Tag Archives: conservatives

Congressmen Say Their Own Personal Debt is OK, but not Government Debt

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

Ah, “elected” government, where hypocrites are paid to advocate for causes they may or may not even agree with, and legislate rules that they themselves don’t follow. And apropos of budget hysteria and economic terrorism being wrought against popular public programs, the trumped-up fears are not only false (the debt crisis is imaginary, and only 6% of the country is aware that the deficit is actually falling) but it’s no surprise to anyone that the ‘debt-fixing’ warriors don’t have the same view of their own debt as they do of the country’s, or yours.

As Josh Israel of ProPublica points out, fourteen of the most vitriolic enemies of vital programs themselves live with the personal irresponsibility of private debt (to the tune of millions).

These hypocrites include:

  • House Budget Committee Member Tom Rice (R-SC):Wrote: “At a time when hardworking American families are living off of a budget, the federal government should be no different. My colleagues and I believe it is time for America to change course and get back on a path of prosperity. This begins with a balanced budget plan.” Reported five mortgages totaling over $4 million.
  • House Budget Committee Member Diane Black (R-TN):Wrote: “The state of Tennessee balances its budget, American families and businesses balance their budgets and so should the federal government,” and “Balancing the budget is not extreme; it is what American families across this country do on a regular basis.” Reported four mortgages on three properties, totaling more than $3 million.
  • House Budget Committee Member Roger Williams (R-TX):Said Wednesday: “We have to have a balanced budget. I have to balance my budget. Everybody in America has to balance their family’s budget or their business’ budget, not every ten years, not even every single year, but every single day.” Reported more than $2.5 million in business debts.
  • House Budget Committee Member Scott Rigell (R-VA):Boasted that he voted for a balanced budget amendment because: “I know that American families do what they have to do to live within their means; and so too should the government.” Reported $1.5 million in lines of credit, a $500,000-plus mortgage, and over $10,000 in credit card debt.
  • House Budget Committee Member Bill Flores (R-TX):Wrote: “It’s time Washington was forced to finally live within its means and cut up the credit cards. Every American family and 49 out of 50 states currently abide by some form of a balanced-budget requirement. If they can make the hard choices to pay their bills and live within their means, then Washington should too,” and “American families and businesses must live by this principle every day, and they want Congress to abide by the same rule.” Reported two mortgages on residences totaling over $1.5 million.
  • House Republican Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA): In a joint editorial with Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), wrote: “Just as any family or business has to do, Washington needs to learn to live within its means.” Reported three mortgages totaling at least $1 million.
  • House Budget Committee Member Vicky Hartzler (R-MO): Said in a floor speech: “Families I talk to, they say, Every year we balance our budget, how come Washington doesn’t? Every small business I visit says, We balance our budget, how come Washington doesn’t? Every farmer and rancher I visit with says, We balance our budget, how come Washington doesn’t?” Reported five real estate mortgages totaling more than $900,000.
  • House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-WA):Wrote: “Balancing the budget isn’t a liberal or conservative issue. When families in Eastern Washington balance their budgets, they don’t consider it a liberal or conservative policy; it’s just a requirement of life,” and “Families, small businesses and even the State of Washington must balance their budgets. It’s difficult and it forces some hard choices. It’s time for the federal government to do the same.” Reported three mortgages totalling more than $600,000 and a student loan of at least $10,000.
  • House Budget Committee Member Reid Ribble (R-WI):Explained that he’d backed a bill because “we need to put a stop to the irresponsible deficit spending in Washington. Families across Wisconsin have been forced to scale back their spending and balance their budgets, yet the federal government has failed to do the same.” Reported several mortgages on properties and a home equity line of credit, totaling several hundred thousand dollars.
  • House Budget Committee Member Rob Woodall (R-GA):Wrote: “A Balanced Budget Amendment is crucial to ensuring fiscal responsibility in our government, not only today, but in the years to come,” Woodall said. “American families and businesses must decide how to spend their money responsibly; it’s time that the folks in Washington do the same.”Reported two mortgages totaling more than $150,000.
  • House Budget Committee Member Alan Nunnelee (R-MS):Wrote that “businesses, large and small, are working on their budgets for 2012. Each of these groups, local governments, state government, and private businesses operate with a very practical consideration…they must make their budgets balance. This is a concept that American families understand. Thirty years ago, just before I was to be married, a very wise friend taught me a simple but important principle of family budgeting, ‘If your outgo exceeds your income then your upkeep will be your downfall.’ The only entity in America that does not seem to understand this concept is the federal government,” and “Families and businesses in my district have been sitting down, cutting spending, balancing their budgets and making tough decisions. It’s time for the federal government to do the same. A balanced budget amendment will legally force the federal government to only spend what it takes in and start living within its means – a practice Mississippi families and businesses are asked to do every day, yet a practice our own President refuses to participate in. Reported four mortgages on two properties, totaling more than $145,000.
  • House Budget Committee Member James Lankford (R-OK): Said in a floor speech: “Nineteen years ago my wife and I married. I was still in school, I was working as much as I could, she was also working, but we were barely making it, but we made the decision, we were not going to run up credit card debt and live beyond our means. We paid our school loans, we tied to our church, we ate a lot of peanut butter, and we lived simply. As Dave Ramsey said, we determined to act our wage. It’s a biblical principal for myself and my family; Proverbs 22:7 states, ‘The borrower is a slave to the lender.’ Proverbs 22 applies to families, and Proverbs 22 applies to nations. If we were living within our means as a nation, almost all the debate in the last six months in this chamber would have been different.”Reported that he “is a slave” to Bank of America, with whom he has a mortgage of more than $100,000.
  • House Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA):Wrote: “In order to make ends meet and plan ahead, hardworking American families and small businesses budget to manage their finances. Why can’t Washington?” and “In the past two years, discretionary spending has increased by 84 percent and our debt has grown by over $3.5 trillion. No family or small business in Bakersfield, or anywhere for that matter, would ever budget like this, and the federal government cannot.” Reported a mortgage of over $100,000.
  • House Budget Committee Member Sean Duffy (R-WI):Wrote: “Congress must learn what every working family and small business in Central and Northwestern Wisconsin has known for a painfully long time: the path forward to a sustainable and prosperous future is paved by fiscal responsibility and smaller, smarter government. One of the most commonsense measures we can enact is a balanced budget amendment which simply dictates that the federal government must live within its means. This is a lesson well-learned by the hardworking citizens of Wisconsin and there’s no reason why Washington should live by different rules than Wausau, Chippewa Falls or Rice Lake.” Reported two mortgages totaling more than $150,000, a line of credit, and a student loan of more than $50,000.

