Sunday, January 18, 2015

Heading South...

As of tomorrow, this blog will be on hiatus for about a month as your faithful blogger heads way down south (as in far beyond the U.S. border) to get out of the winter cold that makes his chemo inflicted neuropathy even more painful and uncomfortable. Hopefully, I'll come back full of new topic ideas because I'll admit to having trouble coming up with anything fresh to say lately that I haven't said repeatedly already.


Friday, January 16, 2015

Meth and Jesus in West Virginia

Vice magazine just published a grim but fascinating article featuring a woman whose business it is to clean up meth labs in West Virginia. The whole article is worth reading, but the last few paragraphs are particularly harrowing:
Beneath the surface in every case, there's evidence of hardcore drug use. It's almost a game when the three cleaners walk into a house to find the hidden syringes. They're under carpets or flood boards or sewn into mattresses. "We've found them in baby bottles," Jennifer says. "We found them in a hollowed-out Bible once."

"Where there are children involved, that's the worst part," offers Heath. "That affects me a little bit. Otherwise, it's just work." Kids live in 80 percent of the places they clean, he tells me.

Stories about meth often come with theories on why this particular drug has such a foothold in the boonies: Coke and heroin seem exotic and taboo. Meth helps with manual labor. Barns and remote, abandoned buildings provide cover for labs.

A lifelong West Virginian, Jennifer says she knows people who've used meth, "people I would have never expected until they told me. Contractors use it to stay up three days to finish a deadline." She's never had a bust in one of her rentals, though.

Jennifer notes the exploding popularity of some hard drugs in general, like heroin. She's seen enough pill bottles and dope paraphernalia in busted meth sites to think all these drugs are rising in popularity together, and she's seen enough Jesus tchotchkes and throw pillows to know they're all working their way into the banal fabric of normal life here.
Meth and Jesus, both providing false hope of relief from the agonies of living life mired in rural poverty in a bleak landscape where for all but a very few the American Dream has all but permanently disappeared. Rural America has become a place where one of the few decent livings to be had is cleaning up after the awful messes created by the downtrodden, desperate and destitute. Not that I begrudge the entrepreneurial spirit of the subjects of the article. Just that I find the whole thing profoundly sad.

Bonus: "Say my name." "Heisenberg." "You're goddamned right."

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Over 40% of Americans Took ZERO Vacation Time in 2014

There have in recent years been a lot of electrons annoyed pointing out the sharp increase in wealth inequality in America. And now comes survey results showing that not only do the well off enjoy a substantially higher standard of living than the working class, they actually have leisure time in which to enjoy their largess. All in all, 41% of American working adults reported taking no vacation time whatsoever. And as the chart above shows, by far the highest percentage of people in that category made less than $25,000 a year. Here are some more of the gory details:
Although it isn’t legally required, most full-time employees in the US receive some paid vacation. It’s around 10 paid work days a year in addition to six federal holidays, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a nonprofit think tank.

That may seem like small mercy by Western standards (European workers typically get far more), but the sad truth is that Americans aren’t even using the handful of vacation days at their disposal. Last year, Americans left 169 million paid vacation days on the table, saying they were too busy to use them. A series of consumer surveys conducted by travel website Skift throughout 2014 summed up Americans’ woeful travel habits. Here are some highlights:

--Only 13% of Americans traveled abroad for a vacation from August 2013 to August 2014.

--Nearly half of Americans didn’t take a single day off in the summer of 2014.

--63% of Americans did not travel at all from September 2013 to September 2014.

Skift’s latest survey is even bleaker: 41% of Americans didn’t take any vacation days in 2014. The latest survey was administered to 1,500 American adults through Google Consumer Surveys from Jan. 3-5 of this year.
Referring again to the chart above, you'll notice that as incomes rise the percentage of people who did not take any vacation time sharply plummets until it hits zero at $150,000 and higher. There are several points I'd like to make here.

Fist off, imagine just how depressing it would be to be forced to work year in and year out with no time off except for a few measly holidays. Oh, and you can forget about the "six" annual holidays if you work retail, since Thanksgiving has now become another shopping day in which many retail employees are now expected to come to work at 6:00 in the evening instead of getting to spend even that little bit of time with their families.

Secondly, even the ten vacation days a year reported to be average is pretty grim. Say you want to take the day after Thanksgiving and maybe a few days around Christmas to be with your family. Now you're already reduced to just one week away from the workplace during the rest of the year. Even if you take it all at once, it hardly represents enough time to de-stress before having to rejoin the rat race, let alone jet off to Europe to take in a bunch of cultural sites.

Thirdly, the fact that no one making over 150K a year faces this problem shows why the upper middle class, in particular, is so clueless about how awful the American working life has become for those below them on the economic ladder. Why is that so important? Well, if you pay attention at all to our media culture, particularly the commercial advertisements, what you see is that an upper middle class lifestyle is sold to viewers as being the ideal of the American dream. Every sitcom family lives in a nice big house, and every Christmas images of families buying each other a brand new Lexus with nice bow tie ribbon attached to the hood are flashed at just about every commercial break.

