Tag Archives: obama

The Tragicomedy of Paul Ryan

It’s not as if this is the guy that Mitt Romney would have ideally wanted to pick in his perfect campaign. But being compared to a still unpopular Bush administration was not something that Romney, or any Republican, could avoid (though one, you would think, they may have anticipated). Many of the Romney campaign’s moves seemed less calculated than they did desperate. The awkward posturing, self-inflicted wounds, easily avoidable controversies and smug demeanor were all part of his disconnected and (tax) sheltered reality, to be sure, but a healthy dose of media portrayal and recent memory made the Republican’s hill a  very steep one, indeed.

And Paul Ryan was a risky move, while described as a young hot shot intellectual of the right, his reminiscences of Ayn Rand, austerity, entitlement cutting, and hatred of our traditional social safety net ran the risk of alienating 50+ voters and certainly any remaining Republican moderates. Ah, but those businessmen love risks.

Some called it a safe bet, as the campaign and party shifted to energize their base with an inoffensive white male.

Romney’s capitulation to the Republican Party’s conservative, plutocratic base is now complete. It will be Ryan’s ideas that Romney will be under enormous pressure to pursue and implement as president, and his brand of conservatism that Romney is expected to emulate.

John McCain went on to describe the pick as “bold”, though he probably wasn’t the best to take VP advice from. While less radical than Sarah Palin (or at least, radical in other, less obvious, ways), it seemed to be a repeat of 2008. A relative party moderate feints to the right to pick up those far-right votes, hoping to rebrand after the convention and nearer the debates as a centrist-populist. But Paul Ryan had even more going for him than the confounding Palin; he was already a favorite of the right-wing, and he would go on to fire up the rallies.

That weekend:

Opening rallies were packed, Romney now has even more money, media attention, and a change of tone. Romney gains the full Koch election infrastructure, and Ryan’s base-motivation of The Conservative tribe ( group loyalty and identification is more important among conservatives than not among liberals).

Would the choice resonate? This could be a make-or-break opportunity for the rising star. Ryan was one of the favorites long before the decision, as a concerted pressure campaign by prominent conservatives and grass-roots activists specifically wanted him on the ticket. It’s possible, though anything is in that nasty business, that he’ll emerge a top-tier contender for the 2016 nomination.

He had certainly shined in the House, which dominated the GOP’s thinking as much as the GOP dominates the House. Their screaming, obstructionism, hypocrisy, dogma and pork threatened anything resembling progressive action from the Democrats, and Ryan’s proposed budget in particular bore the standards of “Republican othodoxy” going at least as far back as Reagan.

In true Randian fashion, Ryan’s budget…

 …phases out the Earned Income Tax Credit that keeps millions of American families above the poverty line and cuts funding for children’s healthcare in half. The Children’s Health Insurance Program would be abolished, and millions of working-age Americans would lose health insurance. Senior citizens would anguish over whether to pay their rent or their medical bills, in a way they haven’t since the 1960s. Government would be so starved of resources that, by 2050, it wouldn’t have enough money for core functions like food inspections and highway maintenance.

It was described by economists as the least serious budget plan, which doesn’t bring the budget into balance for decades.

Note: Reagan-era Republicans were more in favor of the social safety net, before decades of racial and class division were sown from the top. Pew Research Center, in 1987, found that 62 percent of Republicans said “the government should take care of people who cannot take care of themselves,” but that number has now dropped to just 40 percent ( PDF)

Ryan, a good little corpo-fascist, would shift social benefits previously guaranteed by the federal government away to voucherized plans. Medical care historically grows at much faster rates than the economy, meaning that the indexed vouchers would fall short of the needs and demands of seniors. The plan is to save the government money, while shifting costs back to seniors and undermine the original goals of Medicare. All the while, the medical, pharmaceutical and insurance companies reap the rewards.

From AddictingInfo.org:

The Congressional Budget Office projects that Ryan’s plan would raise seniors’ out-of-pocket expenses by $6,500 per year.

Ryan’s plan assumes an efficiently working free market, and that considerations for medical needs would be the same as other fiscal concerns; they’re not, and people who are sick and dying want a solution that works, not what’s the most low-cost. It’s a captive market, unless you’re willing to die.

Nothing in the Ryan budget tackles costs on the other side, and why would they? That isn’t in the interests of his paymasters an uninhibited and open free-market.

Starting in 2020, Social Security benefits for new retirees would be cut, the eligibility age would gradually be raised and the program would be partially privatized, a huge boon for the private sector. Payouts would “be more uncertain, despite the guarantee, because returns on stocks and corporate bonds are risky.”

Ryan had referred to Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme”. And while Social Security is not going broke (both sides often start debating having accepted this false premise), Republican strategies just haven’t worked. Voters rejected a privatization scheme when George W. Bush pushed one because it makes the system far less stable, exposing retirement savings to the volatility of the markets, and disproportionately helps the wealthy.

The Tax Policy Center (no friend of the Romney/Ryan camp), had already found that Ryan’s budget would give people that make more than $1 million a year an additional $265,000 tax cut, on average, on top of the $129,000 cut they get from the budget’s extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Predictably, Ryan, like Romney,  could not identify a single loophole they’d close that could generate some of the revenue to make up for the revenue losses from tax cuts on the wealthy (nearly to 25 percent, by nearly 15 percent from current law). That’s over a quarter-million dollars for the top 1 percent; by half a million dollars for people earning over $1 million, and by $1.7 million for the top 0.1 percent. And by also eliminating the capital gains tax, Romney’s tax rate in one year would be just 0.82 percent under Ryan’s proposal.

Audiences have booed Ryan for the unfair distribution:

Ryan’s Blueprint was modified into Romney’s, failing to raise revenues, shifting costs to state and municipal governments (which would, no doubt, raise their own taxes to meet the increased demand, effectively laundering tax increases so Romney/Ryan wouldn’t get blamed for them).

The Economic Policy Institute estimated his plan would suck demand out of the economy and “reduce employment by 1.3 million jobs in fiscal 2013 and 2.8 million jobs in fiscal 2014, relative to current budget policies.”

According to analysis from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, 62 percent of Ryan’s cuts come from food stamps, Medicaid and a handful of other programs aimed at helping the most vulnerable in society.  a significant portion of the rest of his cuts come from education, both K-12 and higher ed. would also slash funding for Pell Grants, and There are other cutsas well to higher education and financial aid.

And without military cuts (spurned by both Romney and Ryan), equivalent cuts would have to be made to transportation, science, education, environmental protection, and domestic efforts.

The toxicity of the Ryan budget has been tested (on a small-scale, granted) before, and the results weren’t good.

Paul Ryan’s austerity seemed aimed at the middle and lower classes, his plan would end the Earned Income Tax Credit, once expanded by Reagan, which millions of parents count on. His policies, like many neoconservatives, would send us sliding back into a Recession or Depression just as in 1937-’38, and how the beloved Reagan administration cut the unemployment rate almost in half.

But Paul Ryan, pawn of the moneyed Koch Brothers’ political enterprise (GOP™), extremist, and poser, had attended biannual conservative strategy sessions with big donors. His special events with the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity and the Wall Street-backed Club for Growth, among other groups, made him a savory VP pick for the “outsider” Romney.

His toxic stances and outright lies would go on to hurt his image, in the short electoral if not long term. Lying about his requests of stimulus money, requests for earmarks at the same time that he insisted he was against earmarks, all the while steering money to campaign donors.

The Huffington Post reported:

“…in at least two instances involving the Department of Transportation, Ryan has pushed the interests of companies whose members have given him campaign donations.” PPG Industries, which contributed almost $7,000 to his campaign, and the National Auto Dealers Association, which had given him $68,500.

Paul Ryan had voted for TARP, the Wall Street bailout. He got out the Republican vote for TARP as well. But it was unregulated money Paul Ryan imagines flowing into the financial sector’s coffers, Ryan voted against the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the major financial regulatory response to the crisis. (It might be worth noting that Public Citizen did an analysis that found that House members who voted for TARP and against Dodd-Frank, a club Paul Ryan belongs to and consists mostly of Republicans, received three times as much campaign money from the financial industry as those that voted the opposite; in 2010, with a haul of at least $531,500 for the year).

Ryan voted to scrap the Consumer Financial Protection Agency and replace it with a plan proposed by the Chamber of Commerce, those fair and unbiased privateers. But he hasn’t offered anything specific on derivatives, consumer financial protection, insurance, securitization, ratings agencies, and the shadow-banking industry more broadly.

An immediate scandal broke by the Richmonder blog:

Paul Ryan had lined his pockets from information he had obtained from a now-legendary meeting that took place on September 18, 2008. On that day, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson broke the news to congressional leaders that they would have to approve a bailout to avert a complete meltdown of the financial system.  Ryan had sold the stocks of several major banks that day, while purchasing – surprise! – stock in Paulson’s old firm Goldman Sachs.

Money and politics expert Thomas Ferguson, who has written extensively on the bailout, explained, “Ryan did own some index-based securities, but they stand out in the summaries. They are different from the many trades Ryan was making in individual stocks. It is perfectly obvious that he sold shares in Wachovia, Citigroup and J. P. Morgan on September 18 and he bought shares in Paulson’s old firm, Goldman Sachs, on the same day. If these were index trades, what’s on the form is nonsense.”

And wasn’t this delightfully Republican: Paul Ryan and his wife own shares in oil and gas companies that benefit from tax breaks for Big Oil, and Ryan supports $40 billion in subsides for big oil. In fact, his behavior was not atypical of his fellow legislators. According to AlterNet:

…in-depth research undertaken in 2004 considered to be the baseline work in the field revealed that from 1993-1998, US senators were beating the market by 12 percentage points a year on average. Corporate insiders only beat the market by a measly 5 percent. Typical households, in contrast, underperformed by 1.4 percent.

And though the story was quickly swept under the rug in the news cycle, all of this combined to taint the frame of Paul Ryan, the conservative mathermatical wizzerd. But he wasn’t a sorcelator, he was just another acolyte. Doing “math as a Republican to make himself feel better.” A true believer’s true believer, a Koch Republican, an economic anti-populist of the highest order. An anti-tax, anti-spending purist worshiping at the altar of Ayn Rand and whatever Christ condones rampant greed.

ThinkProgress explain that the philosophy Ayn Rand laid out in her novels and essays was, “a frightful concoction of hyper-egotism, power-worship and anarcho-capitalism. She opposed all forms of welfare, unemployment insurance, support for the poor and middle-class, regulation of industry and government provision for roads or other infrastructure. She also insisted that law enforcement, defense and the courts were the only appropriate arenas for government, and that all taxation should be purely voluntary. Her view of economics starkly divided the world into a contest between ‘moochers’ and ‘producers,’ with the small group making up the latter generally composed of the spectacularly wealthy, the successful, and the titans of industry.”

