An intellectual freedom blog with an emphasis on libraries and technology

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

No Decision Points in Decision Points

In Bush Meets Foucault, Eliot Weinberger gives us a critique of Decision Points as a post-modernist work. The entire review of Bush's new autobiography in the London Review of Books is well worth reading in its entirety. Weinberger makes reference to Michel Foucault's approach to literary criticism which focuses on questions such as 'who is the author?' and 'Is it really he and not someone else?' In the case of a book "by" George W. Bush, the answers to such questions, to paraphrase Colin Powell, are blindingly obvious inasmuch as the answer can not be "George W. Bush." Most amusingly, decision points "is business-speak for a list of factors, usually marked by a bullet in PowerPoint presentations, that should be considered before making a decision. There are no decision points in Decision Points."

My favorite passage follows, in which Weinberger lists much of what's missing from the book, 'points' far more significant than anything in the book:

This is a chronicle of the Bush Era with no colour-coded Terror Alerts; no Freedom Fries; no Halliburton; no Healthy Forests Initiative (which opened up wilderness areas to logging); no Clear Skies Act (which reduced air pollution standards); no New Freedom Initiative (which proposed testing all Americans, beginning with schoolchildren, for mental illness); no pamphlets sold by the National Parks Service explaining that the Grand Canyon was created by the Flood; no research by the National Institutes of Health on whether prayer can cure cancer (‘imperative’, because poor people have limited access to healthcare); no cover-up of the death of football star Pat Tillman by ‘friendly fire’ in Afghanistan; no ‘Total Information Awareness’ from the Information Awareness Office; no Project for the New American Century; no invented heroic rescue of Private Jessica Lynch; no Fox News; no hundreds of millions spent on ‘abstinence education’. It does not deal with the Cheney theory of the ‘unitary executive’ – essentially that neither the Congress nor the courts can tell the president what to do – or Bush’s frequent use of ‘signing statements’ to indicate that he would completely ignore a bill that the Congress had just passed.

I also really enjoyed reading the passage that starts with "Decision Points flaunts its postmodernity by blurring the distinction between fiction and non-fiction. That is to say, the parts that are not outright lies – particularly the accounts of Hurricane Katrina and the lead-up to the Iraq War – are the sunnier halves of half-truths."

Then follows a comparison/constrast between the confirmed facts of the Bush Administration, on the one hand, and the restatement of the biggest lies printed in Decision Points on the other. The review contains too much detail to quote here. Most of it is just stuff you already know. I find breathtaking the degree to which the ghost writers and Bush insult our intelligence.

The more important insight, one which I realized from the start back in 2001, but still bears repeating, comes when Weinberger analyzes the bizarre statement in Decision Points that Bush considered the worst moment of his presidency the time that Kayne West said Bush did not care about black people. Weinberger does not consider Bush to be at all racist. No, racism does not explain Bush's behavior. "It wasn’t that he didn’t care about black people. Outside of his family, he didn’t care about people."

Monday, December 20, 2010

Pale Blue Dot

AR recently sent me the following e-mail:


I find myself feeling a bit nostalgic and slightly sad at the news that Voyager 1 is leaving our solar system. I guess its because we were both in high school when it lifted off and began its journey, so the thought of it brought me back to my 17 year old self who loved NASA and sci-fi and all things other worldly. I remember watching Carl Sagan talk about Voyager 1 on the Johnny Carson show and remember the record (a gold plated phonograph record- how retro?) of sound and images that it carried out into the vastness, as well as its message saying hello to the cosmos. What a very optimistic thing to add to a tool, a machine? I think it embodied a wonderful zeitgeist of the late 70s. I'll leave you with Carl Sagan talking about a picture that Voyager 1 took of the earth from millions of miles away, the "pale blue dot" picture.

Bobby Jindahl: Nero 2.0

Rachel Maddow has done the most wonderful take-down of a political failure: Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindahl's boondoggle "idea" to use sand berms to contain the BP oil spill.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

This illustrates the rot at the top we have now: it's not about disagreeing over the best course of action, it's not about who has the better ideas about how to govern, it's not about who has the better administrative skills. It's about winning. From George Bush Sr. enthroning his idiot son to President Obama continuing to build the wall of secrecy the idiot son started we can see example after example of politicians from both parties behaving as if the country and its government belong to them as the spoils of some sort of victory. This idiotic behavior, again and again, proves enormously destructive.

Lies, lies, lies.

Contradictions indicate that the speaker is lying. Note to government-hating right-wing nuts: call yourselves anarchists already. You claim to hate the waste of money. But then someone like Jindahl comes along and wastes tons of money for no good purpose in order to impress you - and succeeds?! This impresses you?! Are you going to try to tell me that Jindahl is your hero for standing up to the big, bad, wasteful federal government, that he was right? Don't spit on my cupcake and call it frosting.

