Friday, May 31, 2013

Stockpiling inmates

I was unaware that Sarah Palin was still a meme, but the Democratic Party is apparently still using her to raise money and build their email lists. Apparently, because who cares enough to look it up, the former Alaska governor said the US government is "stockpiling bullets" to use against the public. And so a petition has been launched by the Democratic Governors Association to demand an apology because that is important:
Accusing our government of actively stockpiling weapons to use against its own people is not only offensive and wrong -- it's downright dangerous. For Sarah Palin to insinuate that the United States is similar to the tyrannical governments in Syria and Iran who do carry out those types of atrocities is completely reprehensible.
Good on the governors for looping Iran into the mix, rather than a Bahrain or Saudi Arabia. President Hillary may have to bomb them someday, so it's important to lay the groundwork now. Sarah Palin and Iran: Bad. Got it.

Of course, the unfortunate thing is that the US government is "actively stockpiling weapons to use against its own people" (no one cares about it using them against other people). You don't end up with 2.3 million Americans in prison cells by asking them nicely. You force them in at the point of a gun. The FBI alone gets over $8 billion a year to do this. Federal prisons get over $8 billion to keep them there.

Is that the same as the sort of political repression that goes on in Syria or Iran? No, it's different. The people getting shot in the streets by security forces are usually Black or Latino. And no one has anywhere near the size prison population that America does.

(via @FireTomFriedman)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

James Comey ain't your homie

President Obama is reportedly picking a former hedge fund executive turned senior Bush administration official at the Justice Department by the name James Comey to be his next head of the FBI. Like Chuck Hagel, this largely meaningless nomination in terms of actual policy is being played up as meaningful by the hacks whose job it is to do that sort of thing.

Forget the pundits. Here's what the nomination means, if anything, by way of remarks Comey made at a press conference in 2004:
Had we tried to make a case against Jose Padilla through our criminal justice system, something that I, as the United States attorney in New York, could not do at that time without jeopardizing intelligence sources, he would very likely have followed his lawyer's advice and said nothing, which would have been his constitutional right. 
He would likely have ended up a free man, with our only hope being to try to follow him 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and hope -- pray, really -- that we didn't lose him.
Trials can be so inconvenient, especially when the criminal justice system only affords the state a 93 percent conviction rate. You really don't want to take any risks when it comes to national security. Indeed, "We could care less about a criminal case when right before us is the need to protect American citizens and to save lives," Comey told reporters, presumably grabbing his genitals. "We'll figure out down the road what we do with Jose Padilla." His remarks mean he will do well at the FBI, that Comey, leading a department where protecting Americans has long served as justification for ignoring their rights.

Padilla ended up being labeled an "enemy combatant" and stashed away in a Naval brig, spending nearly four years in solitary confinement, which in the words of a psychiatrist who examined him led to the "destruction of a human being’s mind.” Despite his years spent being tortured in military custody, however, Padilla was ultimately tried and convicted within the civilian criminal justice system. A final punch to the gut, because this America and we are terrible: the mentally destroyed Padilla's original conviction of 17 years in prison for expressing an interest in (if not actually engaging in) violent jihad was overturned for being too lenient.

I hope you like your humor dark.

(Transcript via Kevin Gosztola)

Friday, May 17, 2013

More rappers, less business leaders

Addressing graduates at Bowie State University, a historically black college in Maryland, First Lady Michelle Obama on Friday said the reason more African-American children don't go to college is because they're lazy:
“Instead of walking miles every day to school, they’re sitting on couches for hours playing video games, watching TV. Instead of dreaming of being a teacher or a lawyer or a business leader, they’re fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper."
Now, I ain't black. I am, in fact, painfully white. That said, I do have access to some facts, courtesy the October 2012 study, “Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration and the Myth of Black Progress,” as reported by The New York Times:
¶ Among male high school dropouts born between 1975 and 1979, 68 percent of blacks (compared with 28 percent of whites) had been imprisoned at some point by 2009, and 37 percent of blacks (compared with 12 percent of whites) were incarcerated that year. 
¶ By the time they turn 18, one in four black children will have experienced the imprisonment of a parent. 
¶ More young black dropouts are in prison or jail than have paying jobs. Black men are more likely to go to prison than to graduate with a four-year college degree or complete military service.
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? I am not at all confident this metaphor works but I'd say it's the mass-incarceration chicken. If kids aren't going to college, I'm going to go out on a limb and say it has less to do with Nas and the Playstation 3 than it does with one or more of their parents being imprisoned, the lack of good job opportunities in America's urban centers, and the absolute shit secondary schools that the urban poor often have no choice to attend.

