from the experience.

This week, the big newz was the story of the cop in a Spring Valley, South Carolina classroom ejecting a black female student. By now you know the story and the upshot, which will not be improved by further retelling.

 

It appears that by any reasonable standard, the violence that the cop used in this situation was over-the top and disproportionate to the situation. Criticism went viral, and consequences for the deputy involved, Ben Fields, were quick to follow.

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott announces the firing of Ben Fields, a senior deputy who forcibly removed a female student who refused to leave her high school math class at Spring Valley High School on Monday.

Reaction was swift. As NPR reported,

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott has fired Senior Deputy Ben Fields over the white deputy's violent arrest of a black student at a South Carolina high school, which was filmed by several students. Lott said Fields broke department policy in the arrest.

"It's not what I expect from my deputies, and it's not what I tolerate from my deputies," Lott said.

The story goes in in a revealing fashion:

The teacher and administrator who were in the classroom during the altercation supported Fields, as did at least one student, Lott said, adding that they felt the deputy acted appropriately.

"They supported his actions," Lott said, adding, "even the physical part. They had no problems with the physical part."

"I'm the one who had problems with it," the sheriff said.

 

We're sure Sheriff Lott did. Bad optics coupled with national notoriety can lead to political retribution in the absence of swift action along the lines of, "If you don't get rid of him, we'll hire someone who will." 

And we learn that Fields had some previous complaints about excessive force in his record. One might wonder, given that record, what qualified him to be a school resource officer?  And we learn that the teacher and the principal, who had lost control of the classroom situation, were all in favor of Ben Fields' assault on the girl and her forcible removal. And people still wonder how Hitler came to power. Clearly, many Murkins agree.

Spoiler alert: if you do not agree from the video footage that Ben Fields' use of violence against a passive young woman was over-the-top and disproportionate, you should probably stop reading now; there is nothing for you here. The white/black issue wraps the entire episode in the ever present social layer of racial politics. Would a white child have been thus forcibly removed?

And as a topper, then Niya Kenny, the young woman who videotaped the incident was arrested and charged with "disrupting schools" and released on bond. This could only happen in the insane state of South Carolina, home to American sedition and east-coast distributor for authoritah-loving right wing insanity. A prediction: in the fullness of time, the Spring Valley school board will forbid possession of video recording-equipped technology on school grounds, for the "safety and integrity of the educational process, blah blah."  Videos of school violence making the system look bad? Outlaw the videos.

Many of us have teachers in our families, and get a birds-eye view of just how difficult it is to manage a classroom while preparing lesson plans, grading papers, and trying to outsmart young, media-savvy recalcitrants who know that if they get into "trouble" at school, their parents will come to the school and take their side of the argument against the teacher. There was a time when the social contract had the teacher and parent allied on the same side in a partnership to educate the child. That ship has sailed– one of many reasons why the average length of a public school teacher's career is five years. 

A Facebook friend from childhood who now lives in South Carolina offered this opinion:

Total disrespect for her elders. If you watch the video closely there is a black adult (probably either the teacher or the principal) standing there watching. They had a defiant incorrigible teen that was disrupting class that needed to be extricated from the class. When she wouldn't leave at the request of the teacher, then the principal and finally the policeman he had little choice but to extricate her physically. Yes he could have probably tried to extricate her less violently out of the chair and gotten himself into a wrestling match with both her and the chair at greater danger to himself… Kids these days are becoming more and more incorrigible and have no respect for their elders. Fire the officer? I say expel the student… When I was in high school or junior high you'd get your ass whipped if you came to school with a transistor radio. Now kids think they have some god given right to text and play with their IPhone in class… That officer could use a little well deserved support from the principal, the teacher, the other students whose education was being disrupted, and the officer's boss.

Those of us of a certain age recall the days when we walked to and from school, uphill in both directions, and a school environment far more ready to bring physical force to bear "in loco parentis." That was also a time when spanking was an accepted part of childrearing, and talking back to an adult was virtually unthinkable. Any incorrigibility at school was met with paddling, a punishment both swift and certain, often wielded by a strapping teacher who had drilled holes in the instrument, the better to hasten its decent and increase the pain upon the recalcitrant butt. But then the partnership between teacher and parent was more secure, and if you got in trouble at school you'd get it twice as bad at home. And your mother would be waiting for you there, having already received the evil news, and prepared to administer additional torments for one's moral uplift.

But those days are gone, times have changed, and kids are different. The legal environment is different. Parents are not to spank children anymore, and should an adult lay his hands on your little perfect snowflake? Unpossible! Deal with it.

In Spring Valley, none of us were there in the classroom. Yet one wonders how the incident came to be, and whether any of the adults nominally in charge asked any questions of the young woman, or simply took her behavior as an affront to authoritah, and manhoods. Compare Spring Valley with this response from a young student teacher to a similar incident:

One wonders if a little human compassion, or at least a question, might not be indicated before grabbing the truncheons? And all we know about the young woman in South Carolina is that she was devastated and traumatized by everything that's happened to her, and that she was recently orphaned and in foster care. We're gratified that in a different circumstance, at least one young teacher-in-becoming had enough courage of her convictions to ask a question, learn what was happening, and perhaps change a life. (H/t Katherine Bushman.)

We read of other ways of de-escalating tense circumstances, like the DC police officer who convinced some girls resistant to dispersing after a fight the chance to participate in a dance-off; absolutely inspired police work. 

On Monday afternoon, D.C.. police officers broke up two groups of fighting teenagers. A few minutes later, a female officer approached the lingering crowd and told the teens to disperse.

That’s when Aaliyah Taylor, a 17-year-old senior at Ballou High School, walked up to the officer and started playing “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” on her phone. Then she did the Nae Nae dance.

The officer, according to Taylor, laughed and said she had far better dance moves than that.

What happened from there on the 200 block of K Street SW was a rather impressive dance-off between the police officer and the teen, and an example of positive community policing at a time when national attention is focused on discriminatory and abusive police tactics. The onlooking teens caught the dance battle on their cell phones while a song by rapper Dlow played in the background.

My wife Contrary has been involved with a group working to gather signatures to present a petition to suggest better policing methods and accountabilities in our community, the better to forestall episodes like Ferguson, Cleveland and New York City from happening here. I was part of a retinue of souls who appeared at a City Council meeting this past week to speak in favor of this petition, which had garnered hundreds of signatures. The leader of the group spoke first and presented the petition. She told council that while she was outside the chambers, someone came up to her and asked, "Why do you hate the police?" The irony is that most have us have many friends and close relatives who do police work. Few good cops oppose increased accountability. But the reflexive response to anything that threatens the status quo of thin blue line is, "Why do you hate the police?"

At the same meeting another of our number mentioned the fact that many troublesome cases police encounter involve mental health issues, and that officers need additional training in de-escalation. Even as a reasonably scrawny worker in a mental health facility, he had been trained to defuse potentially troublesome situations involving persons much larger. Why does the first response have to be violence?

Find the answer in the front page of your Sunday paper, which offers the prospect of boots on the ground in Syria, along with Naval dickwaving in the South China Sea. Even looking down the barrel of doom in the form of climate change, financial uncertainty and unrestrained war, we have to believe that it is still possible to make a difference in the lives of others. A little compassion and a bit of patience might go a long way to defusing tensions. Indeed, of all the qualities we would want to teach children or grandchildren, would not compassion be at the top? Our leaders won't do it; it has to start with us.

 


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, posts, comments, interjections, articles and spittle-flecked invective on this site, who quit barking and got off the porch long enough to be active in the Occupy movement during its ten minutes of notoriety. He shares a home in Southeastern Virginia with Contrary in a triumph of hope over experience, and has an adult daughter that is, as of this writing, free on her own recognizance. He remains grateful for the life he has, the people in it and for the fact that he is not yet taking a dirt nap. 

 

How Many Had to Die for your Eight Hour Day?

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 haymarketriot 8 hrs  

A Doomstead Diner Archive article,  republished on Labor Day, September 7, 2015


 “Labor was the first price, the original purchase-money that was paid for all things. It was not by gold or by silver, but by labor, that all weather of the world was originally purchased.”      

― Adam Smith     


How many people died for your eight-hour day? Labor Day is celebrated on the first Monday of September in America. This tribute to the contribution and achievements of American workers  was purchased, quite literally, in blood and tireless effort. Few today recall how the first Labor Day came about,  or what it means aside from a day off, and an extra opportunity to visit Walmart for "low low prices." That could have something to do with its origins. 

Many of the labor conditions that we accept as our birthright came at huge cost, borne by working-class people banding together to insist on better conditions for themselves and their comrades. As Americans, we take for granted the many working conditions that were won for us only by the struggle of organized workers coming together to work for common goals.  From the vantage point of 2014, it's easy to forget that the eight hour day was such a radical, leftist idea that police would fire into crowds of workers to stop it.

The campaign for an eight hour day was actually a 19th century labor movement that unfolded over decades. International Workers' Day (also known as May Day, or May 1) is a celebration of the international labor movement, and recognizes the anniversary of the bloodiest struggles in the history of labor. Commemorated worldwide on May 1 with organized street demonstrations and marches by working people (in recognition of American events!), it remains obscured by design in the United States.  International Workers' Day is the commemoration of the 1886 Haymarket Massacre in Chicago. How it got moved to September in the US merits some explanation. 

riotsceneFollowing the Civil War, the United States experienced a rapid expansion of industrial production. Chicago was a major industrial center and tens of thousands of German and Bohemian immigrants were employed at pauper's wages, about $1.50 a day. Not surprisingly, the city became a center for many attempts to organize labor's demands for better working conditions. Employers responded with repressive tactics, including acts of violence, often abetted by police. 

On May 1, 1886, in support of the eight-hour day, Albert Parsons, head of the Chicago Knights of Labor, accompanied by his wife, two children, and 80,000 fellow workers, marched down Michigan Avenue, Chicago, in what is regarded as the first modern May Day Parade. Every road in Chicago stopped running, and most of the industries in Chicago were paralyzed. The stockyards were shut down. The state militia had been called out, and the police were ready. In the next few days they were joined nationwide by 350,000 workers who went on strike at 1,200 factories, including 70,000 in Chicago, 45,000 in New York, 32,000 in Cincinnati, and additional thousands in other cities. Some workers gained shorter hours (eight or nine) with no reduction in pay; others accepted pay cuts with the reduction in hours. 

On May 3, 1886, August Spies, editor of the Arbeiter-Zeitung (Workers Newspaper), spoke at a meeting of 6,000 workers, and afterwards many of them moved down the street to harass strikebreakers at the McCormick plant in Chicago. At a subsequent rally on May 4 to protest this violence, a bomb exploded at a rally in Haymarket Square. The bomb wounded 66 policeman, of whom 7 later died. The police fired into the crowd killing several people and wounding over 200. Hundreds of labor activists were rounded up and the prominent leaders arrested, tried, convicted, and executed giving the movement its first martyrs.

Those put on trial were guilty only of their ideas. None of the accused had been at Haymarket that day except for one, who was speaking when the bomb exploded. A jury found them guilty and they were sentenced to death.

The Chicago Tribune even offered a bounty to the jurors if they would find the accused guilty.

HACAT_M7P51

There was some evidence to suggest that the person who actually threw the bomb was an agent provocateur, perhaps a Pinkerton, working for the police, hired to throw the bomb to enable the arrest of hundreds of people, and thus decapitate the revolutionary leadership. This was never proven. The immediate effect was to suppress the radical movement of labor. But the long-term effect was to fan the flames of class anger in many, and to inspire many others to action in revolutionary and labor causes. This effort would bear fruit in subsequent generations.

 

Many thousand people signed petitions and a later governor of Illinois, John Peter Altgeld, investigated what happened at Haymarket and pardoned the three remaining prisoners who had not yet been executed. The real victims of the Haymarket Affair were freedom of speech, the right to free assembly, the right to a fair and impartial trial by a jury of peers. The right of workers to organize and fight for important issues like the eight-hour day was severely compromised as a result. 

The American Federation of Labor, meeting in St Louis in December 1888, set May 1, 1890 as the day that American workers should work no more than eight hours. The International Workingmen's Association meeting in Paris in 1889, endorsed the date for international demonstrations, thus starting the international tradition of May Day. May 1 remains celebrated as International Workers Day across the world, except in the United States, where the official holiday for workers is the first Monday in September. This is because Pres. Grover Cleveland feared that commemorating Labor Day on May 1 could become an opportunity to commemorate the Haymarket Massacre and thus create martyrs.

So in 1894 Cleveland moved to support Labor Day in September, and thus obscure the focus on the rights of working people. Right wing governments have traditionally sought to repress the message behind International Workers Day, with results that scream form the headlines nearly every week. The site of the Haymarket affair was designated as a landmark in Chicago in 1992, and the public sculpture was dedicated in 2004. The lessons of history, including the lesson of International Workers Day or Labor Day, regardless of when it is celebrated, demonstrate that change ONLY happens when ordinary people band together to educate one another and work together in common purpose to achieve our common interests.  

 
 

banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, articles and spittle-flecked invective on this site, and was active in Occupy during its brief moment. He shares a home in Southeastern Virginia with Contrary and will NOT be darkening the door of any Wal-Mart this Labor Day.  

This Week in Doom, June 21, 2015

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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on June 21, 2015

drought

"A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic."

-Joseph Stalin

The deathcount for non-human life forms on this planet continues to mount exponentially. Numbed as we are by technology and distracted by likes, tweets, clicks and noise, the parade of deaths marches on in the face of our collective indifference. Animals inhabit another country, they are not-us, we rationalize to ourselves, so they are as free to die as they are for us to eat, as we have for many lifetimes of living atop to Great Ponzi of Happy Motoring and the Lifestyle the Petrodollar built. Fish kills. Sea lions. Whales. Birds dropping dead from the sky in great flocks. Starfish. Frogs. Snails. Even crickets, at RE's back door just recently. Each death an implicit sacrifice so that we might know something, and by the knowing, do something. Anything. Yet we stare in mute horror, and wring our hands in helplessness, appalled and humbled at the same time, as we do at measurements of the ongoing drought and find out that as bad as it is, it's worse than we thought. Yet climate change deniers continue to "teach the controversy," or otherwise distract the proles, the better to post up the quarterly profit. Even Pope Francis, el supremo of one of the most conservative organizations on the planet, has been moved to issue an encyclical calling for changes in lifestyles and energy consumption to avert the “unprecedented destruction of the ecosystem.” One wonders what it will take for the calls be heeded?

Yet in the same week we celebrated the 800th birthday of the Magna Carta, that much ballyhooed first step towards universal freedom and liberty, we consider how we have created a market for prison slave labor, the better to honor our contracts with the operators, to whom we have subcontracted our moral responsibilities for rehabilitation. And yes Virginia, slavery is still happily legal for the incarcerated, a blessed state, the returns for which are much beloved by cost accountants, CFOs, and especially the stockholders.

So if you're scoring at home, this week we see a clear distinction between the moral and the immoral, the true vs. the profitable. Our disinterest, some might say, stems from the moral failing at the heart of market triumphalism and its corresponding greed, which leads to irresponsible risk-taking and a continued effort to get some unnamed other to bear the externalized costs. It is the reach of markets and market values into every single sphere of life, including those traditionally governed by moral objectives and principles. Like right and wrong. But that's a rant for another time.

I had done a really good job with this column this week, making notes for it, writing as I went along, instead of waiting for Sunday morning to spit out 2000 words.  And then, Charleston.  Dylann Roof, the self-styled "Last Rhodesian's" mass murder at the Emmanuel AME church is a tragedy, but not the stuff of doom, you might say.  And on the surface I might agree.  But the rapid politicization  of the responses to that tragedy (the NRA blames the victims,  Fox "News" and other right-wing media outlets, including most of the Republican field for President, say some variant of, "we can't possibly know what he was thinking" when Roof left behind a website that said exactly what he was thinking,  and Alex Jones, Michael Savage and other conspiracy theorists posit a "programmed government killer set loose so Obama can take our gunz") is in itself disgusting. And if the seeds of doom and total societal collapse are not to be found on the blood stained floors of that South Carolinian church, they are surely to be found in the shrunken, misshapen remains of hearts that continue to beat, inexplicably, inside too many American breasts. As opposed the the grace that has already emanated from some of the families of the victims, who have already forgiven the gunman.


Who is climate change killing this week?

 The roll call of the inexplicably dead turning up by the thousands continues this week.  But the dead aren't white male Americans, so it really doesn't matter. The dead are voiceless, helpless, and unable to respond except to die, and thus bear mute testimony  to our actions.  California sea lion pups and New England moose among others.

Let’s start with the moose. According to National Geographic, the moose population in New Hampshire went from about 7,500 in the late 90s to about 4,500 by 2013. In Maine, where about 60,000 moose make up the densest moose population in the lower 48, scientists also suspect a decline (although data is scarce).

The culprit? Our old enemy, climate change, which is giving a boost to another old enemy, bloodthirsty ticks, says National Geographic:

The reason is likely climate change, biologists say, which is ushering in shorter, warmer winters that are boosting the fortunes of winter ticks. The tiny creatures latch on to moose here in staggering numbers: One moose can house 75,000 ticks, which are helping to drive a troubling rise in moose deaths, especially among calves.

Warning: Things are about to get horrifying.

And if that's not enough, then there is this: the largest toxic algal bloom ever recorded on the west coast:

Scientists onboard a NOAA research vessel are beginning a survey of what could be the largest toxic algae bloom ever recorded off the West Coast… At the same time, two other types of toxins rarely seen in combination are turning up along the Washington coast.

And in the spirit of Ron Popeil, "but wait! There's more!" Researchers find that species we normally ignore, such as snails, are disappearing at a rapid pace—another indicator of mass extinction.

For years now, conservationists have warned that Earth is in the middle of the “sixth great extinction,” with dozens of species going extinct every day owing to habitat loss, pollution, climate change, and other factors.

But here’s even worse news: That may be just the tip of the iceberg. According to new research, previous estimates may seriously underestimate the number of species that we’re losing. A paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that we may have already lost 130,000 species, or a staggering 7 percent of the world’s total biodiversity.

How could we have lost so many species without noticing? It’s simple: The authors say most of these extinctions are not big, noticeable creatures such as rhinos and tigers. Instead they’re tiny insects and other invertebrates that don’t get much attention. These species tend to have very small ranges with specific habitat needs and aren’t often well studied. 

 For a more in-depth report on  how an unseen extinction is decimating our biota, see this article.


Shocking drought data from NASA

It's bad. Really bad. Really, really bad:

"We don't know exactly how much groundwater we have left, so we don't know when we're going to run out," said Stephanie Castle, a water resources specialist at the University of California, Irvine, and the study's lead author. "This is a lot of water to lose. We thought that the picture could be pretty bad, but this was shocking."

"Combined with declining snowpack and population growth, this will likely threaten the long-term ability of the basin to meet its water allocation commitments to the seven basin states and to Mexico," Famiglietti said.

What's more troubling, while westerners are conserving water in a historic drought, the Nestle Corporation is still draining western aquifers for profit. One might legitimately ask on what planet is is legal to take water from a drought zone, bottle it and sell it.

And then there are these assholes: Ultra-wealthy Californians refusing to conserve water may signal the beginning of a much bigger crisis. Meet Steve Yuhas, designated spokesman for the .1 per cent, stakng out a position in the coming class war: 

So how do you explain a place like Rancho Santa Fe, an enclave of San Diego County, where water use has gone up by 9 percent since April?

Money. Steve Yuhas, a conservative talk-show host and part-time resident of Rancho Santa Fe, explained in a Washington Post hate-read this weekend: “We pay significant property taxes based on where we live,” he said. “And, no, we’re not all equal when it comes to water.”

Yuhas’ quote is one of many nauseatingly backwards statements in the piece on why ultra-wealthy owners of multi-acre properties—which might boast orchards, stables, elaborate waterworks, and of course, bright sweeps of lawn—deserve more sympathy and fewer penalties.

Add entitlement syndrome, as predictable as sunrise:

Still, for the “1 percent”… a limitless sense of entitlement plus a limitless supply of funds is a powerful combination. With California’s groundwater regulations years away from taking effect, what’s to stop deep-pocketed homeowners from digging their own wells? Or trucking in water? Or striking deals with local politicians? One ultra-wealthy resident compares his sprawling lawns to his Chevy Suburban: He can afford to pay for copious amounts water and gas, so who’s to say it’s not his right to do so?

It’s a chilling analogy, because many predict that water shortages, exacerbated by climate change, are going to cause global warfare similar to the way oil has. Water and oil are both highly limited resources. Yet water, unlike oil, is a human right—for Californians and for the 750 million who live without access to clean water worldwide. The attitude that money can, and should, buy any quantity of water isn’t common yet in California, but as droughts become longer and more dire all over the planet, it will likely spread. And the gap between who can drink freely and who cannot will grow.


Laudato Si

 

This week, Pope Francisco released his much anticipated and relentlessly leaked enclyclical, Laudato Si, or Praised Be to You: On Care for Our Common Home,” which was developed over the past year with the input of dozens of scientists, scholars, theologians and over the objections of opponents such as The Heartland Institute. In the encyclical, Francis aligns himself firmly alongside the environmental movement and its objectives and with the Church's traditional reverence for life. While acknowledging some natural causes of global warming are possible, the Pope asserted that climate change is mostly a human-made problem, one of the “principal challenges facing humanity.”  Pope Francis calls on citizens, politicians, business leaders, organizations—in short, all of us—to act immediately and decisively to stop climate change, renew our relationship with Nature, and “enter a dialogue with all people about our common home.”

Some excerpts, which speak eloquently on their own:

“Humanity is called to take note of the need for changes in lifestyle and changes in methods of production and consumption to combat this warming, or at least the human causes that produce and accentuate it,” he wrote. “Numerous scientific studies indicate that the greater part of the global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases … given off above all because of human activity.”

 

“A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. … A number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity.”

 

“The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. In many parts of the planet, the elderly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish.”

“Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last 200 years.”

 

“If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us. A rise in the sea level, for example, can create extremely serious situations, if we consider that a quarter of the world’s population lives on the coast or nearby, and that the majority of our megacities are situated in coastal areas.”

 

“Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost forever.”

We “must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures.”

 

“One particularly serious problem is the quality of water available to the poor…. Yet access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights. Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity.”

The usual butthurt bleatings have been heard from  fossil fuel apologists, climate change deniers, and the pols and campaign-donation-receivers-in-becoming who love them.  A representative sampling of tweets from paid shill Steven Milloy sets the tone for the critics:

Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 6.35.01 AM

Praised Be to You, Pope Francisco. Steven Milloy and his ilk notwithstanding, the world is with you, for reaffirming climate change as a moral issue and as part of the Church's support for the sanctity of life.