This is about the federal government "wasting" money on social spending. But you can't go into any detail about what exactly you find wasteful without sounding like one of the townspeople from Blazing Saddles. So you lie. You and Jindahl deserve each other. But sadly, the rest of us don't deserve either one of you.

Thanks go to AR for finding this one. And of course to Rachel Maddow.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Must... Resist ... Schadenfreude

That sulfur dioxide from coal fired power plants kills pecan trees has already been established. That this takes place in Texas is the great irony here. The place that attacks science and modern liberalism. Here's your libertarian mechanism at work: only after the damage is done can something happen as a reaction, and then as in all court cases a lot depends on other factors than the facts. But go ahead and wait until the damage is done, then sue.

Too bad this approach won't work for global warming.

(Note: I have no idea whether any of the unfortunate pecan growers are the short-sighted, liberal-hating, anti-regulation, anti-science, lynch-the-environmentalists type of Texans. That's why I have to fight off the feeling of Schadenfruede that comes over me whenever respect for science, evidence and rationality would have saved someone who's going under).

Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Electronic Plantation

AR sent me this link to an interview with a Facebook employee. It's well worth a read through. But here's what truly horrified me:

I think the coolest thing about the work environment is the trust. They don’t care what, where, how, when, as long as you get your shit done. If you want to work at a bar, the ball game, a park, the roof, they don’t give a fuck. Just get your shit done. Hence I was able to ditch work, come have two pitchers with you, and I will literally be able to go back and get my work done. And it goes a long way. Because I know I can get these things done. I know I’m going to have to go back. And I may be there until ten or eleven tonight.
[Emphasis added]
I e-mailed the following to AR:

I find myself very uncomfortable with the separation of time clocked-in with completion of tasks. At this stage I see it "sold" to employees as empowering but I'm waiting for the electronic plantation to rear its ugly head. This amounts to a kind of 21st century piece-work.

A management scientist named Frederick Taylor in the 19th century wondered why workers in a steel factory so vehemently opposed his changes. After all, they were paid piece-work so the more they produced, the more money they made, right?

No. When productivity increased management reduced the piece-work rate. The game was rigged, and the workers knew it.

There was also some resistance by management to the creation of clothing factories because they negotiated different piece-work rates for different women who did the sewing by hand at home. Eventually the greater productivity of sewing machines won out.

Back to the present, if the tasks accomplished become too separated from the 8-hour day, then how does one determine a reasonable amount of productivity? As usual the arrogant know-nothings populating the tech industry are screwing themselves and will no doubt act very suprised when the consequences hit them. They complained bitterly after the boom went bust then the tech jobs went to India. Wait until they have to work 12 hour days for peanuts just to keep their jobs.

Sorry about the tone. Rough morning.

AR Responds:

Your tone seemed perfectly appropriate to me. I just saw a CNBC "documentary" on Google, where they showed how Google did laundry, made gourmet food, provided massages, etc so that their employees never had to leave the Googleplex and never had stop working. I'm thinking of a B.F.Skinner box with gourmet California cuisine replacing the mice food pellets. For many of the type-A personalities and for most of the functional autistics who make up the employees at Google, staying there and being "productive" is what they most dearly want and need (especially the autistics). For the rest of the US population work is merely one aspect of our lives and that separation is just fine and was hard fought for.

Where Google's ethos becomes a problem is that your very average middle manager at whatever generic office/business gets delusions of grandeur and thinks that his/her office/business should emulate Google's work ethos. Of course they don't have the money of Google and are nowhere near as bright as Google's founders and the work is nowhere near as innovative, useful and creative as Google's, yet "If it worked for Google, it can work for us." becomes the mantra of the generic middle manager. Look at any Dilbert cartoon drawn in the 90s for a deeper understanding of this process/lifestyle. I've seen a similar ridiculous belief in working 16 hours a day for 6 days a week in my friends who drank the Wall Street Kool-Aid in the early 90's. They were used, then spit out once they burned out. A very similar fate befell my associates in the late 90s who were all about their Internet Start-ups. After looking down on my work in old media academia, some even had the amnesiac nerve to ask me if there were any openings once every single one of these dot coms went belly up and smelled like bad fish.

This is just the latest iteration of the Protestant Work Ethic in America. The French have it partially right when they call it an Anglo-Saxon model. They simplistically leave out the Protestant roots of this Anglo-Saxon model. What most media in the US refuse to look at is how prosperous Germany is without most of its people working more than 40 hours per week and with most of its people having at least a month off every summer for holiday. The same with both Denmark & Sweden, the subjects of a new book on their apparently baffling creativity and wealth. All three of these Protestant nations have intense productivity, which I'm perfectly willing to label as Protestant. What they seem to lack is the Anglo-Saxon obsession with work and with staying at work for ridiculous amounts of time. I cannot see how people can possibly stay focused and productive for all those hours per day, unless they are a Google autistic. The business press is the major generator of these productivity myths, which is why they are and always will be redoubtable. Academia has plenty of problems, as we both know from direct experience, but I'll gladly take its myths over those of the business world and take 4 weeks off every summer too. Deutschland uber alles during summer holidays.