Our political battles are also fought at the upper middle class level, as the arguments for both sides are primarily being tailored to appeal to those among each of the two colored tribes who can afford to drive a minivan or an SUV (the difference being the tone of the bumper stickers plastered on the back). Liberal or conservative, the fact that those who serve them their coffee, wait their tables, clean their houses, check them out at the grocery store or who staff the local Macys at dinnertime on Thanksgiving night may not be enjoying the same fabulous leisure lifestyle as they do never occurs to them.

And all of that doesn't even touch on the issue of the unused vacation days that overstressed workers leave on the table not because they are too busy but because they are fearful of being replaced if they are ever absent form work. Add it all up and it makes for a pretty grim picture for anyone outside of about the top 10% of wage earners in this country.

But don't worry. I'm sure some of the money spent next Christmas on those Lexus SUVs will trickle its way down and make things all better.

Bonus: "Vacation...all I ever wanted"

Friday, January 9, 2015

Down the Memory Hole: The Assassination of Alan Berg

In wake of the appalling Charlie Hebdo attack this week, I found it somewhat bemusing to see lots of American right wingers--in their haste to waste no opportunity to smear all Muslims as freedom hating terrorists--valiantly defending a publication they normally would not have stooped to wipe their asses with given that its lampoons of Christianity were every bit as biting as those against Islam. Charlie Hebdo was an equal opportunity basher of religion, and that normally isn't the kind of stance that will get you invited to answer loving, softball type questions as a guest on Fox and Friends.

I frequently make a point on this blog of demonstrating that there is very little difference between America's two major parties, but I will never say the same thing about liberals (however much I loathe mealy-mouthed mainstream liberalism) versus hardcore conservatives, who now unfortunately make up an overwhelming majority of the conservative movement. Because the fact is a liberal will (usually) defend and respect freedom of expression as defined by the Constitution (Congress shall pass no law, etc, etc) whereas far right wingers (who profess to wear the Constitution on their sleeves) often make no bones about how they would love to see those they disagree with silenced by whatever means necessary.

As an example of what I'm saying, one needs to look no further that the most notorious American parallel to the Charlie Hebdo slayings...namely the 1984 (now THERE is irony for you) assassination of liberal Denver radio talk show host Alan Berg. Though it seems difficult to imagine in these times in which talk radio has become a wasteland of rightwing shouters each trying to out-outrage the other, in his day Berg was the liberal equivalent of Rush Limbaugh. His schtick was to spout his unabashed anticonservative views and then rip into those semicoherent callers to his show dumb enough to try and take him on.

Berg must have been quite good at what he did, because he managed to whip up a murderous rage on the part of a white nationalist group called The Order. The group ambushed Berg outside of his home, shooting him twelve times at close range. Two members of The Order were subsequently convicted of the killing. It was by any definition an act of terrorism--one that has sadly been mostly forgotten today despite being fictionalized a few years later in the Oliver Stone movie Talk Radio. Alan Berg was killed for exercising his freedom of expression, just as the staffers of Charlie Hebdo were. Yet the brevity of his Wikipedia page, which doesn't even include the word "terrorism" in the section about his murder, should be an indication of how such acts that do not fit the prevailing narrative get excluded from our national conversation--even at a time when they are quite relevant.

Another aspect of Berg's murder that never gets discussed is whether as an act of terrorism it wasn't actually a huge success. Liberals are always quick to blame corporate media consolidation in the 1990s for the fact that conservatives rule the radio airwaves, and certainly that has been a factor. Conservatives counter that there is no market for liberal radio talk shows as demonstrated by the Air America debacle during the Bush junior years.

I would actually split these arguments. On the one hand corporations are still motivated by profits, and a liberal host who could score big ratings would certainly not be kept off the air. On the other, for some reason the liberal hosts who were on the air in 1990s when media consolidation began failed to survive (there was a halfway decent rabble rouser I used to listen to on WLS when I lived in Chicago in the early 1990s, though I forget his name) just as Air America failed to draw ratings. Why is that?

Could it be that conservative hosts are safe in knowing that they can routinely make base emotional appeals to their audience without worrying about their personal safety? After all, it is hard to imagine a Volvo-driving, Chardonnay drinking, global warming worrying, gun control advocate blowing away Rush Limbaugh. On the flip side, did liberal radio hosts in this country circa 1984 begin to consciously of unconsciously tone down or deliberately intellectualize their arguments after seeing what happened to Alan Berg? And did the resulting lower ratings then give Clear Channel, for example, the excuse it needed to cancel them in favor of another Sean Hannity clone? We'll never know for sure what kind of chilling effect Berg's murder had on his professional colleagues at the time, but it is difficult to imagine that it didn't have any. If I'm right, Berg's death is a major early milestone in the creeping fascism that has been overtaking America these past 35 years.

So RIP, Alan Berg. Unlike the cowards in patriotic guise who killed you, you were a true American hero.

Bonus: "I'm here to lead you by the hand through the dark forest of your own hated and anger and humiliation"

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Idiot America: The Keystone Pipeline "Controversy"

As I've said here repeatedly, sometimes you really have to shake your head at the sheer idiotic depths this country has sunk to. Though it really isn't a big surprise, newly (re)installed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell just announced that the new Republican Senate's VERY FIRST PRIORITY will be to pass a bill forcing approval to allow the TransCanada corporation to build the controversial Keystone Pipeline. That's right, with all the many problems facing America these days, many of our current elected "leaders" believe that enacting a law that will enrich a FOREIGN COMPANY is the most important thing that needs to be done.