The Modernized Slave Labor System: Also Known as the Prison Industrial Complex

When you create a market for prisoners, as many states have through subcontracting corrections to for-profit third parties, you get distortions. In basic humanity.  During a week where the environment gets attention front and center, business usual continues in some of the darkest corners of the human soul.

The United States prison system, not only a machine for mass incarceration, but a machine for modernized slave labor. The United States has 5% of the worlds population, yet we have 25% of the world's prison population. Land of the free right?
It would seem the statistics say otherwise, since the official drug war president Nixon announced in the 70’s, our prison population has grown over 700%! Recent estimates put our prison population to well over 2.4 million inmates. 50% of the federal prison inmates are for non violent drug offenses. All the while 20% of state prison inmates are drug related.

prison-stats

Is this making Americans safer, or is there an entire industry making money off of imprisoning human beings? It’s estimated that nearly 1 million convicts fill the ranks of Unicor. Unicor being the government owned corporation that handles the labor of inmates! It’s no doubt the federal government sees an opportunity in prison labor, as they have used Unicor to have $100 million worth of military uniforms made for as little as $2 an hour. The government has no problem with using prison labor, and Unicor is estimated at raking in over $900 million a year.

McDonald’s, Walmart, AT&T, Chevron, and IBM are just the names of a few companies that support the use of prison labor

And wha could be more profitable than legalized slavery?


The Magna Carta turns 800 

The Magna Carta turned 800 years old on Monday.  Known as the "Great Charter," it is widely considered the foundation of parliamentary democracy, human rights and the supremacy of the law over the crown. Signed in Runnymede in 1215, and originally drafted to forge an uneasy peace between an unpopular King John and a group of rebel barons tired of tribute and excessive taxation to fund Joh's endless wars to restore his lands in France. The document promised protection of church rights,  for the barons from illegal imprisonment, access to swift justice, and limitations on how much the Crown could exact. Then as now, neither side stood behind their commitments. Research has shown that the Magna Carta was much more about the relationship between the monarch and the barons, rather than the rights of ordinary people, but the document still resonates as a symbol of the primacy of the rule of law over the rule of men.

In an interview on Democracy Now, Peter Linebaugh weighed in , as did Paul Craig Roberts separately.

A number of legal scholars have made the irrelevant point that the Magna Carta protected rights of the Church, nobles, and free men who were not enserfed, a small percentage of the population in the early 13th century. We hear the same about the US Constitution — it was something the rich did for themselves. I have no sympathy for debunking human achievements that, in the end, gave ordinary people liberty.

At Runnymede in 1215, no one but the armed barons had the power and audacity to make King John submit to law. The rule of law, not the rule of the sovereign or of the executive branch in Washington acceded to by a cowardly and corrupt Congress and Supreme Court, is a human achievement that grew out of the Magna Carta over the centuries, with ups and downs of course.

I get that argument and am not unsympathetic. Speaking to Amy Goodman, Linebaugh said,

Both the big charter and the little charter depend and recognize the 90 percent of the people of England who were serfs and poor people and foresters and commoners. Amy, it took about 40 serfs to produce the food just for one horse of those barons and those knights. So while it was a document settling scores in the ruling class, that ruling class had to recognize the principle of the commons and had to recognize—well, in fact, it abolished capital punishment for killing of deer in the forests of England, a great step forward. It prohibited the disparagement of women. Its seventh chapter called for estovers of the widow in the common. Basically, it meant that she could have her fuel, she could have tools, she could have repairs for her house from the forest. And remember that the forest and woods, that was the petroleum of that epoch. That is, so many materials, so much wealth came exclusively from wood. So, for a woman or a widow, in particular, to have access to the commons meant survival.

We can criticize the Magna Carta as being by nobles for nobles in the same way we can criticize the Declarations's authors for the same reasons. And we do. Yet for all that, a document which gives rise to these words can only be so bad:

"No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights … or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his peers and the law of the land."

and…

“Wherefore we wish and firmly command that the English Church shall be free and that men in our kingdom have and hold all such aforesaid liberties, rights and grants, well and in peace, freely and quietly, fully and completely, for themselves and their heirs, in all things and in all places, in perpetuity.”

Yet no one to date has satisfactorily explained the remedy when one class of "free men" "seizes" or "deprives of standing" another smaller, poorer free man. Some call that the role of government, via regulation, that anathema to corporatists and free-marketeers everywhere. Yet those laws and regulations are what we use instead of resorting to lampposts and 40 feet of sturdy nylon rope. Good words to go out on this week.


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, articles and spittle-flecked invective on this site, and quit barking and got off the porch long enough to be active in the Occupy movement. He shares a home in Southeastern Virginia with his new bride Contrary in a triumph of hope over experience, and is grateful that he is not yet taking a dirt nap.

 

This Week In Doom June 14, 2015

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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on June 14, 2015

Visit the New Diner News Page for Daily Updates from around the Collapse Blogosphere 

 

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“If instituted, the TPP’s IP regime would trample over individual rights and free expression, as well as ride roughshod over the intellectual and creative commons,” Assange said. “If you read, write, publish, think, listen, dance, sing or invent; if you farm or consume food; if you’re ill now or might one day be ill, the TPP has you in its crosshairs.”

-Julian Assange, Founder, Wikileaks, November 15, 2013

 


In a stunning rejection by his own party, President Barack Obama had the TAA amendment to the TPP go down in flames in a Friday House vote, and with it his earliest effort to get fast track enabled for this  sellout of the American people. And demonstrates himself as the latest opportunistic tool of corporations and the hyper rich, and the truth of that trope attributed to Gore Vidal: "There is only one party in the United States, the Property Party … and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat." This week deja vu has an American president sending "advisors" into a war-torn area to train the locals; one wonders what sort of training the Iraqis can possibly receive to not throw down their weapons and flee the field of battle?  One of the main instigators of last weekend's celebrated Texas pool party/  police riot gets hers, but in a way that leaves us feeling somewhat uneasy. NPR budget cuts have hit their fact checkers, as they run a story on fracking being the next great economic engine for the US economy at a time when rig counts have plummeted and 67 per cent of domestic shale oil production has been taken off line. Almost as if an invisible hand were "suggesting" what they run… And income inequality has gotten so bad that food pantries are running out of food, such is the demand.  But, what, me worry? The markets are up!

 


Democrats reject Obama on trade

 

The big news this week was when a strange-bedfellows coalition of conservatives and progressive democrats voted to deny President Obama fast track authority for the TPP. Thus the New World Order of transnational corporations hit a small snag in their journey to legalize their current de facto hegemony over nation states and citizens under color of law.

The House voted 302 to 126 to sink a measure to grant financial aid to displaced workers, fracturing hopes at the White House that Congress would grant Obama fast-track trade authority to complete an accord with 11 other Pacific Rim nations."I will be voting to slow down fast-track," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on the floor moments before the vote, after keeping her intentions private for months. "Today we have an opportunity to slow down. Whatever the deal is with other countries, we want a better deal for American workers."

Sure she does, and sure they do. Whatever their motivations, I'll take it, as someone unalterably opposed to the TPP, along with legislation-by-lobbyist, secret deals done in secret, and clandestine negotiations held away from the disinfecting power of sunlight.  Now comes the whores-trading. Be certain that this weekend the lobbyists have earned their steak and lobster dinners, as round after round of wheedling ensues in Jerusalem on the Potomac. 

TAA/TPP was stalled by a huge number of phone calls from angry constituents spluutering with outrage– Outrage, I say! — to staffers in Congressional offices. There is a politics of a changed conversation afoot in this country, in the wake the financial collapse of 2008, and of OWS in 2011– that signals that the winds of political will do not only blow in one direction. Charlie Pierce:

There now is a legitimate progressive power base within the Democratic party that no longer takes the prerogatives of the corporate class as inviolable, and that must be considered seriously by any Democratic president and by any Democratic politician… This is not a failure of presidential leadership. It's the assertion of political power from another direction. If that unnerves the Green Room consensus, that's too bad. The president got a bad beat, not because he is a bad president, but because, on this issue, on this Friday afternoon, he found himself trying to sell something to a constituency that has changed. 

 

The fact is that pro-trade Democrats have been eclipsed by the anti-corporate wing of the party, which has been on the rise since 2008. It also exposed the weakening hand of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who reportedly had been whipping for days to support the president’s agenda, only to throw in with the rank-and-file rebellion at the last minute, ostensibly the better to retain some cred. The fate of this monstrous trade legislation now depends on Obama’s ability, along with business-friendly interests, to twist arms, cajole and/or bribe dozens of Democrats to switch their votes before next week. Apparently the sides are going to line up and scrimmage again next Tuesday. Meanwhile, discuss among yourselves wither John Boehner or Nancy Pelosi has the biggest set of balls in the room.


Neocons Erect:  The First 450 Soldiers On Their Way Back to Iraq



I am old enough to have seen this movie before:  faced with intransigent guerrilla warfare, an American president decides to send  in four hundred or so "advisors," the better to train the locals in in the fine arts and techniques of counterinsurgency, then follow that up with AC-47-loads of all the boodle that emerges from the cornucopia of the arms manufacturers. .  


This time the American president is not John F Kennedy, but Barack "Don't do stupid stuff" Obama. The NYT reports on the latest excursions of Empire. For which you continue to foot the bill for with your children's futures…

President Obama is open to expanding the American military footprint in Iraq with a network of bases and possibly hundreds of additional troops to support Iraqi security forces in their fight against the Islamic State, White House officials said on Thursday.

For Mr. Obama, who has long resisted being drawn into another ground war since pulling out all forces in 2011, the latest developments represented another incremental step back into a sectarian conflict he had once hoped to be done with by the time he left office. Supporters of a more robust effort against the Islamic State called it a welcome if inadequate step to make good on the White House’s vow to defeat the Islamic State, while critics warned of sliding into a broader, bloodier and ultimately ineffective campaign.

For a President working on his legacy, this represents a leaden step. Meanwhile war profiteers cheered. (For an interesting but unrelated story of war profiteering and how it works, for the so-called Big 5 and especially for the legions of contractors, see Isaac Faber here.)

 


Justice of a sort

By now, the story of the pool party in Mckinney Texas, the police overreaction, the termination of the officer involved and the bleats of outrage have all become part of the national conversation. And in the wake of all that, this datum as a coda:

  

After a video of a 15 year old African-American teen being slammed into the ground by McKinney Police Officer Eric Casebolt went viral last weekend, a twitter campaign was launched to identify the woman involved in the fight that led to police being called.  Tracey Carver-Allbritton has now been placed on administrative leave by her employer, CoreLogic Inc., a  major financial data and analytics firm closely aligned with Bank of America.

Ms. Carver-Allbritton is demonstrably a racist and should certainly be held legally responsible for her actions, as should any adult who picks a fight with underaged minors. Yet I have certain-to-be unpopular misgivings about her losing her job as a result of this action, as I did for obvious racist and overall lout Donald Sterling being obliged to sell his basketball team as a result of the contents of a conversation illegally recorded and obtained. The end does not always justify the means. Because we all have to live with the implications of what the means… means. Fruit of the poisoned tree, and all that.
 


National Petroleum Radio: America's Next Economic Boom Could Be Lying Underground

From time to time, I find myself in arguments with well-intentioned liberal friends who argue that National Public Radio is not part of the mainstream media. This is risible, inasmuch as I have firsthand knowledge of the politics and the pressures brought to bear on public media enterprises. I toiled for a time in the management precincts of local public television and radio, and have seen how the system works– or doesn't. Public media has found itself increasingly reliant upon corporate funds which to stretch the modicum of funding provided from government sources, which typically just enough to pay the programming bills. So both stations and producing entities turn to the people with the money, who, as you will see in the media from time to time, exert editorial control over projects. The much ballyhooed documentary, "Citizen Koch" never saw the light of day as a result of meddling by you know who.

Likewise, I know firsthand how the local chief executive officer spiked  "Counterspin," the only show that held the media to account, produced by "Fairness and Accuracy in Media." FAIR is the national progressive media watchdog group, challenging corporate media bias, spin and misinformation. "Counterspin" corrects the prevalent bias. The CEO attempted to explain himself in a public forum and found his justifications poorly received and shouted down. What was never made clear was who forced his hand, and why.

All of which we are supposed to blissfully ignore and go on our merry way, continuing to drink from a poison trough. With that background in mind, let's bring this week's monstrosity, courtesy of your tax supported local public media and NPR: wholly in thrall to fracking interests, shale oil is a boom, they say. Harvard economist Michael Porter's new report is exciting, they say, using all the breathless adjectives and adverbs available to a fresh crop of marketing interns. Porter's report is duly excited

about the deep reserves of natural gas and oil that have been made accessible by hydraulic fracturing technology, or fracking — a boon he examines in detail in a new report.

"It is a game changer," Porter says. "We have estimated that already, this is generating a substantial part of our GDP in America. It's at least as big as the state of Ohio. We've added a whole new major state, top-10 state, to our economy."

Woo-hoo! Holy 2012, Batman! Happy days are here again! Perhaps budget cuts at NPR news has meant they don't consult industry reports or the financials. The NPR report fails to mention the shuttering of wells and the thousands of layoffs in the oilfields and in related support industries. Or the worldwide low price of oil, which has become so cheap that many companies have stopped drilling. The sad truth is that the shale oil boom is actually already over. Tom Lewis has the sobering details at his blog, The Daily Impact:

It comes now from the US Energy Information Agency, and is headlined by Bloomberg Business, so yes, it’s official. As Bloomberg put it, “US Shale Boom Grinds to a Halt.” Which, actually, is overstating the case by a good bit, there isn’t going to be a “halt.” Nevertheless, as sane people everywhere have been insisting for years, the shale boom is, as it always was going to be, a bust.

This — now official — assessment is in the form of a set of projections by the EIA, which, we should remember, has pretty consistently been overly optimistic in its assessment of the oil business. Remember, they were the folks who estimated that the Monterey Shale in California held 14 billion barrels of recoverable reserves — two-third of America’s total oil wealth — until they ran the numbers again and re-estimated the Monterey at 96% lower.

 

This shale oil boom  has always been a classic American hustle, designed to coax capital out of investors with the promise of liquid gold in them thar shales. Rig counts have been dropping for 26 straight weeks, since the world price for crude bottomed out late last year. 67% of US rigs have been taken out of service.  Don't believe me; do your own due diligence.  But remember this story the next time your local public radio station goes on the air begging for funds, or when a friend cites an NPR report as proof of the veracity of some story. Bet them a tote bag they're wrong.

 


Food Banks In New York Are Running Out Of Food

 Here's one of the most depressing stories that moved last week.

Welcome to the Recovery! Food banks across the US state of New York are running out of food (37% of food pantries say they have had to turn away needy people because they ran out of food), amid falling funds and rising demand from people that have trouble affording food. About 2.6 million people have trouble affording food across New York with about 1.4 million New York City residents relying on food pantries to feed themselves, according to the Food Bank For New York City. But as PressTV reports, contrary to the belief that people visiting food pantries are homeless and jobless, most customers are employed, but are not paid enough money to put food on the table without help.

This is a point worth repeating: people using food banks are working people, people who have jobs, people who get up the same way you do, pull on their trousers or slacks, and go put in their 40 to 60 hours, but are still unable to feed themselves and meet their other obligations. You may find yourself asking, "Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?  Or even, is there no Congress?" Oh yes, Congress has noted well their plight. As Joshua Krause via The Daily Sheeple notes,

Despite the media’s claims that we’re no longer in a recession, millions of Americans are still struggling to make ends meet. It seems that America has developed a permanent underclass of citizens that just can’t quite rise above their poverty. No matter how high home prices rise or how far the stock market soars, the profits never seem to trickle down to this segment of society.
 
If you’re looking for proof that this permanent underclass exists, look no further than the massive number of people who still rely on food stamps and food pantries to survive. In fact, their ranks may be growing, which is starting to cause some food pantries to run out of resources on a regular basis. In New York City, 1.4 million residents eat at food pantries (out of a total population of 8.5 million), a number which is currently growing 20% every year.
 
The largest influx of food bank users occurred in 2013, when Congress cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by $18 per person. Since that time, 40% of food stamp users have had to turn to food banks to sustain themselves, and 37% of food banks in New York City have admitted that they have turned away hungry residents in recent years, after running out of food.

Meanwhile, televangelists like Kenneth Copeland, Joel Osteen, and Creflo Dollar preach the Gospel of Prosperity to some of the largest congregations in the country, and host television programs that seem to air continously. One recalls the Bible's shortest verse: "Jesus wept."

 


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, articles and spittle-flecked invective on this site, and quit barking and got off the porch long enough to be active in the Occupy movement. He shares a home in Southeastern Virginia with his new bride Contrary in the triumph of hope over experience.

Intimations of Mortality

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freda blackboard

Artwork: Anthony Freda

Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on April 5, 2014

 

“Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde;  And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”

― John Donne  


It was a milestone week. I turned 65. Like many, I never thought I would reach this age. Yet this very week I learned that several childhood friends did not. Three have passed this year, two of whom played significant roles in my early life and then drifted away, like we do.

Allow me to beg your indulgence from taking the pulse of doom to indulge a few personal observations.

We children of Happy Motoring, were raised on the Flintstones and the Cleavers as a vision of family life, and on the Jetsons as a vision of a cornucopian future. As the son of an electrician and a homemaker, I was raised on trade union Democrats values– economically liberal, socially conservative,  and expected that I would somehow take my place in a world much like theirs. Uh, no. By the time I left college, that world that no longer existed.

During my lifetime it’s all changed– the New Deal social contract has been rescinded, and the prescription, we’re told, is austerity for workers and tax breaks for corporations and the one per cent.  In the 1960s a single earner could pay the rent or mortgage, clothe and feed a family, buy a car and maybe have a little left over for a vacation. Now two earner (or more) households have become the norm,  and the vast majority of paychecks yield far less earning power than that of a union electrician in 1965.

I recall a lesson from fifth grade.  We learned about the “melting pot,” complete with an illustration of people of all nationalities and races happily jumping into a pot to make soup. The point being we were a nation of immigrants, bonded together in the notion that, “out of many, one:” E Pluribus Unum.  Today armed, angry white men patrol the southern borders in search of brown faces without papers. A nation built on immigrants no longer welcomes immigrants, unless they bring an independent fortune or skills favored industries need.

I was the second of my family to enter college, and my luck to enroll during the height of Vietnam. I went in patriotic, full of received wisdom and civic virtue,  and enrolled in ROTC, earned a scholarship and was prepared to enter the Regular Army as an officer. Then came the USS Pueblo incident, and then My Lai. Those episodes shattered closely held beliefs and preconceptions. At once, my college experience transformed from 13th and 14th grade to learning how to think, perhaps for the first time. What, you mean our government would leave Lloyd Bucher and those sailors to rot in a North Korean prison? What, you mean kids like me uncritically murder Asian women and children? What, we’re not the good guys? I began to question everything that I had been taught, and from there, everything changed.

On reaching adulthood and employment in which the demands were on mind rather than body, my style would be to work hard, play harder and cram as much as possible into what would doubtless be a few short years. To the surprise of all, those stretched on. My MO was that while I might not be the brightest or most talented, I was a grinder who would succeed through sheer dint of effort and persistence. 80 hour weeks punctuated with long evenings of riotous relief, and, uh, excess? A way of life. For a while.

It took many years to realize that what I did was not who I was. There were victories; and there were losses.

The losses give you perspective, and remind that the bell eventually tolls for all of us.

And with that ringing in my ears, I now approach the final laps of a career in media, including photography, video, film and writing. A time to think of What’s It All Been About, and What Have I Learned Along the Way? Having made every possible mistake along the way, committed every sin short of murder, and been slow to learn from experience, repeating most mistakes several times, a few simple principles  have emerged:

1) Kindness. Always be kind.   Easy to lose track of when we are young and on the make, in competition with others and serving those all-important ego needs. We get sucked–or leap– into the matrix and forget what’s really important, which are relationships.

2) Don’t criticize, condemn or complain. Dale Carnegie makes this his first rule of human relations. In college I played interior line, and wrestled. My job was to knock other people down.  After a while the workplace, as in life, one eventually begins to learn that not every adversary needs knocking down, and not every obstacle is an adversary- some are opportunities. Some learn this essential truth later rather than earlier.  It’s amazing how relationships change when you stop being critical of others, and thus engage their own self protective mechanisms. Duh.

3)  Live in the Present. In my 20s, I encountered a slender tome by Baba Ram Dass  entitled, “Be Here Now.”  As I recall, it was about the importance of being fully present in the here and now.  It resonated. How many of us spend time rehashing old wounds, or worrying about the future? There is a reason that the “Recitation of the Grievances” made famous by Jerry Stiller’s Festivus celebration on Seinfeld was so funny– because it’s so true.  Whenever I return home, I become 15 again as my 86 year old mother opens a trunk full of 60-year-old grievances. Was it Voltaire who said, “My life is been filled with one catastrophe after another, most of which never occurred?”  We spend a lot of time worrying about uncertainties, when the effort is better placed on creating a desired reality.


So we Boomers came of age and enjoyed the blessings of cheap energy and a dollar backed by nukes and military force. Now the energy is getting more dear, harder to extract and the dollar is closer than ever to losing reserve status, all at a time when good jobs remain hard to find.

My life has been modest in material terms, but has been enough. Enough to enjoy a working class standard of living, a decent home and raise a daughter.  It’s a life I’ve chosen, with no apologies or excuses. What brings me to the Diner each day is the realization that it’s all doomed,  and I will miss it when it’s all gone.  Between the neocons eager to fight World War III down to the last drop of your grandchildren’s blood,  and the crony capitalists and their bankster allies  determined to bleed the last drops of wealth out of the near empty husk of what used to be America’s middle class, it appears that those at the top of the pyramid have determined that the world needs to shed about 6 billion “useless eaters” and redundant population.  What do corporations do when they have excess workforce? They lay them off.

Prepare to be “laid off.”


 

The clouds that gather round the setting sun
Do take a sober colouring from an eye
That hath kept watch o’er man’s mortality;
Another race hath been, and other palms are won.
Thanks to the human heart by which we live, 
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

                                                 —Wordsworth, Intimations of Immortality


 

People aren’t stupid. Most people, from urban liberals to country rednecks, can sniff the zeitgeist.   “Survivalists” have been around since the 70s. Nowadays, more people are turning to “prepping”, including many on the far right, who have repaired to fortified compounds in Idaho, etc., the better to wait out the zombie hordes and/or the black helicopters. (Bracing, is it not, to think that the Mormons will be the subset of Americans best positioned to transition through the Zero Point?)

Karma is a bitch. If one reaps what one sows, our portion today is the inevitable bitter harvest of decades of government lies and perfidy, from the Warren Commission’s “magic bullet” to the 9/11 cover story to the lack of faith in the very function of government due to corporate capture.  People are sick of being lied to; people are sick of seeing their unresponsive government toady to lobbyists, while ignoring the needs of ordinary citizens. So they’re planning for it all to end, and quite literally taking matters into their own hands for when it does.