Monday, December 06, 2010

New commenting software

I realize that we have very few comments here and most of those come from a mentally ill Canadian.

Well, due to the slight annoyance of the spammer I have implemented a free comment system from disqus. To comment you must have a free account at disqus (single sign-on with multiple registration services, such as WorldPress and typepad may follow someday if this blog ever takes off with lots of comments - I can dream, can't I?). After I installed the new commenting system I deleted all the crazy Canadian's junk.

BTW, this is the person who coined the now (in)famous bit of word salad: GOATS ON FIRE! Yes, in all caps followed by an exclamation point without any context whatsoever - entertaining, but not for very long.

Blogger does not offer any way to block or ban commenters. Sadly, the realities of life on the internet make this necessary. At this point, only spam and the overtly mentally ill will be banned. If we ever actually do have discussions which attract trolls, I will use the PZ Myers POO test.

For the moment, we can list this one under problems we wish we had.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Dennis Markuze aka David Mabus

Recently, a mentally ill man named Dennis Markuze posted a comment to this blog. It made no sense. I recognized the poster's name "David Mabus" as an alias of a well known internet spammer : Dennis Markuze. I deleted that first message. Then he posted the exact same comment to the same post, this time under the Google account "DM." Deleted it again. Then came the exact same post as "anonymous." Normally, I would be thrilled to receive hate mail, but this does not make me feel special. Dennis Markuze hates everyone. No, it's not my or AR's insightful, biting commentary on the state of the world that has angered some blow hard. It's a man likely afflicted with schizophrenia backtracking every comment on the Pharyngula blog looking for more blogs to spam. Oh well.

Matthew Miller has posted the best response to the ravings of Dennis Markuze, this obviously mentally ill person who spams blogs. I feel no enmity toward him. He badly needs help.

Dennis Markuze aka David Mabus - former computer salesman - Montreal, Canada.

please seek advice.

1-800-THERAPIST network

Montreal Psychology Office
Obtain help for depression, anxiety, smoking cessation, relationship issues, and more...

If you are more comfortable in a French speaking environment
Luc Blain, psychologue clinicien
La vie est une succession d'événements qui amènent l'individu à les subir, à les nier, ou encore à les transformer pour les rendre digestes psychiquement. Dans le processus de transformation, la personne retrouve une plus grande liberté intérieure dans différentes dimensions de sa vie: capacité d'avoir du plaisir, d'aimer et d'être aimé, de s'épanouir dans un travail ou des activités.

Picked up off the net, but you may need reminding.

If anyone who reads this lives in Montreal and you see this man, please exercise caution, do not engage. No one knows whether or not he could prove truly dangerous in person.

Dennis Markuze aka David Mabus

Update: I asked in the comments on the next post for Dennis to comment in this thread instead. No luck. Anyone who is interested to read the spam of a mentally ill Canadian can take a look at "The end that's rising as the other end goes down."

Saturday, October 09, 2010

The end that's rising while the other end goes down

By Steven.

Roy Zimmerman has a 2 and a half minute song that describes the behavior and mentality that led to the crash of 2008. This makes most of the articles you can find in economics journals redundant.

I only wish that the central part of his metaphor was actually true. I do not think that the wealthiest hucksters who perpetrated this ponzi game will ever "sink." For more about this see The Rich Don't Need Us Anymore.

Monday, August 09, 2010

By Steven

One of my favorite blogers, Bob Harris gave the closing keynote address to Web Directions North, a gathering of executives from internet companies (such as Yahoo and Google), on the future of the Internet’s influence on global culture and politics. This may sound dry but Harris is funny, intelligent and very amusing (numerous laugh out loud moments). The video embedded below is the first of 10 parts, each part about 3 or 4 minutes long. I sat down to watch the first one then couldn't stop. He's a very engaging speaker with an optimistic take on life and humanity.

If you like this you can click on the "YouTube" link or click this link to go directly to all 10 parts on Bob Harris' channel.

You can find a link to his blog in the right-hand column:

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Rich Don't Need the Rest Anymore

By Steven.

Economist Michael Lind has an op-ed in this morning that set my teeth on edge. This happens when someone writes something that I have been trying to tell people for years. In Are the American People Obsolete? he writes that the rich no longer depend on U.S. citizens for their wealth or protection nor to provide them services anymore. Immigrants without voting rights serve as maids and cooks, and perform other service tasks.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently revealed the plutocratic perspective on immigration when he defended illegal immigration by asking, "Who takes care of the greens and the fairways in your golf course?"

Offshoring has done wonders to free the rich from dealing with the U.S. workers' demands for a living wage, as Lind explains:

A member of the elite can make money from factories in China that sell to consumers in India, while relying entirely or almost entirely on immigrant servants at one of several homes around the country.