Her psychopathy would go on to inspire Milton Friedman, Ronald Reagan, Glenn Beck, and devotee Alan Greenspan.

Ryan tried to disavow Rand’s philosophy to Catholics and moderates, but he had already been recently caught on record proselytizing that Rand “makes the best case for the morality of democratic capitalism.” On another occasion, he said, “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand…. I try to make my interns read it.” And even if he did distance himself from her Virtues of Selfishness, it served to brand him as a flip flopper. A source of great struggle for the inveterate poseur.

He was long ago hewn to the party’s socially radical far-right, having supported a federal ban on abortion even in the case of rape and incest, and in 1999, voted to ban gay couples from adopting children in the District of Columbia.

Ryan co-sponsored legislation to declare that “each human life begins with fertilization,” Ryan has also voted against letting U.S. troops and their families get abortions at military health centers abroad, and to rescind abortion coverage under the federal employee health plan.

He consistently voted against funding women’s health programs, would defund Planned Parenthood and rescind all dollars for family planning grants under Title X (which already cannot be used for abortion).

He voted in 2004 and 2006 for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. He also voted against repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” as well as hate-crime legislation.

Ryan appeared to agree with Todd Akin about rape, pregnancy and abortion.

True to form, Paul Ryan towed the party line against the President based on pure spite, malevolence and revenge tactics. Ryan attacked Prsident Obama’s stimulus program, but in 2002 supported President George W. Bush’s proposed stimulus spending “to create jobs and help the unemployed,”

During the campaign, Paul Ryan would go on to slam President Obama for adopting Medicare cuts that, until a week before his speech at his alma mater Miami University in Ohio, were openly supported by Ryan himself. He then claimed he actually opposed the cuts before he embraced them (a disastrously Kerry-esque flip-flop). Support for the Romney’s pledge to reverse the cuts would have further complicated the math for both candidates’ repeated vows to rapidly close the deficit. Ryan has consistently opposed measures to crack down on China’s currency manipulation practices, but accused the President of the same. He would go on to lie about Obamacare, even the parts that Romney/Ryan supported. Most erringly, Ryan slammed the President for the closure of an auto plant that closed in late 2008 under George W. Bush. His ‘Oops’ moment may have cost him big.

People began to see him as a shameless opportunist, even hawkishly claiming his sole foreign policy success was that he had ‘voted to send men to war’. For though his family had made its fortune in government contracts for public works, the young Paul Ryan has made his career out of railing against ‘The Public.’

Polls very quickly began to find that a larger swath of Americans were unsettled by Rep. Ryan, or his Medicare plan.  Americans opposed it by a margin of 49 to 34 percent. That’s the same margin as independent voters. Nearly half of Americans said Ryan was a “fair” or “poor” choice for V.P., while just 28 percent said he was an “excellent” or “good” pick.

Criticisms abounded from both left and right almost immediately. He was a “conservative policy scammer” according to economist Paul Krugman.

Republican strategists are privately fretting about the choice. “There are a lot of races that are close to the line we’re not going to win now because they’re going to battle out who’s going to kill grandma first … It could put the Senate out of reach. In the House it puts a bunch of races in play that would have otherwise been safe,” one unnamed Republican strategist told the Hill. “Very not helpful down ballot — very,” an unnamed strategist told Politico.  “This is the day the music died,” another unnamed operative, who is working for a 2012 candidate, added. Yet another told Politico, “The good news is that this ticket now has a vision. The bad news is that vision is basically just a chart of numbers used to justify policies that are extremely unpopular.”

Even Newt Gingrich famously said: “I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering. I don’t think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate.”

Politico summed up their findings:

“In more than three dozen interviews with Republican strategists and campaign operatives — old hands and rising next-generation conservatives alike — the most common reactions to Ryan ranged from gnawing apprehension to hair-on-fire anger that Romney has practically ceded the election.”

Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate had some choice words:

“He voted for the Patriot Act, he voted for the National Defense Appropriation Act, he voted to ban online poker, he’s proposing a budget that gets balanced in thirty years. He is anything but a libertarian, anything but.”

“Somewhere in hell, Ayn Rand is cackling with glee,” Democratic strategist Paul Begala wrote.

Faith in Public Life, a strategy center for religious groups, opposed Ryan’s budget and Catholic groups claimed the militantly atheist Rand led Ryan to abandon his own faith with a budget that hurts the needy. Ryan was personally harassed by a Catholic protestor last year asking him to denounce Rand’s views and embrace the Bible.

USA Today-Gallup poll showed “Americans rating [Ryan’s] selection more unfavorably than any pick since at least 2000.” Forty-six percent of poll respondents in 2008 rated their initial reaction to Palin “excellent or pretty good.” For Ryan, the number is just 39 percent.

Disastrous news for a floundering party and campaign that picked the Wiz Kid, the Wonk, the Boy Wonder to improve polls. Instead, only 48 percent of voters polled by Gallup described him as “qualified” to be president, besting only Dan Quayle and Sarah Palin.

The powerful swing state voters who ultimately decided the election didn’t need more reasons to reject the Romney train, but Ryan was just that. Unmarried women shifted 10 points toward Obama, along with the Rising American Electorate (net 3-point shift), and independents (net 9-point shift). Even conservatives were swayed, shifting a net 13 points toward Obama.

And though he certainly did help fundraising, it seemed in the end that fundraising was a wash. The country was largely purple, with the populous cities (and thus electoral votes) a deep blue. Paul Ryan may have “brought vision” to the Romney team, but his clear vision was encrusted with cataracts, blinding him and his cohorts to the needs of real Americans. He would go on to do his best fumbling through the many fallacies of Republican dogma, balancing Randian and fundamentalist Christian philosophy, reconciling both corporate and populist messages, and navigating the hazardous differences of his own and Mitt Romney’s obscured policy vision.

The ticket became what they ultimately wanted, a base-energized ‘clear choice’ to Obama, whom they wanted to vote out “above all else.” Americans recognized this clear choice between visions, and chose accordingly. It can be presented no differently now, it should be spun as nothing less than the gold they thought it was mere weeks ago.

But by a long shot, we haven’t seen nor heard the last of extremists like Paul Ryan. Not only was he re-elected handily despite being a no-show in his Wisconsin seat race, there is now an empty field of view to 2016, and somebody ‘immensely proud‘ of his vice-presidential bid could claim some serious chops. Would it be disastrous or calculated? Much of that may depend on how the next four years go, how obstructionist the Republicans may continue to be (or how successful such attempts may be), how much he may appear to be a ‘loser’ after four years, and if or how the GOP retools away from the dangerous scam they have running on the American people. A scam with Paul Ryan’s smiling punim and Mitt Romney’s off-putting grin. A scam the American people recognized and all-too-willingly rejected.

Mad Props

A huge portion of Manhattan is still without power or water, especially affecting the elderly. Water contamination becomes a concern. Public transportation remains crippled. There’s a potentially crippling gas shortage. But it gets worse—

  • Superfund sites were inundated and released massive amounts of toxic material;

  • Toxic fracking water may have been released from holding ponds into streams in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Here are some places to help. There’s the American Red Cross. Other local organizations that are great are being powered by recovers.org sites. There’s Staten Island Recovers and Red Hook Recovers. CAAV is doing amazing work in Chinatown. Jews for Racial and Economic Justice has a page listing partner organizations, including CAAV, that need help. Occupy Wall Street has a great Occupy Sandy page set up listing drop-off sites around the city and needs for food and supplies. They also have a page with updates from volunteers around the area, including stories of official neglect and local aid. The NYC Parks Department has a volunteer form as well. DNAinfo has a list of places giving out food in evacuation zones.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-11-03: Mad Props by The Stranger on Mixcloud

PLAYLIST
In The Hall Of The Mountain King – Robert Wells
In America – The Charlie Daniels Band
Soul Sacrifice – Santana
Politician – Cream
Hey Mr. President – The Electric Prunes
Plastic People – Frank Zappa & The Mothers
Guitar Solo 5 – Neil Young
Political Science – Randy Newman
Sail Away – Randy Newman
Stars and stripes forever march – Sousa Band
Pigs (Three Different Ones) – Les Claypool’s Frog Brigade
Ezy Ryder+Star Spangled Banner – Jimi Hendrix
America the Beautiful – Ray Charles
Evolution (And Flashback) – Gil Scott Heron
Modern Man Blues – 10cc
Past Zero Time – Dark Matter
Conspiracy of Truth – Anti-Pop Consortium
Politics As Usual – Jay-Z
Black Republican – Nas
Voice Of Reason – Skalpel w/Yarah Bravo
My Country, ’tis of Thee (America) – The Enclave
Yankee Doodle – Luis Oliveira & his Orchestra w/Walt Disney & Donald Duck
Battle hymn of the Republic – Thomas Chalmers

So (without politicizing this disaster too much), where have all the climate skeptics gone? Sandy’s devastation  has provoked renewed attention to the connections between climate change and extreme weather, but so far, Republican politicians have been keeping a low profile on the topic. We need action on climate change. A strong, well-funded federal government. Some are calling this a reaffirmation of progressive principles.

 

Can Sandy Help Jolt America Out of Climate Change Denial?

For decades, scientists have been warning that global warming would bring a catastrophic increase in extreme weather. 

Romney was for federal aid to states before he was against it. Mitt Romney doesn’t want to eliminate FEMA anymore.

Free-market boosters claim relief is best left to the “invisible hand.” But seeing the government in action has been inspiring, actually working and serving the people for once, which is more than can be said for FEMA under the last Republican administration.

Distracting from the global warming issue, there are already a plethora of  Right-Wing Conspiracy Theories about Hurricane Sandy:

Hell, apparently, government can even create new jobs. Not enough, mind you, and we need more progressive action in this arena. But listening to the right-wing establishment, you’d never think our species ever evolved up from the primordial muck that they like to live in.

Romney is warning that if he isn’t elected, we’ll dip further into recession. His “closing argument” sounds like the cheesy extortion lines from a gangster movie. Via TPM:

Underneath the fluff, (his) argument boils down to this: Give me the Presidency or your economy gets it. By cutting taxes even more for guys like me, you all will do a little better too. But that approach failed for ten years, so the argument makes no economic sense. But if you believe in economic faith-healing.

“You know that if the President is re-elected,” Romney said, “he will still be unable to work with the people in Congress.”  “The debt ceiling will come up again, and shutdown and default will be threatened, chilling the economy.”

“Nice little economy ya got here. I’d hate to see something … happen to it.” Additionally, Romney said that Obama “promised to be a post-partisan president, but he became the most partisan” and that his bitter relations with the House GOP could threaten the economy. As his chief example, he pointed to a crisis created entirely by his own party’s choice — Republican lawmakers’ ongoing threat to reject a debt ceiling increase. Yeah, because that’s how memories and history work.