McConnell's announcement is supremely stupid on many levels. Let's start with the fact that the State Department is expected to render a final decision on Keystone later this year after a court case in Nebraska over the pipeline's proposed route is resolved. In other words, there is a chance--probably a very GOOD chance--that the pipeline will be approved in just a few months anyway. THEN there is the little matter of collapsing oil prices, which if they remain at or near their current levels for awhile will likely cause a shutdown of Canadian tar sands production--meaning there could very well be no oil to ship through the pipeline ANYWAY. Oh, and let's not forget that one of the supposed reasons to approve the pipeline--to help the U.S. become less reliant on Middle Eastern oil--totally contradicts all of the crowing in conservative circles about how our own domestic oil shale production is turning us into "Saudi America."

But let's put all of that aside for a moment and consider what it is that is really going on here--namely more sound and fury in the ongoing and sadly successful effort to convince American citizens consumers idiots that there really is a difference between the two parties and that American representative democracy is not in fact dead as a doornail. The biggest reason McConnell and company are making Keystone their top priority is that their troglodyte conservative base DESPISES environmentalists and right now this is the best way to very publicly score political points and stick it to the environmental movement. Forcing Obama to veto the bill (assuming he does) would allow the Republicans to demonstrate how they differ from blue tribe (Obama, of course, would no doubt prefer to sit back and allow the State Department to take the final decision out of his hands).

On the other side of the equation, the environmental movement has been almost as stupid in making the defeat of Keystone such a big (ahem) cornerstone of their own agenda. Even if the pipeline is never built and assuming oil prices quickly rise back into the territory that makes tar sands production economically viable once again, Canada has already indicated that it will build an alternative pipeline on its own soil since much of the tar sands oil is slated to be shipped out to Asia anyway. Assuming the dip in oil prices is short lived, an Obama veto would be at best a pyrrhic victory for the environmental movement. But hey, at least the Democrats would then have their very own "accomplishment" to sell to their idiot base as a reason to keep supporting them. After all, they'll need SOMETHING to point to in 2016 to try and claim that voting for Hillary is a better choice than voting for Jeb.

Bonus: So who's drinking WHOSE milkshake?

Monday, January 5, 2015

My Own Personal Version of the "Two Americas"

I've written numerous posts on this blog about my hometown of Freeport, Illinois, a small manufacturing center in the northwestern corner of the state that interestingly peaked in population (according to the U.S. Census Bureau) in 1970, the same year as conventional U.S. crude oil production. By the 1980s, Freeport was already hurting economically before NAFTA, GATT and the the economic crash of of 2008 really kicked it in the balls. The former Goodyear tire plant where my dad served most of his working life as a middle manager now employs roughly one-tenth the number of workers it did when he retired in the mid-1990s, and as I wrote about back during the 2012 presidential campaign, the local Sensata plant that was bought out by Bain Capital so the operations could be stripped down and shipped out to China is now effectively closed for good.

Meanwhile, like a good number of my high school classmates I split town permanently after I finished college--starting out my career in Chicago before decamping to the Washington area the month before Bill Clinton won his first term. Thanks to the insane levels of federal deficit spending that has accompanied the global war on terror and the economic bailouts after the crash, the DC area these days has become the ultimate boomtown. Everywhere you look there are new McMansions, shopping centers and 20-story office towers going up.

I currently live just outside the capital beltway in Fairfax County, Virginia, and was amazed to see a new sign go up in my neighborhood the other day proudly announcing that one of the few remaining empty spaces around here is about to see the erection of some new homes "starting" at a mere $1.1 million. Mind you, if other recent residential construction around here is any guide these won't be gigantic mansions surrounded by high security walls but oversize, cheaply built, ugly ass faux mansions squeezed onto lots not much bigger than the foundations of the the houses themselves. Once completed they will most likely be occupied either by upper middle class liberal twits or Ayn Rand worshipping contractor assholes who think selling 100% of their vastly overpriced services to the federal government makes them great businesspeople.

Over the holidays, I reconnected by phone with two of my old high school buddies who still live back in Freeport whom I had not seen or spoken with in a very long time, and who did not know about my recent cancer battle until I mentioned it in a note I sent with my Christmas cards. Fortunately, both of them are doing all right health wise and economically. In fact one is an engineer, bizarrely one of about 40 who still work in the office area of that former Sensata plant. He had a front row seat during the 2012 protests over the closing and subsequent election-induced media circus--but it haunts him now to walk through the empty factory facility that used to employ around 400 people, including a few friends from our old high school days.

He also told me another economic anecdote that was quite telling. Growing up, we were neighbors who lived not far from Freeport's east side, which is the older part of town where people who were stung by the first round of globalization in the late 1970s and 1980s began to cluster. As things grew worse, the blight of drugs, petty crime and broken down looking homes spread slowly westward until it eventually enveloped our old neighborhood. The last time I visited back in 2006, the house I where I'd lived was up for sale as part of a HUD auction after the family who bought it from my father had apparently been foreclosed upon.

Anyway, a guy my friend knows bought a house on that same block about ten years ago for around $49,000--as a globalization loser Freeport never really got caught up much in the housing bubble. Yet--and get this--with the continued decline of the neighborhood he now desperately wants to move but can't because he's too far underwater. That's sad not only for what it says about the current state of home values in my hometown but for the homeowner's apparent inability to pay off a house mortgaged a decade ago for about the price of the countless Lexus SUVs I see driving around in my current neighborhood.