Lind mentions the growing use of mercenaries (called "Contractors" since the start of the Iraq War) as the final reason rich people do not need ordinary citizens of the U.S. anymore. He also speculate about a foreign, immigrant police force of the future.

My favorite part of Lind's piece comes from his tying this all to the hatred for taxes:

If the American rich increasingly do not depend for their wealth on American workers and American consumers or for their safety on American soldiers or police officers, then it is hardly surprising that so many of them should be so hostile to paying taxes to support the infrastructure and the social programs that help the majority of the American people. The rich don't need the rest anymore.

For many years, in conversations with friends and acquaintances, I have brought up this idea. Always I have received either uncomprehending stares or condescending responses. Silly doom-crier, they need us as consumers. Or, where else does the wealth come but from the rest of us? Well, now it's coming in from elsewhere, they have taken away retirement for most of us and have Social Security in the cross-hairs now. Does anyone think that the wealthiest 2 percent of the U.S. has need of the other 98% as anything more than sheep to be fleeced?

Footnote: For a body of empirical supporting data take a look at Middle Class in America Is Radically Shrinking. Here Are the Stats to Prove it from Yahoo finance.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Paper of record? Not so much.

By AR.

I gave up reading the NY Times years ago after their disastrous coverage of the lead up to the war in Iraq and several other internal scandals. I do not consider them "the paper of record". Sadly, lots of the media still take them as such. I have been getting more news from McClatchy, since an analysis of the media in the aftermath of the Iraq war showed that they actually got the story right. They had no Judith Miller that they had to apologize for. So that covers much of my news needs. As to opinion, I'm not much of a fan of the Times either. God knows that their opinion people get plenty of coverage on the Sunday morning blabfests, as well as on NPR. So it’s not like I don’t get to hear their opinions over and over. I used to read the Times for the “Circuits” computer section, but that has long since been folded into another section. Not a great loss as it had gotten pretty thin. The main contributor to it is a total Mac fan boy and I just reached a point of exhaustion and boredom with his work. The only section of the Times I will occasionally look at and still consider worthwhile is the Arts section. They still do have some of the best reviewers in the country, especially Holland Cotter.

Can someone be informed without the Grey Lady? I think so. I got a much better sense of the lead up to the Iraq war with Air America's coverage at the time. I got a much deeper understanding of the current financial crisis via Planet Money on PRI. I got a good understanding of what we are currently doing in Afghanistan due to Rachel Maddow's recent great work. I get a much better sense of what happens in the rest of the world thanks to the BBC. Then there is the solid day in day out reporting in McClatchy. Note that most of those sources were not in the form of text on paper, but radio and video over the Web. It just seems to me that the Times is far from indispensable. Frankly, I don't feel that the Times matters very much, except that their endorsements for local & state judges races here in NY are definitively consequential. I think that as you move out of that local range into larger state and national races they have much less of an impact. Culturally, they are also losing ground. They may be the be-all in terms of classical music reviews, but for most other kinds of music, they really don’t carry much weight. They are important for Broadway. But how important are Broadway plays and musicals to most people under 50? The Times is important to people’s grandparents and some middle-aged parents. If you are in your twenties or thirties, the opinions and recommendations of Time Out NY will be way more important. There is a kind of official culture that the Times can still be said to represent. Actually, I think that it’s more a culture of officials, like the judges that get their endorsements, or the college presidents that want nice articles about their latest educational initiatives, or the arts administrators who really want to get a nice write up about a current show or upcoming performance. If you aren’t part of that culture of officialdom does the Times really serve your interests? That is up to you to decide. For myself, the answer has increasingly been no. I think that they have come to believe their own ads, which is always a bad sign.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube

By Steven.

How long has internet been a household word? Who does not know about the Google cache? For all the fear that information would become ephemeral as we make the transition from print to electronic, some have learned - the hard way - that once you post something really awful, to paraphrase Shakespeare: the evil men do doesn't just live after them, it goes viral.

Tea Party Express organizer Mark Williams reacted to the NAACP's resolution denouncing racist elements within the Tea Party movement with a blog post which attempted to characterize the resolution as somehow "against freedom."

Bear in mind this is an old trick that political operatives have used since forever: Re-frame the "debate" in terms that favor your position, ignore any information that you can not argue over, try to position your opponent as somehow standing "against" something "good" or "in favor" of something "bad." Thus, Williams' blog post had to characterize the Tea Party as not racist (good luck) and the NAACP as against freedom.

He attempted to accomplish these goals with a faux letter from Benjamin Jealous, the president of the NAACP, to Abraham Lincoln, asking for the repeal of the 13th and 14th amendments, repeated characterized African-Americans as not wanting to work, then (as if those pearls of eloquence were not enough) signed the "letter" with phrases: "Tom's Nephew" and "Head Colored Person."