One of the great blessings of my dotage is having found the woman that shares my home and life.  I met Contrary quite literally in the streets during the height of Occupy.  Casual conversation developed into a friendship that then exploded into something quite unexpected.  Had anyone told me that I would be getting married after decades of living as a single man, I would have doubled down on that action and covered all I could get.  Well. Surprise, surprise. I now live with my best friend, confidant and a veritable Scheherazade, a wellspring of both stories and common fucking sense.

As a child, my grandmother had ice delivered by horsedrawn dray, and lived to see man land on the moon and the end of the Soviet Union. Considering my own lifetime, in which cheap energy draws to a close, I can see our current mode of living will not survive our generation. We have been reduced to a “precariat,” a term used by that servant of hell Alan Greenspan.  Prospects for our young people of gone from bad to worse.  Our grandchildren will shake their heads in disbelief when they hear stories about the way their parents used to live.  When the dollar loses reserve status, the American lifestyle will be reduced to that of the average Croatian today; couple that with the significant and increasing likelihoods of environmental collapse, water shortages or nuke plant meltdowns, and the prospects darken even more. The good news is that the holders of real wealth, those who own property, metals, real assets will survive substantially intact. The only people who will suffer are those who are paid in, save or spend dollars, and who piss away their earnings on luxuries like food, rent, heat, and medicines.

So near the end of it all, it looks as if we’re at the end of it all. Makes a fellow wistful. What matters is that we make such common cause as we can, treat one another as well as we are able, and greet uncertainty with grace and dignity.  And be grateful that that bell has not yet tolled, and that the grave has not yet opened for that dirt nap.


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, articles and spittle-flecked invective on this site, and quit barking and got off the porch long enough to be active in the Occupy movement. He shares a home in Southeastern Virginia with his new bride Contrary in a triumph of hope over experience, and is grateful that he is not yet taking a dirt nap.

Net Neutrality Redux

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Photograph by Mark Wilson — Getty Images

Photograph by Mark Wilson — Getty Images

 

Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on March 22, 2015

“…In theory, “Net Neutrality” sounds great. As I understand it, the idea here is that everybody, from Individual Doomers like me to big Content Distributors like Netflix are all on the same playing field, all with equal opportunity for bandwidth… to distribute your content on the net. While certainly there are a lot of issues as far as Political Spin is concerned and Da Goobermint would like to Muzzle annoying websites like the Diner, the real underlying battle here is as usual, all about the MONEY.”

–Reverse Engineer, March 4, 2015


As it is ever, and always.  Several weeks ago my friend and colleague RE  composed a Rant on net neutrality, from which the above quote is taken.  Several weeks later, the dust has begun to settle, and we have a better idea of what the FCC ruling means.  Lawsuits plus the beginning of the Telecom Lawyers Full Employment Act of 2015.

Who doesn’t like the idea of a unfettered internet? The FCC finally got assertive in protecting the open web, which we agitators feel flush with victory. The idea that the Internet should be operated like a public road carrying all traffic ,with no discrimination against and no favor towards any traveler, seems unarguable. But what truly frosts the ISPs and big telecom is the notion that the Internet is a “public good,” and thus should be regulated like other public utilities, like electricity, gas or water. That, and the notion that ISPs can’t sell faster access to businesses willing to pay, which they argue stifles “innovation and legitimate commercial activity. Should a hospital system not be able to pay a fee in order to provide top tier medical information at a distance that might save lives? Right now that data competes for space with Uncle Dirty’s hot porn downloads.

So what did the FCC ruling actually state?  Shelly Palmer is an industry analyst who publishes a daily newsletter and is a pretty keen observer of technology trends.  Here’s his assessment:

The Noble Idea

  • No blocking. If a consumer requests access to a website or service, and the content is legal, your ISP should not be permitted to block it. That way, every player — not just those commercially affiliated with an ISP — gets a fair shot at your business.
  • No throttling. Nor should ISPs be able to intentionally slow down some content or speed up others — through a process often called “throttling” — based on the type of service or your ISP’s preferences.
  • Increased transparency. The connection between consumers and ISPs — the so-called “last mile” — is not the only place some sites might get special treatment. So, I am also asking the FCC to make full use of the transparency authorities the court recently upheld, and if necessary to apply net neutrality rules to points of interconnection between the ISP and the rest of the Internet.
  • No paid prioritization. Simply put: No service should be stuck in a “slow lane” because it does not pay a fee. That kind of gatekeeping would undermine the level playing field essential to the Internet’s growth.

Cometh the promised lawsuits.  It may well be that one of the reasons that ISPs so loathe Title II regulation is an implication tied to the potential “last mile” requirements. See below.

But before that, Shelly Palmer puts on his sorting hat to declare winners and losers:

Winners

President Obama and Net Neutrality Activists.  Philosophically, this group is looking for a government regulated “free and open Internet.”  

Netflix and every other content provider – the goal of this regulation is to ensure that Comcast does not favor delivery of its own content over competitive content such as Netflix. 

Municipally Owned Broadband Systems, residents of those municipalities, specifically the good people of North Carolina and Tennessee.  As it turns out, ISPs and cable companies in these states have been using arcane regulations to prevent certain municipalities from building their own broadband networks.  While this could have been dealt with without regulating all ISPs in the US, Title II takes care of it nicely.

Amazon, Dropbox, Ebay, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Reddit, Tumblr, Twitter, Vonage Holdings Corp., Yahoo! Inc, and about 150 other companies that signed this letter in favor of Net Neutrality.  Less friction for consumers means better business for big tech.  

Lawyers, especially attorneys for… well, just about everybody involved.

Losers 

Big ISPs and wireless carriers such as Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, etc.  The bigger you are, the unhappier this makes you.

Alcatel-Lucent, Broadcom, Cisco, Corning, Ericsson, IBM, Intel, Nokia Solutions and Networks, Panasonic Corporation of North America, Qualcomm and 50+ other tech companies who signed this letter against Title II.

As noted, most Telecoms have come out opposed to Title II– and it goes beyond Verizon’s “morse code” snark.

Verizon’s snarky press release

 

In case you missed it, in the wake of the FCC ruling, Verizon released a vituperative dissent. Spitting mad, Verizon dated its press release 1934 (the year the Communications Act was passed) to make the point that the FCC was taking us back in time.

Verizon was intent on making the point that Title II regs are a “net loss for innovation and consumers.”  Of course, this is the same Verizon who has fulsomely used Title II to its benefit, both as a carrier for wireline telephone and mobile voice networks, and to help build its fiber network, which carries the FiOS bundle phone, TV, and Internet service. (Which, by the way, tends to be installed only in high-value neighborhoods.) And yes indeed, the very same Verizon that in 2012 claimed that net neutrality violates its First and Fifth Amendment rights.

So pardon us if we are largely unmoved by Verizon having a big hot sad over the “trampling” of its “rights.” And pardon us if we find ourselves a wee bit suspicious that “innovation” translates to new and innovative ways to separate J6P from his hard earned FRNs, by metering favored (meaning baksheesh-paying) content and shunting alt-news blogs like your favorite Doomstead tipsheet off to digital Siberia.


The more I look into this the more complicated the issue gets, and depending upon the way you squint, in some ways it’s not the usual Manichean view of Big Telecom versus the peasants. Broadband providers have a need to parse their data streams and continue to optimize for efficiencies. As long as this doesn’t affect the end user, no problem, right?  But “net neutrality” is not likely to prove to be enough by itself. The experience of most of us with our internet provision is that it is both slow and shitty. Making it otherwise comes down to investment in “last mile” physical plant, investment which telecoms are loath to make. (See below.)

As we said, this gets complicated. Simplification or comparison by analogy does little to promote understanding of complicated underlying technical  issues. (For a good analysis, see The net neutrality debate and underlying dynamics: Research perspectives which provides a clear and unbiased view.) Verizon and other ISPs have an absolute need to do “reasonable network management” to keep data and content flowing in the most efficient way possible. It’s just good business. Tech companies like ISPs are always parsing bandwidth in the hopes of reclaiming and reusing it. Yet what the ISPs really want is

to have more control over traffic and be able to create faster Internet lanes. Some companies assert that net neutrality requirements are unconstitutional, and their elimination will create more business opportunities. Supporters of the network neutrality principle disagree.

Yet business does not enhance its case by acting as “toll takers,” in the words of Tim Berners-Lee.  Alan Murray, editor of Fortune magazine puts it thus:

But as an economic matter, I don’t see why broadband providers should be denied the pricing flexibility allowed airlines or Uber or others. While the government has fair reason to worry about the duopoly that dominates broadband service to homes, rapidly expanding wireless services—not to mention efforts like Google’s to provide broadband by hot-air balloons—suggest this is still fertile ground for innovation. Treating broadband providers as dumb pipes, of the sort contemplated by lawmakers when they regulated telecommunications more than 80 years ago, could throttle that innovation.

Our cynicism derives from the fact that so often, “innovation”  translates directly to the ability to innovate ways to separate users from cash.


Is the Internet a public good?  The Internet has become indispensable to public life, having arguably replaced  the mail man, phone company, TV tuner, record/CD player, catalog, book store, fax machine, DVD player, Maxim subscription,  et al. (We’ve already seen how the modifier “public” has roused the worst and least from their cages– more below.) The FCC Title II decision represents a defense of the very notion of a “public good” much out of character from these deregulatory times. Since the days of St. Reagan, the privatizers have been out in force seizing parts of the public infrastructure and selling them off for parts, in the absence of the ability to otherwise turn sufficient profit to slake the thirst of the sacred shareholders.  Therefore, any assertion of  “public” anything is anathema to the lickspittle servants of the 1%, who have been busy indeed.  It didn’t take long for this creature to come scuttling out from under her rock:

Republicans’ “Internet Freedom Act” would wipe out net neutrality: Internet providers need the freedom to block and throttle Internet traffic.

US Politicians are quite a bargain these days, and can be had for a song. $80,000 buys Telecom giants a bill that will allow them to decide what you can see on the internet.

US Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) this week filed legislation she calls the “Internet Freedom Act” to overturn the Federal Communications Commission’s new network neutrality rules.

The FCC’s neutrality rules prohibit Internet service providers from blocking or throttling Internet traffic, prohibit prioritization of traffic in exchange for payment, and require the ISPs to disclose network management practices.

Rules anathema to your ISP.

These rules “shall have no force or effect, and the Commission may not reissue such rule in substantially the same form, or issue a new rule that is substantially the same as such rule, unless the reissued or new rule is specifically authorized by a law enacted after the date of the enactment of this Act,” the Internet Freedom Act states.

The legislation has 31 Republican cosponsors.

The following is one of the most dishonest statements made by any public official, at any time, in the post-Orwell period, made by one of the industry’s hired lackeys:

“Once the federal government establishes a foothold into managing how Internet service providers run their networks they will essentially be deciding which content goes first, second, third, or not at all,” Blackburn said in an announcement yesterday. “My legislation will put the brakes on this FCC overreach and protect our innovators from these job-killing regulations.”

In the latest election cycle, Blackburn received $25,000 from an AT&T political action committee (PAC), $20,000 from a Comcast PAC, $20,000 from a cable industry association PAC, and $15,000 from a Verizon PAC,according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

One marvels that she peddled herself so cheaply. But a good bargain for the industry.


Well in spite of all this back and forth, my internet is going to get better with unrestrained access guaranteed by Title II, yes?

Not so fast, Sparky.

Why your internet is so shitty?

Adam Clark Estes penned this remarkable piece which describes the plumbing of the internet in as clear and precise prose as I’ve enver seen. First he makes this statement which is probably shared by many of us:

You may have heard that the internet is winning: net neutrality was saved, broadband was redefined to encourage higher speeds, and the dreaded Comcast-Time Warner Cable megamerger potentially thwarted. But the harsh reality is that America’s internet is still fundamentally broken, and there’s no easy fix.

Estes makes the point that “in order to comprehend just how broken internet service is, you first have to understand how the physical infrastructure of the internet works,” which most of us would just as soon avoid, lest our hair burst into flames. Yet fear not, you’re in the hands of a sure-footed guide.

Former Gizmodo contributor Andrew Blum described the underlying infrastructure wonderfully his book about the physical heart of the internet, Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet:

In the basest terms, the internet is made of pulses of light. Those pulses might seem miraculous, but they’re not magic. They are produced by powerful lasers contained in steel boxes housed (predominantly) in unmarked buildings. The lasers exist. The boxes exist. The internet exists…

He explains the Tier 1 and Tier 2 parts of the internet, which I will not. Enjoy his splendidly written article, which you should bookmark. Suffice it to say that the internet rides on light as your online version of Gentleman’s Bathroom Companion makes its way from Bangkok to Boston. It’s when it gets to the “last mile,” into your home and onto your tablet, that things get creaky:

Most of America’s telecommunications infrastructure relies on outdated technology, and it runs over the same copper cables invented by Alexander Graham Bell over 100 years ago. This copper infrastructure—made up of “twisted pair” and coaxial cables—was originally designed to carry telephone and video services. The internet wasn’t built to handle streaming video or audio.

When your streaming video reaches that troubled last mile of copper, those packets will slam on their brakes as they transition from fiber optic cables to copper coaxial cables. Copper can only carry so much bandwidth, far less than what the modern internet demands. Only fiber optic cables, thick twists of ultra-thin glass or plastic filaments that allow data to travel at the speed of light, can handle that bandwidth. They’re also both easier to maintain and more secure than copper.

As consumers demand more bandwidth for things like streaming HD movies, carriers must augment their networks—upgrade hardware, lay more fiber, hire more engineers, etc.—to keep traffic moving freely between them. But that costs big money—like, billions of dollars in some cases. Imagine the cost of swapping out the coaxial cables in every American home with fiber optic cables. It’s thousands of dollars per mile according to some government records.

And here’s the kicker. The last mile infrastructure is controlled by an oligarchy—three big cable companies: Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon. You know this well. One in three Americans only have one choice for broadband service; most of the others only have two internet providers to choose from.

And Big Telecom likes it that way. Without competition, there’s no incentive for internet providers to improve last-mile infrastructure. The obsolete and already-paid for infrastructure of Big Telecom creates a last mile bottleneck, for which your ISP can charge you exorbitant prices for sub-par service. Part of Big Telecom’s dismay at the FCC’s Title II ruling  is, perhaps, against the possibility that some future interpretation of the “public good” will oblige them to fix the shitty “last mile.” The horror… the horror. Thus they all plan to sue the FCC over Title II to defend their monopoly, and trot out hired gunsels like Blackburn and Teddy Cruz to call it, “Obamacare for the Internet.”

Look for telecom apologists to argue that the industry ought not put another dollar into anything other than maintaining than current infrastructure, and should begin design and build a new and better network with a new business model that would bypass the FCC.  Look for those quite content with having non-elected jurists create new law through Supreme Court rulings to carp that  that “Net Neutrality will Kill the Web with Government Regulation through the Non Elected Regulatory Body known as the FCC.”

With apologies to H. Rap Brown, like violence, hypocrisy is as American as cherry pie.


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, articles and spittle-flecked invective on this site, and quit barking and got off the porch long enough to be active in the Occupy movement. He shares a home in Southeastern Virginia with his new bride Contrary in a triumph of hope over experience, and is grateful that he is not yet taking a dirt nap.

This Week in Doom, March 1, 2015

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‘The real danger in allowing practices like Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib is the fact that they always creep into other aspects,’ criminologist Tracy Siska told the Guardian. Photograph: Chandler West/Guardian

‘The real danger in allowing practices like Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib is the fact that they always creep into other aspects,’ criminologist Tracy Siska told the Guardian. Photograph: Chandler West/Guardian

Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on March 1, 2015

In 1951, a young William F. Buckley, Jr. articulated a strategy for opposing the consensus that supported New Deal policies. Buckley’s “God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of ‘Academic Freedom’” was a sophomoric diatribe by the Catholic son of a wealthy oil magnate, published by the small right-wing Regnery Press. In it, Buckley rejected the principles that had enabled social progress for centuries and laid out a mind-boggling premise: The Enlightenment, the intellectual basis of Western Civilization, was wrong.

That …thinkers must stand firm on what he called a new “value orthodoxy” that indoctrinated people to understand that Christianity and economic individualism were absolute truths. Maintaining that faith in reasoned debate was a worse “superstition” than the Enlightenment had set out to replace, Buckley launched an intellectual war to replace the principle of academic inquiry with a Christian and individualist ideology.”

― Heather Cox Richardson, in Salon


The watchword for today is “peak duplicity.” Everywhere we turn for news or information, we encounter lies and deception. And as we see above quote, it has an extensive pedigree.

It is become axiomatic among left and right that the “lame-stream media” is less than useless, stenographers to power and jammed full of eager, freshfaced sucklings only too eager to oblige their CIA – vetted and planted editors in the career-building enterprise of sticking a shiv in truth’s back.  And even alternative sites are often rife with disinformation; some seem to exist solely to seed confusion, the better to convince skeptics that rejection of the received wisdom is the stuff of nutcases.

This inability to trust traditional sources of information is made even more critical by the decades-long right-wing assault on science, reasoned debate, and the truth.  Recall the recent flap that arose when Scott Walker, the Koch brothers’ viceroy in Wisconsin, tucked a phrase into a budget bill that would change the mission statement of the University of Wisconsin from “Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth, ” to “meet the state’s workforce needs.” Scotty backtracked in the face of the resulting shitstorm and ill-timed national attention, what with an upcoming beauty contest at CPAC on his schedule. Walker claimed the new language was a “drafting error.”

This was no “drafting error,” and no mistake. As a recent article in Salon makes clear,  nothing offends the sensibilities of the conservative brain trust more than reasoned debate. That’s why they have mounted a war against the scientific method, reasoned debate, and the facts for the past 40+ years.

For two generations, Movement Conservatives have subverted American politics, with increasing success, by explicitly rejecting the principle of open debate based in reasoned argument. They have refused to engage with facts and instead simply demonized anyone who disagrees with their ideology. This is an astonishing position. It is an attack on the Enlightenment principles that gave rise to Western civilization.

Make no mistake: the attack is deliberate.

The ideals of rationality that arose in the wake of the Enlightenment, itself a reaction to the excesses and deprivations of the 30 years war in Europe, papal interference in politics, and the Holy Office (otherwise known as the Inquisition) revolutionized science, culture and politics, and gave rise to the modern world.  Movement conservatism has no use for any of that. Starting in the 50s with Buckley, and continuing in a line running through  McCarthy, Goldwater, Reagan, and too many Bushes,  not to mention the current bag of misfits currently found on the floor of the House of Representatives but better suited to a carnival tent,  the war on reason has been relentless. Facts, evidence, and reason conspire to argue for protection of workers, elevation of the common good, and regulation of industry, each anathema to business owners. Hence the big lie as we encounter it today, reinforced by hundreds and hundreds of little lies.  Let’s consider this week’s most egregious offenders.


Paid Climate-Change Skeptic Even More Corrupt Than Previously Thought

Those who frequent the Diner Forum and other places where climate change deniers are active often come face-to-face with the truth of Upton Sinclair’s famous quote, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

Many people in the extractive industries have a built in economic bias is to accepting the verdict of what most experts regard as settled science,  but then our conservative friends have had six years of continuous difficulty accepting the results of the last two presidential elections.

It comes as no surprise that the extractive industries have stood up their own policy and content shops to generate climate change denying reports, PowerPoint decks and other products of mischief.  You’d think they might be more deft at covering their tracks.

Ti-Hock “Willie” Soon, a favorite scientist of climate-change deniers for his theory attributing global warming to variations in the sun’s energy and not human activity, has accepted more than $1.2 million from the fossil-fuel industry in the last decade, the New York Times reports.

Soon’s corporate funding has been known for some time, but newly released documents, obtained by Greenpeace under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal just how close Soon is to the industry to which he lends his ostensibly objective support.

Corporate contributions, the Times reports, were pegged to specific papers: The documents show that Dr. Soon, in correspondence with his corporate funders, described many of his scientific papers as “deliverables” that he completed in exchange for their money. He used the same term to describe testimony he prepared for Congress.

Soon, a researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, received $335,000 from Exxon Mobil, $274,000 from the American Petroleum Institute, and $230,000 from the Charles G. Koch Foundation, the Guardian reports. The documents reportedly show that the Kochs and other donors used an anonymous trust to give Soon another $324,000.

Little surprise that when dirty deeds are done, Koch Brothers money is at the bottom of it.  Nearly $1 million of extractive industry money will buy a lot of “deliverables.”

Greenland ice melting at record speed

Meanwhile,  as the climate change deniers are stacking up deliverables, and those who conflate climate change with winter weather are saying, in effect, “climate change can’t be happening, because it’s cold where I am,”  (the moral equivalent of denying world hunger because I have food in my refrigerator) Greenland ice continues melting at record speed.

Scientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) in Bremerhaven mapping elevation changes of Greenlandic and Antarctic glaciers have found ice sheets are melting at record pace. Per year, the ice sheets dump some 500 cubic kilometers of ice into the oceans. The researchers say that compares to an ice sheet that’s 600 meters (1970 feet) thick and covers an area as big as the German city of Hamburg – or the Southeast Asian nation of Singapore.

The research team headed by Veit Helm used around two years’ worth of data from the ESA CryoSat-2 satellite to create digital elevation models of Greenland and Antarctica. 

Elevation maps of Greenland and Antarctica

Compared to data which was collected in 2009, the loss of mass from the Greenland ice sheet has doubled. The rate of ice discharge from the West Antarctic ice sheet tripled during the same period.

85 percent of Greenland is covered with ice – melting ice sheets contribute to rising sea levels

“If you combine the two, they are thinning at a rate of 500 cubic kilometers per year. That is the highest rate observed since altimetry satellite records began about 20 years ago,” said glaciologist Angelika Humbert, who co-authored the AWI study.

So if you “believe that faith in reasoned debate is a worse ‘superstition’ than the Enlightenment replaced,” there’s clearly nothing for you to see here. Carry on, and know that because of you, 30 to 40 percent of the area where humanity lives will be submerged by rising oceans within the next hundred years.

And I’ll see you in hell.



Illegal to be homeless’ in growing number of cities

It is not just the shock troops of an intellectual elite who lie to us, or a lazy and corrupt media. We lie to ourselves. We assert that we are a “Christian nation,” yet at the federal, state, as especially the local level, we enact policies that could not be less Christlike than if worship of Mammon were enacted by executive fiat.

Jesus is said to have uttered, “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40)

We insist that we are decent people; good neighbors; good and devoted friends;  honorable employees.  We content ourselves with comfortable myths about ourselves, yet we enact policies that if applied to us would result in instant and implacable outrage.

Despite a lack of affordable housing and emergency shelter, many of these communities are implementing laws that ban homeless residents from sitting or lying down in public, loitering, sleeping in vehicles, and begging for money or food.