I read recently that Brooklyn is now ranked as the least affordable housing market in America. There have also been numerous stories recently about the insane prices that high rise luxury condominiums are going for in midtown Manhattan these days. It doesn't take a genius to figure out which two sectors (other than Silicon Valley) have done the best in Obama's "zombie economy"--finance and government contracting. Yet the average American citizen consumer idiot insanely still believes they'll strike it rich someday playing in the former's rigged markets and that it really matters which party's politicians' pockets are being lined by both.

Back in 1970 my hometown, sporting a brand spanking new tire plant that was only six years old where my father (who was a recruiter then) had to travel all over the midwest to find enough warm bodies willing to make big bucks at what were admittedly physically demanding jobs, was an offshoot from places like Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland of an American manufacturing economy that supported the most robust middle class the world has ever seen. Though the seeds of the destruction of that economic model ultimately lay within that same peaking of crude oil production, it was the parallel rise of the zombie economy (aided and abetted by fearfully ignorant voters who repeatedly elected the same assholes who sold them down the river) that accelerated its demise.

Happy New Year, everybody.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

If the NYPD "Turns Its Back On You" You're Doing Something Right

So the NYPD is "turning its back" on Mayor Bill de Blasio for having the audacity to tell his children what every minority parent in the New York City and probably all across the country ought to be telling their children--be very careful in your interactions with the police. And as to those many NYPD officers who literally turned their backs to the mayor when he was doing what a good mayor should--honoring one of their own killed while doing what police are SUPPOSED to be doing, namely protecting the public rather than choking the shit out of them--let me offer up a hearty, "fuck you." As the elected mayor of New York City, de Blasio has a responsibility to ALL the citizens of New York, not just your immature and insular asses. And yes, that also means calling out the thugs among you--and you all know damn well who they are even if each of you are too chickenshit to do the right thing yourselves.

If the NYPD was trying to send a message, this writer heard it loud and clear. The "Turn Our Backs" fiasco with de Blasio made me think of someone else so many of you sanctimonious fuckers in blue, past and present, turned your backs on. His name was Frank Serpico, and he's a true hero who has been living with the consequences of your lack of support for over 40 years now.

I'll admit I'd mostly forgotten about Serpico until just a few months ago when he wrote an essay for Politico entitled, "The Police Are Still Out of Control." In it, he included this chilling passage about the NYPD:
Forty-odd years on, my story probably seems like ancient history to most people, layered over with Hollywood legend. For me it’s not, since at the age of 78 I’m still deaf in one ear and I walk with a limp and I carry fragments of the bullet near my brain. I am also, all these years later, still persona non grata in the NYPD. Never mind that, thanks to Sidney Lumet’s direction and Al Pacino’s brilliant acting, “Serpico” ranks No. 40 on the American Film Institute’s list of all-time movie heroes, or that as I travel around the country and the world, police officers often tell me they were inspired to join the force after seeing the movie at an early age.

In the NYPD that means little next to my 40-year-old heresy, as they see it. I still get hate mail from active and retired police officers. A couple of years ago after the death of David Durk — the police officer who was one of my few allies inside the department in my efforts to expose graft — the Internet message board “NYPD Rant” featured some choice messages directed at me. “Join your mentor, Rat scum!” said one. An ex-con recently related to me that a precinct captain had once said to him, “If it wasn’t for that fuckin’ Serpico, I coulda been a millionaire today.” My informer went on to say, “Frank, you don’t seem to understand, they had a well-oiled money making machine going and you came along and threw a handful of sand in the gears.”

In 1971 I was awarded the Medal of Honor, the NYPD’s highest award for bravery in action, but it wasn’t for taking on an army of corrupt cops. It was most likely due to the insistence of Police Chief Sid Cooper, a rare good guy who was well aware of the murky side of the NYPD that I’d try to expose. But they handed the medal to me like an afterthought, like tossing me a pack of cigarettes. After all this time, I’ve never been given a proper certificate with my medal. And although living Medal of Honor winners are typically invited to yearly award ceremonies, I’ve only been invited once — and it was by Bernard Kerick, who ironically was the only NYPD commissioner to later serve time in prison. A few years ago, after the New York Police Museum refused my guns and other memorabilia, I loaned them to the Italian-American museum right down street from police headquarters, and they invited me to their annual dinner. I didn’t know it was planned, but the chief of police from Rome, Italy, was there, and he gave me a plaque. The New York City police officers who were there wouldn’t even look at me.
Four decades after Serpico took a bullet to the face because of some cops who were no better than the thugs they were supposedly out to arrest and many in the NYPD, even some I gather who weren't even born yet on the day he was shot, STILL consider what he did to be worse than what he tried to stop.

It's actually a shame that the recent spate of highly publicized police abuse cases have become wrapped up in poisonous racial politics, because ultimately such divides provide the type of backlash political cover that makes it easy for institutional inertia against police reform to continue. Towards the end of the article Frank Serpico, bless him, tries to remain optimistic that his ongoing efforts to combat police abuse will inevitably make a difference. But the sad fact is that until and unless older, well off white people in this country begin to routinely experience what happened to Eric Garner, police will continue carry an effective license to kill. And I say that as one of those who is so insulated--the worst thing any cop ever did to me was write me a speeding ticket.