Strangely, some silly people saw this as overtly racist, clueless in the extreme and astonishingly ugly. To me, it reads like something one of my bigoted classmates from High School would have written. What does Williams do after revealing himself as "brain-dead to the underlying realities of how this world works?" He takes down the post, then takes down his whole blog *. What does this accomplish? You can still read the letter as originally posted. If he does shoot himself in the foot again by claiming the reproductions of his post are fabrications, there's always the old friend to memory, the Google cache.

The overt racism of the "letter" has not stopped CNN from presenting him as a pundit and representative of the tea party movement. As Justin Elliott at has noted none of the CNN commentators asked Williams about his "letter to Abraham Lincoln" during any of the segments in which he appears.

Nor have I seen any other "tea partiers" denounce his racism. How do you do that without antagonizing your base?

If you do not care to click through to the letter, here are some highlights. Racist self-revelatory screeds don't get much better than this:

Freedom means having to work for real, think for ourselves, and take consequences along with the rewards. That is just far too much to ask of us Colored People and we demand that it stop!
Bailouts are just big money welfare and isn't that what we want all Coloreds to strive for?
How will we Colored People ever get a wide screen TV in every room if non-coloreds get to keep what they earn?

Had enough? I know I have.

Footnote: I tried a link to the letter on Williams' blog "Marktalk" ( this morning and receive a "server not responding" message. The post itself first re-written to remove references to "Massa" then the post taken down appeared in the Elliott article above.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Truth and Consequences and Secrecy

By Steven

So far three psychologists who allegedly aided in the torture of detainees have found their licenses to practice coming under review. The state licensing boards in New York, Ohio and Texas have received complaints about Army psychologists as a result of evidence mostly found in a 2008 Senate Committee report (a large .PDF may take a long time to download). Democracy Now has the best report on this I can find, and the article in contains some interesting quotes. In particular, this statement in the complaint filed with the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists by Northwestern University law professor Joseph Margulies:

"Regardless of what legal categories these techniques fall within, one conclusion is clear: a psychologist who helps inflict such cruel and shocking abuse on a defenseless human being would appear to have violated basic standards of conduct of the profession,"

Let that sink in for a moment. "Regardless of what legal categories these techniques fall within ... " This constitutes the first explicit rejection of what an administration and Congress chose to make legal. Just because some fools and maniacs made this legal does not make it right.

Another observation pertains to secrecy. Dr. James Mitchell, facing a complaint filed in Texas, had this to say (from the article):

"Obviously, I'm not free to discuss any work I may have done for the CIA," Mitchell told the AP. He called the complaint libelous and said it is "riddled throughout with fabricated details, lies, distortions and inaccuracies."

Let me see if I understand this correctly: Mitchell claims that the U.S. Senate report is "riddled throughout with fabricated details, lies, distortions and inaccuracies." He may have directed his remarks to the complaint, but the source of the information comes from the Senate report. Best of luck with that defense, Dr. Mitchell. And secondly, for once secrecy does not necessarily afford protection. Once the cat is out of the bag, poor Dr. Mitchell is not able to provide any additional context to support his defense because of secrecy rules when one works for the CIA. I hope I am not getting ahead of myself when I say "hoist on your own petard?" Maybe you should not get mixed up in torture in the first place?

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Absentee landlords from hell

By Steven

Alex forwarded to me this Rachel Maddow segment on how our tax money works in Afghanistan.

Nice neighborhood. Now take a look at what other people in Afghanistan live in:

(Image from the RAWA web site)

Does anyone remember that the so-called "Norther Alliance" the Bush Administration recruited to kick out the Taliban are actually a bunch of warlords who have committed numerous crimes against, well, pretty much everyone? (see Our Scary New Best Friends from from right after the beginning of the war).

Can we really afford to keep throwing money at people who are already insanely rich?

Update: I had trouble making the video play just now. I case this happens to your here's the link:

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Bill the Galactic Hero works for the FBI?

by Steven.

In Harry Harrison's satirical Science Fiction book one of the chapters has the hero, Bill, infiltrating a terrorist organization. At the end, during a stand-off with police (they have the "terrorists" surrounded in their "headquarters"), two competing law enforcement agencies call for their informers to come out. One by one every one of the members of the big bad terrorist group leaves the building and runs to his handler. Only one man is left in the building, the Big Boss. The Big Boss begs and pleads with his handler, but to no avail. Someone has to be the terrorist, or the operation will be all for nothing. The last informer, the one who founded the terrorist organization in the first place, perishes in a hail of gunfire. Someone had to be sacrificed for "justice to prevail."

Silly SciFi right? Guess again! In Salon today I read Stage-Managing the War on Terror by Stephan Salisbury in Tom's Dispatch. The "terrorist" attacks averted since 2001 include "the Liberty City Seven, the Fort Dix Six, the Detroit Ummah Conspiracy, the Newburgh Four." In each case an FBI informer supplied the money, the plan, the rhetoric and the "explosives." Even a federal judge, Colleen McMahon who presides over the Newburgh case, calls it the "un-terrorism case."