As AllGov points out, forty-six lawmakers in Congress owe thousands of dollars in college loans, totaling between $1.8 million and $4.3 million (via OpenSecrets data). But we’re still not see much action in the way of student debt justice.

They probably don’t care a whit for their own debt because they know the next big bribe or revolving door contract is just around the corner. And they don’t care about your debt at all, because elites in the bubble don’t think the same as we do. And to be perfectly honest, they don’t hate the government debt either, as their buddies continue to get rich off of it (and the big drivers of debt and deficit, Pentagon spending, will not shrink an ounce). But they need a fear engendered in the populace so they can have an excuse to take things away from the populace. And if you complain that the programs you have known and loved on for decades are being austerely destroyed, well, you’re just a ‘moocher’ who wants ‘more free stuff’.

The ProPublica piece reminds us that the government is not the same as a corporation, and shouldn’t be run like one. But even considering that corpo-fascism has already taken hold of our once-public infrastructure that used to serve us, they’re still running it like a pretty piss-poor business.

Love and Destruction

heartPLAYLIST
In the Hall of the Mountain King – Funk United
Light My Fire – Minnie Riperton
The Atmosphere Routine – Mr. Dibbs
Love And Happiness – Al Green
Do Your Thing – Isaac Hayes
Don’t Go Home with Your Hard-On – Leonard Cohen
New Comer – W. Rockman
Munchies for Your Love – Bootsy’s Rubber Band
Velvet Voyage – Klaus Schulze
Why – Gemini (Birthday Song)
Take It All Away – CAKE
I Blame You – They Might Be Giants
Debonair – Afghan Whigs
Djed – Tortoise
You To Thank – Ben Folds
Spent on rainy days – Bright Eyes
Options – Pedro The Lion
Hogin’ Machine – Les Baxter
The Dean And I – 10CC

Stranger in a Strange Land 2013-02-16: Love Songs by The Stranger on Mixcloud

It’s a good thing Fox “News” credibility has been steadily dwindling, falling by 9 percent in three years, and is now at a four-year record-low. These are the idiots are are trying to kill jobs, keep the minimum wage low, and encourage the toxic philosophy of companies laying off employees to dodge taxes.

 makes an excellent point about those long lines in stores when the fat cats decrease hours and increase layoffs to avoid paying fair wages and health insurance:

Were they being “penny-wise and pound-foolish” and costing themselves business today as well as in the future?

Because this misunderstands taxes. Taxes are not a “cost” as Marco Rubio said. Taxes are on profits. A company pays taxes after all costs — including wages and salaries — are deducted from revenue. The fact of the company paying a tax at all means they have the right number of employees serving their customers and meeting demand so they make a profit.

It is the poorly-managed companies that employ too few people who are not going to do well enough to pay taxes. (I doubt very many companies are employing too many people. What are they doing, having them sit around reading the paper?)

Obviously being profitable — which means that they pay taxes — does not cause a business to lay people off or reduce hours. When Rubio says taxes make companies “pass the costs on to their employees through fewer hours, lower pay and even layoffs” he is just wrong.

For the minimum-wage employee an increase means an immediate increase in demand at all the places he shops. Millions of people with a bit more money to spend because of a minimum-wage boost would certainly mean more hiring, because more customers would be coming through the doors. A well-run business employs the right number of people, period.

And while the Republicans are so interested in the drummed up controversy over the public debt, it ignores the debt that Wall Street hasn’t paid back to the American taxpayers, despite their astounding bounce-back and profits. Of course they face no criminal charges, but what about the$245 billion of TARP funds spent on banks, with only $26 billion received in settlements. 

And while their predatory practices effect the poor, and people of color, the most, governments and private enterprise seem all too willing to collude on bringing back debtor’s prisons.

Via In These Times:

A 2010 report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lays out the breadth of this problem. Titled “In For a Penny: The Rise of America’s New Debtor Prisons,” the report examines how “day after day, indigent defendants are imprisoned for failing to pay legal debts they can never hope to manage. In many cases, poor men and women end up jailed or threatened with jail though they have no lawyer representing them.”

Meanwhile, Obama is increasing domestic drone surveillance, and clamming up when asked any questions about these (or related) policies or programs.

Via Mother Jones:

During a Google+ “Fireside Hangout” Thursday evening, President Barack Obama was asked if he believed he has the authority to authorize a drone strike against an American citizen on US soil.

He didn’t exactly answer the question.