“More cities are choosing to turn the necessary conduct of homeless people into criminal activity,” said Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP). The law center has tracked homelessness criminalization laws in 187 cities small and large since 2011.

During that time, city-wide bans on camping in public — which can include sleeping outside on the streets or in a tent — have increased 60%. The number of cities with laws prohibiting or restricting people from sitting or lying down in public has jumped by 43%, and bans on sleeping in vehicles have surged 119%. Meanwhile, laws prohibiting people from begging in public and loitering have climbed more than 20%.

And these laws are popping up even when people have few other options for survival, the NLCHP argues. In Santa Cruz, Calif., for example, sleeping in vehicles and camping, sitting or lying down in public, is criminalized — even though a local survey found that 83% of homeless people don’t have access to housing or shelter.

An article at Alternet describes laws meant to punish the homeless. “Beginning in the 1980s when the federal government slashed the affordable housing budget, cities have enacted thousands of laws to criminalize basic human needs such as resting, sleeping, standing, and sitting, as well as acts like panhandling and food sharing.”

In a society when politics equals racketeering, the only crime is to be poor, so we punish the most vulnerable among us?

WRAP (the Western Regional Advocacy Project, a network of homeless advocacy groups on the West Coast) found in an earlier report that between 1979 and 1983, federally funded affordable housing was cut by approximately $50 billion, an amount that has never been fully restored. With homelessness on the rise ever since, cities have resorted to criminalization to appease residents and businesses and to give the appearance of having solved the crisis.

“I grew up in San Diego where there’s a huge homeless population,” (Marina, a researcher for the project) Fisher said. “People would complain all the time to the police and government about, ‘I went downtown and there was a bunch of homeless people.’ So I think cities feel a lot of pressure to do something. It seems easier to say that you’re doing something by passing a law than investing millions of dollars in housing or counseling programs or retraining your police force to work differently. It’s shortsighted. And I think one of their hopes has been, that if they’re more restrictive than their neighbors, maybe they’ll push the homeless people out of their city and into neighboring cities, which at a state level doesn’t do anything; it’s counterproductive. But at a city level, it encourages a kind of race to the bottom.”

“Race to the bottom,” indeed.  It is at times like this that our thoughts turn to those least able to fend for themselves, at a time of bitter cold and hardship.  I live in a city in southeastern Virginia whose mayor famously proclaimed the objective “to end homelessness in Norfolk.”  One of our city’s more ballyhooed initiatives was to remove the benches in public parks, lest the homeless or poor be tempted to sit or lay down on them.  Overall, the city’s policy seems to be to send them across the river to Portsmouth, where they belong.

They were held incommunicado for much longer than I think should be permitted in this country – anywhere – but particularly given the strong constitutional rights afforded to people who are being charged with crimes,” said Sarah Gelsomino, the lawyer for Brian Jacob Church. Photograph: Phil Batta/Guardian

But my above question asked, “what kind of society are we?” Maybe THIS kind of society:

Chicago police detain Americans at abuse-laden ‘black site’

We seem to think that the evil done abroad in our name doesn’t really count, or doesn’t matter, or doesn’t really apply to us if we’re not aware of it.  Our foreign-policy has been hijacked by neocon fantasts who wish to set one group up against another in a stunning variety of foreign lands, arm both sides, then let them kill one another off so that we don’t have to. And we think that this cynical and depraved indifference to human life, coupled with drone warfare and other forms of “death from above” are excusable BAU as long as they result in obtaining OUR petroleum which happens to lie under THEIR sands.

Iraq proved a fertile proving ground for weaponry and techniques that have been brought home. We made much note of the sonic cannons, heat rays and other “nonlethal” means used for “crowd control,”  but this week made note of the fact that Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib have come home as well. In remarkable reporting, The Guardian broke the story of what is alleged as a “black site” in Chicago:

The Chicago police department operates an off-the-books interrogation compound, rendering Americans unable to be found by family or attorneys while locked inside what lawyers say is the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site.

Alleged police practices at Homan Square, according to those familiar with the facility who spoke out to the Guardian after its investigation into Chicago police abuse, include:

  • Keeping arrestees out of official booking databases.
  • Beating by police, resulting in head wounds.
  • Shackling for prolonged periods.
  • Denying attorneys access to the “secure” facility.
  • Holding people without legal counsel for between 12 and 24 hours, including people as young as 15.

At least one man was found unresponsive in a Homan Square “interview room” and later pronounced dead.

This is an article well worth reading. See the rest of the Guardian’s reporting on this, with updates here. For those who think that, in the words of the late Frank Zappa, “it can’t happen here,”  it already has.   For those who have found themselves in the streets protesting the policies of Empire and its associated costs, little here will surprise. The brutality shown to Occupy during many local police encounters is well-known.  But kidnapping, indefinite detention, and the like occur in large measure because we have become accustomed to denying the truth.   If we don’t vote, if we accept repressive measures like the National Defense Authorization Act without so much as a bleat of complaint, we ought not be surprised when Chicago law enforcement turns into the Argentine junta.

As noted above, our politics depends in large measure on denying the truth,  and turning logic and reason on their head. And it has happened because we always prefer a comforting fiction to the unpleasant truth. It’s Morning in America™…


 

banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, articles and spittle-flecked invective on this site, and quit barking and got off the porch long enough to be active in the Occupy movement. He shares a home in Southeastern Virginia with his new bride Contrary in a triumph of hope over experience, and is grateful that he is not yet taking a dirt nap.

This Week in Doom Feb. 15, 2015

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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on February 16, 2015


“We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object, and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first.”

– Charles Mackay


In  Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds published in 1841, Charles Mackay identified a common thread of individual and collective idiocy running through past fads such as alchemy, witchhunts, prophecies, fortune-telling, magnetizers, phrenology, poisoning, the admiration of thieves, the imputation of mystic powers to relics, haunted houses, crusades – and financial bubbles.

Ostensibly Mackay wrote his book with a 19th-century sense of confidence that such superstitions had been consigned to the ashheap of history by intelligence, experience and the habits of mind honed by the enlightenment. He observed that men think in herds and go mad in herds, and “only recover their senses slowly one by one.” For the most part, he has been proven right. Intelligent people typically do not invest faith in obvious superstitions like alchemy, ghosts, fortune-telling, witchcraft or crusades. Unless you count those little adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. (And Iraq again, as President BHO makes the Klown Kar Kongress an offer they will have trouble refusing.)

Today we sophisticates look down our collective noses at the bubble blowers of the past,  and view those of the Mississippi Company, South Sea Company and  the Tulip mania as aberrations of simpler less sophisticated folk. Today, resistant to superstition, we cling to the rabbit’s foot of denial for man’s responsibility for climate change, and take the knee toward the totem that central banks can relieve an unpayable global debt with more debt.

Mackay writes of a Parisian hunchback who supposedly profited by renting out his hump as a writing desk during the height of the Mississippi Company mania. Lean up against my hump and consider the latest evidences of our surrender to the embrace of comfortable superstitions.


Peak Water?

A sign (in black) that reads “Tap without Water” is seen inside an ice-cream shop at the Pinheiros neighbourhood in Sao Paulo February 10, 2015.

 Climate change is no hypothetical to the residents of São Paulo, Brazil, currently in the grips of an historic 80 year drought.

The reason for the drought is complicated: a mix of climate change, Amazonian deforestation, water mismanagement and Pereira’s theory that the massive expansion of cities like Sao Paulo with very little green spaces left has created a kind of heat island which sucks up moisture. That, Pereira says, actually diverts water from the surrounding countryside where the reservoirs are. He says he fears a future where there will be riots over water.

The Cantaeira reservoir system provides half Sao Paulo’s drinking water. It’s now down to only 6 percent of capacity.

Other regions are also affected, and soaring food prices leave many struggling to adapt. Many report having no water every day from 12 midday to 8 a.m.  Last year, Brazil famously hosted the World Cup, an effort that displaced other priorities, deferring action on what is now an environmental  disaster.

According to one report, Brazilians have already begun to create strategies to deal with shortages.

Brazilians are hoarding water in their apartments, drilling homemade wells and taking other emergency measures to prepare for forced rationing that appears likely and could leave taps dry for up to five days a week because of a drought.

After January rains disappointed, and incentives to cut consumption fell short, São Paulo officials warned their next step could be to shut off customers’ water supply for as many as five days a week – a measure that would likely last until the next rainy season starts in October, if not longer.

Some form of water rationing is almost certainly in the cards for over 40 million people destined to be affected by the water shortages. But not to worry–wealthy Brazilians are installing large storage tanks into their apartment buildings or houses to spare them the worst hardships of rationing.

Consider for a moment the specter of millions of climate refugees moving in search of water. Then consider the likely outcomes when some of the world’s great rivers, nourished by glacier melt for thousands of years, suddenly run dry.


Resource Bubble? 

The recently released study “Planetary Boundaries: Guiding Human Development on a Changing Planet,” quickly garnered a certain amount of online notoriety. Prepared by eighteen scientists from various universities, it soberly announced that human civilization had crossed four of nine environmental boundaries.   It introduces the concept of the “planetary boundary” (PB), a framework that provides a science-based analysis of the risk that humans pose to a liveable earth:

The relatively stable, 11,700-year-long Holocene epoch is the only state of the Earth System (ES) that we know for certain can support contemporary human societies. There is increasing evidence that human activities are affecting ES functioning to a degree that threatens the resilience of the ES—its ability to persist in a Holocene-like state in the face of increasing human pressures and shocks. The PB framework is based on critical processes that regulate ES functioning. By combining improved scientific understanding of ES functioning with the precautionary principle, the PB framework identifies levels of anthropogenic perturbations below which the risk of destabilization of the ES is likely to remain low—a “safe operating space” for global societal development.

Those planetary boundaries are no surprise to readers of this blog: climate change, stratospheric ozone depletion, ocean acidification, biodiversity loss, biogeochemical flows, land-system change, and freshwater use.  Cue the bleating from the denialists.  As well-intentioned as this report is, it is likely to reside in the same drawer, ignored, where similar reports reside.  Find an excellent essay on this theme here.

As sea levels rise, floods have become more common on the base. Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Michael Pendergrass/U.S. Navy

And in a related story, the Pentagon understands what’s coming in terms of climate change even if our elected lawmakers do not. As residents of Norfolk, Contrary and I live at Ground Zero for sealevel rise and land subsidence. I have lived in the same home for 32 years. After 24 years of flood free living, the last eight have seen three instances when flood waters came to my front step.

Those who talk most about climate change — scientists, politicians, environmental activists — tend to frame the discussion in economic and moral terms. But last month, in a dramatic turn, President Obama talked about climate change in an explicitly military context: “The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security,” he said in his State of the Union address. “We should act like it.”

On one level, this is just shrewd politics, a way of talking about climate change to people who don’t care about extinction rates among reptiles or food prices in eastern Africa. But it’s also a way of boxing in all the deniers in Congress who have blocked climate action — many of whom, it turns out, are big supporters of the military.

The Pentagon is examining its 704 coastal installations and sites in a big study to try to figure out which bases are most at risk. Eventually some tough decisions will have to be made about which ones to close, relocate or protect. Even speculating about the number of possible closures is too hot a topic for anyone in the Pentagon to touch right now.

Just as there are climate-change hot spots, there are also climate-denial hot spots — and Virginia is one of them. The Republican-dominated Virginia General Assembly has been hostile to discussion of climate change — one legislator called sea-level rise “a left-wing term.” Instead, the politically acceptable phrase in Virginia is “recurrent flooding.” 

Right up there with “legitimate rape” as part of the incantation du jour.


Forever Blowing Bubbles…

One of Collapse’s Greatest Hits is the imminent unwinding of the Ponzi scheme of debt foisted upon the peoples of the world by central bankers.  We saw a harbinger in 2007-8, with bank bailouts proffered by Congress over the heads of an insufficiently grateful populace, then later with quantitative easing (QE); and in the euro zone, loan restructurings offered to countries not named Germany at the gunpoint of austerity.  But somehow, planes, trains, and automobiles keep moving, the shelves are restocked, and the paychecks cashed. And we keep whistling in the dark because we all share a stake in the superstition that business-as-usual can go on forever; and  nobody, but nobody wants to address the fact that there is not enough collateral on this planet or the next to pay off global debt.

What do we really know? We know that oil prices have begun to ramp up after a steep dive, not unknown in the history of oil prices.  We know that since our entire business model is based on cheap energy, a fall in its price is likely to have a deflationary effect. Many who write about a coming economic collapse love to talk about the collapse of the U.S. dollar, yet the dollar is strengthening relative to other currencies.

Michael Snyder is one of those who scores these games at home and he says:

Someday the U.S. dollar will essentially be toilet paper.  But that is not in our immediate future.  What is in our immediate future is a “flight to safety” that will push the surging U.S. dollar even higher.

This is what we witnessed in 2008, and this is happening once again right now.

Just look at the chart that I have posted below.  You can see the the U.S. dollar moved upward dramatically relative to other currencies starting in mid-2008.  And toward the end of the chart you can see that the U.S. dollar is now experiencing a similar spike…

Dollar Index 2015

At the moment, almost every major currency in the world is falling relative to the U.S. dollar.

For example, this next chart shows what the euro is doing relative to the dollar.  As you can see, the euro is in the midst of a stunning decline…

Euro U.S. Dollar

Instead of focusing on the U.S. dollar, those that are looking for a harbinger of the coming financial crisis should be watching the euro.  As I discussed yesterday, analysts are telling us that if Greece leaves the eurozone the EUR/USD could fall all the way down to 0.90.  If that happens, the chart above will soon resemble a waterfall.

Will leave it for you to work out what a rising US dollar means for those growing economies all over the world that have borrowed enormous piles of very cheap U.S. dollars, and who now face the prospect of repaying those debts and interest with much more expensive dollars, when their own currencies are crashing.


Quick Takes

The Disease Time Bomb: Flooding the Country with Eradicated Diseases

Over the last year we have seen numerous eradicated diseases come surging back in the United States. From Whooping Cough and the current Measles outbreak, to mystery diseases like EV-D68, which is causing paralysis in young children, The United States seems to be a ticking time bomb of disease.

Warning: author seems to be all to willing to blame these outbreaks on immigrants.


 Empire of Lies

The redoubtable Charles High Smith addresses this week’s central theme:

We are living in an era where a single statement of truth will drive a pin into the global bubble of phantom assets and debts, and the lies spewed to justify those bubbles.

How many nations are blessed with political and financial leaders who routinely state the unvarnished truth in public?

Only two come immediately to mind: Greece and Bhutan.

 

 


Koch Brothers Group Shouted Down By Irate Citizens During Montana Town Hall Meeting

A “Healthcare Town Hall” set up by the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity (AFP) group, in Kalispell, Montana, turned raucous on Thursday night. Americans for Prosperity has been crisscrossing the state of Montana, in an attempt to pressure moderate Republican lawmakers into signing a pledge to block Medicaid expansion. On Thursday, they brought their traveling road show to Kalispell. However, the residents of the small Northwestern Montana town were unpersuaded…

 Not all the news is bad. A defeat for the Koch brothers anywhere is a victory for humanity everywhere.
 

 Here’s what developer scum have in mind for the Grand Canyon:

Developers Confluence Partners want to make a 420-acre attraction out of the east rim, with a plan to put in an Imax theater, retail shops, hotels, an RV park, and a 1.6-mile-long gondola tram that would take riders from the rim of the canyon down 3,500 feet to the valley floor in about 10 minutes. Intentions for the valley floor include construction of a terraced “riverwalk” and a food pavilion.

Native American groups are banding together to battle this absurdity.


The useless agreement which everybody wanted

The Saker on the agreement between France and Germany and Russia regarding Ukraine.


Creeping Lawless Fascism Watch

The video was just released of an elderly grandfather being slammed to the ground so hard by an Alabama police officer that it severed his vertebra and paralyzed the man. As you will see in the video, the police then attempt to force the man to walk and believe he’s resisting arrest when his legs won’t work – not knowing that they broke his neck.

According to AL.comChief Larry Muncey told a small press conference in Madison that he also recommended that Parker be fired for his use of force against a man who committed no crime, did not speak English and could not understand the commands. 

There are no words.


Peak Ignorance Watch

GOP lawmaker calls women “a lesser cut of meat”

South Carolina State Sen. Thomas Corbin

 
A Republican state senator in South Carolina called women “a lesser cut of meat” and suggested that they belonged barefoot and pregnant, the libertarian-leaning blog FITS News reports.

Chauvinist in any context, Corbin’s remarks occurred during a legislative dinner this week to discuss domestic violence legislation. Sources present at the meeting told FITS that Corbin directed his comments at fellow GOP state senator Katrina Shealy, the sole woman in the 46-member chamber.

“I see it only took me two years to get you wearing shoes,” Corbin told Shealy, who won election in 2012. Corbin, the site explains, is said to have previously cracked that women should be “at home baking cookies” or “barefoot and pregnant,” not serving in the state legislature.

Contrary brought this particular rabbit turd to my attention. One might well speculate why he’s so hostile towards women….

Contrary offered this wordless comment:

Good enough for me. And illustrates why the people in South Carolina, home office of American sedition, can’t have nice things. And a reminder of what the madness of crowds can wreak.


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, articles and spittle-flecked invective on this site, and quit barking and got off the porch long enough to be active in the Occupy movement. He shares a home in Southeastern Virginia with his new bride Contrary in a triumph of hope over experience, and is grateful that he is not yet taking a dirt nap.

Peak Ignorance

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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on February 8, 2015

Discuss this article here in the Diner Forum.

 

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“They were a boy and a girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds… 

‘Spirit. are they yours.’ Scrooge could say no more.

‘They are Man’s,’ said the Spirit, looking down upon them. ‘And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it.’ cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. ‘Slander those who tell it ye. Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end.’

‘Have they no refuge or resource,’ cried Scrooge.

‘Are there no prisons.’ said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. ‘Are there no workhouses?'”

– Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

In these pages, we often discuss various apparitions of doom, or what looks like doom.  Many vectors are economic, a function of too much debt and concatenating fraud that must inevitably collapse like a house of cards. Some argue with justification that the latest shuttered storefront does not an economic collapse make, and that such trends are cyclical, seen throughout history. Fair enough.  In point of fact, we probably won’t know that collapse is upon us until too late.
 
Yet a harbinger of collapse is upon us right now, and its manifestations emerge with each day’s headlines: peak ignorance.  With every statement from an elected official rejecting scientific evidence, with each embrace of superstition, with banning of books and curricula,  we see a retreat from logic and reason heralding a new dark age, a rejection of habits of mind established since the Enlightenment.  “Peak Ignorance” is a mine that will yield rich veins worth exploring not just today, but in future screeds as well.  But for now, let’s go to the videotape.
 
What issue could possibly unite names as disparate as Michelle Bachmann, Chris Christie and Rand Paul with Jenny McCarthy, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Charlie Sheen? It’s the anti-vaccine movement, of course. One of the most ancient and taken-for-granted tenets of membership in a civil society is the obligation to prevent the spread of disease among one’s village or tribe– a factor of civilized life for centuries.
 
Quarantine is what communities did before vaccines. Wikipedia tells us the word comes from the Italian (seventeenth-century Venetian) quaranta, meaning forty, which is the number of days ships were required to be isolated before passengers and crew could go ashore during the Black Death plague epidemic. Quarantine is as ancient as the Old Testament, in which infected people were separated to prevent spread of disease. Many of the dietary restrictions in Leviticus can be seen as means to prevent transmission of pathogens. Closer to modern times, the advent of sewerage and public sanitation has saved uncounted lives lost in past eras to uncontrollable outbreaks of disease. One’s duty to prevent spread of disease to our neighbors has been so taken for granted it’s been uncontroversial. Until now, when we find ourselves amidst an entirely preventable measles outbreak.  Chris Christie famously stepped in it this week with his statement about “balancing” the rights of parents to supervise their children’s vaccinations with the public health.  He took a great deal of public criticism and in fact tried to walk it back.  Christie, and Rand Paul with his latest statements found themselves making common cause with a fringe movement that unites far left and far right in the belief that inoculation is  either a government conspiracy or poison.
 
This discussion comes in the wake of a much-publicized measles outbreak with its epicenter in southern California. The New York Times published this map of measles outbreaks, current as of Feb. 6:
A majority of the cases this year have been tied to an outbreak at Disneyland, which began in December. At least 40 people who visited or worked at the theme park contracted measles, and the disease has now spread to at least six other states. The map shows the counties where cases have been reported.
 
cases-map-1050
 
 
 
 
Measles was declared eradicated in the US in 2000. One would have thought by now the established principle of “herd immunity,” having reduced the incidence of many childhood diseases to the level of statistical error, would have been settled science. But as in the law,  where the longstanding principle of stare decisis has been ratfucked by Federalist Society-vetted jurists, nothing is ever settled.  And now, center stage, are a coalition of wealthy liberals and tinfoil hat wrapped conservatives seeing black helicopters in a war against public health and welfare. Why? Several reasons — a fading memory of vaccine-preventable diseases, adverse media coverage, internet misinformation (we are shocked, shocked) and litigation.
 
(As a child, like most of my friends, I hit the trifecta: mumps, measles, and chickenpox.  I lived, but am grateful that my daughter had the MMR vaccine available.  Each incidence of those childhood diseases takes two weeks out your life, is no fun for the kid, and is unsupportable in a household where both parents work,  and presents a special disaster for single parents.)
 
For those who distrust the government/industrial axis that results in guaranteed profits for Big Pharma, I am not wholly unsympathetic.  For that reason I had grave reservations about the Gardasil vaccine recommended for young women.  Many anti-vaccine proponents cite a connection with autism corresponding to the presence of ethylmercury (thimerosol) in vaccines, a suspicion not borne out through scientific investigation. (For a thorough, objective and useful look at the history of thimerosol in vaccines and the autism controversy, please see this nuanced and peer-reviewed article by Dr. Jeffery Baker in the American Journal of Public Health.)
 
Surprising as it may be to have this discussion in the 21st century, this is where we find ourselves. Our culture is so polarized that even scientific principles are not immune from relitigation in the court of public opinion. The anti-vaxxer agenda is a bit of utter fecklessness that poses a public health threat to us all.
 
In other Peak Ignorance news this week… Wonkette moved a story about a kurfuffle in Vermont:
 
 

Here’s a sweet little story of Democracy in Action. A bright eighth grader writes to her state legislator with an idea for a law: Vermont doesn’t have an official Latin motto, so why not adopt one? And for that matter, make it a reference to history? Neato!

So state Sen. Joe Benning — a Republican who was actually trying to do a good thing, which he has probably learned to never try again — introduced a bill to adopt the motto “Stella quarta decima fulgeat.” — May the fourteenth star shine bright.” Because Vermont was the 14th state, see? Benning noted that when Vermont briefly minted its own currency, it was engraved with “Stella Quarta Deccima,” so the phrase had real historical cachet.