I rarely feel any sympathy for any politician, but I don't envy de Blasio going forward after having stirred up this hornet's nest. If he gets strung up politically or retreats back into his shell, he'll be the negative example that no other mayor, governor or even president will want to emulate. For every Frank Serpico there are a dozen Daniel Pantaleos, and plenty of others who instinctively turn their backs on the former while covering up for and supporting the latter.

Bonus: "You fire without a warning...without a fucking brain in your head?"

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

You Might Be An OPWAL If...

Back in the 1990s, mediocre Georgia-born stand up comedian Jeff Foxworthy became a big star thanks to his inane "You Might Be a Redneck If..." routines. Though the routines themselves seemed fairly harmless at the time (Foxworthy was adverse to using profanity on stage), in retrospect it seems that plenty of Americans--and not JUST from the south--were taking perverse pride at being exactly the kind of people he was allegedly poking fun at.

I hadn't thought about Foxworthy for a long time, until the recent news reports about the idiot Greenpeace protestors who damaged a national historical monument in Peru while filming an anti-global warming video to coincide with the recent carbon emissions conference being held in Lima. Somehow, none of the twelve morons who reportedly participated in the protest nor anyone else in Greenpeace who was aware of this pending protest before it happened recognized how culturally tone deaf and idiotic it was for a pack of liberal gringos to go traipsing around on some sensitive 1,500-year-old Native American geolyphs. Not only did this stupid stunt open Greenpeace up to charges of insensitivity to native cultures, it also basically handed its conservative opposition plenty of (ahem) ammunition with which to totally discredit the very message it was trying to get across.

But, sometimes such things happen when you're an OPWAL (Over-Privileged, White, American Liberal). And no, we don't know if ALL the Greenpeace protestors were in fact white, but they all easily demonstrated what I would call an OPWAL mindset.

Exactly what is an OPWAL mindset? And how do you know for sure whether or not you in fact are one? Well, in the spirit of Jeff Foxworthy I've developed a series of tests so that you, too, may determine whether or not you are actually an OPWAL. Let's begin, shall we?

If you believe driving a hybrid or even an electric car is good for the might be an OPWAL.

If you believe having a black followed by a female president is more important that what those presidents actually do while in might be an OPWAL.

If you believe Obama deserved his Nobel Peace might be an OPWAL.

If you agree with Obama that the country should "look forward and not dwell on the past" when it comes to the Iraq War, torture and the Wall Street crimes that led to the economic crash of might be an OPWAL.

If you blame the Republican minority in congress circa 2009-2011 for blocking the many great things Obama promised to do while in might be an OPWAL.

If you're a registered Democrat but cannot name a single famous labor leader other than Jimmy might be an OPWAL.

If you believe Bill Clinton was a good president because he presided over a strong might be an OPWAL.

If you still blame Ralph Nader for costing Al Gore the presidency in might be an OPWAL.

If you believed that the 2010 Rally to Restore Sanity wasn't a complete waste of fucking time and might be an OPWAL.

If you hate congress as most Americans do, but voted to reelect your Democratic congressperson might be an OPWAL.

If you have a "support the troops" sticker on your vehicle but don't personally know anyone in the might be an OPWAL.

If you have a Stop Global Warming bumper sticker on your Minivan or might be an OPWAL.

If you call yourself an environmentalist but live in the exurbs because your precious snowflakes "need" to have a yard to play might be an OPWAL.

If you saw no reason for antiwar protests to continue once Obama was might be an OPWAL.

If you think Obamacare has solved America's health care might be an OPWAL.

If you ever read a book based upon a recommendation by Oprah might be an OPWAL.

If you think MSNBC is a true liberal alternative to Fox might be an OPWAL.

If you think NPR and PBS are unbiased news might be an OPWAL.

If you still have a subscription to the New York Times or Washington might be an OPWAL.

If you consider yourself progressive on racial issues but the only minorities you interact with on a regular basis are your maid and your coffee might be an OPWAL.

If you actually think it really matters that the Democrats just lost control of the might be an OPWAL.

Anyway, that's enough for now. I'm sure you all could probably come up with plenty of your own. After all, OPWALs are easy targets--almost too easy.

Bonus: "Honey let me introduce you to my redneck friend"

Monday, December 15, 2014

Ian Welsh: America’s Depraved Leadership Has Created a Depraved Population

Fellow blogger Ian Welsh, one of the few opinion writers I have a tremendous respect for, today offered an very grim assessment of the fact that a majority of American citizens consumers idiots now approve of torture:
Before Bush, most Americans were against torture. The endless drumbeat of propaganda and the need to justify what America does (America is good, therefore America does not do evil), has had its effect.

I will make an ethical judgment: people think torture is justified are bad people. Depraved people. A society where a majority thinks it is justified is a depraved culture. (And remember, 51% think it was justified, but 20% don’t have an opinion. Only about a third of Americans are opposed.)
While I totally agree with Ian that America has become a depraved culture, I'm going to offer a slightly different assessment of at least some of the people who approve of torture. After all, the title of his post is contradictory to his conclusion.