“First of all, I think, there’s never been a drone used on an American citizen on American soil. And, you know, we respect and have a whole bunch of safeguards in terms of how we conduct counterterrorism operations outside the United States. The rules outside the United States are going to be different then the rules inside the United States. In part because our capacity to, for example, to capture a terrorist inside the United States are very different then in the foothills or mountains of Afghanistan or Pakistan.

But what I think is absolutely true is that it is not sufficient for citizens to just take my word for it that we are doing the right thing. I am the head of the executive branch. And what we’ve done so far is to try to work with Congress on oversight issues. But part of what I am going to have to work with congress on is to make sure that whatever it is we’re providing congress, that we have mechanisms to also make sure that the public understands what’s going on, what the constraints are, what the legal parameters are. And that is something that I take very seriously. I am not someone who believes that the president has the authority to do whatever he wants, or whatever she wants, whenever they want, just under the guise of counterterrorism. There have to be legal checks and balances on it.”

Even with Rand Paul on the job, so serious questions are being asked of John Brennan in his confirmation hearings, despite concerns about civil liberties killing Brennan’s nomination to head the CIA in 2008.

  • Why Did the President Kill a 16-year old American Teenager?
  • Are there ANY Qualifications for Authorizing Death Sentences?
  • Why did the Obama administration wait until election season to codify rules for assassinating people?
  • Do you see a problem with “signature strikes?”

So why didn’t Obama just say, “no, the president cannot deploy drone strikes against US citizens on American soil”? Because the answer is probably “yes.”

Even so-called “liberals” like Dianne Feinstein are dead wrong on the issue, both morally and factuallyShe stated that civilian casualties caused by U.S. drone strikes each year has “typically been in the single digits.”

According to an extensive report by researchers at NYU School of Law and Stanford University Law School, disputed the line coming from the White House and from Feinstein on Thursday. The report cites statistics from the U.K. based Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ), which found that from June 2004 to September 2012 U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan killed between 474 to 881 civilians, including 176 children. The BIJ relies on newspaper accounts and its own independent researchers in Waziristan.

The Stanford/NYU study backs up such figures with evidence of the trauma of living under drones strikes, based on “interviews with victims and witnesses of drone activity, their family members, current and former Pakistani government officials, representatives from five major Pakistani political parties, subject matter experts, lawyers, medical professionals, development and humanitarian workers, members of civil society, academics, and journalists.” Even if the BIJ’s lowest estimation of 474 civilians in Pakistan alone were accurate, Feinstein’s figures would still be far off the mark.

Washington Post offers data from the Web site Long War Journal, U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen killed a combined 31 civilians in 2008, 84 in 2009, 20 in 2010, 30 in 2011  and 39 in 2012.

The New America Foundation, a Washington think tank, says that U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan alone killed at least 25 civilians in 2008, 25 again in 2009, 14 in 2010, six in 2011 and five in 2012.

Hell, let’s give the drone pilots medals while we’re at it! They might get sore asses from sitting down all day!

Among self-described liberal Democrats, fully 77 percent endorse the use of drones against terrorist targets. On the question of killing Americans in drone strikes, Democrats approved of the use 58-33 percent, as did liberals, 55-35 percent.

A separate Pew study from October 2011 found that 87 percent of Americans support “increasing the use of unmanned drones,” including a majority of Democrats who said it was a “good thing.”

This is due to the false dichotomy of the blind theology set up by militant drone hawks. Either robot death from the skies, or boots on the ground?

“Drones are a lot more civilized than what we used to do. I think it’s actually a more humane weapon because it can be targeted to specific enemies and specific people.” ~Sen. Angus King’s (I-Maine)

[Drone strikes] inflict fewer civilian deaths than bombing campaigns, boots on the ground or any practical alternative.” ~New York Times columnist David Brooks

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes calls the other alternative.

“We can be a nation that declares its war over, that declares itself at peace and goes about rigorously and energetically using intelligence and diplomacy and well-resourced police work to protect us from future attacks”

But the dogma doesn’t allow for such creative problem-solving when singular destruction is narrowly employed. And secret, no less!

All the more reason that Yours Truly can’t wait for our civilization to be destroyed by alien life, life-destroying asteroids, or rather, exploding meteorites.

At least that wouldn’t be politically-motivated. It would be a mercy. A labor of love. Ahh.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2013-02-16: Love Songs by The Stranger on Mixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

Austere Warnings

sun ra

Danger signs abound reminding us of the context of our austere, violent, unequal world. Politically-motivated reasoning disenfranchises voters, consumers, workers, people of color, the impoverished, whistleblowers, dissenters, journalists, and any citizen who wants their free civil rights.

PLAYLIST
In the Hall of the Mountain King – Duke Ellington
Sunshine Of Your Love – Ella Fitzgerald
Other Planes of There – Sun Ra And His Solar Arkestra
Pinetops Boogie Woogie – Pinetops Perkins
Big Chief – Professor Longhair
I Smell A Rat – Big Mama Thornton
Drunk – Jimmy Liggins & His 3D Music
RL Burnside – Boogie Chillen
Bass Solo – Larry Graham
What About You (In The World Today) – Co Real Artists
fruitman – kool and the gang
Acid Lady – San Francisco T.k.o.’s
Message From 9 To The Universe – Jimi Hendrix & friends
Get Off Your Ass And Jam – George Clinton & Parliment Funkadelic
Look What You Can Get – Funky Nassau
Symphonic Revolution – Mandrill
It’s A New Day – The Skullsnaps
Do The Sissy – Albert Collins
Sunset – Yusef Lateef
Goodmorning Sunshine – Quasimoto
Crosshairs – DANGERDOOM
Chemical Calisthenics – Blackalicious
Spiritual Healing – Dälek
Bounce – Jay Dilla
Lazy Confessions – The Moldy Peaches
Lonlon (Ravel’s Bolero) – Angélique Kidjo

Stranger in a Strange Land 2013-02-02: Austere Warnings by The Stranger on Mixcloud

Even the jobs numbers belie the myth, with Economic Policy Institute’s Heidi Shierholz noting that “the jobs deficit—the number of jobs lost since the recession officially began plus the number of jobs we should have added just to keep up with the normal growth in the potential labor force—remains nearly nine million.” With certain politicians stamping out that growth to the labor and middle classes, the labor market will not fill that gap until the end of 2021.