And then Burlington TV station WCAX put the story on its Facebook page with the headline, “Should Vermont have an official Latin motto?” and all Stupid broke loose when morons thought that Vermont was knuckling under to a bunch of goddamned illegal immigrants.

Charles Topher at “If You Only News” collected some of the worst of the over 600 comments from concerned Vermonters intent on protecting ‘Murka from invading Latin hordes:

We are pleased to report that satire is alive and well, and some wags have taken to replying in kind. Some gems quoted in the Wonkette article include: 

  • I’ve got no problem with that. I’m more concerned that you stop teaching the Hindu-Arabic number system in schools. I for one am sick of all the pandering to foreigners in this country. We should be using American numbers.

  • This is America, not the ancient Roman empire. What’s next, Justinian law? If they don’t want to learn modern English, they should go back to the colosseum where they belong!

  • What’s Latin for, “A state full of crotchety old farts, half of whom are almost too stupid to breathe”?

  • What have the Romans ever done for us!?

This is ltoo easy, even for me. Yet there is a deeper issue at work. An historic American mistrust of intellectualism is taking hold again.  The Guardian’s Patricia Williams even posted a recent article on this theme of academic book bannings, firings, and assaults on scholarship itself. This is testament to the rise of local right wing control of school boards, the better to weed out authors and ideas that might promote critical thinking or even activism. Consider, for example, this list of books and authors removed from the Tucson public school system as part of elimination of a Mexican-American studies curriculum.

The authors and editors include Isabel Allende, Junot Díaz, Jonathan Kozol, Rudolfo Anaya, bell hooks, Sandra Cisneros, James Baldwin, Howard Zinn, Rodolfo Acuña, Ronald Takaki, Jerome Skolnick and Gloria Anzaldúa. Even Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience and Shakespeare’s The Tempest received the hatchet.

Anti-intellectualism in the US has a long and ignoble pedigree. As Ray Williams, writing in Psychology Today has it,

Richard Hofstadter, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1964 for his book, Anti-Intellectualism In American Life, describes how the vast underlying foundations of anti-elite, anti-reason and anti-science has been infused into America’s political and social fabric. Famous science fiction writer Isaac Asimov once said: “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

Mark Bauerlein, in his book, The Dumbest Generation, reveals how a whole generation of youth are being dumbed down by their aversion to reading anything of substance and their addiction to digital “crap” via social media.

Journalist Charles Pierce, author of Idiot America, adds another perspective: “The rise of idiot America today represents–for profit mainly, but also and more cynically, for political advantage in the pursuit of power–the breakdown of a consensus that the pursuit of knowledge is a good. It also represents the ascendancy of the notion that the people whom we should trust the least are the people who best know what they are talking about. In the new media age, everybody is an expert.”

So ignorance has several vectors, but ultimately one small set of beneficiaries. Will we will be smart enough to sort this out?

***

banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, articles and spittle-flecked invective on this site, and quit barking and got off the porch long enough to be active in the Occupy movement. He shares a home in Southeastern Virginia with his new bride Contrary in a triumph of hope over experience, and is grateful that he is not yet taking a dirt nap.

 

The Year in Doom 2014

That-Was-The-Week-That-W-That-Was-The-Week-473964 Off the keyboard of Surly1
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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on January 4, 2014

Discuss this article here in the Diner Forum.


I have always thought that in revolutions… madmen, not those so called by courtesy, but genuine madmen, have played a very considerable political part. One thing is certain, that a condition of semi-madness is not unbecoming at such times, and often even leads to success.
― Alexis de Tocqueville (1805 – 1859)


In each year’s end, and in a condition of semi-madness, it is the habit of the commercial press to generate various lists of “the year’s top stories.”  The top ten this, the top 14 that… Lindsay Lohan’s Top Ten excuses for failing rehab, the Top Five reasons Charles Koch likes slavery as a business model for the 21st century, the Top 77 views of Kim Kardashian’s ass… These lists are legion.  And if you’ve read this far, you’ve stepped right in one. For this is my personal whack at the year-end pinata.

With this modest compendium, we will not attempt to tell you what is important;  the mainstream media can lie to you about that. What follows here is my highly idiosyncratic take on those news events which have contributed to a sense of impending collapse speeding us along on the road to doom. A word about methodology: not worth considering. I asked for some feedback, then picked what seemed right. That’s it.  Basic assumptions are that to the extent that an issue is reported in the MSM,  whatever we’ve heard is state propaganda, thus wrong.  The rest is my idiosyncratic take; blame no one else, aside from those indicted by hyperlinked citations.

Madness is in the air,  whether from the madmen of ISIS or Foggy Bottom, Ferguson or New York City. Readers of “doomer” blogs do so with a shared sense that “something ain’t right.”  A pervading sense of unease,once marginal and seen only among survivalists and conspiracy theorists, has gone mainstream. Witness dystopian threads that run through literature and mass media, from World War Z to Doomsday Preppers. Now even the Weather Channel has a series called, “Fat Guys In The Woods.” (It’s just what you think.) It illustrates vividly how far most of us are from knowing how to survive in the wild, let alone transition to a “sustainable” lifestyle. As writer Tom Lewis recently told me, “If my ability to live depended on my skills in sustainable living, I’d be dead.” Like most of us.

 

Kim 2

This was the year that Paper Mag and Kim Kardashian determined they would “break the Internet.” with a photo spread of naked and near-naked Kim flesh. Not quite. Many men dropped in to see what all the furor was about. (I just read the article.) The reigning queen of social media and Instagram selfies continued being curvily famous, and social media continued to wag the media dog.   Zero Hedge published a year-end article about the most important US events according to Twitter:

When it comes to social networks, Instagram is where the world’s best food photographers reside, Facebook is where “cool parents” and ad-clicking robots can be found, while Twitter is where the up to the minute super-informed, sophisticated intelligentsia hides. At least according to Twitter. So what did said sophisticated audience find to be the most important and talked about American events of the year?  The top 10 US stories of 2014 were:

  1. Ferguson
  2. Midterms
  3. Ebola
  4. Israel
  5. Iraq
  6. Russia/Ukraine
  7. Sterling/Clippers
  8. Guns
  9. Obamacare
  10. Marijuana

As you see, this Twitterlist falls off quickly in terms of doom potential. Let’s pass on the mounting list of war crimes committed by the Zionist Apartheid State against Palestinians, and I have a decidedly minority view when it comes to l’affaire Sterling, about which I could otherwise give less than no f*ck. (Sterling was recorded in secret, and under circumstances in which he might have had an expectation of privacy, had we not willingly surrendered that quaint 18th century expectation along with the right to search our DNA, bodily fluids and credit reports to Corpstate™. This concern was brushed aside in the haste to publicly pillory and shame an egregious racist.) As for the others, don’t care, don’t care, and it’s about damned time.


Ferguson/Police Militarization/”Wartime Policing”

Ferguson has become a metaphor for the militarized state, for open season on black males, with apparent no bag limit for the Boys in Blue.   Ferguson is not just about Michael Brown, but also, Kajeimi Powell, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Tamir Rice and countless others who have been executed with impunity and no fear of consequence by agents of the militarized state. And now we have the specter of the New York Police Department declaring that they will engage in “wartime policing.” So many words have been expended about this phenomenon, that we will leave analysis in more capable hands.  It seems to me that the reaction of the police, and a large segment of law and order-worshiping ordinary citizens, is really about the conflict between the egalitarian impulse and the authoritarian impulse. Every time someone says, “if you would just do what the police tell you to, you would have no problem,” lingering notions of individual autonomy and justice die another death.

What the cops pictured above who turned their back upon the mayor are doing is the moral equivalent of throwing a tantrum. They have traduced legitimate protest and have staged a “work slowdown” to justify the delusional narrative that no cop, anywhere, should ever be at fault for anything. Localities all across the country, including my own, are staging their own “blue lives matter” rallies in support of “victims” that do not exist, except in their own minds. Meanwhile, this.

Charles Pierce conflates police authoritarianism and recent release of the CIA torture report with  proper perspective:

If the NYPD runs a slow-motion coup against the freely elected mayor of New York, then it is running a slow-motion coup against all the people of New York. There is no exemption from this fundamental truth about the way this country and its system is supposed to work. The military — and its civilian analogues in Langley and in the precinct houses — always is subordinate to the civil power which, no matter how much it may chafe them, means that they always are subordinate to politicians. If we render our torturers superior to the political institutions of the government, and if we render the police superior to the civil power of elected officials, then we essentially have empowered independent standing armies to conduct our wars and enforce our laws, and self-government descends into bloody farce.

But, alas, in the past few weeks, we have shown ourselves to be relatively at peace with that very thing — as long as the torture is done in the prisons overseas and the judicial killing is done in the streets of the ghetto, and as long as our fear of some omnipotent Other is what drives our politics. In turn, and in its mind, the country has now turned peaceful mass protest into some sort of violent revolution, and it has converted the murderous rage of a criminal lunatic into the ultimate expression of the cries for justice that have been heard in the last month in Ferguson, and Cleveland, and on Staten Island…The last thing to go to the waterboard is the tattered remnant of what we thought ourselves to be.

Both appear to be a manifestation of the undercurrent of authoritarianism in American culture — a deference to authority figures supposed to “protect” us, otherwise at odds with the libertarian impulse currently in ascendant. Likely we never were “the people we thought ourselves to be.”  The police slowdown in NYC has given threadbare hack Rudy Giuliani yet another chance to emerge as chief defender of murderer cops, and thus give voice to the authoritarian impulse in American politics. In any event, “wartime policing” underlines an escalating separation along race and class lines.  And reminds of financier Jay Gould’s famous dictum, “You can always hire half of the working class to kill the other half.”


 

Climate Change

It was a year of the Super Typhoons, polar vortexes, continued warming and devastating drought.  2014 recorded the warmest year on record globally, leaving some to wonder whether 2015 may be the year nations finally act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

2015 is the year of the Paris meeting to develop the next international agreement. It promises to be a big year for more talk at a variety of levels. Rising heat has led to changes in weather patterns that are of such overriding importance that Pope Francis plans to urge Earth’s Catholics to take action on global warming via a rare papal encyclical,  “urging all Catholics to take action on moral and scientific grounds.”

This is a very big deal:

One is that encyclicals are published on issues of high priority to the Pope, and what’s high priority to him is high priority to the church. There are more than a billion Catholics on the planet, so this could have a profound effect.

Another reason is that, also according to the Guardian article, he is doing this to directly affect the outcome of a very important meeting late in 2015: The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will meet, and their express intent is to create a legally binding global agreement about actions to take on climate change.

GOP outraged.  It didn’t take long for the Koch brothers to stand up one of their stooges to warn off the Pope.

Calvin Beisner of the Cornwall Alliance, a Religious Right group that specializes in promoting pollution,and which has declared the US environmental movement to be “un-biblical” and a false religion, has been well-paid by the Kochs and other polluters to say things like this[to believe in climate change] “really is an insult to God … and it will eventually lead to tyranny.”

The pope should back off,” he said. “The Catholic church is correct on the ethical principles but has been misled on the science. It follows that the policies the Vatican is promoting are incorrect. Our position reflects the views of millions of evangelical Christians in the US.”

2015 was filled with evidences of a changing climate not to the betterment of humankind. It was a year of unparalleled drought, heat, and ice, perhaps a harbinger of a tipping point on climate. From Greenland to Antarctica and glaciers in between, this warmest year on record melted ice to an extent never seen before.

A second potential climate development has to do with the Arctic, where temperatures continue to rise at twice the rate of the rest of the world.

Experts track sea ice, which floats on the ocean, as well as the Greenland ice sheet, which if it completely melted into the ocean would raise sea levels by 20 feet.

As for Greenland, a study earlier this month found that melt predictions are likely too conservative. Advances in ice sheet modeling will soon provide a much better sense of how much sea level rise to expect from melting Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets.

“Will we see three-plus feet by the end of this century or less?” [climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck] asks, referring to some model predictions. “Will stabilizing the Earth’s climate at two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial (times) commit us to 20-plus feet of future sea level rise or less?”

And then there was the California drought.  You may have heard of it.  Recent year end rains were a mere drop in a very dry bucket. The drought threatens not only water tables in California, but top soil for one of the nation’s key agricultural areas.  Tree rings reveal the most devastating drought in California in over 1200 years.  It is easy to dismiss such proclamations as the hand wringing work of nervous nellies with a liberal bias. Pictures do better; especially when they come from NASA.

According to NASA, the Sacramento River and San Joaquin River basins have been hit the hardest by the water loss, in part because of the increasing volume of groundwater being pumped out for farming. For the last three years, these regions have been losing a total of 4 trillion gallons of water per year.

California drought

The sun is reflected off the water remaining in an irrigation canal that is drying up near Yuba City, Calif.

The data was compiled from two satellites that have been orbiting the Earth since 2002 as part of the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) mission, a collaboration between NASA and German space agency DLR. The satellites measure small fluctuations in Earth’s gravitational field that are most often caused by variations in water supply. 

In a podcast interview with Science Magazine, UC Irvine hydrologist James Famiglietti used the analogy of a bathroom scale to explain how GRACE uses highly sensitive gravity measurements to track changes in the amount of water stored underground in soil and rocks.

“Each [satellite] is about the size of a squashed minivan, and they orbit at about 400 kilometers. And what happens is that the change in mass on the surface, say, because of a big flood or a big load of snow on the mountains, actually pulls those spring-loaded weights towards Earth’s surface,” Famiglietti said.

The added danger in groundwater depletion is that unlike surface water, it is not easily replenishable.

 

With James Imhofe as incoming chair of the science committee in the House, it’s odds-on that NASA will get its climate science funding radically slashed for  producing evidence like this.

“We’re seeing it happening all over the world. It’s happening in most of the major aquifers in the arid and semi-arid parts of the world where we rely on those aquifers. But we’re able to see now the impact we’re having on this over exploitation,” Famiglietti told Science Magazine.

Peak Water: The Water Problem. The problem of drought is certainly not confined to California– in northeastern Brazil drought has wrought havoc, severe drought conditions are also plaguing Australia and Ethiopia, threatening to cause food shortages in some of the poorest nations on earth and higher prices across the world.  Consider the implications:

There are two types of aquifers: those that are replenishable through rainfall (the majority), and those that consist of water laid down eons ago, and thus do not recharge. The latter, known as fossil aquifers, include two strategically important ones, the deep aquifer under the North China Plain and the Ogallala aquifer under the US Great Plains.

Tapping underground water resources helped expand world food production, but as the demand for grain continued climbing, so too did the amount of water pumped… overpumping creates a water-based food bubble, one that will burst when the aquifer is depleted and the rate of pumping is necessarily reduced to the rate of recharge.

Today some 18 countries, containing half the world’s people, are overpumping their aquifers. Among these are the big three grain producers – China, India and the US.

Peak water? Peak grain? Saudi Arabia is curtailing irrigation based grain production,  and Syria and Yemen are depleting their aquifers as well. Elsewhere in the Middle East, both Syria and Iraq are also suffering from a reduced flow in the Tigris and Euphrates as Turkey claims more water for its own.  What could possibly go wrong?

The Arab Middle East is seeing the collision between population growth and water supply at the regional level. For the first time in history, grain production is dropping in a geographic region with nothing in sight to arrest the decline.

Hungry and thirsty people will inevitably go somewhere. Should current drought trends continue, 2015 could see  the world’s first climate refugees, with significant numbers leaving California’s Central Valley, and possibly parts of Arizona, Texas and Nevada, as well as Sao Paulo, Brazil and parts of China and India.  In China, the Gobi desert increases nearly 1400 square miles per year.  And drought is simply one vector for creation of climate refugees. Low-lying areas such as the Maldives, and Venice are clearly threatened by sea level rise, as are Norfolk, VA and New Orleans, closer to home.  Water, food, grazing lands, habitat –  all resources for which we compete. Climate change will only exacerbate this competition, with conflict almost inevitable.


Rise of ISIS//ISIL/The Islamic State/Daesh/The Caliphate

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We are expected to believe that the rise of ISIS/ISIL/The Islamic State, fully armed and spoiling for a fight, came as a complete surprise to our vaunted foreign policy establishment, those same worthies who can play back years of your phone conversations, predict your actions and movements through data collection and analysis, and even analyze the contents of your diet and health through sifting through your shit,  were taken unawares by this armed juggernaut?

No kidding.

 

Opposite this block of text is a  letter to the editor which articulates a critique of “our” foreign policy, and which makes the case for its illogic far more succinctly than anything I can add.

In a recent article, Dmitry Orlov argues that Anglo-imperialists are finally being forced out of Eurasia, as part of the Big Picture of understanding geopolitics. By Anglo-imperialist he means that combination of Britain and the FSA that has set the tone for global policy for two and a half centuries. America essentially inherited Empire from the bankrupt British, and is now in decline… with no new up-and-coming Anglo-imperialists to take over the family business.

Orlov makes a compelling case, buttressed by historical events, for the scorched-earth policies  of oppressors amounting to a policy of, “if we can’t have it, no one can,” otherwise known as “poison every well.” He makes the point that [Britain and America’s] common playbook has remained the same for many decades– a phony neoliberal crony capitalism for well-wired insiders coupled with domination by the big-ass military, coupled with a strong dose of  economic exploitation for everyone else involved, otherwise known as “cockroaches” to the elites. Orlov discerns a pattern to the Anglo-imperialist “playbook ” that has always called for a specific exit plan to be executed whenever plans to dominate and exploit a given country eventually fail.

 

On their way out, they do what they can to compromise and weaken the entity they leave behind, by inflicting a permanently oozing and festering political wound. “Poison all the wells” is the last thing on their pre-departure checklist.

• When the British got tossed out of their American Colonies, they did all they could, using a combination of import preferences and British “soft power,” to bolster the plantation economy of the American South, helping set it up as a sort of anti-United States, and the eventual result was the American Civil War.

• When the British got tossed out of Ireland, they set up Belfast as a sort of anti-Ireland, with much blood shed as a result.

• When the British got tossed out of the Middle East, they set up the State of Israel, then the US made it into its own protectorate, and it has been poisoning regional politics ever since. 

• When the British got tossed out of India, they set up Pakistan, as a sort of anti-India, precipitating a nasty hot war, followed by a frozen conflict over Kashmir.

• When the US lost China to the Communists, they evacuated the Nationalists to Taiwan, and set it up as a sort of anti-China, and even gave it China’s seat at the United Nations.

The goal is always the same: if they can’t have the run of the place, they make sure that nobody else can either, by setting up a conflict scenario that nobody there can ever hope to resolve.

The Sykes-Picot agreement that redrew the map of the Middle East is quite dead, leading directly to the rise of these al-Qa’ida-affiliated Sunni fighters to whom the artificial borders of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan are the meaningless artifacts of a world long passed by. At the end of WWI, the British and French wanted Mosul for its oil. With the rise of the Caliphate, Mosul’s oil is Sunni oil, and the Saudis are happy.

Much speculation abounds that the Monsters of Mosul and Beheaders of Baghdad are funded by unspecified “rich patrons.” Mmm-hmm. . And some of them will have offices at Langley, others in Riyadh…  Meanwhile, ISIS will continue to serve its propaganda purposes and as a convenient vehicle for the purposes of the neocons who infest the American foreign-policy/war establishment to accomplish their aims within Syria. Plenty of madmen to go around.


 

Ukraine/Missing plane/NATO train

The same strategy of leaving a poisoned and permanently weakened state behind is being deployed as effectively in Ukraine as it is in the Levant. Again, Orlov:

The goal is always the same: if they can’t have the run of the place, they make sure that nobody else can either, by setting up a conflict scenario that nobody there can ever hope to resolve. And so if you see Anglo-imperialists going out of their way and spending lots of money to poison the political well somewhere in the world, you can be sure that they are on their way out.

Fast-forward to 2014, and what we saw was the Anglo-imperialist attempt to set up Ukraine as a sort of anti-Russia. They took a Slavic, mostly Russian-speaking country and spent billions corrupting its politics to make the Ukrainians hate the Russians… The result was what we saw this year: a bloody coup, and a civil war marked by numerous atrocities. Ukraine is in the midst of economic collapse with power plants out of coal and lights going off everywhere, while at the same time the Ukrainians are being drafted into the army and indoctrinated to want to go fight against “the Muscovites.”

To counter, Russia made a nice play of self-determination in  Crimea: if self-determination worked for Kosovo, why can’t it work for Crimea? International norms, yes? Oh, the Anglo-imperialist establishment  doesn’t approve? At which point Putin responded that the West should go suck a bag of dicks. Sometimes things don’t go according to plan for the Masters of the Universe.

By the end of 2015 the FSA plans to station nearly 150 tanks and armored vehicles in countries on Russia’s borders, according to Reuters. The evil Russians have moved their country closer to these weapons, so to protect them, we need to double down with more ABM systems, troops, weapons and bases, the better to justify profits for war profiteers and protect the interests of the Corporate State. Our madmen light matches in a loaded armory?

The failure of the neocons to start WWIII started through proxies in the Levant and  Ukraine, coupled with the little noted recent “cromnibus” appropriations to fund oil and gas infrastructure in the Ukraine, ties all the loose and desperate “ends” that indicate Orlov’s analysis is correct. Even Henry F*king Kissinger blames the West. And a nervous world watches the Sino-Russian led response of the BRICS nations against the dollar.

Smedley Butler observed the true uses of the military a century ago and today the FSA uses bloated and constantly growing military forces to leverage control of a vast commercial empire.  And if we can’t buy it, we break it.

If the U.S. shut down the more than a thousand military bases on foreign soil and the various command&control centers, it would not be able to threaten non-compliant nations with regime change. If the Federal Government made a massive shift from military spending to infrastructure and other domestic spending concerns, the U.S. would no longer be able to offload its debts onto its trading partners. Thus the problem goes deeper than the “nuclear mafia” of  weapons contractors, lobbyists and other former government officials siphoning off more and more federal tax dollars.

Regime changes in Libya, Iraq, attempted in Syria, Iran, Venezuela, Ukraine and now – Russia, are thus due to the simple fact that these are non-compliant nations, and do not take orders from the IMF with the expected alacrity.

Have an aircraft, any aircraft…

In order to ramp up public opinion against Putin and in favor of whatever mischief NATO intended to gin up, a couple of Malaysian aircraft went missing, MH-370 famously leading CNN’s Don Lemon to speculate on intervention “beyond our understanding” occurring, that “something” being perhaps supernatural?

“Especially today, on a day when we deal with the supernatural,” Lemon said. “We go to church, the supernatural power of God…people are saying to me, why aren’t you talking about the possibility — and I’m just putting it out there — that something odd happened to this plane, something beyond our understanding?”

Uhh– because it’s supposed to be the f*king news? I’m sure they are readying a pedestal for the bust of Don Lemon to be erected in the Newseum some time soon.