It is one thing to offer an answer to a drily worded public opinion survey from the comfort and safety of your own home. It would be another to still favor torture after say, being forced to watch a video of the tactics the CIA was using in action. My bet is that after watching such a video, the number who approve of torture would drop sharply and the dumbass "no opinion" responses would also break overwhelmingly negative.

My point is that the ones who would still approve of torture after seeing it practiced are the truly "bad people" as Ian described them. The remainder are the easily led sheep (I really HATE the term "sheeple") who easily submit to authority and allow themselves to be propagandized. In much the same way that the Nazis were unable to win majority support in Germany until after they were handed power by a cabal of cynical nationalist politicians and could effectively drown out any competing voices from the public sphere, not until America's conservative media organs relentlessly flogged the Jack Nicholson, "You can't HANDLE the truth!" message did torture become an "acceptable" American practice. America's depraved leadership did not really "create" a depraved population, it merely led that population where it wanted it to go.

So does that mean I'm letting those Americans off the hook who are so shallow that they don't really even grasp the evil they are supporting? Fuck no. The only "Good Germans" circa 1933-1945 are those "political undesirables" who ended up in the concentration camps alongside the Jews, gays and Gypsies, or the rare ones who risked the very same fate by trying to hide would-be Nazi victims.

A truly sickening aspect of these public opinion findings for me is that nearly six years after war criminals George W. Bush and Dick Cheney left office I find myself more ashamed and disgusted by my own country than ever. And not that chickenshit Obama was going to use the release of this report to launch an inquiry to hold those responsible for the torture accountable anyway, but now he has even more incentive to stick his thumb up his ass and do nothing.

One last point: if you look at the actual poll results, you'll notice that even a plurality of black Americans now support torture. Which means there had to be quite a few torture supporters out protesting police violence this weekend. That such protestors are unable to make the connection between American war crimes committed overseas and the crimes being perpetrated by the police against their own kind back here at home is yet another dismal example of how there is no hope for America anymore.

Bonus: "You don't like the sound of the truth...coming from my mouth"

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Cynical Politics Behind the Release of the CIA Torture Report

I want to begin this post by assuring my readers (both of you, hi!) that I am glad the CIA torture report, even in its heavily redacted form, was allowed to be released before the new Senate Republican majority hit town and sank the the whole thing to the deepest recesses of the Mariana Trench. ANY report being released that speaks at least some of the truth about what the CIA was up to doing during the Bush years is at least better than no report at all.

That said, the only really surprising thing about the report is that anyone was surprised by what it contained--namely details about what we already knew. The CIA tortured prisoners at so called "black" sites around the world? Check, we already knew that. Numerous other countries participated in torture and rendition? Check, we already knew that. Torture is ineffective as an intelligence gathering device and actually destroys a so-called democracy's credibility when it claims to be a bastion of human rights? Check, we already knew that. Obama isn't going to do jack shit to hold any of the torturers or those who gave the orders accountable? Check, check and fucking check already.

But rather than express my outrage over what the report says, as is being done in many other quarters, I'd like to instead focus on the individual who is most responsible for getting it out the door before it slammed shut: namely the senior U.S. Senator from California, and lame duck chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, Dianne Feinstein. Who is Dianne Feinstein anyway? Well, she is currently the oldest and one of the wealthiest members of the Senate with a net worth by some reports nearly in the nine figures. She is a Democrat and supposed "liberal" who voted for the Iraq War and the Patriot Act and also for the hideous FISA law removing judicial oversight of the executive programs that spy on U.S. citizens. Not only that, her husband is an investment banker who has made countless millions from defense war contracts.

In other words, she seems like just the kind of fake liberal sellout Democrat who might have chosen delay the report's issuance until Mitch McConnell's new Intelligence Chairman could bury it forever. So why did she do it? Was it the remorseful act by an aging old woman who as mortality approaches is feeling a pang of conscience after selling out every young Californian idealist who ever believed in her? Excuse me if I say, not bloody likely. Feinstein strikes me as another Madeline "half a million dead Iraqi children was worth it" Albright type of crusty old stain upon the human race--in other words not the kind who has any conscience at all.

Nope, my personal belief, having no direct knowledge of the situation, is that this was a way for a Democrat whose party just took a major electoral shellacking and is fast on its way to political irrelevancy to try once again to demonstrate to the idiots voters who support her party that there really is a difference between her tribe and the red one. We Democrats may be "Republican lite" on most issues, Feinstein is saying, but at least we are willing to issue a damning report that states what everybody already knew. And for that it's working beautifully. Right on cue, conservative "news" outlets like Fox and the Wall Street Journal immediately fell in line, blasting the report on a strictly partisan basis. Meanwhile, some of the right's more unhinged troglodytes started spewing the kind of fascist rhetoric guaranteed to get (male and female) liberals' panties into a bunch and frothing at the mouth to--make sure they vote Hillary in 2016. That'll learn 'em.

This whole spectacle is, of course, sound and fury signifying nothing, as here in America at least the report will be largely forgotten about by the general public before the new year even rings in. And if overseas outrage should generate another international terrorist attack or two, all the better to keep that War on Terror gravy train a-flowing for war profiteers like Ms. Feinsein's hubby.

As for the CIA itself, the report will change nothing. Obama had already curtailed the agency's worst GWOT abuses (well after the Inside-the-Beltway consensus had already decided torture was counterproductive), so the agency will claim that there is nothing that needs changing. The whole debacle will certainly be another major public relations black eye for Langley, but really, after decades of abuses and spectacular failures and fuck ups, could the image of America's top spy agency really get any worse?