The conservative-led drive in Congress for more federal budget-cutting will reduce demand, stifle growth and choke off job creation, at a time when we need much higher levels of investment and jobs growth.

This jobs deficit is directly affected by the blind austerity hysteria (or austeria, eh? eh?), with our U.S. economy lagging in response to the declining markets in Europe, suffering a costly recession inflicted by misguided austerity policies.

I can’t repeat it enough: cutting government spending in a weak economy costs jobs.

Via The Campaign for America’s Future:

  1. Austerity costs jobs. More than 20 million people are in need of full-time work.  While corporate profits are at record heights as a percentage of the economy, wages are at record lows and falling.  cuts in government spending and hikes in taxes on working people cost jobs.  Government workers and contractors get laid off.  Small businesses feel the pinch as the afflicted tighten their belts.  Interest rates can’t go lower; business doesn’t get any more confident.
  2. More austerity is already being inflicted. Last quarter’s decline took place before the tax hikes agreed to in December’s “fiscal cliff” deal.  The increase of tax rates on the top 1 percent will have little effect on demand, since someone making over $400,000 can afford the hit.  But the end of the payroll tax holiday cost the typical family 2 percent of their income, with the change visible in their January paychecks.  For a family earning $50,000, that represents a $1,000 loss of income
  3. Even more austerity will soon come. House Republicans devoted their retreat to reordering the fiscal hostage crises they have planned for the next five months. – the sequester, they believe, will give them greater leverage to extort deep and unpopular cuts in spending, particularly Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
  4. The deficit hawks are delusional. Out-of-control inflation hasn’t broken out.  Investors are not panicked.  They are still willing to park their money in U.S. bonds for essentially no real return. One reason is that the deficit isn’t out of control.  As the Congressional Budget Office reports, the annual deficit is down by 25 percent since 2009.    It is coming down faster than any time since the demobilization at the end of World War II.   Our mid-term debt is essentially stabilized as a percent of gross domestic product.  Our long-term debt projections are completely a question of fixing our broken health care system.
  5. Stop the austerity hysteria. Stop paying tribute to the austerity lobby. return to sensible governance.  Repeal the sequester – deep across-the-board cuts are idiotic. Commit to growing our way out of the hole we are in. Invest in areas vital to our economy and to our people.  Pay for those commitments in ways that makes sense.  Put people back to work and watch the deficits come down.  Crack down on overseas tax dodges. End the obscene subsidies to Big Oil, Big Pharma and Big Agra.

But Obama is not and will not be our savior on this subject. He has flip-flopped enough on the issue of Too-Big-to-Fail banks and money in politics enough to appear entirely culpable.

Like many presidents before him, he is using the guise of ‘nonprofits’ to turn what was once lucrative campaign cash into unlimited corporate donations. Just as he has ‘devolved’ on SuperPACs, Citizen’s United, special interests, and other contributions. At this point, it is no longer questionable or dodgy to call him a Wall Street co-conspirator, as the President rakes in massive Wall Streetcontributions and paying back donors with immunity from prosecution.

He hasn’t prosecuted a single banker and has appointed a scandal-plagued Wall Street defense lawyer to head the SEC. He has whined that he has been blocked by the intransigent Congress, but still refuses to exercise executive function (you know, his fucking job) in areas that he does have direct influence.

Via Salon:

A president, for instance, has the unilateral power to at least propose tough Wall Street regulations, even if Congress is too corrupt to pass them. A president, likewise, has the unilateral power to nominate genuinely independent regulators, even if a Wall Street-dominated Senate might try to halt such a nomination. In short, a president has the unilateral power to at least force a serious fight over these issues — and Obama has refused to even do that. Instead, he championed bailouts and a Wall Street “reform” package that let the banks off the hook, and he has appointed Wall Street pals like Lanny Breuer at Justice andMary Jo White at the Securities Exchange Commission.

The ‘President is weak and blocked’ defense doesn’t make much sense either in the context of one of the most powerful presidents in recent history, on leveraging reforms, increasing the surveillance state, national security and foreign policy.

In fact, this Treasury Department has approved excessive salaries for the very same executives of the very same financial firms that received taxpayer funds as part of the 2008 economic bailout of Wall Street.

The news comes in a report authored by the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which said that “Treasury approved all 18 requests it received last year to raise pay for executives at American International Group Inc., General Motors Corp. and Ally Financial Inc,” according to the Associated Press.

14 of the requests for executive pay raises were over $100,000, and the biggest raise was $1 million. All this while employee and consumer protections are set adrift and ignored, or worse; the National Labor Relations Board and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are set upon and impugned by cruel Republicans. The unemployed are even cannibalized by the major banks taking their cut wherever they can get it.