But they’re plenty delusional, and think that Romney is winning by a landslide. If Obama wins, the GOP’s fury will intensify, and the party will only get more extreme. Wall St. favors Romney due to anger over Obama ‘fat cats’ remark’, and will only funnel more money into the dangerous hate-mongering.

And nonpartisan economists agree (five out of six, at least) that Obama is the lesser of two ignoramuses. And that “Romney’s plan is based on magic”.

Five out of six top economists say Romney is a worse bet on financial crisis-avoidance. But Obama has big challenges to address if re-elected.

Price-fixing, money-laundering and monster trading losses illustrate continuing abuse and risky behavior in the banking industry. Too-big-to-fail banks are bigger and more dangerous than ever. Politicians are embracing government austerity policies. The housing market remains troubled and recovery efforts have often protected banks at the expense of strapped homeowners. Student debt is growing, now exceeding credit card debt. unchecked flow of money into the political system. Chronic job insecurity. Republicans covering up studies that falsify their trickle-down theories. Pushing for austerity even though it has been disastrous in Europe.

The thing is, it hasn’t worked. In Greece, Europe’s austerity poster child, austerity has shrunk the economy and increased the national debt.

Greece’s draft budget for 2013 has forecast a deeper recession and worse debt problems than previously thought. The economy is expected to shrink by 4.5% next year, and government debts to rise to 189% of economic output. Austerity is literally killing Greece.

Austerity only increased inequality in Portugal. Austerity has been disastrous for Ireland, Spain braced for further austerity measures even as hungry Spaniards foraged in trash bins for food. ButSpain’s economy contracted for a fifth quarter, because of austerity-driven inflation.

All across the EU, austerity has driven joblessness to a record high of11.6 per cent.

Yet the austerians demand even more.

Americans should pay attention to the saga of austerity in the EU, because conservatives here at home are committed to the same agenda that’s failed in Europe. And they’re blowing a smoke-screen of phony budget hysteria, fueling the deficit-crisis industry.

I mean, there are plenty of progressive reasons not to vote for Barack Obama. Via Salon:

There are many good arguments against Obama, even if the Republicans cannot seem to muster any. The economic and social equity case. The president is complicit in creating an increasingly unequal — and unjust — society. The civil liberties/antiwar case. Bush’s successor, Barack Obama, went further by claiming the power not merely to detain citizens without judicial review but to assassinate them. He has waged an unprecedented war on whistleblowers and dissidents, dusting off Wilson’s Espionage Act of 1917 to prosecute more then double the number of whistleblowers than all prior presidents combined. And he has draped his actions with at least as much secrecy, if not more so, than any president in US history.

And via Alternet:

  1. Neither candidate is interested in stopping the use of the death penalty for federal or state crimes.
  2. Neither candidate is interested in eliminating or reducing the 5,113 US nuclear warheads.
  3. Neither candidate is campaigning to close Guantanamo prison.
  4. Neither candidate has called for arresting and prosecuting high ranking people on Wall Street for the subprime mortgage catastrophe.
  5. Neither candidate is interested in holding anyone in the Bush administration accountable for the torture committed by US personnel against prisoners in Guantanamo or in Iraq or Afghanistan.
  6. Neither candidate is interested in stopping the use of drones to assassinate people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia.
  7. Neither candidate is against warrantless surveillance, indefinite detention, or racial profiling in fighting “terrorism.’
  8. Neither candidate is interested in fighting for a living wage.
  9. Neither candidate will declare they refuse to bomb Iran.
  10. Neither candidate is refusing to take huge campaign contributions from people and organizations.
  11. Neither candidate proposes any significant specific steps to reverse global warming.
  12. Neither candidate is talking about the over 2 million people in jails and prisons in the US.
  13. Neither candidate proposes to create public jobs so everyone who wants to work can.

Both have run overwhelmingly negative campaigns, Pew has found. Both are dispatching lawyers to monitor polling places out of distrust for the other. Yes, there are going to be plenty of election trackers, even international monitors, though some states are threatening to arrest them for interfering with their shenanigans and proven fraud.

And there are oh-so-many dirty tricks that may be used on election day.

  • Voter Caging – Voter caging is the process of sending mail to the addresses of registered voters with the intent of challenging their votes if the mail goes undelivered and the voter still shows up at the polls. It still happens, but the most famous instance occurred in 1981, when Republicans sent thousands of letters to black and Latino voters in New Jersey, hoping to block as many as possible of these likely Democratic voters from voting. As a result of that stunt, the Republican National Committee entered into a consent decree with the Democratic National Committee agreeing not to engage in voter caging unless a court says it’s ok. They leave it to third-party conservative groups now.
  • Felon Disenfranchisement – newly elected Republican governors in Florida, Virginia and Iowa moved quickly to reinstate voting restrictions on the formerly incarcerated after taking office in 2010.
  • Messing with Early Voting timing: In Florida, Republican officials passed a law that seems aimed at cutting off black-church early voter mobilization efforts. In Ohio, Republican officials tried to make early voting polls close earlier in areas that vote Democratic, and stay open later in areas that tend to vote Republican.
  • Fraudulent Vote by phone: Residents in Florida, Virginia and Indiana have received phone calls erroneously telling them they don’t need to show up at the polls on Election Day because they can vote by phone.
  • Phony letters: Voters in at least 28 counties in Florida have received bogus official-looking letters saying they may be ineligible to vote.
  • Poll challengers: In most states, political parties can send a representative to polling station to challenge the eligibility of voters they think don’t have a right to vote. This can cross the bounds into voter intimidation.
  • Threatening billboardsan anonymous grouphas paid Clear Channel (owned in part by Mitt Romney’s former company Bain Capital) to put up billboards proclaiming that “Voter Fraud Is a Felony.”  And a Tea Party-affiliated group, True the Vote, is promising to send observers into polling places in Democratic areas, leading Democrats to cry voter intimidation.
  • Thousands of mail-in ballot applications may have been unfairly rejected. A new study shows that once sent in, mail-in ballots have a higher rate of being unfairly tossed out than any other form of voting.

Voter ID Laws, Voter Purges, Menacing Poll Watchers, Making voter registration more difficult (Targeting registration groups), Reprehensible Robocalls, Dropping fliers with erroneous or deceptive information about voting, Last-minute purges, Employer pressure, falsely claiming that you can’t vote if you have unpaid traffic tickets or owe child support. Other times, voters have been warned ominously that police will be stationed at the polls.

Partisan election officials to put polling places in obscure places so as to make it harder for voters in a certain precinct to vote. Scams and threats all over the country:

All in the name of preventing voter fraud, a claim that itself is a fraud perpetuated by former Bush administration lackeys. And if that’s not enough, some of the voting machines themselves have been linked to Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital:

Voting machine provider Hart Intercivic will be counting the votes in various counties in the crucial swing states of Ohio and Colorado and elsewhere throughout the country come November 6—even though it has extensive corporate ties to the Mitt Romney camp, and even though a study commissioned by the state of Ohio has labeled its voting system a “failure” when it comes to protecting the integrity of election.

A key investor in Hart was HIG Capital, seven of whose directors were former employees of Bain & Co., a consulting company of which Mitt Romney was once CEO. (Romney left the company in 1984 to co-found a spin-off company, Bain Capital.)  HIG Capital announced its investment in Hart on July 6, 2011, just one month after Romney formally announced the launch of his presidential campaign.

Nor were those the only ties between Hart and the Romney camp. Four of the HIG directors, Tony Tamer, John Bolduc, Douglas Berman, and Brian D. Schwartz, are Romney bundlers along with former Bain and H.I.G. manager Brian Shortsleeve, and,  according to Opensecrets.org , a website run by the Center for Responsive politics,  HIG Capital  has contributed $338,000 to the Romney campaign this year. Moreover, according to  a report  in The Nation , HIG Capital is tied to the Romney family via Solamere, a private equity firm that has invested in HIG and is run by Tagg Romney, the candidate’s son.

So vote third party. Write-in Jesus. Don’t worry that the corporations are collecting your personal information pertaining to your vote. Just VOTE. Vote early if you can. Register on election day, if you can.

But please, just vote.

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

Schrödinger’s Drone: The Assassination Program That Both Does and Doesn’t Exist

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

Despite his many ’08 campaign promises and pronouncements after being inaugurated, Barack Obama’s may be the least transparent presidency in modern history, decreasing the fulfillment of FOIA requests each year, and prosecuting record numbers of whistle-blowers. Some of his past statements now seem laughably naïve (either for him or for us):

“For a long time now, there’s been too much secrecy in this city. The old rules said if there was a defensible argument for not disclosing something to the American people, then it should not be disclosed. That era is now over.”

~Barack Obama, January 21, 2009

Nowhere has this hypocrisy been more *ahem* clear, than with the administration’s ramped up drone program, which it alternately attributes and denies is being coordinated between the military and the CIA. The drone strikes which eyewitness and press reports have shown to take place (even at funeral processions and against those trying to give aid to drone strike victims) are veiled behind contradictory official reports, classifications, outright denials, and obfuscatory language. No accurate assessment of civilian deaths can be made, as the administration refuses to acknowledge any real numbers, and furthermore designates any drone strike victims as ex post facto militant combatants.

President Obama recently lied through his teeth to CNN, claiming that the preference was always capture and that strikes required a ‘strict, tight criteria’, while of course, sidestepping any accountability and offering no verifiable numbers or details. Glenn Greenwald and other journalists have done a stellar job of doggedly following these secret military maneuvers, including Eric Holder’s dismissal of due process, which can now be fulfilled by secret “internal deliberations by the executive branch”.

At the same time, government officials love to tout the successes of their drone strikes, such as the assassinations of Anwar al-Awlaki last year, and Abu Yahya al-Libi last June (which may have been a major factor in Al Qaeda’s revenge killings against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi this week). They want to have their cake, but also claim that the cake is a lie. Apparently, the drone program exists in a superposition of possible rest states. Probably shouldn’t trust unnamed sources, anyway.

ProPublica has recently collated the reporting of the secret drone war in a nifty, easy-to-use visual timeline.

Administration officials—often unnamed—frequently seem to celebrate drone strikes that kill suspected militants. But the administration has also worked against disclosures of less positive aspects of the CIA’s program, including how many civilians have been killed. We’ve laid out four years of statements by current and former officials discussing the CIA’s drone program, both on and off the record. (Most of these stories also include a “no comment” from the CIA or the White House.)Highlighted in red are the CIA’s legal stances refusing to even acknowledge the program in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.

ProPublica‘s ongoing project is now available online for your perusal.