Curiously, though, it appears the president's wife would rather blame black culture than the institutionalized racism that manifests itself in mass incarceration and an official unemployment rate nearly twice that faced by whites. The notion that black children are too busy basketballin' and hip-hoppin' and shit must poll better.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The more you know

Chris Hedges recently interviewed Julian Assange. Predictably, because it complicates his preferred narrative, he did not ask any tough questions about the sexual assault charges the Wikileaks founder and documented creeper is facing in Sweden ("the Saudi Arabia of feminism."). He did, however, address those very serious charges in a single paragraph that suggested there was nothing to them, Assange's supporters having already carried out the trial that their self-styled freedom fighter is doing his best to avoid.
"[T]here is a well-orchestrated campaign of character assassination against Assange, including mischaracterizations of the sexual misconduct case brought against him by Swedish police. Assange has not formally been charged with a crime. The two women involved have not accused him of rape."
Let's go through this sentence-by-sentence, because there's a lot of bullshit in there.
"[T]here is a well-orchestrated campaign of character assassination against Assange, including mischaracterizations of the sexual misconduct case brought against him by Swedish police."
This is the only time Hedges mentions the allegations against Assange, in the context of discussing a "well-orchestrated campaign of character assassination" against his main man. In the interest of not mischaracterizing the case against Assange, what are the specific allegations against him? Two different women say he sexually abused them; that he engaged in non-consensual sex with them; that he was explicitly told to wear a condom but refused; that, in one case, he had unprotected sex with one of the woman who had insisted he wear a condom while she slept.

Though Hedges is concerned about mischaracterizations of the case, he doesn't note those details himself. Too messy.
"Assange has not formally been charged with a crime."
Hedges, like most Americans, is ignorant of the Swedish legal system. He doesn't know how it works. Assange and his team at Wikileaks are aware of this and have thus included this line -- he hasn't even been charged with anything! -- in their core set of talking points. But it is actually pretty dumb. Why? Because in the Swedish legal system, one is not formally charged with a crime until one is arrested and about to go to trial. Sweden issued an international arrest warrant for "the purpose of conducting criminal proceedings" because Assange skipped out on the final interview that comes before that arrest. The prosecutor in the case says he will be immediately indicted and tried following this next interview, unless he says anything "which [undermines] my present view."

As The Guardian reported in 2010, "Assange himself told friends in London that he was supposed to return to Stockholm for a police interview . . . and that he had decided to stay away." Dude knew what he was doing.
"The two women involved have not accused him of rape."
This is meaningless. What matters is that both of Assange's accusers say that their sexual encounters with him "started out as consensual but turned nonconsensual." There is a word for that, whether the two accusers -- who went to the police for a reason -- used that word themselves. Legally speaking, Assange is wanted on "two counts of sexual molestation, one count of unlawful coercion, and one count of rape."

I too once believed, reflexively, that there was something fishy about the charges against Assange; that they were part of an international campaign to defame him and ruin his organization, perhaps. But then I actually started looking at the case. And then I started wondering why Wikileaks was always going on about how sex-hating Swedish feminists had "redefined rape" to mean something crazy like "non-consensual sex." And then I came to the conclusion that it's actually Assange and the remnants of Wikileaks that are engaged in a serious disinformation campaign.

Bradley Manning is the real hero. Let's talk about Bradley Manning.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

The economist

Who but an economist could speak of the downside of funneling money to the world's largest professional killing machine in a way so devoid of humanity?
“Every time someone mentions a defense cut, a member of Congress talks about protecting factory jobs in their district,” he said. "But relative to other government spending, a considerable chunk of the military is spent outside our borders [editor's note: on killing people and stuff]. In that sense, the multiplier is smaller there than in other forms of government spending.”
Maybe Matt Yglesias.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

A government big enough to stop Big Pharma...