Via AllGov:

A new report (pdf) from the nonprofit group National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) says Americans out of work are paying millions of dollars in unnecessary fees as part of receiving their unemployment payments. This is because many states encourage or even require the jobless to use bank-issued payment cards to access their funds.

The NCLC found that many states, like Arizona, make it difficult for residents to sign up for direct deposit with the state government. And in at least five states—California, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland and Nevada—direct deposit is not an option at all.

The consumer group contends that this situation is illegal under federal law prohibiting states from requiring benefits recipients to open an account with a specific bank, such as JPMorgan ChaseU.S. Bancorp and Bank of America.

But ignore the hypocrisy. Congress does whatever it wants, breaking the very laws it legislates, or at least, exempting themselves at the expense of the fleeced classes.

And while those Chief Execrable Officers in Congress “battle“, they hope to silence large swaths of the voting population. It isn’t enough that they overlook the poor and favor those who can afford hefty bribes, they still want to entirely disenfranchise the hated plebes with voter ID laws. There is much that can be done to prevent this tampering, but injustice is frequent.

Because the status quo machinery cannot be stopped. Even when outspoken cogs decry the monstrousness of it, they make such admonitions within the context of authoritative paradigms.

Via Danger Room:

Ben Emmerson wants to be clear: He’s not out to ban flying killer robots used by the CIA or the U.S. military. But the 49-year-old British lawyer is about to become the bane of the drones’ existence, thanks to the United Nations inquiry he launched last week into their deadly operations.

Emmerson, the United Nations’ special rapporteur for human rights and counterterrorism, will spend the next five months doing something the Obama administration has thoroughly resisted: unearthing the dirty secrets of a global counterterrorism campaign that largely relies on rapidly proliferating drone technology. Announced on Thursday in London, it’s the first international inquiry into the drone program, and one that carries the imprimatur of the world body.

If the facts show that the US is committing war crimes, then so be it, that is what he will unearth.

And AlterNet:

A military judge overseeing September 11 pre-trial hearings revealed Thursday the government had censored them from outside the courtroom, and angrily ordered that this stop immediately.

The proceedings at the high-security, high-tech courtroom due to host the trial of five alleged plotters in America’s worst terror attack are heard in the press gallery and in a room where human rights groups and victims’ families sit, with a 40 second delay.

This is done so a court security officer, or CSO, sitting next to the judge can block anything deemed classified.

On Monday part of the proceedings were censored when the discussion touched on secret CIA prisons where the suspects were held and abused.

The judge said he was surprised and angry that the censoring mechanism was activated from outside the court, without his knowledge.

And the only official who has been officially punished for the illegal CIA torture program was the whistleblower who talked about it.

Via Glenn Greenwald:

John Kiriakou is not a pure anti-torture hero given that, in his first public disclosures, he made inaccurate claims about the efficacy of waterboarding. But he did also unequivocally condemn waterboarding and other methods as torture. And, as FAIR put it this week, whatever else is true: “The only person to do time for the CIA’s torture policies appears to be a guy who spoke publicly about them, not any of the people who did the actual torturing.” Despite zero evidence of any harm from his disclosures, the federal judge presiding over his case – the reliably government-subservient US District Judge Leonie Brinkema – said she “would have given Kiriakou much more time if she could.” As usual, the only real criminals in the government are those who expose or condemn its wrongdoing.

This is why whistleblowing – or, if you prefer, unauthorized leaks of classified information – has become so vital to preserving any residual amounts of transparency.

“when our sources are prosecuted, the news-gathering process is criminalized, so it’s incumbent upon all journalists to speak up” 

~the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer

“People are feeling less open to talking to reporters given this uptick. There is a definite chilling effect in government due to these investigations.” ~Washington Post

“the president’s crackdown chills dissent, curtails a free press and betrays Obama’s initial promise to ‘usher in a new era of open government.'” ~Bloomberg report

So the powerful call for more cyber-warfare, more government surveillance of the citizenry, and to privatize that surveillance state the way they are privatizing everything else in our rapidly corporatizing fascist nation.

The comfy relations between the private sector and law enforcement poses a risk to the rights and freedoms of the individual. But authoritarians accept government power as inherently valid and government claims as inherently true. It’s easy for them to accept the secrecy, and to punish defiers as traitors.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2013-02-02: Austere Warnings by The Stranger on Mixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

Al-Jazeera Buys Current TV, Pundits’ Heads Explode

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

Current TV was sold to Al-Jazeera English for a reported $500 million dollars. Eliot Spitzer has quit his show, while the Young Turks made a point of saying they are independent, and thus owned by neither organization.

Time Warner Cable opportunistically jumped at the chance to drop Current with the ‘change of ownership’ clause in their contract. Time Warner contends it was not a political move, but cited ‘lack of demand’ and their already-streaming online free content as factors. According to the New York Times, Time Warner Cable wrote: “We are keeping an open mind, and as the service develops, we will evaluate whether it makes sense, for our customers, to launch the network.”

The point has been made at AlterNet that Time Warner subscribers are hit with the cost of political organizations they may not even want, with FOX charging $1 per month for its content and MSNBC 20 cents.

It is difficult to take seriously, however, claims that anything regarding Al-Jazeera in America (which would be called Al-Jazeera America) are not at least somewhat politically-motivated. FOX fraudsters called Al Gore and his Current TV a litany of names from ‘failures’ ($500 million worth of fail) to hypocritical assertions of tax avoidance, even implications of American betrayal and of being *gasp* unpatriotic!  FOX has a long history of blind stereotyping and anti-Muslim hatred, xenophobic fear-mongering and jingoistic bias; they reveal too much of themselves by calling the internationally award-winning Al-Jazeera English news agencies Anti-American terror mouthpieces: “Al Jazeera, known as the network of the Arab Street, is also known for taking anti-American, anti-Israel and pro-terror positions.” Absurd allegations from arguably the most morally bankrupt propaganda companies in the media.