And then there was MH-17, shot down over eastern Ukraine by Vlad himself/by Russian air defense batteries/by a rebel held Buk surface-to-air missile system/by a Ukrainian air-to air missile/by a Ukrainian fighter’s 50 caliber machine gun. The US wasted no time in accusing Putin; and then dummied up. The MSM worked overtime to vilify Putin. The multinational investigation (Ukraine, Australia, Belgium, and Netherlands, of whom all four are U.S. allies, and, one of which is a suspect)  has worked for months and has not yet released, or even leaked, a report. Meanwhile, a pilot’s first person account says that MH-17 “was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” and that a Ukrainian fighter returned from its air mission without its loaded complement of air to air missiles. From the interview with the informant:

– Airplanes flew regularly. All day since the morning. In the afternoon, about an hour before the downing of the “Boeing”, three attack fighters were raised into the air. I don’t remember the exact time. One of the airplanes was equipped with such missiles. It was a Su-25.

– Have you personally seen it?

– Yes.

– Where was your vantage point?

– On site. Cannot tell you exactly.

– Did you have an opportunity to see specifically what the pylons of the aircraft where fitted with? Could you confuse “air-to-air” and “air-to-ground” missiles?

– No, I couldn’t confuse it. They vary in size, plumage, coloration. With a guidance head. Very easy to recognize. Anyway, after a short time, only one airplane returned, two were shot down. Somewhere in the East of Ukraine, I was told. The airplane that came back, was the one with those suspended missiles.

– It returned without the missiles?

– Without the missiles. That pilot was very scared.

And it would appear that TPTB have again overestimated their ability: the narrative that “Putin did it” has blown up, so they’ve buried the report, and thus the story, thinking that people will forget over time. In the country which Gore Vidal once famously described as “the United States of Amnesia”, they are probably correct; worldwide, not so much.

The Kuala Lumpur War Crimes tribunal has exercised “universal jurisdiction” to try in absentia Western leaders for crimes against humanity: in November 2011,  George W. Bush and Tony Blair, for crimes against peace because of the unlawful invasion of Iraq. In May 2012, after hearing testimony from torture victims  at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, the tribunal unanimously convicted Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzales, former Deputy Assistant AGs John Yoo and Jay Bybee of conspiracy to commit war crimes, specifically torture. The tribunal referred their findings to the chief prosecutor at the International Court of Justice in the Hague. In November 2013, the tribunal convicted the Zionist Apartheid State as guilty of genocide in Palestine. Any connection between the missing Malaysian planes and the above described events is the province of conspiracy theorists, and thus wholly coincidental.


Since this overheated screed is now reaching epic proportions, and has taken on a length such that even my wife won’t read it,  here’s a list of other  top stories of 2014 with significant “doom” potential  which will here go further unremarked:

The rise of protest parties (left and right) in Europe. 

Oil Price Collapse/Currency Wars and devaluation.

Peak Grid/ Detroit/  Rotting Infrastructure. Tom Lewis gets credit for elucidating this. Grid failures in Detroit brought this into sharp relief, if flagging attention, for a brief moment this year. Every physical system in America, from the grid to highways and bridges  to public sanitation systems to dams, ports and airports has seriously exceeded design life with no provision for replacement. At a time when corporate taxation is at its lowest point in a century, we seem unable to summon the will to rebuild our flagging infrastructure. After all, this would benefit working people and give a boost into the economy, so why exactly would we do that?  The response of the flat-earthers who drive the latter-day American political agenda is to privatize everything, “privatization” referring to theft of public resources. It is impossible to predict when any one of our critical systems will fail, yet fail they must. And the “solution” the yahoo caucus will offer is more privatization. Write it down in ink.

Junk Bond Market Yield Explosion.

Federal Deficit reaches $18 Trillion.

Ebola

Ebola promised to be the prefect existential threat to mankind: a game of “Plague” writ large. You’ll recall that the growth of infection rates was exponential in the early days of summer; many were simply waiting for the disease to board a plane in Liberia and then present itself in every airport in the known world.  FOX “News” discovered the “President Ebola” meme  and pounded it relentlessly into the fear centers of elderly white Americans right up through the midterm elections, whereupon, Ebola was miraculously cured, never to be discussed again.

Continued rising Economic inequality. 


 

garbage-canThat’s the view from Mount Nerd. Madmen and psychopaths are in charge of every single sphere of human effort. As the new electees of the Klown Kar Kaukus assume the reigns of power in 2015, rest assured that Tocqueville’s “genuine madmen, will played a very considerable political part.”

 

And if, like me, you like to look at the magician’s off hand, the better to know where the misdirection is coming from, here is a bonus: Project Censored’s Top 25 censored stories for 2014. And another: the worst cable news reports of 2014. No, don’t thank me. Pour a double skepticism, have one for me and toast 2015!

 
***

Surly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, articles and spittle-flecked invective on this site, and quit barking and got off the porch long enough to be briefly active in the Occupy movement. He shares a home in Southeastern Virginia with Contrary and is grateful each day with her, and that he is not yet taking a dirt nap.

Comes the Precariat

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ccgallery_precariat

Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on August 31, 2014

Discuss this article here in the Diner Forum.

 “The sooner we realize that we are locked in deadly warfare with our ruling, corporate elite, the sooner we will realize that these elites must be overthrown.”― Chris Hedges

 

Tomorrow, September 1 and Labor Day, will mark the second anniversary of the death of Margaret Mary Vojtko, an adjunct French professor who, at the age of 83, had recently lost her job at Duquesne University.  Ms. Vojtko suffered cardiac arrest on a street corner in Homestead, right outside of Pittsburgh,  yards from the house where she had lived almost her entire life. Rushed to the hospital, she never regained consciousness. Vojtko was an adjunct professor of languages who, after decades of service, found out that her appointment would not be renewed. After decades of toiling in academic insecurity, she was unceremoniously dumped.

Vojtko was a member of the precariat. Most likely, so are you.

When the story moved, I took notice, as I had graduated Duquesne,  in days lost in the mists of the Anthropocene. Two and a half weeks later, Vojtko’s lawyer, Daniel Kovalik, published an op-ed about Vojtko called “Death of an Adjunct” in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. In it, he noted

Margaret Mary was an adjunct professor, meaning that, unlike a well-paid tenured professor, Margaret Mary worked on a contract basis from semester to semester, with no job security, no benefits and with a salary of between $3,000 and just over $3,500 per three-credit course. Adjuncts now make up well over 50 percent of the faculty at colleges and universities.

While adjuncts at Duquesne overwhelmingly voted to join the United Steelworkers union a year ago, Duquesne has fought unionization, claiming that it should have a religious exemption. Duquesne has claimed that the unionization of adjuncts like Margaret Mary would somehow interfere with its mission to inculcate Catholic values among its students.

0 interest in people

One thinks that Duquesne might have a better case arguing against contraceptive benefits for workers than against unionization on the basis of religious belief, but I will leave that one for the Holy Ghost Fathers (who operate Duquesne) to sort out. The following February, in remarks given by Noam Chomsky to a gathering of members and allies of said Adjunct Faculty Association of the United Steelworkers in Pittsburgh,  he explained how the adjunct professor’s death was, at least in part, a direct consequence of what passes for economic policy in the Fascist States of America:

That’s part of the business model. It’s the same as hiring temps in industry or what they call “associates” at Wal-Mart, employees that aren’t owed benefits. It’s a part of a  corporate business model designed to reduce labor costs and to increase labor servility. When universities become corporatized, as has been happening quite systematically over the last generation as part of the general neoliberal assault on the population, their business model means that what matters is the bottom line. The effective owners are the trustees (or the legislature, in the case of state universities), and they want to keep costs down and make sure that labor is docile and obedient. The way to do that is, essentially, temps. Just as the hiring of temps has gone way up in the neoliberal period, you’re getting the same phenomenon in the universities. The idea is to divide society into two groups. One group is sometimes called the “plutonomy” (a term used by Citibank when they were advising their investors on where to invest their funds), the top sector of wealth, globally but concentrated mostly in places like the United States. The other group, the rest of the population, is a “precariat,” living a precarious existence.

It’s too late for Margaret Mary Vojtko, but it’s not too late for the rest of us. Back in the day, when Alan Greenspan was “St. Alan,” chairman of the Federal Reserve and widely regarded as a seer more gifted than the Oracle at Delphi, he gave a speech, the remarks of which you can find here, and which Chomsky characterized:

 

 

 

When Alan Greenspan was testifying before Congress in 1997 on the marvels of the economy he was running, he said straight out that one of the bases for its economic success was imposing what he called “greater worker insecurity.” If workers are more insecure, that’s very “healthy” for the society, because if workers are insecure they won’t ask for wages, they won’t go on strike, they won’t call for benefits; they’ll serve the masters gladly and passively. And that’s optimal for corporations’ economic health. . . how do you ensure “greater worker insecurity”? Crucially, by not guaranteeing employment, by keeping people hanging on a limb than can be sawed off at any time, so that they’d better shut up, take tiny salaries, and do their work; and if they get the gift of being allowed to serve under miserable conditions for another year, they should welcome it and not ask for any more. That’s the way you keep societies efficient and healthy from the point of view of the corporations. And as universities move towards a corporate business model, precarity is exactly what is being imposed. And we’ll see more and more of it.

 

And that has been policy. Citibank, they of the serial taxpayer bailouts, had a very clear idea of where such policy was steering the economy, and advised investors accordingly. Citi’s 2005 brochure for investors called “Plutonomy: Buying Luxury, Explaining Global Imbalances,” urged investors to put money into a “plutonomy index.” The brochure says, “The World is dividing into two blocs — the Plutonomy and the rest.”  It was, of course, one thing for Citibank to say this quietly to investors, but when the general public caught on to the news, six years later and Occupy took to the streets to say the very same thing, they got a face full of pepper spray and mass arrests for their trouble.

Class-war-ahead

So what did Citi’s crystal ball tell its investors in 2005? You missed this:

What are the common drivers of Plutonomy?

1) Disruptive technology-driven productivity gains, creative financial innovation, capitalist-friendly cooperative governments, an international dimension of immigrants and overseas conquests invigorating wealth creation, the rule of law, and patenting inventions. Often these wealth waves involve great complexity, exploited best by the rich and educated of the time.

2) We project that the plutonomies (the U.S., UK, and Canada) will likely see even more income inequality, disproportionately feeding off a further rise in the profit share in their economies, capitalist-friendly governments, more technology-driven productivity, and globalization.

3) Most “Global Imbalances” (high current account deficits and low savings rates, high consumer debt levels in the Anglo-Saxon world, etc) that continue to (unprofitably) preoccupy the world’s intelligentsia look a lot less threatening when examined through theprism of plutonomy. The risk premium on equities that might derive from the dyspeptic “global imbalance” school is unwarranted – the earth is not going to be shaken off its axis, and sucked into the cosmos by these “imbalances”. The earth is being held up by the muscular arms of its entrepreneur-plutocrats, like it, or not.

precariat1

Somewhere in Hell, Ayn Rand is smiling. How deeply comforting it must have been to receive this brochure in 2005 and read these words cosseting the “rich and educated” who would be reaping their just rewards as a result of the system in which they were savvy enough to invest. Christopaths like Joel Osteen call this sort of thing a “blessing.” Others call it a reason to put heads on pikes.

The hard work of generations of plutocrats, and the investments of right wing financiers and public policy have borne a toxic and remarkably abundant fruit. And here it is for your consumption, citizen, in this survey conducted by Rutgers:  “Unhappy, Worried and Pessimistic: Americans in the Aftermath of the Great Recession.” The summary: “The protracted and uneven recovery from the Great Recession has led most Americans to conclude that the US economy has undergone a permanent change for the worse, according to a new national study. Seven in 10 now say the recession’s impact is permanent, up from half in 2009 when the recession officially ended.”

Key findings include:

  • Despite sustained job growth and lower levels of employment, most Americans do not think the economy has improved in the last year or that it will in the next.

  • Just one in six Americans believe that job opportunities for the next generation will be better than for theirs; five years ago, four in 10 held that view.

  • Roughly four in five Americans have little or no confidence that the federal government will make progress on the nation’s most important problems over the next year.

Much of the pessimism is rooted in direct experience, according … Professor Carl Van Horn, co-author of the report.

“Fully one-quarter of the public says there has been a major decline in their quality of life owing to the recession, and 42 percent say they have less in salary and savings than when the recession began,” Van Horn said. “Despite five years of recovery, sustained job growth and reductions in the number of unemployed workers, Americans are not convinced the economy is improving.

He added that only one in three thinks the U.S. economy has gotten better in the last year, one-quarter thinks it will improve next year and just one in six believe that job opportunities will be better for the next generation of American workers, down from four in 10 five years ago.

It would appear that John Q. has finally looked up from the Doritos and beer to become aware of what Citi investors knew and profited from a decade ago.  Occupy arose directly from revulsion at the corporatization of every aspect of life. The thought was to get people in the streets, the better to influence public opinion and policy.  But Occupiers got arrests, tear gas, pepper spray and the full priapic majesty of the State for their trouble.  We used to chant, “Whose streets? Our streets!” But, as events in Ferguson have clearly illustrated, the streets belong to the owners, whose militarized police express their will. As a means to influence policy, demonstration is not nearly as effective as the legalized bribery known as “campaign contributions” from corporate lobbyists. And with corporate unionization as a percentage of the total workforce now ticking away at all time lows, it remains instructive to see the contortions to which companies will go to prevent any sort of worker organization.
So on this Labor Day weekend, when the charlatans and frauds and hired prostitutes who slavishly do the bidding of their corporate paymasters prattle on about the evils of unionization, do not fail to remember that the one thing that capital fears more than anything is working people banding together to make common cause.
***

Surly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, articles and spittle-flecked invective on this site, and has been active in the Occupy movement. He shares a home in Southeastern Virginia with Contrary and is grateful that he is not yet fitted for a drool cup.

This Week In Doom August 19, 2014

That-Was-The-Week-That-W-That-Was-The-Week-473964Off the keyboard of Surly1

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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on August 19, 2014

800px-Apocalypse_vasnetsov

Discuss this article here in the Diner Forum.

It was a week in which several horsemen of the apocalypse decamped, suitable booted and spurred, for a ride through the end stages of post-industrial “civilization.” Certainly War, Pestilence and Death each hoisted themselves atop their respective steeds and heralded their news in different quarters, all against a continuing backdrop of climate change and the accompanying chorus of denials from monied interests. And then there is Ferguson, the doom gift that keeps on giving, in the words of RE. Such was the week that it took two weeks to write this column. I began last week with a handful of stories and a surly attitude, and found that I couldn’t complete the column, such did events outstrip the narrative. Weirdnesses began to peek around corners, demanding revisions.  Given that a creative project is not so much completed  as abandoned, I’m abandoning this overwritten son of a bitch right here.

ferguson-missouri-9

“Bring it. You fucking animals, bring it…”

For those who studiously the posture of a head in the sand regarding our national security state and the militarization of local police, events in Ferguson, Missouri this week should have roused even you from your torpor. Or would have, were anybody actually able to learn from events. As anyone not living in a cave knows by now, apparently a police officer shot and killed an unarmed 18-year-old.  Michael Brown was black, his assailant white. Anyone who lived through the 60s and 70s will be able to predict a community’s response to the sort of outrage, but this time the institutional response looks very different. And in Ferguson, the balaclava is pulled back to reveal the snarling face of the weaponized, militarized, national security state in full priapic fury.

By now, thousands of words (and podcasts) have been dumped upon the landfill that passes for public consciousness, by people writing from the safety of armchairs. It will take time to sift through the evidence.  The autopsy reveals Brown was shot six times, with two in the head. Cue the riots.  And, as if it were the 60s again, Nixon sends in the National Guard. Cue the riots.  Security footage is released that seems to demonstrate that Brown was a thug. Cue the riots.  Obama is going to send Eric Holder to Missouri, along with a gaggle of his Best Minds,  doubtless to bring the sword of justice to bear as it was against the scions of Wall Street and their financial improprieties. (What, you missed that?)

There is little difference in the appearance of the helmeted, militarized, camo – clad forces occupying Ferguson from troops in Afghanistan or Iraq. Intimidation being precisely the point. A report from the ground:

Their uniform would be mistaken for a soldier’s if it weren’t for their “Police” patches. They wear green tops, and pants fashioned after the U.S. Marine Corps MARPAT camouflage pattern. And they stand in front of a massive uparmored truck called a Bearcat, similar in look to a mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle, or as the troops who rode in them call it, the MRAP.

When did this become OK? When did “protect and serve” turn into “us versus them”?

“Why do these cops need MARPAT camo pants again,” I asked on Twitter this morning. One of the most interesting responses came from a follower who says he served in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division: “We rolled lighter than that in an actual warzone.”

ferguson-missouri-8

A war zone, indeed. The FAA banned flights of low-flying aircraft, the better to keep out news photography teams and their troublesome “evidence.”

The scene is tense, but the presence of what looks like a military force doesn’t seem to be helping.

“Bring it. You fucking animals, bring it,” one police officer was caught on video telling protesters. In Ferguson and beyond, it seems that some police officers have shed the blue uniform and have put on the uniform and gear of the military, bringing the attitude along with it.

If there’s one thing I learned in Afghanistan, it’s this: You can’t win a person’s heart and mind when you are pointing a rifle at his or her chest.

The words of Gen. William Westmoreland reverberates at about this time: “when you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.”

then and now

 One of the issues being addressed here is the provision of military hardware to local constabularies.  This bit of purposeless and unnecessary largesse is conducted by the Defense Logistics Agency, or DLA.  This group apparently transfers excess military hardware to localities. And local cops, fattened by the proceeds from asset forfeiture laws, simply don’t know how to say no, particularly when the guys in the next county got an MRAP or an LRAD of their own.  Who wants to look weak?  Good question to ask is, who is paying for all this boodle? You already know the answer.  The activities of DLA  are made possible by a bloated, out-of-control procurement system that buys far more equipment than even the Empire’s military can possibly use. Reform of the procurement process is one of those “third rail” topics that will end your promising congressional career if you bring it up. Much like criticism of the Zionist apartheid state in that regard; too hot to handle. And the lucky beneficiaries of this bundle of taxpayer funded largesse? The large weapons manufacturers, of course, the people with their thumbs on the scales of American foreign-policy, and, as Ferguson clearly shows, American domestic policy as well

  ***

2048px-ebola_virus_virion

Ebola

In the face of the worst outbreak ever on the African continent, Ebola panic hit the US whens several sufferers were shipped to the US mainland for treatment. Usually hard-to-nonpluss New Yawkers became unglued as an incipient public health emergency was sent air freight live and direct to our shores. As Gwynn Guilford said in Quartz,

If your Twitter feed is anything like mine, news that Ebola might have turned up in Manhattan is freaking out a lot of Americans“Helpful” bits of commentary include as that it’s “deadly uncurable,” has a 90% fatality rate, and causes “a hemorrhagic fever that eventually leads to a complete bleed-out.” Today’s news merely amplifies the anxiety that’s been building since word got out that two Americans infected with Ebola have been moved to US hospitals for treatment.

And as if on cue, prominent US right-wingers, such as one D. Trump of said Manhattan,  fanned the flames of fear.

Thus, we have Donald Trump freaking out about having Ebola patients brought to the United States for treatment; Rush Limbaugh suggesting that bringing these patients to the US has something to do with the “Democrat agenda”; conservative doctor Ben Carson worrying that a container of Ebola-contaminated urine or vomit will “get disseminated out into the public”; and Republican Rep. Todd Rokita implying that immigrant children arriving from Central America might have Ebola.

While the Ebola outbreak is significant, some perspective is useful. Worldwide, Ebola has killed @2500 souls. Influenza has killed millions. Also Ebola is not that easy to catch—it isn’t an airborne infection, regardless of what some irresponsible pundits have said—and any country with half-decent health infrastructure can easily isolate patients and stop the disease from spreading. A primary reason it has traveled so easily in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea is that their health infrastructure is truly bad. Running out of rubber gloves and dumping corpses along river banks are simply not first world problems. Yet. And for more perspective, from Quartz:

Scott Z. Burns, who wrote the screenplay for Contagion, notes that Americans tend to freak out about “the monster we can see”—in this case, that would mean the gruesome images of Ebola victims bleeding from their faces—while ignoring more familiar but no less deadly risksHe has a point; thanks to the anti-vaccine movement, measles cases in the US have surged nearly fourfold since last year.

Or the above-mentioned influenza, which WILL kill you. Yet for all that, on Saturday we had the specter of a mob looting an Ebola center in West Point, Liberia, stealing contaminated equipment, bloodstained mattresses and sheets, according to the Associated Press. An estimated 37 patients fled during the raid, 20 of whom have returned with  17 patients still missing, per AP.  A sobering thought to keep in mind is that, from Monrovia, the disease can take a plane anywhere in the world. And apparently India is already preparing;  The Delhi airport has already set up a facility for people with suspected cases of Ebola. This one bears watching.
***

HOUNDS OF HELL

What makes ISIL the worst. “Simply put, ISIL is an unholy combination of al-Qaeda, the Khmer Rouge, and the Nazis,” writes Bobby Ghosh, and the minorities in its sights in Kurdistan are at risk of genuine, old-fashioned genocide. For those of us inured to the obeisance and compliance of the usual stenographers to power, one reads this with the usual caverats, grains of salt tossed to the four winds. Cue the Reichstag fire, the Maine, the rape of Belgium, the atrocities against Kuwaiti infants, the Gulf of Tonkin…

Yet the Islamic State demands a second look, if for no reason than their tweets.  And lest we chalk ISIL up to a social media marketing effort whose effectiveness is abetted and amplified by the national security state, there is this troubling matter of how much real estate they occupied almost overnight at the expense of the hapless Maliki regime. Apparently Iraqi soldiers threw down their weapons and stripped off their unis at the approach of the Sunni army. Haven’t we seen this movie before? President Droney McDrone authorized “humanitarian” bombing of ISIL sites and airdrops of food and water to an embattled Yazidi minority.

So much for nation-building. Could have rebuilt Detroit for what we spent in Iraq, but then Halliburton and KBR, etc. wouldn’t have fattened on no-bid contracts.

The fact that ISIS could arise seemingly out of nowhere speaks to the incompetence of our intelligence establishment, which seems to be spending most of its resources sifting through Americans’ personal communications for naked selfies from hot girls to trade.

But to return to Bobby Ghosh, who takes the threat seriously:

For sheer, brutal efficiency, ISIL is several steps above Hamas, Hezbollah, Boko Haram or even the Taliban. The closest analog I can think of is the Khmer Rouge, the Cambodian movement that killed more than two million people in the mid-1970s. There was a reminder of those horrors this week, when two top Khmer Rouge leaders were finally sentenced for their crimes. In their remorseless advance through eastern Syria and northern Iraq, ISIL’s fighters have demonstrated the same iron will and discipline that Khmer Rouge deployed against the Cambodian army and the Cambodian people. In territory Al-Baghdadi controls, he uses the same tactics of intimidation and public punishment that Pol Pot used to cow his fellow Cambodians.