Related: How the Gov’t Talks About a Drone Program it Won’t Acknowledge Exists

Tropical Paradise

The stress and anger from the fast-paced world of current events and electoral mudslinging are getting to you, and since we can’t stop those, let us find our exotic escape. A quiet beach on a remote island, with sweet drinks and soft jungle sounds on a moonlit night, relax and melt into your adirondack chair, under your tiki hut near your cabana, and dream that this is how humbly the other half lives. Better yet, dream of the indigenous fauna.

Our problems will still be here when we get back.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-08-18: Tropical Paradise by The Stranger on Mixcloud

PLAYLIST
In the Hall of the Mountain King – The Mysterions
007 (Shanty Town) – Desmond Dekker
Ebb Tide – Al Caiola & His Islanders
Jungle Madness – Martin Denny
Tiare Anani – Webley Edwards
Chuncho (the Forest Creatures) – Yma Sumac
Island In The Sun – Harry Belafonte
Mucha Muchacha – Esquivel
Bongo Lesson – Jack Costanza
Lambada Timbales – Tito Puente
Corcovado (Quiet Nights) – Sergio Mendes, Cannonball Adderley
Brazil – Django Reinhardt
Agua De Beber – Frank Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim
Irene – Caetano Veloso
The Warmth Of The Sun – Beach Boys
Double Naught Spy – Deke Dickerson
The Cannibal Village – Michael Land
Tropicando – Les Baxter
Exotic Guitars – Safari Ways
Pastime Paradise – Ray Barretto
Waves Within – Santana
War – Bob Marley
No Dub Island – Scientist
James Bond Theme – The Skatalites
SPY – Seatbelts
Spygame – Parov Stelar
Jungle Fresh – Gorillaz
Bongo Bong – Manu Chao
Vacation Island – Kid Koala
Manha De Carnaval – Louiz Bonfa
Mana Ma’ohi – Matato’a
Son Of A Son Of A Sailor – Jimmy Buffett

Now, it has officially been eight attacks on houses of worship in eleven days in this country, with distrust, bigotry and racism stirred up by the likes of Islamophobes Michele Bachmann and Peter King. And even demagoguery in the areas where violence would later occur against Muslims:

Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill., sowed the seeds of mistrust and suspicion by alleging that “radical Islam” had made a home in the suburbs of Chicago; that ”It’s in Elk Grove, it’s in Addison, it’s in Elgin. It’s here”; and that radical Muslims are “trying to kill Americans every week.” Walsh’s warnings were met with applause.

According to FBI data, hate crimes against Muslims might be rising. The rate of anti-Muslim crimes fell from nearly 500 in 2001 to 107 in 2009. But in 2010 (the latest year for which the FBI has data) the total number of hate crimes jumped 50 percent to 160.

As we discussed last week, our intelligence agencies tasked to protect us have a massive blind spot in the area of homegrown terrorism, but they had been warned.

Daryl Johnson, architect of the infamous 2009 Department of Homeland Security report on right-wing extremism, made headlines last year, when he accused Homeland Security of ignoring the growing threat of right-wing violence due to political pressure. Johnson said DHS employed just one analyst to monitor all non-Islamic extremism, down from eight prior to the report’s release. In stark contrast, the department has at least two dozen personnel assigned to analyzing the threat of homegrown Islamic extremism.

DHS continues to turn a blind eye, says Johnson.

“Right around the time I went public last year, they hired a brand-new person with no experience and no law enforcement connections,” shortly thereafter the new hire was transferred to a different unit, again leaving just one analyst on the beat. A year later, Johnson says, “absolutely nothing has changed.” another former DHS analyst, there have been, at most, two DHS analyst on the non-Islamic extremism beat since he left the agency in 2010. During his time at DHS, he recalls a “3-to-1 ratio” of analysts assessing Islamic extremism versus those covering non-Islamic threats. According to the former analyst, “very few products have been released in the past several years [on right-wing extremism]. A couple, but not much at all.”

What’s worse is that other law enforcement groups rely on DHS threat assessments, and within the halls of power these groups are seen as inconsequential to nonexistent, while Muslims are seen as suspicious to radical. Ignorance has led to our agencies being led by a sham terror expert industry, exaggerating one threat and ignoring others.

Read John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart’s The Terrorism Delusion: America’s Overwrought Response to September 11, in the latest issue of International Security.

Mueller and Stewart analyze 50 cases of supposed “Islamic terrorist plots” against the United States, and show how virtually all of the perpetrators were (in their words) “incompetent, ineffective, unintelligent, idiotic, ignorant, unorganized, misguided, muddled, amateurish, dopey, unrealistic, moronic, irrational and foolish.” They quote former Glenn Carle, former deputy national intelligence officer for transnational threats saying “we must see jihadists for the small, lethal, disjointed and miserable opponents that they are,” noting further that al Qaeda’s “capabilities are far inferior to its desires.”

Expenditures on domestic homeland security (i.e., not counting the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan) have increased by more than $1 trillion since 9/11, even though the annual risk of dying in a domestic terrorist attack is about 1 in 3.5 million. Using conservative assumptions and conventional risk-assessment methodology, they estimate that for these expenditures to be cost-effective “they would have had to deter, prevent, foil or protect against 333 very large attacks that would otherwise have been successful every year.” Much of that money ends up going to private contractors.

These are the types of government spending and overreach that policymakers will never criticize Obama for. CIA-perfected torture is normalized as concept with impunity here in the states (by calling it “enhanced interrogation techniques”), and captives are sent face rendition abroad.

President Obama has closed the CIA’s “black sites,” its secret prisons where American agents once dirtied their hands with waterboarding and wall slamming. But via rendition — the sending of terrorist suspects to the prisons of countries that torture — and related policies, his administration has outsourced human rights abuse to Afghanistan, Somalia, and elsewhere. In this way, he has avoided the political stigma of torture, while tacitly tolerating such abuses and harvesting whatever intelligence can be gained from them.

But pundits and politicians would rather focus on the ECONOMY, stupid.

When it comes to fiscal issues, Mitt Romney wants voters to know he’s disgusted by reckless government spending spree under President Obama the past three years, while at the same time also contending that Obama’s government hasn’t stepped in enough to help Americans.

Paul Ryan also slammed President Obama on Thursday for failing to rescue an auto factory in his Wisconsin district — one that closed in 2008, under President George W. Bush. Oopsie! Ryan also got caught misrepresenting his actions when it comes to his handling of Obama’s stimulus package. In an interview this week with WCPO, an ABC affiliate in Cincinnati, Ryan said, “No, I never asked for stimulus … I opposed the stimulus because it doesn’t work, it didn’t work” but it turns out that’s not true. In 2009 and 2010 Ryan sent at least five letters to Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis seeking stimulus grants in the millions for two Wisconsin energy conservation companies.

And while avoiding the big deal over his own taxes, Romney attacked the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center’s finding that fulfilling his budget promises would require asking 95 percent of Americans to pay more in taxes. “They made garbage assumptions and they reached a garbage conclusion,” he said. He then used Simpson-Bowles to defend his vague formula, but the commission’s co-chair, Erskine Bowles, has repeatedly said it’s not mathematically possible to meet Romney’s goals without asking the middle class to pay more in taxes.

“The Romney plan, by sticking to revenue-neutrality and leaving in place tax breaks, would raise taxes on the middle class and do nothing to shrink the deficit,” Bowles wrote in a Washington Post op-ed last week.

The Tax Policy Center responded to a number of Romney’s criticisms, claiming that none of the complaints affected the conclusions, which the group said were based on running simple numbers around Romney’s previously stated goal of revenue-neutral tax reform that would lower income tax rates while eliminating tax deductions, starting with those that benefit the wealthiest Americans.

“[I]t remains true — as we showed in our paper — that a reform proposal that meets the five goals stated above would have to raise burdens on middle-class households,” they wrote.

Surely many other scandals will come out concerning Romney’s moneyed storied past, but this week it was Joe Biden who was in the news for his “gaffes”

“Romney wants to let the — he said the first 100 days — he’s gonna let the big banks once again write their own rules. Unchain Wall Street,” Biden said at an event in Danville, Va. “They gonna put y’all back in chains.”

Of course, the Republicans lashed out at his racial rhetoric, despite having been all-too-willing to play that card themselves in the past:

“They will put you in chains called ‘Obamacare,’ and you will never break away,” ~Sen. Rick Santorum

“[Obama] does not want you to have the self-esteem of getting up and earning and having that title of American. He’d rather you be his slave.” ~Florida Rep. Allen West

But the point still stands, that there are (some) wealthy elites who would reinstate the feudal state, the gilded age, and even serfdom. But what can we do?

Les Leopold, author of The Looting of America, proposes we turn the banks into public utilities. Via Alternet:

The simple truth is our giant banking system is metastasizing throughout our economy. It’s sucking away our wealth. And it’s out of control. We’ve seen our bankers commit every kind of financial crime imaginable. They trade on insider information. They manipulate markets. They rig bets. They fix prices. They sell securities that are designed to fail so that they can bet against them. They launder money for rogue nations. They create too-big-to-fail banks that gamble with impunity knowing that we will bail them out again and again. And they collectively crashed the economy causing 8 million workers to lose their jobs.

No bank CEO can effectively manage the empires they now preside over. No regulator can keep up with the financial games that are played right under their noses. It’s just not possible. Too-big-to-fail also means too-big-to-control. Banks are the predators and we are the prey. We need to end too-big-to-fail, instead of proposing reforms that are too little, too late.

He counters every criticism of his proposal, arguing that it isn’t necessary socialism (about as much as the police force is), that public trusts are more effective, and that losing the “best” Wall Street talent by drastically lowering salaries will be a good thing.

It’s all just in time, too, since privatization is ruining America:

  1. We spend lifetimes developing community assets, then give them away to a corporation for lifetimes to come.
  2. Private systems of health care, schools and prisons are failing us.
  3. Facts about privatization are hidden from the public.
  4. Privatizers have suggested that teachers and union members, public schools, are communists.
  5. Privatization often creates an “incentive to fail” for no-bid contractors.

And, amid journalist harassmentarrests, and criminalizing dissent, private contractors have now dedicated massive, nationwide surveillance networks to watching us.

Via RT:

In a 2005 interview with The Entrepreneur Center, Richard “Hollis” Helms, co-founder of TrapWire developers Abraxas, says the system “can collect information about people and vehicles that is more accurate than facial recognition, draw patterns, and do threat assessments of areas… The beauty of it is that we can protect an infinite number of facilities just as efficiently as we can one and we push information out to local law authorities automatically.”