The Huffington Post reminds us that this partisan vitriol is nothing new;

The Bush administration condemned Al Jazeera for its Arabic-language network’s coverage of the Iraq War and broadcasting of al Qaeda tapes, even targeting its headquarters in Baghdad during the Iraq War. Perceptions that the news organization, which is funded by Qatar’s government, is anti-American continue even as U.S. political leaders such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have praised the network’s reporting abroad.

Al Anstey, managing director of Al Jazeera English, acknowledged to The Huffington Post in August 2011 that “in the United States of America, there were myths and misconceptions that needed to be tackled about what Al Jazeera stood for and what Al Jazeera English stood for and stands for.”

On Wednesday, Al Jazeera management expressed confidence that there’s strong demand for its programming in the U.S., which already accounts for 40 percent of the viewership of its streaming English-language network.

The talking heads at FOX are exploding so fast at news of the sale, you’d think terrorists had managed to creep in.

Bill O’Reilly has lambasted Al-Jazeera’s coverage of the Arab Spring for its ties to the government of Qatar; which would have been a legitimate criticism if it wasn’t embedded in such an an us-vs-them framing, and combined with a factually inaccurate post-9/11 terror angle. It is also particularly silly considering FOX’s parent company’s second-biggest investors is Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, a nephew of the Saudi king. FOX’s biggest investor and founder is, of course, an Australian. Those damn international interests at work!

Glenn Beck went so far as to claim Al Gore had chosen to sell to Al-Jazeera over red-blooded American patriots such as himself. Unfortunately, Beck’s story is beset with inconvenient truths; he didn’t have the money for the purchase, didn’t intend to raise the money, was not a serious buyer, and happens to be at the opposite end of the philosophical universe as Gore. Beck then admitted that he thinks “global warming is nonsense”, and said that Al-Jazeera “hates America” while he himself loves it. Just loves it up in a cup.

Via The Young Turks:

Most of the ‘America hatred’ stems from Al-Jazeera’s coverage in the Middle East, including reporting on and showing the released tapes of Osama Bin Laden. Because a new agency should, you know, ignore or lie about what is going on in the world, especially if it concerns international affairs, the War on Terror or national security. How ridiculously pathetic is our own myopic national news when it has to be stated: “Content with an Arab perspective is not necessarily anti-American.”

Progressive online source Salon has even more on the possible biases and more possible openness of new points-of-view that would come from Americans getting that sweet cable access:

Juliette Kayyem, the national security and foreign policy columnist for the Boston Globe and lecturer at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, told Salon that the impression of Al Jazeera as an anti-America, anti-Israel newsroom was misleading. On a visit last month to Doha’s Al Jazeera campus, she noted, the reporters seemed more than anything young, ambitious and innovative. (Failing to break into the U.S. market meaningfully with Al Jazeera English, the network had been streaming through YouTube for interested U.S. viewers.) They were unconcerned about ownership issuing marching orders: “The monarchy knows Al Jazeera is a good brand for the monarchy,” said Kayyem. “And the more they mess with Al Jazeera, it’s not a good brand.”

Which is not to say that Al Jazeera has magically shed a point of view. “I suspect as viewers get to know the content,” said Al Tompkins, the Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting, “they will develop filters through which to watch the journalism, in the same way thoughtful viewers filter Fox or MSNBC and so on.” He cited Britain, Canada, South Africa and Denmark as states whose government-funded networks did good journalistic work.

For the record, can we just acknowledge that every media source has some bias somewhere along the political gradient, with many much worse than others? I can appreciate the alternative views from liberals at RT, for example, and still realize that they go easy on their own right-wing president Putin, who just granted a tax haven to the wealthy. I can enjoy the Chris Hayes and Ed Schultzes of MSNBC, and also see their news cycle asapologism for Obama‘s war crimes. I don’t need to suspect every local story from every minor FOX affiliate to be branded and approved by the GOP, especially if I’m watching FOX Sports.

Once again, it just requires constant calibration of your bullshit detector, which can only be helped by more information, not less.

The Worst Do-Nothing Congress Since the 1940s

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

The 112th Congress, which opened on January 3, 2011 and ended January 3, 2013, was not only one of the most unpopular in history (less popular, in fact, than cockroaches, traffic jams and Nickelback), but it was also one of the laziest.

Perhaps lazy isn’t the right word… Obstructionist? Divided? Constipated! That’s the word I was looking for. The current US Congress would rather lie in a pool of its own partisan shit than stand for principled progress for the American people, who used to be their constituency some thirty years ago.

Of the more than 3,900 bills introduced, by the end of the year only 238 had been adopted, a passage rate around 6%.

From David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff from AllGov:

It is worth noting that 32 of the successful bills involved the naming of post offices and other buildings, while many others were of similar import.

Only 61 real bills went to President Barack Obama’s desk for signing, and he signed them all. This paltry productivity has put the 112th Congress on track to be the least productive in recent history. Even the 80th Congress, branded the “do-nothing” Congress by President Harry Truman in 1948, passed more pieces of legislation (those lawmakers passed 906 bills that became law).
Congressional efficiency peaked in the election years of 1956 and 1958, when Republican President Dwight Eisenhower worked with Democrats, who held slim majorities in both houses of Congress. In 1956, 638 bills were signed into law and in 1958 620. Eisenhower did veto 23 bills in 1956 and 39 in 1958.