Bonus: "I don't really give a good fuck what you know or don't know--but I'm gonna torture you anyway"

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Bill Cosby: A Fitting "Hero" for 21st Century America

It's been a tough time recently for asshole moralizers of any race who like nothing more than to shake their collective finger at the black community and blame it for its own perceived failures rather than the institutionalized racism that, while it is not quite as omnipresent as in generations past, still remains very much a reality. A half-century after the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, shithead cops are gunning down 12-year-olds holding toy guns and choking to death street vendors while asshole prosecutors steer grand juries away from even indicting them. And if you're the kind of person who believes that Tamir Rice, Eric Garner or Michael Brown would have been killed had they been white, or that Garner and Brown's killers would have gotten away with killing them had they been white, then you are at best completely blinded to the kinds of injustice black Americans face on a routine basis.

Unless, of course, they manage to become rich celebrities. That's one thing that HAS changed for black Americans in the past 50 years. O.J. Simpson was the first black man to really benefit from the "celebritard effect," literally getting away with murder thanks to his trial turning into an out of control media circus and, not incidentally, the fact that the detective who found the key piece of evidence against him used the word "nigger" on the job like he was starring in a Tarrantino movie. At the time of O.J.'s acquittal, many white Americans were dismayed that so many blacks celebrated the verdict--much the same way I imagine the tables were turned here recently after the decision not to indict Darren Wilson. Personally, both results sickened me, but I'll admit to being pretty weird in that I happen to find the killing of innocent people repulsive no matter the race of the victim(s) and/or the perpetrator.

The recent events in Ferguson, Cleveland and New York City have unfolded coincident with appalling public spectacle and spectacular downfall of comedian, racial scold and apparent serial rapist Bill Cosby. Because a vast majority of Americans are apparently stupid enough to believe that the personality they see on teevee hawking Jello pops reflects the real character and personality of the individual doing the hawking, Bill Cosby's career was until very recently able to survive and prosper despite it being open secret for many years that he was in the habit of drugging and raping any young actress or model unlucky enough to come within 100 feet of him.

It particularly galls me to be writing such things about Cosby, who was a true childhood hero of mine. As a kid I had several of his old comedy albums, and listened to legendary routines like "The Chicken Heart" so many times that I was able to entertain other kids in the neighborhood (back in the bad old days before VHS or even Betamax players) by reciting them literally word for word. But given that my favorite athlete back then was Pete Rose, I guess I really shouldn't be at all surprised by this particular belated loss of childhood innocence.

Of course, like so many prominent Americans, Cosby wasn't immune from engaging in monumental hypocrisy and wagging his finger at the supposed failings of others of his own race. In his case, his target was black parents who were supposedly failing to teach their children proper standards of moral behavior. Until the rape scandal finally blew up in his face Cosby was still lecturing to black communities "about his frustrations with certain problems prevalent in underprivileged urban communities, such as illegal drugs; teenage pregnancy; Black Entertainment Television; high-school dropouts; anti-intellectualism; gangsta rap; vulgarity; thievery; offensive clothing; vanity; parental alienation; single-parenting; and failing to live up to the ideals of Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Jr., and African-Americans who preceded Generation X."

Which if you think about it makes Cosby almost the perfect embodiment of 21st century America, believing itself to be an exceptional "shining city on a hill" spreading "freedom" and "democracy" around the world when the reality has been one long unbroken string of war crimes, torture and massive human rights abuses. Just as American police officers routinely abuse and murder black Americans with impunity, our soldiers, bombers, drone pilots and intelligence operatives have been doing the same thing to brown people living in North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia who desire nothing more unreasonable than to live their lives completely free of American interference and exploitation. Collectively, Americans think of themselves as Cliff Huxtable, when in fact they are really Charlie Manson.

The good news in Bill Cosby's case is that even though he is unlikely to be sent to prison where he belongs at least he has lived long enough to finally have his many crimes exposed and to see his legacy as one of America's most beloved entertainers utterly destroyed before his very eyes. It will take quite a while longer, I'm afraid, for America as a nation to receive a similar comeuppance--when its economy finally crashes for good and drags its hideous, bloated military-industrial complex down with it. And like Bill Cosby, when it does finally happen, rather than facing up to their country's many crimes most Americans will instead be wearing a befuddled look of utter incomprehension as it all comes crashing down around them.

Bonus: In retrospect this may well be the most offensive joke any major comedian ever told

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Soon it Might Not Just Be "Open Season" on Black Teenagers

The reaction in many quarters to the Michael Brown shooting and verdict have been quite interesting. It was disappointing for example to see that James Howard Kunstler, whose 2005 book The Long Emergency served as my wake up call for the issues of Peak Oil and resource depletion, has used his recent blog posts to expose himself as a typical old white latent racist of the "get those kids off my lawn" variety. Being Jewish, Kunstler is no doubt familiar with the old Holocaust anecdote that begins with "First they came for the Jews, but not being Jewish I did not speak up," and ends with the narrator himself being hauled away by the Gestapo with no one left to speak up for him. But Jim seems completely oblivious of the fact that by failing to speak up for the young black men being executed on the streets of America by unaccountable cops there may well come a day when it will be "open season" on radical authors who repeatedly agitate against the government and Wall Street--even if they happen to be grumpy old white men.