Especially the Newburgh case looks more like a horrible con perpetrated on desperate, unemployed (and in one case mentally ill) black men. A Pakistani shows up at a mosque flashing lots of money and making extravagant offers. The more astute members of the congregation smelled a rat. As Salisbury reports:

In fact, more substantial members of the mosque had pegged Shaheed Hussain as an informer almost the moment he arrived, but had no idea what to do about him. “Maybe the mistake we made was that we didn’t report him,” Salahuddin Mustafa Muhammad, imam at Masjid al-Ikhlas, told congregants shortly after the May 2009 arrests. “But how are we going to report the government agent to the government?”
In the Liberty City case, one of the defendants had actually called the Philadelphia police "in mid-plot" to complain that "he was being pressured to commit radical acts by what turned out to be an FBI informer." The FBI paid the informer $230,000. Nice work if you can get it. The article details the "Bill the Galactic Hero" conduct of the FBI in each of the other cases listed above.

Aside from these cases what do we have? The shoe bomber (brilliant, telling everyone what he's doing before failing to light the fuse), the underwear bomber (need I say more) and the pathetic Times Square bomber. Either incompetent idiots who could barely blow their own noses or poor, pathetic, men who could not do anything without the money, supplies and leadership the FBI supplied. The re-printing of this article has the best tag line for the whole astonishing waste of everyone's times and resources, "The FBI : foiling its own plots since 2001."

Saturday, July 03, 2010

The albatross called the South

My friend AR and I exchanged e-mails about this piece by Glenn Greenwald of We both respect and admire Greenwald - he has always called attention to the misdeeds and hypocrisies that take place all across the political spectrum, and for that we commend him. After reading Greenwald's take on the recent (June 8, 2010) primary AR had this to say:

I hope Greenwald is NOT asking for a third party, like the redoubtable Ralph Nader. Progressives have a very shallow time line. It will take at least a generation to move this country to the left again, if it can even be done.

In national electoral politics in America we are dealing with the albatross called the South. Most of the Blue Dogs that Greenwald laments come from the old confederacy. The Dixiecrats still exist and Lincoln is one of them. They never cared for or served their poor white constituents, but only those who always had the money in the agricultural economy of the old South. Her being a corporatist is the modern incarnation of the same thing. The poor people of the South needed single-payer health care as much as any poor person in the North, Midwest or West Coast. Yet this group of people can be counted on to vote constantly against their own interests. The ugly truth is that as long as the majority of Southerners hold their conservative values there is a limit to what can be achieved on a national level. The great idea of Howard Dean was to realize that one could pull support from progressives even in that part of the country. I honestly wish that Dean was being listened to by Obama, rather than Emmanuel.

One bright spot is that Lincoln is the sponsor of anti-derivative legislation. I hope that she is serious about that legislation because it would force a fundamental change in the structure of American banks. I suspect that Greenwald would be happy about that change. I still smell the left-over late 60s in Greenwald's writing. I think that there is way too much personalization in his attacks on her. She is useful if she can get the anti-derivative legislation passed. (BTW, Barney Frank is said to be against that legislation. WTF?) I think that Greenwald is confused about what a political "cost" is. He shouldn't be happy to maim her. He should be trying to work with her on what they agree on, like the anti-derivative legislation. If you are trying to show an exercise of real political power, coming a close second is not enough. We all laugh at how the tea-baggers come in second to many on the right. What is the difference? Working with someone like Blanche Lincoln is a long run strategy. You may hate her guts about some issues, but hold your nose and get out of her what you can. Some people feel the same way about Barney Frank.

On some level I think that Greenwald needs to grow up and realize that he doesn't have all that much power. I think that his group needs to develop soft power as well as what they think was hard power, which really didn't work. I think that Obama will break the hearts of the left as much as 30 years of supposedly pro-life Republicans have broken the hearts of many truly committed right-wingers. These folks are still horrified that Abortion is legal and that they have only reduced it at the margins and mainly on the state & local level. Reagan was right when he said that if someone agrees with you 80% of the time he is your friend and worth working with. Larry Wilmore was right when he said that America thought that Obama was a "magic negro" and that, of course, Obama is not a "magic negro." Look at this clip from the Daily Show:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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And for no other reason than I can't help myself, while we're talking about an albatross, let's see the classic albatross skit, via YouTube:

The behavior of voters may look this absurd, but nobody does absurd better than Monty Python.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Social Security, pensions and medicare in the crosshairs

(Updated below)
I want to spread this far and wide because Cenk Uygur has raised a point I've been going on about for years: The richest people in the U.S. are going after the last remaining pot of money to plunder: our retirement and medicare.

The only thing I can add is that they do not even mention the wars and the cost of those wars. Also, why, Mr. Carlson, are there not enough rich people to pay down the deficit? Did they hid the money too well? Anyway, I would like to test that hypothesis.