The 104th Congress (1995-1996) previously held the ignominious distinction of being the least productive session of Congress, according to the U.S. House Clerk’s Office, with 333 bills passed.

Of course, we know that most of the legislation they do propose is slanted in favor of corporate interests and against the people, and that conservative groups like ALEC actually write most of the text themselves, which lawmakers then copy and alter slightly to appear as their own work. So… exactly what are we paying these people for?

This Congress is one of the most polarized since the Civil War and Reconstruction (which may also explain some of the underlying motives). House Republicans have spent nearly as much time trying to repeal and filibuster (115 times) the bills that they don’t like rather than propose and adopt those that they do. They have blocked raising the minimum wage and the Violence Against Women Act, and voted to repeal Obamacare more than 30 times, while both sides have agreed to allow the President to indefinitely detain and wiretap American citizens without warrants. President Obama, for his part, has vetoed a total of two bills.

Public Policy Polling found that the current Congress has an abysmally low favorability rating of  9 percent, with 85 percent of voters having a negative view. Among the other things more popular with Americans than Congress: lice, Brussels sprouts, NFL replacement refs, colonoscopies, root canals and carnies.

Which leads me to an obvious solution: we should just elect carnies to Congress. It would still be bad, but the economy is already run like one of those crooked games of chance, and at least there’d be more cotton candy. And if you can guess the weight of Chris Christie, they’ll pass relief funding for your state!

And if I were one of those congressmen, I’d be especially embarrassed to be considered worse than Nickelback.

The Difficulties of Discourse

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

The futility of political discourse seems all-too-evident in America, whether at the highest levels of power concerning the nonexistent ‘fiscal cliff’ or the debt ceiling, or around the family reunion dinner table concerning guns and health care. Both ‘sides’ are guilty of pseudoscientific claims, misrepresenting the opposition, sowing division with unnecessary ‘othering’, and usually no real clue as to where they actually stand on the issues or why they stand there at all.

Authors like Alex Berezow and Hank CampbellChris Mooney and Jonathan Haidtclaim to have found the secrets behind flawed political brains, usually on the opposite ‘side’ than their own. Many studies and online polls posit to have found the mechanisms by which liberals and conservatives operate; liberals are smarter,conservatives are happierliberals stereotype moreconservatives bow to authority more. While many of these trends can and do show up again and again, it ignores the diversity within and without party lines, the cognitive dissonance along the ideological spectrum, and the subtler reckonings of individual issue orientation. It defies capitulation, conciliation, and compromise. The sweeping generalizations that each ‘side’ usually eschews concerning class, race, religion, gender and sexuality do not seem to apply when considering others in the political landscape.

As Peter Lawler discusses in a recent BigThink post, there is actually a very wide diversity of conservative opinion, some with more depth than others. If we understand the common history, traditions, populist underpinnings and umbrella themes of even widely disparate worldviews, we can begin to work together towards reasonable approaches and solutions to society’s ills.

What’s the big difference between American conservatives and leftist nationalists?  They have different views on how much big government can remedy the excesses of big business.  Another difference concerns their view of the goodness and enduring viability of local institutions and traditional morality.  They actually tend to agree that Marx’s description of capitalism as reducing our freedom to “nothing left to lose” is largely true.  They differ a lot on the goodness and efficacy of some socialist antidote.  From a socialist view, the [The Front Porch Republic] are agrarian reactionaries.  From a Porcher view, the Marxists are irresponsibly “Gnostic” utopians.

Clearly, generalizations and sterotyping are an impediment to progress on either “side”. Even this false dichotomy of language (a relic of the oligarchy’s division tactics and oversimplified media portrayal), contributes to the unhealthy ‘othering‘ that ultimately serves to dehumanize one’s debate opponent. If the other side wants to murder unborn babies, then they are inhuman monsters. If the other side allows people of color to live with poverty and police brutality, then they are heartless misanthropists.

Because, just as with any intellectual pursuit that involves reason, logic, and candor, striving for thorough understanding is hard. It would be much simpler to only intake the sources that validate our reactionary conservatism, religious zealotry, neoconservative militancy, wall street greed and austerity, party cheerleading, progressive utopia, new age psycho-babble, left-wing anarchism, conspiracy theory, or UFO dreamland.

Party affiliation can be deceptive, as can positioning oneself along the political spectrum, rife with overgeneralizations and false associations. Although it’s also inaccurate to outright deny existing on the spectrum at all; the truth lies somewhere in the middle. On issues, you exist more on a web, an amalgam of strands as varied as the visible spectrum of light (and even the invisible, if our mixed metaphor allows for our hidden biases and subconscious belief systems). Taken as a mean, however, it is fair to place yourself somewhere, at least initially for comparison.

So does a progressive have more in common with an anarchist or socialist than a neocon? Do a Democrat and a Republican each have more in common with a centrist or moderate than the radical extremists in their own parties? Do the moderates of each ‘side’ have more they can agree on than the loud and oversampled minority flanking their ranks?

Talking Points Memo highlighted the efforts of a small, but responsible, group of conservatives who are “pro-same-sex marriage, pro-choice, pro-tax Republican activists.” They may be on the rise, as the Tea Partiers whoenergized frenzied the base resulted in embarassing media coverage, abominable policy stances, a fractured party and a disastrous election. The cry to distance themselves may be ‘Everything in Moderation!’, as we all realize that those social issues are always going to be nagging ethical arguments nuanced between us, but that the majority of Americans are actively under attack by unprincipled predators.