Surprisingly, one writer who has been pretty sensible about all this is Market Ticker's Karl Denninger, who pointed out how Darren Wilson was allowed to lie to the Grand Jury even as the local prosecutor deliberately steered that same jury to a no bill:
Nobody, with the exception of this site and, believe it or not, one particular thread on Daily Kos, have examined the actual issue -- the fact that the physical evidence did not support the police officer's narrative -- not originally, not as the case developed and not in the Grand Jury testimony.

Further, there is plenty of hard, documentary evidence of intentionally false instructions being given to the Grand Jury -- specifically, the standard for the use of deadly force by officers was presented to them as the pre-Supreme Court decision in 1985 (Tennessee .v. Garner) on shooting fleeing felons. The Grand Jury was instructed that this was permissible when in fact this has not been for 30 years. That's not an accident, it is intentional and willful misconduct on the part of the authorities. Were you or I to give an intentionally false presentation to a Grand Jury we'd find ourselves in prison and with good cause. The Prosecutor will not face that same punishment, yet it was a direct and proximate cause of the no-bill decision.

But now we have the NYC case in which there was a refusal to indict as well -- and this is even more outrageous as the conduct in question, a police choke-hold that was found by the medical examiner to be the cause of death as he ruled it a homicide is a banned practice in most police departments -- including in NYC.
What has been most revealing and particularly disheartening about these cases going all the way back to the Trayvon Martin travesty is the reflexive rallying of support for the shooters. It has been reported that over $500,000 has been raised for cold blooded killer Wilson (and yes, given that Wilson said in an interview he'd do it all over again the exact same way, I have no hesitation in labeling him a sociopath), and a similar online fundraising effort was undertaken on behalf of Zimmerman. Worse yet was the rash of police officers around the country publicly posting or proclaiming "I am Darren Wilson," which ought to make any conscientious citizen of any race, creed or color's blood run cold.

What you see here is an America that is rapidly regressing in area where true progress had ever so recently been made. After repeated public disclosures of police corruption and abuse that were published and broadcast starting in the late 1960s and early 1970s there was a nationwide effort to clean up and improve the profession. College degrees became far more common for officers as Criminal Justice became a sought after university major. "Civilian oversight" became a common catch phrase that was begrudgingly welcomed by the leadership of departments that knew they needed to get rid of at least the worst of their bad apples and shore up their public image.

Unfortunately, the aftermath of 9/11 had the same kind of corrosive effect on law enforcement that is has had in so many other aspects of American life. The images of NYPD officers rushing into to the towers and losing their lives to save their fellow citizens turned them into heroes--in much the same way as were the soldiers and Marines going off to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq to "avenge" those who died in the towers. Unfortunately, the hero worship of police officers has persisted, making them virtually immune from criticism in many circles, particularly among those who believe "law and order" is far more important than numerous Constitutional amendments--save, of course, the 2nd.

Dovetailing the 9/11 hero halos placed upon the police, was the militarization of police forces as federal homeland security money was generously heaped upon departments so they could purchase the excess military grade hardware being churned out by American defense war contractors. Historically, one thing that has separated America from being like the tin pot dictatorships and banana republics around the world is that we don't send tanks and regular army units into the streets to restore order. But with our police now driving APVs, outfitted like the stormtroopers on the Death Star and carrying high power weaponry, the distinction is rapidly fading.

Though petty police corruption such as taking small bribes to ignore misdemeanors may not be as prevalent today as it was a couple of generations ago, with their repeated displays of wanton violence against citizens police departments are more out control today than they ever have been. Worse yet is when the asshole prosecutors, whose fucking JOB it is to protect the public from criminals, even and ESPECIALLY those criminals who wear the badge, through their actions sanction and condone executions of unarmed citizens, America steps that much closer to becoming a police state. Chickenshit Obama has the option of ordering the Department of Justice to conduct federal civil rights investigations in these cases, as Daddy Bush did after the initial Rodney King verdicts. His failure to do so is inexcusable, though at this point I am beginning to wonder if the U.S. has become so polarized that it might be impossible to get even a federal jury to convict a cop of murder these days.

I'd like to close this particularly grim post by saying that these events, and the public's reaction to them, should finally dispel any notion by liberals or progressives that the election of Barak Obama showed that America had finally moved past its long history of racism. The disgraceful overt cheering on of sociopathic murdering assholes George Zimmerman and Darren Wilson and the repellent attempts to smear the character of their innocent victims demonstrates that racial hatred is not only alive and well among a substantial portion of the population, but is deepening and hardening is ways that portend some potentially very scary future scenarios as America continues to slowly sink into the economic abyss.

Next time it might not be a black teenager impudently walking in the street instead of on the sidewalk who gets gunned down for defying authority, it might be a grouchy old Peak Oil writer who dares to tell the frothing supporters of Zimmerman and Wilson that soon they will no longer be able to exercise their "God given right" to hog the roadways in the Hummers and F-250s with the "Global Whining" stickers plastered prominently on the back bumper. No one will likely speak for you then, Jim, because by when your white skin is no longer sufficient to shield you it really will be too late.

Bonus: "Fucking with me, 'cause I'm a teenager, with a little bit of gold and a pager"