In its appetite for genocide, ISIL seems to borrow from Adolf Hitler’s Nazis. It, too, has identified for extermination entire categories of people. Its fighters have systematically rounded up groups of “unbelievers”—and remember, that can mean anybody, including their fellow Sunnis—and slaughtered them in a manner Heinrich Himmler would have approved of. If the disturbing photographs (and be warned, they are very disturbing) in this Washington Post story were in grainy black-and-white, they could have come from a Nazi death camp. And online videos of these mass killings clearly show the zealous glee with which the executioners go about the work. 

That, then, is the nature of the monster on which the US is finally turning its guns. It will not die easily.

Those whom ISIL has already crucified or beheaded will probably not agree that this is an NSA-sponsored propaganda effort. It appears that in spite of the sheer fecklessness and state-sponsored waste of the surveillance state, there really are people who want us all dead. But who are they? This from a French site, who claims that the nominal “caliph,” al-Baghdadi, is a Mossad mole: (if you visit the site, turn on Google translate)

[The] real name Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is ” Simon Elliott, “father and Jewish mother.

The so-called “Elliott” was recruited by Israel’s Mossad for one year during which he was trained in espionage and in the field to conduct a destructive strategy of Arab and Islamic societies.

This information was attributed to Edward Snowden and published by newspapers and other sites Web : the leader of the “Islamic State” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has cooperated with the United States Secret Service, British and Israelis to create an organization capable of attracting terrorist extremists around the world in one place.

***

Cockpit-MH017

MH 17- Down The Memory Hole

As we are putting the finishing touches on this article, the spectacle that was Malasian airlines flight MH 17 recedes from the news cycles. As the wreckage was still smoldering, official Washington and Eurozone apparatchiks were declaring, without fear of contradiction, that Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine had downed the plane with a surface to air missile. Making Vlad the Impaler and mother Russia ultimately responsible. Bad bad Russia.

But the evidence to date is not supported this theory. Indeed, where is the evidence? A mighty surveillance state with the ability to sift through every private communication such that the NSA contractors entrusted with enforcing “national security” are able to amass a collection of naked selfies to trade like baseball cards, is not able to produce undeniable photographic, radar, and satellite evidence of what really happened eastern Ukraine on that day? Are we supposed to believe that our intelligence apparatus is this incompetent? If not, can we get an accounting for several trillion dollars?

Flight MH– 17’s black boxes were supposed to be analyzed in London. Have you heard the report of what the impartial British government learned from its examination? Me neither. In the always dependable Washington’s Blog, Eric Zuesse made a compelling argument:

Only idiots would trust Britain to interpret these black boxes to determine what and who brought down that plane. But, fortunately, the physical evidence lying on the ground at the site in Ukraine was photographed very quickly by locals there and uploaded to the Internet sometimes before any fighters and any governments were able to tamper with anything; and there happened to be one modest-looking item found at the site that tells a remarkably complete and entirely credible and convincing account of how this plane came down.

Photographic evidence that remains show the fragments of the cockpit that impact wounds consistent with 30 mm machine gun fire entering the cockpit.

Zuesse again:

On July 30th, the retired Lufthansa pilot and published historian Peter Haisenko issued his “Shocking Analysis of the ‘Shooting Down’ of Malaysian MH17,” in which an extremely close-in photo of the most important piece of physical evidence regarding this event is shown — it’s the side-panel on the left-hand side of the cockpit directly where the downed plane’s pilot was seated — and this photo shocked me, too.

Here, first, is that side-panel shown inserted back onto its airliner, so that you can see precisely what and where this piece of the wreckage was on the plane. You will immediately notice the big gaping hole that had been shot through the side-panel where the pilot sits — in other words, targeting directly  at the plane’s pilot.

This is incredibly precise targeting, of a specific person, and not merely  of the far larger body of an airliner. A ground-based missile-shot fired from 33,000 feet below cannot achieve that gaping hole precisely where the pilot sits. A fighter jet plane that’s escorting the airliner into the conflict-zone can. 

Reports indicate that the cockpit and fuselage had been sawed in half and many pieces removed before international inspection teams arrived. In fact, last week the Dutch inspection team left in disgust, unable to see or inspect much of the crash site. And you have to go to  the World Socialist website to find this particular piece of information, which in this country might as well be a state secret:

A Thursday article in the New Straits Times, Malaysia’s flagship English-language newspaper, charged the US- and European-backed Ukrainian regime in Kiev with shooting down Malaysian Airlines flight MH 17 in east Ukraine last month. Given the tightly controlled character of the Malaysian media, it appears that the accusation that Kiev shot down MH17 has the imprimatur of the Malaysian state.

The US and European media have buried this remarkable report, which refutes the wave of allegations planted by the CIA in international media claiming that Russian president Vladimir Putin was responsible for the destruction of MH17, without presenting any evidence to back up this charge.

The New Straits Times article began, “Intelligence analysts in the United States have already concluded that Malaysia flight MH17 was shot down by an air-to-air missile, and that the Ukrainian government had had something to do with it. This corroborates an emerging theory postulated by local investigators that the Boeing 777-200 was crippled by an air-to-air missile and finished off with cannon fire from a jet that had been shadowing it as it plummeted to earth.”

 

 This conclusion is, of course, at sharp variance  with the intentions of our foreign-policy establishment and its war munitions paymasters  to foment war with Russia.  Journalist Pepe Escobar has written effectively about that here. Of course, our best people in London are still on the case prying open the secrets of that black box. Stay tuned.

***

Summer Soap Opera

August is typically the time for family vacations, the song of the cicadas, campfires and sweet summer corn.  Congress typically goes on its richly deserved vacation, thus keeping the wallets of average Americans safe for another five weeks. Typically a slow news time. But in the Commonwealth of Virginia, God save it, not this year.  We have the spectacle of the corruption trial of indicted and disgraced former Virginia Governor Transvaginal Ultrasound (Robert McDonnell) and his former cheerleader wife, Maureen. (And for those just joining this overheated screed, the epithet “transvaginal ultrasound” is applied to this former state servant in perpetuity, in tribute to the war on women, specifically on women’s reproductive health that he and his personal Iago, former Atty. Gen. Ken Cuccinelli, waged on Virginia women several years ago.  In some circles, especially my own, this ruse was to redirect the energy of activists away from the real agenda, the privatization of state assets and to enablement of uranium mining in Virginia.)

In the aftermath of the 2012 presidential elections, a highly placed McCain aide was supposed to have described the Palins as a gaggle of “Wasilla hillbillies looting Neiman Marcuses from coast to coast”  on the campaign credit card. When considering the McDonnells, or should I say the Ultrasounds, think “Palins East.”  And as revealed by the federal prosecution’s case, there is is a breathtaking series of interlocking scams and grifts,  particularly in obtaining cash and “favors” from one Jonny Williams that would make La Palin herself blush with envy.  (If you would like to follow the actual reporting of this trial, it is done in exemplary fashion by Bill Sizemore and Joanna Kimberlin of our local paper, who have filed stories here, here, here, and here.)  Suffice it to say that Mr. Williams owned a dietary supplement company, and conferred favors upon the first couple in order to gain access and exposure for his products. Or so the prosecution alleges.  Gifts and favors included payment for a daughter’s wedding reception, use of a Ferrari, long stays in a Smith Mountain Lake vacation home, and numerous “loans” and gifts, including a Rolex watch that Maureen admired and requested for her husband. Maureen’s chief of staff, who quit on her, described her as a “nutbag,” thus making La Palin look a paragon of decorum.

Here’s what the defense alleges: that the formerly loving first couple were in fact estranged, and that Maureen  sought most of these favors by herself without the knowledge of her ostensibly too-busy-to-pay-attention husband. The defense team has concocted a remarkable bit of legal theater for the consumption us in the cheap seats. The former family values candidate is revealed as a man only too willing to do anything, including throw his wife under the proverbial bus, to salvage and resuscitate his dead in the water political career. Maureen is supposed to take the fall for the busy, busy guv.  He enters the courtroom all smiles and waves; she enters, gray-headed and head bowed, the better to portray shame.   The Guv is seated facing the jury; she sits sideways, head bowed. The narrative the defense is portraying is that the couple was so estranged that they could not have colluded in the extraction of favors from Williams.  Recent testimony, from the current mayor of Virginia Beach and president of a local bank, reveals that in the refinancing of loans for properties in Sandbridge, the Ultrasounds neglected to disclose some of these loans. Apparently that’s a felony. Whoopsie…

As I said, you need to read the reporting yourself to keep track of the many ins and outs. Several questions remain: how did they manage to seat a jury for this trial in one day? Between them, the Ultrasounds have a team of 20 lawyers, the best of whom bill at over $750 per hour. Who’s paying for this? If the Ultrasounds are so financially strapped as they testify, it certainly can’t be them. The so-called legal defense fund only has $250K, and simple arithmetic reveals that will soon run dry.  And did Gov. Transvaginal Ultrasound and his wife get the idea that vitamin supplements might be a good and remunerative idea from his mentor and patron, Pat Robertson? You may recall that in between fleecing elderly widows out of their last quarter and standing up charitable African healthcare efforts in order to provide cover for air shipment of African blood diamonds back to the states, Robertson had a hand in a vitamin business himself. A cursory search with the Google shows no connection between Star Scientific, Jonny Williams, and Pat Robertson’s vitamin company, called Kalo Vita. Yet one wonders…

It says here that when all is said and done, the Gov walks. The primary modifier for the phrase “Virginia ethics laws” is “lax.”  All the Gov crackerjack defense team needs to do is create reasonable doubt in the minds of the hastily seated jury, a low bar. Look for former Gov. Transvaginal Ultrasound to head the Republican Party as its presidential candidate in 2024, accompanied by a sleek new spouse.  And Maureen? There are no laws prohibiting a spouse or relative from profiting from a husband’s (or father’s) public office in Virginia. Craven? Yes? Shameless? Undoubtedly. But BAU in Virginia.

The defense presents its case this week.

***

Surly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, articles and spittle-flecked invective on this site, and has been active in the Occupy movement. He shares a home in Southeastern Virginia with Contrary and is delighted his daughter got back safely from St. Louis last week.

 

 

This Week in Doom: Appointment at Sentara

That-Was-The-Week-That-W-That-Was-The-Week-473964Off the keyboard of Surly1

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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on July 19, 2014

Discuss this article here in the Diner Forum.

 death cheated

 

“There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture; now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me. The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the market-place and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, ‘Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?’ ‘That was not a threatening gesture,’ I said, ‘it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.'”

― ancient Middle eastern tale retold by W. Somerset Maugham                                                                                               

 

Anyone reading this space on a semi regular basis knows that it is devoted to poking and sifting through the abundant scat left by doom  as it slithers its way through the postindustrial economy and neoliberal politics.  This week, “doom” dropped a load closer to home, and of a  much more personal nature.

At about 9:30 last Sunday morning, I was working at the computer and found myself getting lightheaded, images swimming front of my eyes. Nausea rose, and with it  cold sweating, which was curious because the room was reasonably warm. I immediately went to the bedroom to lay down.  Contrary, usually hard to arouse and who could probably sleep through percussion grenades detonated in front of the house,  cracked one eye open and immediately sat straight up. “What’s wrong with you?” she asked. Because of hardwired habits of mind, and because I’m an idiot, I replied, “Absolutely nothing,  I’m just a little dizzy, and I am going to lie  here for a little bit.”

She importuned me to go immediately to the hospital. I brushed her concerns aside, and muttered dark oaths. By family example, long-standing habits of mind, and a flinty Pittsburgh upbringing, my reflexive response to injury is along the lines of, “Rub some mud on it.” I was certain I would feel better shortly. After a shower, I joined my daughter and some friends for brunch. I found that I couldn’t eat anything, and found myself sweating through a shirt in a well-air conditioned room. Contrary watched this scene unfold with increasing agitation, but didn’t say anything until our guests left. As the door closed, she turned to me and said, “Are you going to the hospital or do I have to cut you?”

I’ve seen that expression on her face before. When it appears, she means business. This time it was tempered with evident worry, which struck something in the recesses of my mind where empathy lives in sullen exile, like Napoleon on Elba,  and I went without more of bitching.

We checked  in to the emergency room of our local Sentara hospital complex where, having presented with cardiac symptoms, they saw me reasonably quickly. An intake nurse hooked me up for an EKG.  Dropping the various wires on my chest she said, “Excuse my castanets.”  I asked,  “Does dancing come with an EKG? ” She smiled and quipped, “Yeah, the Dance of the Seven Flails.”  That I was in the hands of a clever nurse with a good sense of humor made a fortunate omen. After six hours of monitoring, they admitted me.

After apparently finding  my insurance card still carried some headroom, the following day they ran me through every EKG, CT scan, sonogram, echocardiogram, ultrasound and stress test available. (Without doubt the hospital system will make their third-quarter based on this run of diagnostics.)  Apparently I have an arrhythmia, and the chambers of my heart are not beating in sync. When I was young and got a pro-forma physical for the junior high school football team, the doctor observed that I had a “heart murmur.” These are apparently pretty common, and certainly had had no practical impact on my life until this moment. But it certainly had claimed my attention now.

The cardiologist assigned to my case, having reviewed the welter of evidence from the tests, suggested an ablation, which is a procedure similar to a cardiac catheterization, in which they Roto-Rooter a garden hose up your femoral artery into your heart, where a tiny laser actually cauterizes the parts of the heart sending aberrant signals. He said that they have 85 per cent success with this procedure, but that it was not without risks. Fortunately for me,  the previous evening I have exchanged some personal messages with agelbert,  who had also gone through his own rounds of cardiac testing and procedures.  AG exhorted me to resist an ablation should it be proffered, and to ask what other options might exist on the continuum of care. Now regular readers of the Diner Forum know AG’s work, and his propensity for tireless research. Plus he’d already gone through many of these procedures himself and was decent enough to share what he knew. Thus armed, when the cardiologist proposed ablation, I asked him if there were not more moderate steps we could take before rushing to do something  permanent and irrevocable. He affirmed that there were, and agreed to try another higher-level beta blocker to get my rhythm back in order.

The medical teams are very good at knowing “what,” and even work at “why.” In my case, blood testing ruled out some mineral deficiency as a proximate cause. Of course in my case,  the “why” probably centers on years of dissolute, then sedentary living. But here we are.


who-cheated-death
So they switched my meds and kept me for observation. That evening, Contrary and I went for a walk after dinner down to a station where they have all those cardiac care on monitors. There I was able to see a visual display of my louche heartbeat. Now I’m as competent to read the signals as a plumber, but both sets of signals looked far more synchronous than they had the last couple days.  Contrary described it best: she said that by top chamber had been going “Ka-boom, Ka-boom,” while the bottom chamber was going, “Boom-shaka-lacka-lacka, Boom-shaka-lacka-lacka.” Now they were more uniform, with my renegade ventricles tossing off fewer PVCs. But then I’ve always had rhythm.

I remained on low-calorie house arrest for another couple of days  tethered to a heart monitor, having my blood pressure and my EKG regularly assessed, and cutting up with the nurses assigned me.   And here I would be remiss if I didn’t call out those nurses, as well as all members of the care team, for their professionalism, expertise and good humor. I found them remarkable. The story ends on an up note, in that the hero doesn’t die at the end, but learns on the fourth day of his medical incarceration that the cardiologist says he is stable and good to go home and resume regular life.

This experience has been pretty challenging, as it tests my usual cynicism about what Diner Lucid Dreams, a former EMT with abundant firsthand experience with Big Med, calls the “wealth care system.” Certainly plenty of cynicism is warranted at all times about the interlocking cartel of health insurers and hospital systems, not to mention Big Pharma, at it is with every vertical of crony capitalism. Yet when one’s own health is swinging in the balance, one’s habitual cynicism is directly challenged. Which is quite where I find myself now. During the entire process, was very grateful for the fact that I had employer-provided health insurance. And I wondered what my prospects would be if, like so many others in this toxic economy, I were unemployed and without such insurance. As I’m too young for Medicare, they would be grim, and the Reaper herself might be waiting for me at Samarra.

As you might imagine, friends of long-standing and those more recently acquired, especially via Occupy,  have checked for the latest news. For this I am most grateful. One conversation I had is worth repeating.

A friend of extremely long-standing who I have known from third grade,  a man in otherwise superb physical condition, found himself with a bout of tachycardia this last August. He felt faint and nearly passed out. His wife implored him to go to the hospital as well. He was initially resistant, but found that he was glad he did. They put in a pacemaker, had a good recovery and now feels like a milk fed athlete. He will retire from his university career this coming fall, and in considering next steps  had an epiphany. He realized he might think about it differently: what if, on that day in Augest, he had not gone to the hospital but had died instead? (The doctors told him that it was indeed fortunate that he came in when he did, else he would have been at grave risk.) So he posited: what if you died, but the Great Scorer reviewed the replay and overturned the ref’s call, and gave you a new lease on life, for a to-be-determined term:  what would you do with that “bonus time?” How would you live? He certainly considers his pacemaker as providing that new lease on life. And 100 years ago, his story would have ended differently. One of the interesting implications of high-tech medical science.

It’s a provocative question, and a refreshing way to look at the time we have remaining. Every day we spend on this side of the dirt is “bonus time.” Precious, worthy of a sense of gratitude and wonder.

Many years ago I read a little book by Baba Ram Dass entitled, “Be Here Now.” It opened my mind to the importance of living in the present and seizing the moment, but I spent a great deal of that awareness in hedonistic pursuits. There are, in fact, worse ways to spend your time, but it’s not a path to enlightenment, whatever that is. (What is it the Buddhists say – ” Before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water?”) It’s not until the last dozen years or so that I’ve actually put into practice the discipline of reminding myself to be aware, to be mindful, to be fully present and in the moment, at many different points during any given day, and to cultivate a sense of gratitude for the life I have and the people in it. Sometimes easier said than done.

Whenever we brush up against intimations of our own mortality, we tend to think about Big Questions, Legacies, and other ephemera that day-to-day living pushes out of our minds when avoidance is not completely up to the task. I am untroubled by such thoughts. If I kicked today, I would leave behind a remarkable daughter with an active mind and a preturnatural capacity for making good decisions, as well as one discomfited Contrary, as well as a handful of friends and family who would tell funny stories about me at my wake. Legacies are much overblown because at the end of the day, none of this lasts aside from the memories we create and the decency we show others along the way. Long time Diner PB Shelley said it best:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

As the many Tyler Durdens say over at ZeroHedge, “On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.” So the only question that really matters is, “What are you going to do with your time today?” That’s a question worth considering whether you’re on a gurney or at a keyboard. As for me, I’m on “bonus time.”

 

***

Surly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, articles and spittle-flecked invective on this site, and has been active in the Occupy movement. He shares a home in Southeastern Virginia with Contrary and is delighted this week didn’t end in a dirt nap.

 

 

In Praise of Revolutionary Ideas

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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on July 1, 2014
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loaves fish

In Praise of Revolutionary Ideas

 

The pre-eminent concern of 99% of humanity is the practicalities of daily living – how to pay for food and shelter, education and health care, water and sanitation. There is no time or energy for living, for creativity and self-enquiry, for exploring one’s nature and the world.

 ― Graham Peebles

 

The Diner Forum is that part of the Doomstead Diner mass media conglomerate in which anybody who registers can post anything, or comment on whatever anyone else has posted. One of the things that brings me great pleasure is to post something on the Diner Forum that elicits responses.  The other day, I posted this article, and it has already occasioned three pages of comments, and perhaps will occasion more. The article was entitled, “The Need For Revolutionary Ideas” by Graham Peebles. In it, Peebles states:

 

Worldwide, life is dominated by an unjust economic model – beloved by all colours on the political spectrum, which has infiltrated every area of life. The preeminent concern of 99% of humanity is the practicalities of daily living – how to pay for food and shelter, education and health care, water and sanitation. There is no time or energy for living, for creativity and self-enquiry, for exploring one’s nature and the world.

Neo-liberal economics, or market fundamentalism, has contributed to extreme levels of poverty, social division and criminality. It is largely responsible for the environmental crisis and man-made climate change and has fueled worldwide inequality. Not just income and wealth inequality, but inequality of opportunities of access, influence, power and rights, including the observation and enforcement of so-called ‘universal’ human rights. The right to food, shelter, education and health care, for example, ‘rights’ universally available if you have money to pay for them. Inequality distorts democracy; indeed it denies democracy as it limits participation, corrupts free speech, suffocates dissent and perpetuates the concentration of power.

Do we not need a new narrative to replace the current one, which fails to work for so many?

Why a narrative?

Human beings are hardwired for stories. Over the last several hundred thousand years, the lore and knowledge of our elders, stories about their adventures and the characters who populated them, and the stories handed down to them in turn by their elders, our culture has been transmitted via stories told by people sitting around the campfires. The young hearing them for the first times, the elders hearing them again as a comfort. It is now the summer time, those fortunate enough to go summer camping will reenact a ritual as old as Prometheus when they sit around campfires and share their tales. Right now, some of the people I love best in life are in upstate New York, at a campsite called “Lazy Acres,”  retelling stories from a family past and inculcating a new generation with family lore.  This is the way we transmit the stories of civilizations both grand and small,  passed from one generation to the next. People in Islamic countries memorize the Koran; it is likely that both the Iliad and the Odyssey were handed down out of an oral tradition many thousands of years old, and still extant in the Anatolian Highlands. Stories are the basis for civilization, and collectively, our stories reflect our foundation myths. When reading Peebles’ article, I thought of a book I’d read some time ago by Thom Hartmann, “The Last Days of Ancient Sunlight.” If I recall correctly, Hartman made the case that we needed new prevailing narrative to accompany our new circumstances, in which the burning and waste of “ancient sunlight,” or fossil fuels, would need to give way to a lifestyle supported by current sunlight.

Our culture clearly has such a set of prevailing narratives that reinforce foundation myths of American Exceptionalism, the Invisible Hand, Dominion Over the Earth, and of America as a Shining City on a Hill. What is surprising is the policies derived in support of official myth are often at odds with what the bulk of the people want. Several recent articles, including this one, illustrate the extent by which we are ruled by elites whose agenda is clearly at odds with both common sense and the desires of the ruled. But a trip down that rabbit hole is for another time. Peebles goes on to say:

This current economic model nestles complacently at the core of many of our problems. It has reduced everything to a commodity – including people: the economically vulnerable are marginalised and exploited, traded like cattle, abused and violated. The system needs to be re-evaluated and fundamentally changed – along with the worldwide value system (promoting materiality) that flows from its ideological roots, and colours all areas of living. Arundhat Roy, in a June 2, 2011 interview with BBC, stated: “We have to re-define the meaning of modernity, to redefine the meaning of happiness.” And re-imagine the world based on altogether different values to the divisive ones espoused by the neo-liberal model.