Most people honestly believe their delusions and logical fallacies. They came by them honestly. It will only take the incessant jackhammering of facts to break them free. Whether they believe that there is a massive Kenyan conspiracy or that the mushrooms can talk to us, they are not crazy nor liars. The endeavor of discourse, be it personable, in the media, or the national conversation, should aim to correct misconceptions, preconceived notions, and mistakes. We are not concerned with intellectually dishonest actors here. Do not lower yourself into debate with manipulators and charlatans who are mostly concerned with power and greed. They are not usually themselves radicals or revolutionaries, unless they are using and steering such a group for their own self-interests. As a rational, reasonable debater, you will find your considerable efforts at chipping away the hard exterior of an entrenched acolyte to be far easier than dealing with an unremitting fraud. You can pull the former closer to a more moderate position with enough time and work. After all, they believe themselves pursuant to the truth; they have just fallen down a corridor of errors in their search. A liar has no such allegiance.

It is true that what is ‘moderate’ and ‘centrist’ changes over time. This is not a post-modernist statement endorsing relative morality or truth. It is evident that our national dialogue, and the pandering rhetoric of our elected demogogues, swings over time. There is nothing innate in it that demands it become more progressive or reactionary over time. Other trends such as changing demographics, current events, media, law, those in power gaming the system, and technological transparency help define what the New Normal is. We all contribute to it. We are all in a constant tug-of-war game.

It may be the case that in the grand scheme of the social contract and evolution, we are hardwired by default for authoritarianism, and to conserve the status quo. Think of gene preservation and proliferation and likewise other outlier mutations. But just because something is the popular consensus (logical fallacy: argumentum ad populum) or rules by our leaders (logical fallacy: argument from authority) doesn’t make it right. Likewise, just because something is novel or progressive (logical fallacy: appeal to novelty) doesn’t make it right. It is right because it is right. No, evidence and a factual revelation of how reality works should govern our beliefs and ideology, not the other way around.

We strive as civilized animals for societal progress; to protect the unprotected, to feed the hungry, to clothe the cold, to shelter the homeless, to defend the defenseless. Members in every camp can be reached who feel a sense of justice, fairness, equaility, and civil liberty as part of our American tradition and values. Only those actively working against a righteous human condition need be discounted from the discourse (unfortunately, they are often given center stage, the sensationalist media spotlight, a louder voice within their respective parties than the rest).

And there are a variety of radicals in every camp as well; neoconservatives, tea party conservatives, anarchists, corporatists, new agers, creationists, paleoconservatives, anarchoconservatives, tax protestors, ecoterrorists, corpofascists… Their numbers do not represent the larger percentage of each group (though on specific beliefs, biases and issues, there are predispositions from one group to another). That’s not to say that somebody with some crazy ideas can’t be right every once in a blue moon (see: Alex Jones or Terence McKenna), or that their outsider theories may not hold a kernal of interesting truth. A broken clock is right twice a day, and a logically fallacious argument can still happen to be right coincidentally.

Of course, given two theories, one should not simply report on both and say the middle ground is accurate. This is what has allowed climate change denialists to voice their ‘relative truth’ to an uncritical and overly open-minded media in defiance of the overwhelming and reliably tested scientific consensus (not to be confused with popular consensus or sentiment). The right has its fair share of creationist loonies and neoliberal acolytes. And the left has plenty of crystal-worshipping, anti-vaxxer, alternative cancer cure morons as well. It seems too silly to argue which unsubstantiated claims are more damaging to scientific advancement and public policy. We all have our false dogmas, and they all damage us all.

Proposed or theoretical truths are subject to analysis, and should be eviscerated by criticism, replicated by study after study, and broken down into underlying mechanistic principles. Only after these theories hold up (be they scientific, economic, legal or political), only then should they be added to ‘The Canon.’ The Canon, despite its strict title, is ever changing, ever flowing with both the passage of time, new discoveries and contemporary understanding.

If the austerians believe that we should continue to empower the rich (“the engines of the economy”) at the expense of the poor and middle classes, then theirs should not be the default prevailing Beltway wisdom. The burden of proof is on their economic religious dogma to bear that out, especially considering how disastrous the practiced results of just such strategies have been worldwide. If any policy-maker or pundit honestly believes the inane bullshit that comes out of their pieholes, they should be exposed to harsh skepticism. They may be honestly deceived (or self-deluded), or they may themselves be revealed as a deceiver.

The onus is on all of us to research understand the arguments we are making. Just as it is inappropriate to attack Chris Christie based on his weight (logical fallacy: ad hominem), bear the responsibility of understanding a religion before criticizing its adherents, whether fundamentalist Christian, zionist Jew or radical Muslim. Explore the finer points of your debate opponent’s political philosophy by forcing them to delve into their deepest motivations, cited sources, and logical mechanisms. Who knows? You might alter your stance a bit as well.

Challenge entrenched and unfounded belief systems, especially your own. Do so with a relentless fervor, sincerely try to falsify yourself and above all be rational, be reasonable! Learn the rules of argument and logical fallacies so that you can identify when they are employed against you, by either frauds or self-deluded. Turn the incisiveSocratic Method against all claims, but do so patiently and peaceably. Make it known when you are only playing Devil’s Advocate for the sake of comprehension. Question relentlessly and mercilessly, but also earnestly and nonjudgementally. This will force someone to defend themselves not from your close-mindedness, but from critical-thinking and logic itself. It may reduce them to tears. It may change minds. It might just change the world.