Stick with this video to the end to hear about Colorado reneging on its State pensions and how corporations are "looking at Colorado" for inspiration.

Yikes! I say, yikes!

Links to additional background information (links via

Social Security Finances: Findings of the 2009 Trustees Report, National Academy of Social Insurance Social Security Brief, May, 2009

Social Security Beneficiary Data, Social Security Administration.

Thunderf00t in mouth?

There is a person who goes by the handle ThunderF00t on YouTube. He makes
pro-science and anti-superstition videos. I have enjoyed most of what he does, especially his Why People Laugh at Creationists series. He recently made one about the South Park episode that obtained death threats:

Although I do not agree with some of his statements, the fact that Viacom or someone claiming to be Viacom had filed a DMCA complaint had video taken down shows how easy it is to censor someone one YouTube. (Yes, I know it's a commercial venture and not a public forum, but it advertises itself as a public forum and it uses a national resource, the internet, which was created with public funds then pretty much handed over for free to a bunch of empty suits like Google. But I digress). It's a free speech issue for me.

The statements that trouble me may not be acts which Thunderf00t wants to happen but it may be only predictions. But his overall tone of anger makes it sound like he wants violence to happen. I'm not sure. I'd be interested in other opinions on this one.

I think this is an anti-Islamic screed. I think that he IS threatening the "Islamic World". I can't stand Islamists, much as I can't stand Fundamentalists of any other religion. I share the same enemies as this guy, but I don't think I'm on the same side as him. In his ridiculously simple minded view of the West living in the age of enlightenment, he neglects to mention all the enlightened terrorism of colonialism, slavery and bigotry of the first world (i.e.: Christendom). I don't know what moral high ground this character THINKS he's living on, but it is in its own way as manufactured as the gods that he lambastes. I think this is a prime example of an intolerant secular humanist. He should change his screen name to ThunderF00t-in-mouth.

(note: this exchange took place last April. I post it here because I found the exchange interesting and would be interested in seeing if anyone would care to comment. -- Steven).

Welcome new blog author: AR

One of my closest life-long friends has agreed to post to this blog. He prefers to go by the letters "AR." I have had many interesting e-mail exchanges with AR and often wished I could put his writing on this blog. Now there's someone with whom to interact and disagree with me on occasion.

I started out in the mid-90s maintaining a web site which tracked various forms of censorship and examined what was then the new phenomenon of "alternative media." Well in internet years it's been a couple of centuries since then. Alt media has developed and mainstream media has experienced some set-backs. There's more to write about than only censorship. In the U.S. we also have seen, since 2001, an astonishing frontal assault on the Bill of Rights, the writ of habeas corpus, and a President who "put out a hit" on a U.S. citizen. AR and I write about more than just the narrowly focussed topics with which I started in the mid-90s.

Looking back on the last 10 years, I can only summarize with: Yikes! I say, Yikes!

How long have babies been around?

There's a story on the AP wire this morning that 7 companies that manufacture cribs have recalled about 2 million of them. Design flaws have led to the recall. The movable slide can detach or "malfunction" (?!) leading to babies' heads trapped, injury or strangulation.

Humans have been placing their babies in cribs for how many millennia now? Their physiology and frailty long ago fully studied, documented and understood, yes? Why is it that in the 21st century some nitwits can't figure out how to design a crib so it does not kill the person using it? Who do they think they are, the tobacco industry?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Guess what? Torture wasn't needed in the Time Square Bomber Case.

By AR.

Faisal Shahzad, the self-admitted Time Square bomber, has confessed to all ten charges against him. I hope that he will enjoy his life as a prisoner after sentence is passed in October. What I would like to point out is that he was not tortured. It will probably be confusing to Dick Cheney and the rest of the pro-torture crowd, but it is something that makes me proud. We do not need to torture terrorists. We do not need to send them to secret prisons, like the one at Bagram Airfield. Our legal system can actually handle these kinds of cases. I wish President Obama would keep that in mind. It seems to slip in and out of his mind at times. The Christmas day underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was also not tortured and is reported to have given up lots of information. Fairness and decency seem to work when dealing terrorists. This is a point that cannot be made enough and is certainly never heard from the chicken hawks on the Right. I wish this had been more a part of the coverage of Faisal Shahzad's confession yesterday.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Jon Stewart on Obama and Presidential power

I wanted to make the punch line the title for this post but I don't want to give it away for those who have not yet seen it. From an excellent post by's Glenn Greenwald on the Obama's record on executive power. He deconstructs the lefty-liberal defense we typically see for the President's actions (or lack of same).
Then at the bottom of the post there's this gem from the Daily Show:

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

BP's hostages

I was inspired by Tom Tomorrow's latest This Modern World cartoon to look for citations for the statements of fact I found in it. Sad to say I am so disconnected that I had to learn about this from a cartoon:

BP has responded to the disaster with all the resources at its disposal: money, personnel, lawyers. That's right. It's responded aggressively to the PR disaster.