Essentially, siphoning private surveillance camera footage to intelligence agents.  intelligence caught by TrapWire was being fed directly to these high-profile customers, including the NYPD (who lied in denying it), the Pentagon, the Secret Service and the White House. Stratfor, for its part, is keeping quiet about the revealing emails, and won’t comment enough to deny them. Mainstream media (*cough* NYTimes *cough*) whitewashes the facts behind the scandal, and all of this could be for good and more than just classified reasons. This could all be very illegal.

US v. Jones, the recent ruling by the Supreme Court, could mean that using Trapwire to track people is illegal without a search warrant, and would be a violation of the Fourth Amendment

“Regardless of the technology, the government should need a warrant for persistent tracking of individuals” ~The Electronic Frontier Foundation

Well, the government thinks it needs a lot of things, but warrants don’t seem to be among them.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-08-18: Tropical Paradise by The Stranger on Mixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

Prognosis

Problems progress, and so the solutions must be progressive, and so should the tunes. When we realize the cosmic scope of time and space and mind, we see our problems aren’t so grand.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-08-11: Prognosis by The Stranger on Mixcloud

PLAYLIST
In the Hall of the Mountain King – Aunt Mary
Isn’t It Quiet And Cold? – Gentle Giant
Mastoul Alakefak – Aksak Maboul
Truth, Justice, And The American Way – 5uu’s
Starship Trooper – Yes
Vampire State Building – Alcatraz
Stagnation – Genesis
Symphonic Revolution – Mandrill
Variations on a Theme by Brian Smith – Ain Soph
A Time A Place – Brainchild
18 Variations On Sinister #3 – Frank Zappa
One of These Days – Pink Floyd
Night Illusion – Gong
Sechs Achtel – Aera
My House On Mars – Ayreon
Technopolis – Yellow Magic Orchestra
Backwash – Blodwyn Pig
Ork Alarm – Magma

The country reacts to even more hateful violence in this country, but a trend is revealing not Muslim terrorism, or even just those random acts of inscrutable psychotics, but a seething right-wing white nationalist domestic terrorism.

So while I applaud leaders like John McCain or the usually small-minded Chris Christie who are breaking party rhetoric to denounce the more vitriolic bigotry of Michelle Bachmann and others. More troubling are the endemic thinking of prejudice within the intelligence and military complexes, or the reluctant response to white supremacists and neo-Nazis who represent genuine, local threats.

Via Salon:

When Homeland Security director Janet Napolitano released a report in April 2009 identifying right-wing extremists as a threat to the country, conservatives howled. The general sentiment was expressed by Michelle Malkin, who declared the report a “piece of crap … propaganda … an Obama hit job.” Jonah Goldberg complained that the DHS report failed to stick “to the practice of describing these groups with more specificity and without the catchall, ideologically loaded descriptors.”
Now documents, which were collected by the invaluable National Security Archive and obtained partly through Freedom of Information Act requests, shed light on the problems coming from the extreme right. According to a 2004 FBI report, “right-wing terrorists pose a significant threat due to their propensity for violence”
These groups increased their recruitment efforts and rhetoric after 9/11, according to the report. White supremacists groups relied on broader anti-immigrant sentiment throughout the country to advance their efforts.
More disturbingly, neo-Nazis were trying to infiltrate law enforcement agencies, according to a 2006 FBI report devoted to the subject. “White supremacist presence among law enforcement personnel is a concern due to the access they may possess to restricted areas vulnerable to sabotage and to elected officials or protected persons, whom they could see as potential targets for violence,” it reads. One idea far-right terrorists proposed was to walk into police stations and offer information, in order to determine an agency’s interest in any given organization.

Apparently, this infiltration is part of what these groups refer to as the “fascist path of stealth” in which they must appear as “ghost skins” in order to gain paramilitary training and inside information. The FBI also claims that white supremacists have evinced interest in broader campaigns of suicide terrorism, according to the FBI. “These provide the movement with an ideal of self-sacrifice and a context for individuals to put themselves into fatal situations on behalf of its causes.” Terrorist acts could unify the movement and inspire others to carry out similar acts.

And while we lean right into either a corpo-fascist or theocratic or plutocratic state (or D. all of the above), the country, political parties and national dialogue becomes more radical, more fundamentalist, more anti-intellectual, and more insane. Valid arguments are now represented by invoking Godwin’s law, labeling opponents as reactionaries, communists, Maoists and yes, even nazis. Pretty harsh language to describe the process of giving citizens health care, or observe the constitutional separation of church and state.

But this is what we’ve come to expect from our elected do-nothings, compulsive liars and reprobates. And while our “leftist” commander-in-chief stomps out press and protest freedoms, the only things we could hope for from the GOP if elected is obstructionism, vindictiveness, delusions, hypocrisy, and pouting ineptitude. Hell, not only do they need SuperPACs to be citizens, not only do they need massive donor information to remain secret from the public, they are also blocking the Internal Revenue Service from tightening oversight of anonymous money groups misusing the tax code.

Speaking of tax fraud, even though this has been a hard month for Mitt Money Romney (down in the polls, hammered on his wealth and taxes, seen as a buffoon abroad), he has officially begun to outraise Obama. This does not even include the SuperPAC money dedicated to defeating Obama at all costs, no matter the Republican candidate.

Polls show voters see Romney in an increasingly negative light and Obama making progress in swing states, where he leads everywhere but North Carolina in the PollTracker Average.

Romney, whose predatory career has claimed the jobs of countless Americans while calling himself a “job creator” and “wealth creator.” Does he mean miserable jobs in Chinese factories? Wealth for the 1 percent? The cash hoarders? This all sort of runs counter to traditional American values. It seems a little, Idunno, detrimental to a decent society as a whole.

Look, I’m all for capitalism, but when people shout “more capitalism!”, it’s really a rallying cry for more sweatshop jobs, more child labor and more impoverishing of American workers so that offshoring and outsourcing entrepreneurs can make more millions and keep their incomes in offshore banks and out of the hands of the IRS.

Mitt, for example, currently owns three homes, and his entire entitled body language screams “boredom and contempt” for having to deal with so many of his lessers on the campaign trail (O, what the debates will hold!).

Mitt finds it far safer to express the passive side of his passive-aggressiveness: arms immobile at his sides (the better to not throttle you with); mouth closed (the better to not blurt insults); eyes dreamy (the better to not shoot daggers). It all goes with how he trained himself, consciously or otherwise, to not be as honest

Hey, meritocracy is back in style, polished, glossed over and unlubed.

Expect to see him attempt to lie his way into office, especially at the expense of everyone’s right to vote. Veterans in Ohio aren’t buying it, but we already know how Romney hates those ‘frivolous’ firefighters and cops. Why does the GOP hate our servicemen?
Scott Brown, for one, is outraged at the prospect of poor people voting:

Brown is outraged that his opponent’s daughter is working for an organization making it easier for people to legally vote. Because they’re poor.
“I want every legal vote to count, but it’s outrageous to use taxpayer dollars to register welfare recipients!”
It’s actually a “special effort” to comport with federal law. helping legally qualified citizens register to vote is now considered improper.

Brown did, after all, spend a ton of money to ensure that the voices of many could not be heard. Just drown them out with money. It’s all part of the GOP’s “only the better sort of people should be trusted with the vote” schemata. What does that remind us of?

Of course, there are people who claim that it doesn’t matter who you vote for anyway, it’s all rigged. The Candidates won’t address these important issues, such as net neutrality, or the drug war fueling racial caste systems in this country, or hurting democracy in Afghanistan and Mexico.

Instead, both sides of the political aisle agree, condemn whistleblowing, silence dissent, and spy on everybody.

Via RT:

Former senior intelligence officials have created a detailed surveillance system more accurate than modern facial recognition technology — and have installed it across the US under the radar of most Americans, according to emails hacked by Anonymous.

Every few seconds, data picked up at surveillance points in major cities and landmarks across the United States are recorded digitally on the spot, then encrypted and instantaneously delivered to a fortified central database center at an undisclosed location to be aggregated with other intelligence.

And while I had previously advocated the use of social justice bots, but considering the police state built up around us, I feel I should clarify… nothing illegal should be attempted without full acceptance of the consequences. Unless you’re in power already, of course.

But it’s entirely possible that Anonymous could hack, or otherwise somehow interfere with the presidential election. This would be as aggregious, in my eyes, as the political parties cheating, engineering and disenfranchisement.

As for those bots, well, they already have the power to take down Wall Street, rogue or otherwise. And it’s happened on a somewhat manageable scale already. We’re just waiting for something to go haywire, resulting in billions of dollars in losses in just minutes. It is clear that the big banks and financial industry at large cannot be trusted with their death grip on the economy.

Luckily, Stephen Lerner at Alternet proposes some alternatives:

  1. Renegotiate public and housing debt. It is estimated that banks have already sucked more than $50 billion out of local communities through toxic loans, fees and tricky deals that cities are locked into.
  2. Exercise eminent domain. There are 16 million underwater homes, worth $2.8 trillion, that are $1.2 trillion underwater. Resetting those mortgages to fair market value would save the average underwater homeowner $543 per month, $104 billion into the national economy every year. This would create 1.5 million jobs nationally. If just five of the most severely underwater cities used eminent domain they could seize $140 billion worth of underwater homes from banks, forcing banks to take a $30 billion haircut on underwater loans.
  3. Boycott big banks and move public money. One of the key profit centers for banks is their government business. And it isn’t just LIBOR they cheated on. There are investigations and growing scandals around price fixing on municipal bonds. banks are holding cities hostage on Letters of Credit (LOC’s) by ratcheting up the cost knowing if cities refuse to pay they may be forced to pay huge termination fees.
  4. Enact resolutions at local governments and pension funds.
  5. Litigate and legislate.

So, whether in the system or out of it, out of the box thinking is sorely needed. Innovative experiments and progressive action must be taken at every level, or this grand experiment we call America may be doomed to fail.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-08-11: Prognosis by The Stranger on Mixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

Cool Dark Rock

06-09-12

I wanted to play something cool, something a little dark, and something that rocks tonight. Perhaps I was inspired by the politicians in the news, and all the pernicious trash that seems to be poking out from every cool, dark rock around.

PLAYLIST
In The Hall Of The Mountain King – Sounds Incorporated
I´ve Loved You – The Music Machine
Instrumental Duet – Bela Fleck
Ray Gun Suitcase – Pere Ubu
The Darker Days Of Me & Him – PJ Harvey
Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood – Elvis Costello
I Wanna Rule The World – 10cc
2/1 – Brian Eno
All The Trees Of The Field Will Clap Their Hands – Sufjan Stevens
She Is Staggering – Polaris
Fools – The Dodos
Change My Life – Spoon
Rumble – Link Wray
Baby, Please Don’t Go – Them
Bloodstains (Darkness Version) – Agent Orange
Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath
Red Right Hand – Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds
Guitar Solo 6 from ‘Dead Man’ – Neil Young
Bad Trip – Bo Diddley
Insanity Creeping – The Flow
Castles Made Of Sand – The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Sittin’ On Top Of The World – Howlin’ Wolf
Free Ride – The Illinois Speed Press
Overture – The Collectors
White Room – Cream
When I Was Young – Eric Burdon & The Animals
Cool It Down – The Velvet Underground
Évasion de Julien – Miles Davis
The Old Revolution – Leonard Cohen

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-06-09: Cool Dark Rock by The Stranger on Mixcloud

Even though Money Romney is trying to distract you from his social issues, he and his champagne campaign neglect the American voter’s intellect by implying that social issues and economic issues are not intertwined.