Yet not everybody buys in. In the Diner Forum, a frequent poster, a petroleum geologist and originator of often contrarian views, demurs as follows:

We don’t need revolutionary ideas. We need folks who will get off their asses and DO things. It has gotten so bad I don’t even care sometimes WHAT they do, only that they do DO. The tube, the phones, the internet, entire generations are growing up without the ability to convert anything, an idea, a process, a hope or dream, into a concrete and executable plan of action.

The changes in behavior to save the planet don’t require more ideas, they require more DOING people. People who pitch the cars for EVs and bicycles, suburban proximity and the advantages it offers in terms of using just enough land to produce some chunk of your own food right there in your back yard, eat less meat, use less water, taking advantage of the telecommunications revolution that allows many things to be done through telecommuting and being the kind of person that an employer would trust to get the job done doing just that.

Patton had this figured out a LONG time ago, a good plan, executed with violence and enthusiasm today, beats a perfect plan next week every time. And we’re developing legions of dreamers and hopers and lackadaisical keyboard warriors.  What we need are DOERS.

This poster exhorts us to believe in the magnificence of fracking, or “hydraulic stimulation” as he has taken to calling it (making it sound more like sex play than a despoliation of an existing water table), to provide generous amounts of energy. And is well compensated for his efforts by clients in the extractive industries. So to him and others like him, the aspirations in Peebles’ essay are not valid. Since we are doing just fine here, thank you very much, we’d would prefer you not spend so much think time thinking as doing. Doesn’t Nike say, “Just do it!” So get off your ass, quit staring into that piece of glass if you keep stroking with your finger, and go do something! Do, do, do! Don’t bother thinking. What good could possibly come of that?

Unfortunately “just do it” doesn’t get it done anymore. The story of “drill, baby drill!” has led us here: we have been drilling, mining and transporting coal, gas, oil, etc. and now find ourselves in the place where we where we have been terraforming the earth for the successor species of Homo sapiens. Because the Dominion Over the Earth story has worked so well for so long, and particularly because it enriches an obscene handful of princelings while impoverishing a peasantry who bears the externalized environmental and health costs. We have greater income inequality this country than we have had since the roaring 20s. And since cheap energy no longer fuels the growth paradigm, honest profit can no longer be had. Thus corporate interests lead the effort to privatize the commons, such that our grandchildren will pay a fee to a private interest for every time they use a road, visit what used to be a public park, or go camping. The privatization story is nothing more or less than a recipe for a New Feudalism that will reduce our children and grandchildren to the status of serfs.

But to defenders of the status quo, if one notices these trends and connects the dots to reveal an unpleasant picture, the dot-connector stands revealed as an hysteric and little better that Harold Camping, leading other gullible wretches to a premature doom.

I reject this. I hold with those who are realistic enough to recognize the danger that we face, and optimistic enough to demand that we create a new story. One of sharing, mutuality, interdependence.

Recently I attended church with my daughter, and the pastor’s subject was Jesus’ miracle of the loaves and fishes, a miracle that appears in all four Gospels. The feeding of the 5,000 (or 4,000…or 5,000, “not counting women and children…” but still a multitude… was a miracle indeed. Did Jesus multiply the loaves, or was the true miracle of that distant day that the crowd was moved by the generosity of a young boy willing to share his two fish and five loaves? Perhaps someone pulled out a piece of bread here, a hunk of cheese there, and before long everyone’s little became a lot, enough that the disciples filled baskets with the leftovers. Since thousands of followers had taken a hike into the country, it is not unreasonable to think that most if not all might have packed a lunch.

The story requires an act of faith in either reading: either Jesus multiplied the food available, or the crowd produced it. Might not the real miracle be that faith in a young boy’s act of generosity of can turn us from selfish acquirers, concerned only with our own needs and bellies, to people willing to share the little we have? Perhaps the greater miracle is not a Cana-style Jesus Magic Act so much as the power of Jesus’s story to move a crowd to see differently: to see their fellow beings as a reflection of themselves.

Simple acts of love, faith and devotion can change a crowd, and change the world. We need new stories. Or a miracle.

***

Surly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, articles and spittle-flecked invective on this site, is the primary admin for Diner social media, and has been active in the Occupy movement. He shares a home in Southeastern Virginia with Contrary , a regularly-visiting daughter and an assortment of cardinals, bluejays, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, mockingbirds and whippoorwills. Not to mention the twohees.

 

The Right to Remain Silent…

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The Right to Remain Silent…

 

bourbon and cigar

Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on date
Discuss this article here in the Diner Forum.

 

“. . .  What most likely lies ahead is not a series of satisfying American-style solutions to the economic problems of the 99%, but a boiling frog’s journey into a form of twenty-first-century feudalism in which a wealthy and powerful few live well off the labors of a vast mass of the working poor.  Once upon a time, the original 99% percent, the serfs, worked for whatever their feudal lords allowed them to have. Now, Walmart “associates” do the same.”

― Peter Van Buren

 

On Saturday I attended a family reunion for a branch of Contrary’s far-flung, extended German-Irish family. The trip occasioned a full day of travel, but like many family meetings, rewarded with new friends, good food, abundant laughter, and plenty of conversation.

Before we left, Contrary advised me that many of the women in this wing of her family held opinions much like her own, which is to say pretty progressive/left-wing. Whereas the men were very much conservative, and argumentatively so. So before we left I asked Contrary, “If the talk turns to politics and I find myself listening to arrant, right wing claptrap, should I hold my tongue?”  (In spite of what long time readers of this space might think, I am housebroken and DO know how to behave in groups.) Her response: “Why in the world would you do that?”

Fair enough.

Sometimes these things write themselves. In the fullness of time I found myself in the backyard, taking a break from Ghana v. Germany in the World Cup, quaffing a beverage and in the company of Men Discussing Current Events. One of them observed what a blight unions were on the working landscape. He offered a tale about how, supposedly after Hurricane Sandy,  phone company union workers for a  New Jersey resisted working with the nonunion help  from “right to work” states like Virginia. And then came the the piling on. So I asked a question: “Any idea where the phrase ‘right to work’ came from?” No one knew. The answer: “It was the brainchild of the Dallas public relations plan in 1947 to give an fair-sounding name to a campaign of anti-union activities meant to cripple the ability of working people to negotiate their work conditions compensation.”

Oh yeah, what’s your point? I went on:

RemainSilent“Any idea what percentage of the private industrial workforce belongs to a union today? Heads shaken no. “6%,” I replied, “Does it not seem reasonable that the many complaints you hear about how unions are crippling this country are really the complaints of industrialists who, with their boots on the necks of the American worker, don’t yet feel they have enough of an advantage?”

Then a cousin mentioned the minimum wage, as in, there shouldn’t be any.

“Really?” I asked. “Do you have any idea what the 1978  minimum would be if it had kept up with inflation? No idea. “Over $22 per hour.” Well, came the reply, there still shouldn’t be a minimum. Then I made a point that struck home to this group of devoted family men: “Do you remember how it was when we were growing up? The parents of the people in this house, like the one I grew up in, lived a life where the man worked, and supported a family, sometimes running to eight to ten kids.” Point made: Contrary’s family is extremely prolific.  “That’s because a working man could earn enough working a job, sometimes two, to support a family– even a big family. Where are those manufacturing jobs today? They are in Mexico and the Pacific Rim, and the export of those jobs has been subsidized by favorable tax treatment for the industries that moved them. Sound fair?”

Grumblings. Then one of them mentioned “welfare.” As comedian Ron White once said, “I had the right to remain silent, but I did not have the ability.”

“Glad you mentioned welfare. Don’t you just hate welfare queens?” Nods of assent. “Wouldn’t you just love to get the welfare queens off the dole? Don’t you think constant handouts erode self-reliance?” More vigorous nods now. “The biggest welfare queens we pay for are American corporations. The same  ones that export American jobs, bank their earnings overseas, then park their boodle in the Cayman Islands or in Switzerland to avoid American taxes. All while using roads and other infrastructure that you’re paying for. Man, I hate me a bloodsucker like that, don’t you?”

Yeah, but real welfare, food stamps, SNAP… “The SNAP program costs $76 billion a year. And the big food producing companies love it. And banks like JP Morgan make money on both ends of the SNAP card business. On the other hand, corporate tax concessions, givebacks and other forms of legalized bribery cost working folks like you and me $180 billion a year. More than twice SNAP. Sound fair to you?”

That pretty much derailed the political part of that conversation. I’m not sure I’ll be invited back anytime soon.

***

50 years ago, a group of men like that, middle to late middle age (or in my case, rapidly approaching senility), working-class types, would have favored progressive causes. One of the marvels of our age remains how working people have been convinced to vote counter to their self-interest by a consistent torrent of plutocrat propaganda. Within my lifetime the role of government as guarantor of the rights of the little guy has evaporated, as industry has infiltrated and suborned the regulatory apparatus of government. And if you are convinced that your government no longer works for or represents you, the guy who wants to “drown it in the bathtub” is likely to receive a better hearing.

Fortunately for me, before I entered into the above conversation I had perused an article by Peter Van Buren in TomDispatch. Van Buren is the author of The Ghost of Tom Joad,” and his vision of what is happening in the economy would have been excruciatingly familiar to Steinbeck.

 

The striking trend lines of social and economic disparity that have developed over the last 50 years are clearly no accident; nor have disemboweled unions, a deindustrialized America, wages heading for the basement (with profits still on the rise), and the widest gap between rich and poor since the slavery era been the work of the invisible hand. It seems far more likely that a remarkably small but powerful crew wanted it that way, knowing that a nation of fast food workers isn’t heading for the barricades any time soon. Think of it all as a kind of “Game of Thrones” played out over many years. A super-wealthy few have succeeded in defeating all of their rivals — unions, regulators, the media, honest politicians, environmentalists — and now are free to do as they wish. 

 

cigar-infusing-alcoholVan Buren answers the question, “Why Don’t the Unemployed Get Off Their Couches?”\ and Eight Other Critical Questions for Americans.” These are the sorts of questions being discussed by people at, well, family gatherings. And a key issue is that the working people of this country are only receiving one side of the story. It is a good read: you owe it to yourself to give it ten minutes

Van Buren ends his thus:

Once upon a time, the original 99% percent, the serfs, worked for whatever their feudal lords allowed them to have. Now, Walmart “associates” do the same. Then, a few artisans lived slightly better, an economic step or two up the feudal ladder. Now, a technocratic class of programmers, teachers, and engineers with shrinking possibilities for upward mobility function similarly amid the declining middle class. Absent a change in America beyond my ability to imagine, that’s likely to be my future — and yours.

***

Surly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He has contributed a number of forgettable rants, articles and moments of spittle-flecked invective on this site, and has been active in the Occupy movement. He shares a home in Southeastern Virginia with Contrary and a shifting menagerie of relatives, some of which may not now come to visit since he opened his big yap at the reunion.

 

The Week in Doom June 15, 2014

That-Was-The-Week-That-W-That-Was-The-Week-473964Off the keyboard of Surly1

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bush obama mask

Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on June 15, 2014
Discuss this article here in the Diner Forum.

“In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousand fold in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.”

Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 

When we fail to “reproach evildoers,” or even bring them to account, chicanery follows sure as sunrise. Chicanery arrived with all its luggage this week. This country has turned its back on the farrago of lies, falsehoods, and blunders that ensued after 9/11 in the same way that a family rotten with abuse issues keeps it a family secret. This week, the war in Ukraine took a backseat to the spectacular collapse of the neocon project in Iraq. Neocon apologists are blaming Obama in the same way they blame him for El Niño, locusts and eccentricities in the orbit of Saturn. The lessons of hubris are the order of the day, and were also visited upon a House Majority Leader. The American id rose up in Las Vegas and Oklahoma. Eventually we all sit down to a banquet of consequences. Belly up.

 

Mission Accomplished

The wheels are coming off the wagon of Empire- from Nulandistan to Libya to Syria, now Iraq. The glittering jewel in the neocon crown, the exemplar of democratic nation-building summoned from the fever dreams of the Project for a New American Century, has been found chimeric. Not surprising in that it was built on a foundation of hubris, folly, arrogance, and old fashioned Yankee avarice.

As anyone not equipped with a set of noise canceling earphones knows by now, a Sunni insurgency known as ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) has captured Tikrit and Mosul. According to some reports, they are already on their way to Baghdad. Any facts written here will long since have been eclipsed by events on the ground by the time of publication, as this story is unfolding with the speed of a motorized column. What bears discussion is the policy that got us here, and how it continues in force under a president who campaigned using the slogan, “Change you can believe in.” Irony pill, stat!

To review the bidding: Al Qaeda was not even in Iraq until United States invaded. Washington’s Blog posted a useful article showing the remarkable escalation of terror attacks in Iraq after the US invaded. Another little known fact is that Al Qaeda allies took over Fallujah six months ago. Hmmm… let’s see, Isis is a Sunni insurgency. Was it only 10 minutes ago that we were backing the Sunnis in Iraq, and then a Shiite became the president? We’re also now backing Al Qaeda in Libya and Syria, yes? And now according to reports we learn that Iranian fighters have joined the battle.

Meanwhile as the Iraqi army fled, they left behind huge caches of US supplied weapons, Humvees, MRAPs and other vehicles along with their discarded uniforms. And did we mention Black Hawk and Kiowa helicopters? With the capture of Mosul, Iraq’s major oil center and second-largest city, the insurgents now have a ready source of revenue to sustain their fight against an Iraqi Army that does not appear to be, uh, enthusiastic to engage. (For a good look at the implications, see Steve Ludlum here.)

McClatchy noted the extremists captured:

A civilian airport, a military airport, a military division headquarters, a border crossing with Syria, a weapons depot, government offices, banks and television stations.

Looking for root causes and origins,? Stop first at Charlie Pierce‘s place:

Was this predictable? Was “kick over the hornet’s nest and see what happens” considered a laughable strategy by informed observers back in 2002? Of course it was. That was why Brett Scowcroft cautioned against an invasion and occupation of Iraq in the Wall Street Journal. It’s what Anthony Zinni and John Shinseki were talking about. It was what Zinni meant when he said that a project like that would require that American troops stay in Iraq “forever.” But all of that has been wiped from the memory banks in favor of blaming the current situation on the president that disentangled us from it, and who was removed entirely from the fiasco when it was launched. . . There was no tenable political context, in either the U.S. or in Iraq, in which a commitment of U.S. troops sufficient to counter the current offensive by militants was in any way viable. If the people pushing this notion are really arguing that the U.S. occupation of Iraq should have been perpetual, and that our army should have functioned as a kind of imperial police force for the next few decades, not merely in Iraq but in Syria, as well, then they should say so and stand for election on that proposition.

 

Personally, I would love to see these chickenhawks run on the eternal occupation of our neocon colonies. I would also like to see Richard Cheney hooded, cuffed, and awaiting trial in The Hague. These people are always willing to fight the next war to your last son or daughter. How long will we let them? In our arrogance we forget that Shia/Sunni is a sectarian dispute 1200 years running, and so bitter and blistered with resentments that it makes Catholics and Protestants in Ireland look like a Elks Club banquet. We suppose that calling dreamed-of US troops a “residual force” means that they will be only ornamental, not to be used in fighting? Meanwhile the “insurgents” and “terrorists” that our terminology minimizes are moving with all of the intent and organization of an army, which they are. And the arms they have recently won in the Levant Lotto? Going to the same group that hawkish elements in Congress demanded we arm in Syria several months ago. Very convenient.

We need to remember that we got out of Iraq because we elected a president who promised to do that, which he did. Now, many of the same people who cheered us into Iraq are, in Pierce’s phrase, “drinking deeply from the river of forgetfulness.” Not for nothing did Gore Vidal refer to this country as “the United States of Amnesia.” For some useful perspective, see this. And Juan Cole, in this. Welcome to Iraqnam. And in related news, due to Middle East instability, gasoline is up thirteen cents in two weeks. Good news if you work in a petroleum-related industry. So perhaps “mission accomplished,” indeed.

 

Hubris, meet Nemesis

Beltway hubris came back tanned, fit, and rested this week as Eric Cantor was handed a stunning electoral defeat in Virginia’s Seventh District Republican primary by Dave Brat, a professor from Randolph Macon. It’s hard to overstate how big an upset this was: and This is Villanova/Georgetown territory. Miracle on Ice. Buster Douglas/Mike Tyson. Jets/Colts in Super Bowl III. Or perhaps most apt, Upset over Man o’War at the Sanford Memorial.

Brat, an Ayn Rand evangelist and true believer, was spurred on by right-wing radio fishwives and swirling dark money. Apparently Cantor, who retained some capacity for negotiation especially when financial self-interest was at stake, was too liberal for Virginia’s Seventh. The take away here is that the voters intend to not send anybody to Washington to govern, but demand that their man help pull the wheels off the wagon. To that end, Brad has already announced that he won’t vote for any more of those commie debt ceiling increases.

Professional bloviaters have declared that Cantor lost  because immigration was a dog-whistle issue. Immigration  clearly resonates with the xenophobe far right, and Brat got to Cantor’s right on it. But living two hours the Seventh District, I fail to see its potency in Richmond and environs. Politico agrees. A far greater issue was Cantor’s internal polling, or lack. One internal poll had him leading by 34 points. Right-wing types typically live in a bubble described by the circumference of a circle drawn from their home to the country club to the yacht slip, but that is a pretty big miss. Here’s hoping Cantor’s pollsters are now enjoying witness protection:

Meanwhile, Cantor was deeply unpopular in his district, the PPP poll found. About 63 percent of those surveyed in his district said they did not approve of the job Cantor has been doing, with 30 percent of registered voters approving. Among Republicans, 43 percent approved of Cantor’s job performance, while 49 percent disapproved, the survey found.

What undid Cantor was Cantor himself. Lack of constituent service, conspicuous staff arrogance, a perception that he catered to big-money types at the expense of the home folks, a penchant for high-end steakhouses, and for dealing himself in to a profitable place at the trough. Brat hammered these successfully, which served to undo the incumbent.

Brat told [Internet radio host Flint] Engelman, “just go Google and type the STOCK Act and CNN and Eric Cantor. . . ” 

The STOCK Act, a bill to crack down on insider trading, was significantly watered down by Cantor in early 2012. The lawmaker took out provisions that would have forced Wall Street “political intelligence” firms to register as traditional lobbyists would, and removed a section of the bill to empower prosecutors to go after public officials who illegally trade on insider knowledge. And Brat may be right to charge that Cantor’s moves on the STOCK Act were motivated by self-interest. Cantor played a leading role in blocking legislation to fix the foreclosure crisis while his wife and his stock portfolio were deeply invested in mortgage banks.

So Cantor met defeat at the hands of a 100-1 shot who sounded like a Occupy candidate running against Wall Street and the US Chamber of Commerce. Lesson to GOP incumbents: if you are going to slavishly carry water for Wall Street banks and financier types, when standing for reelection try some love for the folks back in flyover country.

Short Takes

What’s Behind All the Right Wing Cop Shootings?

In the latest episode of the burgeoning American death cult manifested by open carry advocates and others with manhood issues, Jerad and Amanda Miller stepped into a CiCi’s pizza restaurant in Las Vegas. Shouting, “This is the start of the revolution,” they opened fire on two members of the Las Vegas Police Department. After stripping the officers of weapons, they went to a local Walmart, shot another bystander and then turned the weapons on themselves.
young couple that had fallen deeply down the rabbit hole of right-wing conspiracy theories. Neighbors told the Las Vegas Sun that the Millers had a reputation for espousing racist, anti-government worldviews, and for bragging about their gun collection. On Facebook and in YouTube videos, under the username USATruePatriot, Jerad Miller identifies himself as a supporter of the Patriot Movement—an umbrella term that encompasses right-wing militias, white supremacists, and sovereign citizens—and talks regularly about chemtrails, tyranny, and overthrowing the federal government.

Apparently the Millers got tossed from the Cliven Bundy armed gaggle for being too radical. The VICE article reports findings of Jack Kay, a professor at Eastern Michigan University and a student of right-wing militia groups for three decades:

“I think we are going to see violence like this continue. Background for all three of the shooters involved heavy rhetoric and the patriot movement. The ideology is a hatred of the federal government, a believe the federal government is not legitimate and is there to oppress, they will eventually be taken over by the New World order.”

Words matter.

***

All That Glitters…

As South China Morning Post reports, police were last night making arrangements with a mainland businessman to check whether HK$270 million of gold bullion he bought in Africa was genuine after part of the consignment was swapped with metal bars.

On Wednesday, Zhao Jingjun, 43, opened part of his shipment in front of his buyer in Hong Kong and discovered the gold had been switched for worthless metal. A senior officer said it would be the city’s biggest heist in a decade if it was confirmed that all the gold had been stolen.

***


USS Liberty attack anniversary

This week marks the anniversary of the 1967 Israeli attack on the USS Liberty. The attack killed 34 American servicemen, including the father of a good friend. The official story was that the attack was a case of “mistaken identity,” even though the Liberty was flying the American flag and had a profile markedly different from the one alleged by the Israeli government. The Johnson administration ordered American fighters scrambled to defend the ship to return to their carriers. The reasons remain opaque, but the fact that there was a substantial official cover-up remains. Follow the story here and find Ray McGovern’s take on it here.

 

***

Bring back stoning

Every time you think society has found bottom, count on our extremist colleagues to find an exotic new low. One wonders if  brain worms have begun to sprout inside the skulls of candidates in the newly insane state of Oklahoma:

Tea Party state House candidate Scott Esk endorsed stoning gay people to death: “I think we would be totally in the right to do it,” he said in a Facebook post. Esk went on to add nuance to his position:

We’ll let the libertarians police their own. Meanwhile, let’s take up a collection for the writers at The Onion.

***

The price of God’s love: PimpPreacher.com Houston Bureau 06/06/2014

According to Essence Music Festival – a 3 day pass to see Prince, Lionel Richie, Mary J Blige, Erykah Badu and more on (July 4-6, 2014) in New Orleans is only $249, with 111 tickets remaining.  According to StubHub.com, ticket scalpers are selling tickets for The Joel Osteen Tour for as much as $850.  On the StubHub.com site, tickets are being resold by Ticket Scalpers ranging from $18 in the Nose Bleed Seats, all the way up to $850 if you desire to look directly up Joel Osteen’s Nose.

Since when did scalpers start scalping church tickets you ask? Since 2005, when Joel Osteen proved he could sellout a stadium. Traditionally ticket scalpers are only interested in sold out events. Apparently the scalpers feel this event will sell out, and fans of Joel Osteen are willing to pay their asking premium.

Behold the magnificence of the Invisible Hand raised in Praise. Me, I’d rather hear Prince and Erykah Badu.

***

Surly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, articles and spittle-flecked invective on this site, and has been active in the Occupy movement. He shares a home in Southeastern Virginia with Contrary and a shifting menagerie of women both young and young at heart.

 

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