"I want our government to be big enough so that it can successfully stop Big Pharma from selling us drugs at five times the price as other countries," writes liberal commentator Thom Hartmann.

While I'm no fan of removing state checks on corporate privilege, this is a strange argument for a liberal to make as overpriced drugs are a clear result of the state -- big government -- granting corporate privilege. As center-left economist Dean Baker pointed out in his book, The End of Loser Liberalism, Americans currently spend around $300 billion a year on prescription drugs. Without state-granted monopolies in the form of drug patents, which bar competitors to Big Pharma from producing generics, that number would be closer to $30 billion.

Is Lockheed Martin funding 'drone outrage'?

Outrage over the unilateral, arbitrary killing of people from Pakistan to Yemen with unmanned US military aircraft – drones – is growing beyond just the regions being bombed and the offices of CODEPINK. It's even sneaking its way into the US Senate, if only for a hearing. Though opposition to remote-controlled killing may not be mainstream, now it's at least being acknowledged. But is this outrage being bankrolled by the military-industrial complex?

That's what one military expert who has never served in a military is suggesting. On Twitter, the armchair warrior who goes by the name “The War Nerd” posted that he keeps “having this feeling that a big part of the drone outrage is funded by Lockheed Martin.” It was a bold claim, backed by the argument that “Defense [sic] is all about $” and a fighter jet costs a lot more than a drone. The post was subsequently shared by a number of left-wing journalists, primarily his colleagues at the Not Safe for Work (NSFW) Corporation, an outlet that is essentially Playboy without the pictures.

But is it true? Well, if Lockheed Martin is fueling outrage over drones, as some on the left are now suggesting, it is going about it in a most curious way. Indeed, it almost appears as if the the world's largest military contractor is funding support for drones, aware that while they might sell for less than a jet, that only means the government can buy more of them.

For instance, consider: The chairman of the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus, which exists to “[s]upport policies and budgets” that promote the increased use of drones, is California Republican Buck McKeon, who also chairs the House Armed Services Committee. McKeon's top campaign contributor? Yeah, it's Lockheed Martin. Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat who co-chairs the caucus – stacked with dozens of the best friends the military-industrial complex ever had – also gets cash from Lockheed Martin. In fact, the Bethesda, Maryland-based company gives more money to congressional drone advocates from border states (that is, the politically more important ones) than any of its competitors.

Another way Lockheed Martin is financing opposition to President Barack Obama's drone wars in perplexingly bizarre ways is by funding a favorable PBS documentary on the “Rise of Drones.” And by ramping up its own production of unmanned aircraft and buying out its drone-manufacturing competitors. And by building planes that carry drones. And by building the “video-game-like interface” that helps drone operators pilot Lockheed Martin's drones.

It is all very strange, isn't it? Why would a firm that manufactures drones and drone-supporting congressmen and drone-carrying planes and drone-flying computers be funding opposition to its products? It just doesn't make sense. It's kind of stupid, really. It's really stupid.

Say what you will about America's merchants of death, the folks running Lockheed Martin have been pretty adept at making money. Last year, the company had revenues of over $47 billion, more than 80 percent of which came from the US government. They would not, it seems, be dumb enough to bankroll a campaign against a technology they tell their investors is one of their key “growth opportunities.” The simple answer to why Lockheed Martin would be funding outrage over drones is: Um, it wouldn't be. It's not. Wait, do I smell booze on your breath?

And that raises its own question: If Lockheed Martin is clearly not behind drone outrage, who is funding the shoot-from-the-gut conspiracy that said outrage over drones is being driven by something other than dead bodies? Corporate America, actually. Mr. Nerd, as a staff writer for NSFW, is paid for by way of a generous grant from executives at the online shoe store Zappos, a subsidiary of sweatshop titan Amazon.com. And his colleagues are just as divisively conspiratorial, it turns out, with one positing that the so-called “Ground Zero mosque” was a CIA plot to turn Americans against Muslims, a theory that similarly furthered the right-wing agenda by dividing the left – or at least seeking to – and furthered the gross, right-wing-approved narrative that there was something inherently fishy about Muslims building a place of worship in Manhattan.

Conspiracy theories have been crafted out of less.