“Mitt Romney is pro-life,” senior campaign adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said. “He’ll govern as a pro-life president, but you’re going to see the Democrats use all sorts of shiny objects to distract people’s attention from the Obama performance on the economy. This is not a social issue election.”

via In These Times:

But the distinction between “economic” issues and “social” ones is inherently false, particularly as it pertains to reproductive choice. The economy isn’t separate from issues of choice, nor is it separate from any issue we might refer to as a “woman’s issue.” (Which, one hopes, extends beyond the simple matter of whether to have a baby.)

An economic downturn can alter the course of even a planned pregnancy. Since the recession, more people have been demanding contraceptive services, and more of them have been seeking abortions.

Poor women are more likely to terminate unintended pregnancies than their more well-to-do counterparts,” explains one study.” As more women and families fall below the poverty line and are otherwise constrained by financial circumstances, abortion rates can be expected to rise.”

Economic violence is real violence. It impacts people. It changes lives. And it’s what conservative fiscal policies enact. Cutting social programs such as domestic violence shelters (which are actually needed more often during times of economic strain), denying necessary insurance coverage for reasons of personal religious belief, or attacking institutions like Planned Parenthood that provide affordable reproductive health care, doesn’t strengthen the economy in any way. What it does is penalize the poor, making them less able to access contraception, and more likely, if they are pregnant, to need the abortions that Romney, as a potential “pro-life President,” would claim to abhor.

But as we’ve seen, Romney likes to have his cake and eat it too. He wants to court both Santorum-covered Bible Belters and critical-thinking independent moderates (some might point out that these are mutually exclusive). He wants to put aside social issues in favor of economic ones, but can’t seem to defend himself on either. He wants to get credit for good business sense running a private equity firm and earning capital gains, but can’t withstand criticism about his affluent, privileged status, low effective tax rate, or corporate-raiding, job-cutting image. He wants to claim that his programs as governor or Massachusetts created jobs, but that Obamacare (modeled on his own Romneycare) destroys jobs. It’s all a classic case of projection.

via TPM:

On Sunday, the campaign defended the former Massachusetts governor’s jobs record, arguing that the state’s 47th in job creation ignores the improvement made between the beginning and end of Romney term. But when it comes to attacking President Obama’s jobs record, the Romney campaign doesn’t always apply the same standard.

For example, the campaign’s press secretary Andrea Saul sang a different tune last month:

“President Obama hasn’t created a net single new job … Since he started his presidency, he has not created any jobs. Not when you look at the full picture of the economy.”

It’s a fine line for the campaign to walk, as it simultaneously uses averages and “net” jobs numbers to insist that Obama’s jobs record is sub-par. Romney adviser Kerry Healey said “Averages are an unfair measure of a chief executive’s record.”

And surely the Obama administration gets none of that benefit of the doubt, despite the bleeding having stopped, and some minor-if-not-exactly-celebratory progress being made, all despite the best efforts of the Republican party. Many are now charging economic sabotage at the hands of the GOP.

“I don’t have any doubt at this point — the Republicans are clearly rooting for recession as hard as they can,” said veteran Democratic strategist Bob Shrum, who believes the Obama campaign should aggressively make the argument. “People need to know what’s happening and there’s nothing wrong with explaining it. Republicans’ actions give more and more credibility to [the notion], and if independent voters become convinced of it they’ll be furious.”

Lately the charge has taken on a new vigor, from progressive commentary to the highest echelons of the Democratic totem pole. Obama’s senior campaign adviser David Axelrod last Sunday said Republicans have been “high-fiving each other on days when there is bad news.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on Tuesday pointedly accused House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) of seeking to sabotage the economy for partisan gain.

Survey data from late last year suggest the public can be sold.

Proponents have pointed to the broader GOP lock-step opposition to Obama’s agenda, to Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-SC) “Waterloo” remark and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s infamous 2010 quote, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

Economics writers also question why Republicans have turned sharply against deficit spending to boost the economy since Obama took office, after having historically supported the concept while in power. Last year’s self-inflicted debt ceiling near-crisis shook confidence in Congress’s ability to carry out its most basic functions, and Republicans are signaling a return to the same brinkmanship as early as later this year.

But of course, despite all their madness, some Republicans are going off-message (or: ‘Gone Clinton‘) on the economy.

Conservative Utah Republican Liljenquist voiced support for the Glass-Steagell bank regulation. Liljenquist said he is a “huge Mitt Romney supporter” and vowed that he would “use every ounce of my training at Bain Consulting and in the private sector to dive into the financial issues of our time.”

“When you take the downside of that behavior away, then people engage in riskier and riskier and riskier behavior,” he said. “And that’s what happened with Wall Street. They got away from all good lending practices, they got away from all rationality, they leveraged themselves up 42 to 1 on the dollar thinking, you know what, if this goes south, we’ll get ours and everything will be fine.”

And the former (conservative) justice who led the dissent says he’s increasingly convinced that Citizen’s United won’t stand the test of time.

In a speech at the University of Arkansas, retired Justice John Paul Stevens argued that events since the decision “provide a basis to expect that the Court already has had second thoughts about the breadth of the reasoning” and will likely return to its 5-4 decision in Citizens United v. FEC.

Stevens noted that Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion did not explicitly address the possibility that the decision could open up the floodgates for foreign entities to bankroll U.S. elections. It’s a notion that President Obama warned of in his 2010 State of the Union.

When the justices carve out exceptions, argued Stevens, they will “create a crack in the foundation of the Citizens United majority opinion.”

“[T]he Court must then explain its abandonment of, or at least qualify its reliance upon, proposition that the identity of the speaker is an impermissible basis for regulating campaign speech,” Stevens said. “It will be necessary to explain why the First Amendment provides greater protection to the campaign speech of some non-voters than to that of other non-voters.”

“I think it necessarily follows that such speech made or financed by the terrorist organization itself would receive no constitutional protection,”  If foreign entities are barred from bankrolling U.S. elections, then the court is conceding that “the identity of some speakers may provide a legally acceptable basis for restricting speech.” Not only would that require the court to explicitly explain why corporations meet the standard (Stevens argues they shouldn’t because they can’t vote), it would also bring into question the blurring of lines between issue advocacy and campaign speech in Citizens United.

In other words, politics has changed fundamentally: the old style bosses are out and a new style media system driven in. Politics is now a business with advertising specialists, market researchers and pollsters all fostering polarization and continuing crisis so that their counsel will be solicited more often. Increasingly, political campaigns are run like military commands with centralized top-down direction, defensive and offensive strategies and tactics as well as psychological warfare.

Campaign gurus are well schooled in the techniques of perception management. This same techniques are also used to sell war, concrete proposals and results are less important than perception and image. Politics is now a growing industry with money and politics more joined at the hip than ever and an interest in keeping the big money flowing into its bank account.

This has been a slow and nefarious evolution going back to Reagan, or even Nixon. As economist Paul Krugman points out, as America may be entering another Depression, it’s time to stimulate, not enact austerity (which will wreak havoc in Europe), or ‘Keynesian economics.’ And historically, conservatives like Reagan have been all-too-happy to spend on big government, when they control the White House, of course. Now they are using the crisis to their benefit.

“After there was a recession under Ronald Reagan, government employment went way up. It went up after the recessions under the first George Bush and the second George Bush,” Obama said last month on the campaign trail. “So each time there was a recession with a Republican president, we compensated by making sure that government didn’t see a drastic reduction in employment. The only time government employment has gone down during a recession has been under me.”

More broadly, federal spending growth under Obama has been remarkably low by historical standards. The pressure from the GOP and D.C. political elites, who have been hostile to Keynesian economics in recent years, has put the administration in a tough spot.

Reagan, not Obama, was the big spender. While there was a brief burst of government spending early in the Obama administration — mainly for emergency aid programs like unemployment insurance and food stamps — that burst is long past. Indeed, at this point, government spending is falling fast, with real per capita spending falling over the past year at a rate not seen since the demobilization that followed the Korean War.

Here’s the truth. America has a huge budget deficit hanging over our heads. America is currently suffering from a classic case of debt deflation. This is exactly the situation in which government spending should temporarily rise to offset the slump in private spending and give the private sector time to repair its finances.

If the rich don’t pay their fair share, the rest of us have to pay higher taxes — or do without vital public services like Medicare, Medicaid, Pell grants, food stamps, child nutrition, federal aid to education, and more.

Republicans say we shouldn’t raise taxes on the rich when the economy is still in the dumps. This is a variation on their old discredited trickle-down economic theories. The fact is, the rich already spend as much as they’re going to spend. Raising their taxes a bit won’t deter them from buying, and therefore won’t hurt the economy.

In reality, Romney and the GOP are pushing an agenda that has nothing whatever to do with reducing the budget deficit. If they were serious about deficit reduction they wouldn’t demand tax cuts for the very wealthy.

We should have learned by now. The Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 were supposed to be temporary. Even so, they blew a huge hole in the budget deficit. Millionaires received a tax cut that’s averaged $123,000 a year, while the median-wage worker’s tax cut has amounted to no more than a few hundreds dollars a year. Bush promised the tax cuts would more than pay for themselves in terms of their alleged positive impact on the economy. The record shows they didn’t.

Romney and the Republicans are pushing a reverse-Robin Hood plan that takes from the middle class and the poor while rewarding the rich.

According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, Romney’s tax plan would boost the incomes of people earning more than $1 million a year by an average of $295,874 annually.

Meanwhile, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Romney’s plan would throw ten million low-income people off the benefits rolls for food stamps or cut benefits by thousands of dollars a year, or both. “These cuts would primarily affect very low-income families with children, seniors and people with disabilities,” the Center concludes.

Americans still hate the rich, according to yet another poll. Pew’s major Trends in American Values poll shows class resentments bridging the partisan divide:“Majorities in all educational and income groups agree that ‘today it’s really true that the rich just get richer while the poor get poorer.’ In the current survey, 76% of the public agrees with this statement, about the same as the 74% that agreed in 1987.”