For the wonks among you, here are the sources:

International Business times on BP's buying keyword searches to direct people to its own page about the oil spill. and the ABC news story on the keyword buying spree.

A YouTube video showing a segment from CBS News which shows a member of the U.S. Coast Guard (rank unknown) saying "BP's Rules, not ours." He is accompanying a boatload of BP contractors who tell journalists they can not go to the oil fouled beach.

Even more obnoxious: BP forces clean up workers to sign non-disclosure agreements. Since that last was a less well known source, here's another on non-disclosure agreements from CNN.

Don't worry folks, it gets worse. Yahoo news on BP blaming sick clean up workers illnesses on food poisoning. (For some reason this conjured up the memory of 19th century mine owners in Rhodesia publishing articles that claimed that black mine workers suffered from scurvy due to poor oral hygiene - we give 'em toothbrushes but they just don't use 'em). And, of course, there's worse: Amy Goodman interviews clean up workers (formerly fishermen) who BP has threatened with firing if they wear their own respirators.

And now for the comic relief.

ABC News on BP's $50 Million dollar ad campaign. Darn, $50 million does not buy as much belief as it used to. Credulity inflation.

And the winner in the comic relief dept: A conservative liberal-baiting internet news site's report on Haley Barour's statements that the media is doing more harm than the spill (was he trying to channel Bagdad Bob?!).

The big issue I have not seen covered very much:

Here's a Reuters story on the structural economic blackmail that keeps BP politically protected: it accounts for 12 percent of the dividends paid into British retirement funds. Don't impose any realistic accountability on BP or the old limeys are screwed. This, what I call structural blackmail, has to change before corporations lose their power over the world. As long as corporations such as BP have hostages they can shoot the rest of us can not do much without harming each other.


One more in the PR hit parade: BP has hired mercenaries (call them security guards) in addition to enlisting local law enforcement and the Coast Guard.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

The Pope and the cover-up

After reading's This week in crazy featuring the latest attempts to salvage the personal reputation of Pope Ratzi, I discovered these gaping holes in what I consider logical thinking. See if you find any of this makes sense to you:

Logical conclusions.

In a recent attempt to "defend" the Pope against charges of personally participating in the cover-up of child-molesting police, the Vatican mouthpieces have provided us with the very entertaining spectacle of press releases praising the then Chief investigator's efforts to deal with pedophile priests. (Of course this was not his title, but "head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF)" is a lot to say, so I abbreviated it). Read some examples here and here.

Logic break folks - think about this for a second. What does the act of praising the person responsible for policing the ranks of the priesthood tell you in light of the extent of the misconduct (again, not really the best word to use, but then "vile, monstrous, sick, perverted and blatantly illegal abuse of power over children" is a lot to say, so I abbreviated it). This dwarfs GW Bush's infamous "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job" statement he made while people continued to die from neglect in New Orleans. What's next? Praising Emperor Nero's expert fire-fighting prowess?

Does anyone else see the pratfall of praising a chief participant in what can only be either a massive cover-up or a miserable failure? Liar or incompetent? Hmm.. It's got to be one or the other, so if I were the hapless PR flack trying to do damage control on this mess I would choose incompetence. He suffered from dementia that decade. He suffered some brain damage when a golf ball hit him in the head. We put him in charge of investigating priests' misconduct while he was in recovery after a month-long binge on tequila and peyote. Anything, and I mean anything but "he did a heck of a job cracking down on those pedophiles." Revelation of the blindingly obvious: No One did even a marginally adequate job of protecting children from monsters. And documented evidence continues to pile up that proves the Church perpetrated a cover-up of massive proportions. What elephant?

Hint to the Vatican's PR agents: praising someone in the face of such obvious facts and blatant failure (or criminal cover-up) ranks with putting out a fire with gasoline in the pantheon of blunders.

Now to the U.S. government's role in this mess (Oh, yes, they laid some interesting ground work relevant to recent developments in legal action against the Pope).

The argument (raised by the Vatican's lawyers) that he has immunity as a head of state from prosecution in the U.S. brings to mind the case of Manuel Noriega. Noriega was a head of state too, right? He served time in U.S. prison for drug offenses committed outside the U.S. Has anyone else pointed this out?

The U.S. has embarked upon a policy of extra-territorial prosecution, even to the point of using "extraordinary rendition" to capture individuals suspected of crimes against the United States committed outside of its borders. We have a prison in Guantanamo for such people. President Obama has neither shut it down nor repudiated its existence.

So, in principle, according the the precedents set down by the two Bushes and Obama, why not send a rendition team to Vatican City and drag the pedophile-protecting old monster back to the U.S. to stand trial? I know this would never happen, but it raises the question of selective prosecution. If you have an Arabic name that matches that of a suspected terrorist then you receive an all-expense paid trip to Gitmo (or worse). If you head a corrupt organization with a decades-long record of covering up for pedophiles, you receive a free pass. Think about it.