Even the moderate pundit crowd’s beloved independents agree: Our ruling classes are worthless parasites. A mere 22 percent of “swing voters” “admire the rich.” (How many Romney supporters “admire the rich,” you ask? Thirty-eight percent. No one likes rich people.)

via Joseph Stiglitz:

Inequality in America has been widening for dec­ades. Warren Buffett put it well, “There’s been class warfare going on for the last 20 years and my class has won.” The rich do not exist in a vacuum. They need a functioning society around them to sustain their position. Widely unequal societies do not function efficiently and their economies are neither stable nor sustainable. There comes a point when inequality spirals into economic dysfunction for the whole society, and even the rich pay a steep price.

When one interest group holds too much power, it succeeds in getting policies that help itself in the short term at the expense of the rest of society in the long time.

Periods in which the broadest cross sections of Americans have reported higher net incomes – when inequality has been reduced, partly as a result of progressive taxation – have been the periods in which the U.S. economy has grown the fastest. It is no accident that the current recession, like the Great Depression, was preceded by large increases in inequality. When too much money is concentrated at the top of society, spending by the average American is necessarily reduced – Moving money from the bottom to the top lowers consumption because higher-income individuals consume, as a fraction of their income, less than lower-income individuals do.

The relationship is straightforward and ironclad: as more money becomes concentrated at the top, demand goes into a decline.

In a society in which inequality is widening, fairness is not just about wages and income, or wealth. It’s a far more generalized perception. Do I seem to have a stake in the direction society is going, or not? Do I share in the benefits of collective action, or not? If the answer is a loud “no,” then brace for a decline in motivation whose repercussions will be felt economically and in all aspects of civic life.

There is no good reason why the 1 percent, with their good educations, their ranks of advisers, and their much-vaunted business acumen, should be so misinformed. The 1 percent in generations past often knew better. They knew that there would be no top of the pyramid if there wasn’t a solid base – that their own position was precarious if society itself was unsound. Henry Ford, not remembered as one of history’s softies, understood that the best thing he could do for himself and his company was to pay his workers a decent wage, because he wanted them to work hard and he wanted them to be able to buy his cars. Franklin D. Roosevelt, a purebred patrician, understood that the only way to save an essentially capitalist America was not only to spread the wealth, through taxation and social programs, but to put restraints on capitalism itself, through regulation. Roosevelt and the economist John Maynard Keynes, while reviled by the capitalists, succeeded in saving capitalism from the capitalists.

According to Politico.com, the so-called “mega-donors,” unleashed by Citizens United and pouring boundless big bucks into this year’s political campaigns, are upset that their massive contributions are being exposed to public view, ignoring the right of every one of us to know who is giving money to candidates — and the opportunity to try to figure out why.

“Quit picking on us” is part of Politico‘s headline. Their article says that the mega-donors’ “six- and seven-figure contributions have… bought them nothing but grief.”

Wall Street titans have been whining for a couple of years now about the horror of people in politics criticizing ineffective banking regulations and the favorable tax treatment so many wealthy people receive… America’s barons feel assaulted, victimized, wounded, even!

Frank VanderSloot and his wealthy pals went ballistic and cried intimidation. “You go back to the Dark Ages,” VanderSloot said, “when they put these people in the stocks or whatever they did, or publicly humiliated them as a deterrent to everybody else — watch this — watch what we do to the guy who did this.”

Conservatives described the Obama ranking of Romney contributors as an “enemies list,” conjuring images of Nixonian wiretaps and punitive tax audits.

“Most of the megadonors backing [Romney’s] candidacy are elderly billionaires,” Tim Dickinson writes in Rolling Stone. “Their median age is 66, and their median wealth is $1 billion. Each is looking for a payoff that will benefit his business interests, and they will all profit from Romney’s pledge to eliminate inheritance taxes, extend the Bush tax cuts for the superwealthy — and then slash the top tax rate by another 20 percent.” As at least one of them has said, they view these cash infusions as an “investment,” plain and simple.

Not that Democrats are pure of heart and innocent. In fact, Adam Bonica, an associate political science professor at Stanford has put together a database indicating that since 1979, 377 members of the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans have given almost half a billion dollars to candidates of both parties, most of it in the last decade. The median contribution was $355,100 each.

And this, via Salon:

The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality has put together a new package of easy-to-digest “educational materials on trends in inequality.”

The slides now available at www.inequality.com are divided into 14 categories: debt, education, employment, family, gender, health, immigration, income, mobility, politics, poverty, race, violent crime, and wealth.

If you are poor, you are more likely to be in debt and have health problems, and less likely to get a quality education or have your priorities reflected in politics. Of course, that’s always been true, not just in the U.S., but everywhere.

What’s alarming is how, as the wealthiest Americans get a bigger and bigger share of the income pie, U.S. society is stratifying in dangerous, self-reinforcing directions.

For example, in 1972, families in the top income quintile spent an average of $3,536 annually on “enrichment expenditures” to “supplement their children’s opportunities to learn and develop.” The bottom quintile spent $835. Twenty-five years later, spending by the top quintile had more than doubled, to $8,872, while spending by the bottom quintile had only risen by about 50 percent, to $1,315, and had hardly budged at all since the early 1980s.

This may partially explain why college completion rates for richer Americans have risen faster than for poorer Americans.

Over the same time period in which the private sector unionization rate for men fell from 35 percent to 10 percent, the average CEO went from earning 25 times as much as the average worker in compensation to 262 times as much.

“Researchers who study mobility have consistently found that there is less mobility in the United States than in most other European and English speaking countries.”

So there’s the American Dream for you.

http://www.rt.com/s/swf/player5.4.swf

via In These Times (which I recommend all of you immediately subscribe to)

When a democracy functions properly, media revelations of executive branch misconduct typically result in an investigation by the legislative branch. Watergate epitomized this healthy dynamic— So when the New York Times this week ran the headline “Senate Will Investigate National Security Leaks About Terrorism ‘Kill List,’” it was a frightening sign that something has gone horribly wrong since the Woodward-and-Bernstein days.

Last week, the Times published an expose detailing how President Obama personally orders the execution of American citizens and foreigners that he labels “terrorists.” According to theTimes, this program deems “all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants”; allows the president to be judge, jury and executioner; and operates wholly outside of the law. Indeed, the Times reports that the administration justifies such dictatorial power by insisting that the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process can now “be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch.”

However, the memo laying out this utterly preposterous legal theory is secret—and, of course, hasn’t been ratified by any court.

As the Times noted in that subsequent follow-up story, Congress is focused not on shutting down—or even overseeing—the assassination program. It is instead focused on making sure those who blew the whistle on it are punished. Why? Because that will ensure that other such unauthorized programs can continue. As Sen. John McCain (R) made clear, he wants revelations of illegal activity halted and possibly prosecuted specifically because “such disclosures can only undermine similar ongoing or future operations.”

Rather than celebrating the heroes who expose wrongdoing and then stopping the illegal acts, the government is shooting the messengers in order to let the crimes continue.

That’s why this war on whistleblowers is not just some theoretical problem only for academics to debate or for foreigners to worry about. It represents a genuine domestic threat to democracy itself. If through our silence and complacency we allow that threat to expand, we shouldn’t be surprised when more of us are in the government’s crosshairs.

And if war-crime whistleblowers like Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, or the countless others to be named are brought up on trumped up conspiracy, espionage, aiding the enemy, or treason charges, the penalties could be death.

In February, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism documented that after the U.S. kills people with drones in Pakistan, it then targets for death those who show up at the scene to rescue the survivors and retrieve the bodies, as well as those who gather to mourn the dead at funerals: “the CIA’s drone campaign in Pakistan has killed dozens of civilians who had gone to help rescue victims or were attending funerals.” As The New York Times summarized those findings: “at least 50 civilians had been killed in follow-up strikes after they rushed to help those hit by a drone-fired missile” while “the bureau counted more than 20 other civilians killed in strikes on funerals.”

This repellent practice continues. Over the last three days, the U.S. has launched three separate drone strikes in Pakistan: one on each day. As The Guardian reports, the U.S. has killed between 20 and 30 people in these strikes, the last of which, early this morning, killed between 8 and 15. It was the second strike, on Sunday, thattargeted mourners gathered to grieve those killed in the first strike:

At the time of the attack, suspected militants had gathered to offer condolences to the brother of a militant commander killed during another US unmanned drone attack on Saturday. The brother was one of those who died in the Sunday morning attack. The Pakistani officials said two of the dead were foreigners and the rest were Pakistani.

Note that there is no suggestion, even from the “officials” on which these media reports (as usual) rely, that the dead man was a Terrorist or even a “militant.” He was simply receiving condolences for his dead brother. But pursuant to the standardsembraced by President Obama, the brother — without knowing anything about him — is inherently deemed a “combatant” and therefore a legitimate target for death solely by virtue of being a “military-age male in a strike zone.”

Although as the New York Times points out, two-thirds of the most frightening post-9/11 plans for attacks on American soil were stings orchestrated by government agents. Typically, a bumbling, gullible, down on their luck “potential terrorist” with no history of violence is coaxed into some sort of involvement and then arrested, followed by news media trumpeting the “narrowly foiled plot”:

The United States has been narrowly saved from lethal terrorist plots in recent years — or so it has seemed. A would-be suicide bomber was intercepted on his way to the Capitol; a scheme to bomb synagogues and shoot Stinger missiles at military aircraft in Newburgh, N.Y.; and a fanciful idea to fly explosive-laden model planes into the Pentagon and the Capitol hatched in Massachusetts.

But all these dramas were facilitated by the F.B.I., whose undercover agents and informers posed as terrorists offering a dummy missile, fake C-4 explosives, a disarmed suicide vest and rudimentary training. Suspects naïvely played their parts until they were arrested.

Typically, the stings initially target suspects for pure speech — comments to an informer outside a mosque, angry postings on Web sites, e-mails with radicals overseas — then woo them into relationships with informers, who are often convicted felons working in exchange for leniency, or with F.B.I. agents posing as members of Al Qaeda or other groups.

Some targets have previous involvement in more than idle talk. But others seem ambivalent, incompetent and adrift, like hapless wannabes looking for a cause that the informer or undercover agent skillfully helps them find.

For more things you probably didn’t know about how the world actually works, subscribe to Lee Camp’s Moment of Clarity series:

And, of course, follow the Stranger in a Strange Land on Mutiny Radio!

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-06-09: Cool Dark Rock by The Stranger on Mixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

A Better Amercia

PLAYLIST
In The Hall of the Mountain King – Umphrey’s McGee
Dark End of The Street – The Flying Burrito Brothers
Shelcha – Yael Naim
Computer Games – Yellow Magic Orchestra
Clectric Café (Neotericz) – 8-Bit Operators
WTF? – OK Go
Super Brothers (Love Device Mix) – Guitar Vader
Rubber Band – Trammps
Brothers On The Slide – Cymande
Fascination – David Bowie
Strawberryfire – The Apples In Stereo
Raid (Instrumental) – Madvillain
Trouble (Eve of Destruction) – Blackalicious
The Evil that Pens Do – Extended Famm
White Flag (feat. Bashy, Kano and the National Orchestra for Arabic Music) – Gorillaz
One Day – RJD2
Golden Rule – Erin Anova & the Maroons
Funk Em – Hieroglyphics & Del The Funky Homosapien
Past Zero Time – Dark Matter
Sessomatto – Armando Trovaioli
The Sophisticated Hippie – Horace Silver (Easy Mo Bee)
Always True to You in My Fashion – George Shearing & Peggy Lee
La Vieille Meurt – Alain Goraguer
Waiting For The Worms/Stop/The Trial/Outside The Wall – Pink Floyd

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-06-02: A Better Amercia by The Stranger onMixcloud

While the socialist-Maoist-Marxist-Trotskyite-Stalinist-communist-pinko-red-hippie John McCain badmouthed capitalism as ‘cruel’, and Bill Clinto went off-message on private equity, the old guard of Republicans (RINOs) futilely try to inject their reasonable wisdom into an insanely destructive party. Former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY) has lashed out at members of his party for their unyielding obstructionist opposition to new tax revenues.

“The only thing [SuperPAC money] can do to you, as an elected official, is defeat you for reelection. And if that means more to you than your country when we need patriots to come out in a situation when we’re in extremity, you shouldn’t even be in Congress.”

In America, a disturbing number of people seem to think that the impoverished are degenerates who deserve their fate and none of our society’s help. At least it’s encouraging to know that they also don’t believe the rich should get their unearned, undeserved bailouts. But these crooks don’t have anything to worry about.

Our police forces seem more interested in hauling away credentialed members of the media in cuffs. “Your First Amendment rights can be terminated,” was the warning issued by a Chicago Police Department officer caught on video. Our hypocritical Commander-in-Cheeba seems more interested in busting up medical marijuana stoners, than any cartels.

via OccupyWallSt

And even during the 2008 Republican National Convention, at which FBI informants Brandon Darby and Andrew Darst set up David McKay, Bradley Crowder, and Matthew DePalma on charges of possessing Molotov cocktails in two separate incidents. It’s important to note that the only Molotov cocktails that figured in the RNC protests at any point were the ones used to entrap these young men: the FBI were not responding to a threat, but inventing one.

Over the past month, the FBI have shifted into high gear with this approach. Immediately before May Day, five young men were set up on terrorism charges in Cleveland after an FBI infiltrator apparently guided them into planning to bomb a bridge, in what would have been the only such bombing carried out by anarchists in living memory. During the protests against the NATO summit in Chicago,three young men were arrested and charged with terrorist conspiracy once again involving the only Molotov cocktails within hundreds of miles, set up by at least two FBI informants.

None of the targets of these entrapment cases seem to be longtime anarchist organizers. None of the crimes they’re being charged with are representative of the tactics that anarchists have actually used over the past decade. All of the cases rest on the efforts of FBI informants to manufacture conspiracies. All of the arrests have taken place immediately before mass mobilizations, enabling the authorities to frame a narrative justifying their crackdowns on protest as thwarting terrorism. And in all of these cases, the defendants have been described as anarchists in the legal paperwork filed against them, setting precedents for criminalizing anarchism.

Smashing bank windows, for example, may be illegal, but it is increasingly understood as a meaningful political statement; it would be difficult to build a convincing terrorism case around broken glass.

And now the Obama Justice Department is trying to do what Richard Nixon couldn’t: indict a media organization. . . . Charging Julian Assange with ‘conspiracy to commit espionage’ would effectively be setting a precedent with a charge that more accurately could be characterized as ‘conspiracy to commit journalism‘”

Key Democratic Senators such as Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein have publicly called for Assange’s prosecution for espionage (which in the case of both Assange and Manning may still carry a death sentence).

A group of journalists including Jeremy Scahill, Amy Goodman, Glenn Greenwald, and Kevin Gosztola joined WikiLeaks and their counsel, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), insuing the federal government over the extreme secrecy in the trial of Bradley Manning. CCR asked the court “to grant the public and press access to the government’s motion papers, the court’s own orders, and transcripts of proceedings, none of which have been made public to date.” CCR argues that the trial has been “even less transparent than the controversial military commission proceedings ongoing at Guantánamo Bay.”

Considering that any vaguely named combatant or anyone standing near said “combatant” can be blown up by the president without due process, it does seem like something we should probably guard against, right? Now, similar to the ‘Do Not Call’ and ‘Do Not Track’ lists, a ‘Do Not Kill‘ petition has been started to counter the president’s ‘Kill List’. People are now (only half-mockingly) begging the government not to kill them.

via Salon:

Could Obama order the targeted killing of an American citizen, in a country with which the United States was not at war, in secret and without the benefit of a trial? The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel prepared a lengthy memo justifying that extraordinary step, asserting thatwhile the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process applied, it could be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch. Despite an executive order banning assassinations, a federal law against murder, protections in the Bill of Rights and various strictures of the international laws of war”

Attorney General Eric Holder then publicly claimed: “‘Due process’ and ‘judicial process’ are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security. The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.” Both of those episodes sparked controversy, because of how radical of a claim it is.

John Brennan, the president’s counter-terrorism adviser, said in a recent speech that not a single non-combatant had been killed in a year of drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And today’s Times article quoted a senior administration official who said that civilian deaths were in the “single digits.”
But it turns out that even this hey-it’s-better-than-carpet-bombing justification is rather flimsy. The Times article says “Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties …It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.” This was the exact language used by George Zimmerman in his 911 call about Travyon Martin (“it looks like he’s up to no good”), classifying all males in the vicinity of suspected Terrorists in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia — including teenagers — as “militants” and “combatants,” and deeming them fair game to be killed solely by virtue of their physical location, gender and age.

And of course, President Obama is creating a great recruiting tool for anti-American fundamentalist forces.

“These attacks are making people say, ‘We believe now that al-Qaeda is on the right side,’ ” said businessman Salim al-Barakani, adding that his two brothers — one a teacher, the other a cellphone repairman — were killed in a U.S. strike in March.

Who would have guessed that continually dropping bombs on a country using remote-controlled sky robots and killing their civilians would breed hatred and a desire to attack back? Not only do these constant Obama attacks extinguish the lives of innocent people, but they also exacerbate the very threat they are ostensibly designed to address.

Of course, if the president continues to utilize authoritarian methods of torture, profiling, surveillance, illegal wiretapping, terroristic war tactics,and  robotic death-from-the-sky, surely the conservatives will call him out on this big government tyranny! What’s that? They’re calling him a socialist, leftist, a Maoist, and a Muslim? And the left supports his Big Brother extremism as well? As the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer asked: “Dems who think executive process is due process: Where were they when Bush‬ needed help with warrantless wiretapping?” or his indefinite detention scheme? Dianne Feinstein is more worried about stopping leaks and punishing whistleblowers than investigating the war crimes in the first place?

And WIRED gives us even more right-wing Nixonian extremism coming from the Obama White House:

The Obama administration is set to argue to a federal appeals court Friday that the government may breach, with impunity, domestic spying laws adopted in the wake of President Richard M. Nixon’s Watergate scandal.

The case tests whether Americans may seek recourse or monetary damages when a sitting U.S. president bypasses Congress’s ban on warrantless spying on Americans — in this instance when President George W. Bush authorized his secret, warrantless domestic spying program in the aftermath of the September 2001 terror attacks. A federal judge found in 2010 that two American lawyers’ telephone conversations with their clients in Saudi Arabia in 2004 were siphoned to the National Security Agency without warrants. The allegations were initially based on a classified document the government accidentally mailed to the former al-Haramain Islamic Foundation lawyers.

The document was later declared a state secret, removed from the long-running lawsuit and has never been made public. With that document ruled out as evidence, the lawyers instead cited a bevy of circumstantial evidence that a judge found showed the government illegally wiretapped the lawyers as they spoke on U.S. soil to Saudi Arabia.

Against the government’s objections, San Francisco U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker awarded the two lawyers — Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoor — $20,400 each in damages and their legal counsel $2.5 million in costs. It marked the first time anyone had prevailed in a lawsuit challenging Bush’s so-called Terrorist Surveillance Program.

The domestic spying program was first disclosed by The New York Times in December 2005, and the government subsequently admitted that the the National Security Agency was eavesdropping on Americans’ telephone calls without warrants if the government believed the person on the other line was overseas and associated with terrorism. Further news investigations found that the government had secretly enlisted the help of major U.S. telecoms, including AT&T, to spy on Americans’ phone and internet communications without getting warrants as required by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Parts of the surveillance program were so egregious that the upper echelon of the Justice Department, including then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, threatened to resign en masse if it wasn’t changed.

Congress, with the vote of President Barack Obama — who was an Illinois senator at the time — subsequently legalized much of the warrantless spying in the summer of 2008. The legislation also provided the nation’s telecommunication companies immunity from lawsuits accusing them of being complicit with the government’s warrantless wiretapping.

The government, however, claims said it cannot be held liable under the spying law, and that Congress has not waived sovereign immunity — meaning the government has not consented to being sued for breaching its own laws.

And via EFF:

In a disappointing ruling for government transparency advocates, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals held the government could keep secret “cables describing waterboarding; a photograph of a detainee, Abu Zubaydah, taken around the time that he was subjected to the ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’; and a short phrase that appears in several Justice Department memos referring to a ‘source of authority.’” This suit came on the heels of revelations that tapes allegedly showing waterboarding were destroyed by a CIA officer. The court accepted the government’s argument that waterboarding was an “intelligence method” and therefore exempt from disclose. The Obama administration argued in favor of this interpretation despite previously banning waterboarding as torture. As the ACLU’s Alexander Abdo wrote, the ruling means “the CIA can effectively decide for itself what Americans are allowed to learn about the torture committed in their name.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security has been forced to release a list of keywords and phrases it uses to monitor social networking sites when looking for “signs of terrorist or other threats against the U.S.”

The list was posted by the Electronic Privacy Information Center who filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act, before suing to obtain the release of the documents. The documents were part of the department’s 2011 ’Analyst’s Desktop Binder‘ used by workers at their National Operations Center which instructs workers to identify ‘media reports that reflect adversely on DHS and response activities’.

I present them all here in the hopes of generating more blog traffic and wasting expensive government resources. It is especially entertaining to know that one can get on Intelligence Agency radar with sentences such as “Pirates plot smart power pork cloud exposure, help aid meth lab explosion body scanner wave!”

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

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