Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Payday Lending: The Scum Also Rises

I've been hoping upon hope, since way back when Elizabeth Warren began her campaign for the Senate, that I'd get to someday vote for a True Progressive for President. I just assumed it would be her. But the moment that Bernie Sanders announced that he was running for President, the first thing I did was put my money where my mouth is and gave until it hurt to Bernie's campaign.

I was part of the first groundswell of support for Bernie and I'm quite proud of that. I've done my best since then to give as much as I could afford to see that he at least had a chance to get the nomination.

But I forgot about two things.

First, the Super Delegates - or, as I like to call them; the Scum that has risen to the top of the Democratic Party. These are folks who, regardless of the will of the American people, vote for whoever they feel like voting for. I mean, we all know that our politicians are in the pockets of big business, on both sides of the aisle. Yet we sit still and let those very same politicians and their minions cast a delegate ballot that, on average, represents 21,000 votes. There are 712 Super Delegates, so anyone running against the status quo - like Bernie Sanders -  has to overcome a block equivalent to fifteen million - that's 15,000,000 -  votes cast by American citizens registered as Democrats.

People may say, "but Steve, they don't all vote the same way, do they?" And of course, the answer is no, they don't. For example, of the 712 Super Delegates this year, 455 are for Hilary and 22 are for Sanders. 235 are undecided. That's why Clinton's delegate lead of 546 to 87 is Yuge! We the American People only gave her 101 by way of our votes in those states that have held their primaries and caucuses. But the Party Elite have given her a 6 to 1 lead instead of the 1.6 to 1 lead We the American People intended.

So much for Democracy from the Democratic Party.

But you don't read a lot about this stuff, these Super Delegates. If you Google it, you'll see that there have been several stories written about this issue in the Democratic Party. But none of them get the play in the media that, say, the news that African American voters in South Carolina resoundingly rejected Bernie Sanders in favor of Clinton, to the tune of 87% for Clinton, 13% for Sanders.

17.8 million African Americans voted in 2012. According to Pew Research Center, 80% of African Americans vote Democrat. So, if all 14,240,000 African American Democrats voted in the next election, and the South Carolina percentages held in every state, Clinton would win 12,500,000 of those votes.

Still less than the Super Delegates will lay at her feet.

So, what's Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Payday Lenders have to do with all of this? Because it occurred to me this morning, while reading the news, that the reason the Chair of the Democratic National Committee felt it was okay to sponsor a bill that would gut the Payday Lending laws was because the election's over, folks.

Clinton has already won. By virtue of the Super Delegates on the one hand, and that she's running against a xenophobic lunatic on the other. When the Chair of the Democratic National Committee leans so far into Republican territory that she will support the most predatory of the industries that slime their way through the halls of Congress, offering wads of tainted cash stolen from the poor in exchange for sponsorship of bills just like this, then Democracy and the Democratic Party are dead.

I'm reminded of a couple of great lines from Bullworth, when he was addressing the congregation of an African American church in Compton

Woman in Congregation: Are you sayin' the Democratic party don't care about the African-American community?

Bullworth: Isn't that OBVIOUS? You got half your kids out of work and the other half are in jail. Do you see ANY Democrat doing anything about it? Certainly not me! So, what are you gonna do? Vote Republican? Come on. Come on! You're not gonna vote Republican...

And Bullworth was right. We're not going to vote Republican.

But it occurs to me that, once again, I have to change my party affiliation from Democrat back to Independent.

You know, I voted for Ralph Nader, and many people blame folks like me for the rise of George Bush. And maybe, between now and November rank and file Democrats will wake up to the fact that they have absolutely no control over the choice of their candidate, no matter how many of them fund that candidate's campaign, and in particular, no matter how many of them do something as quaint as casting yet another inconsequential ballot for their choice, and knowing that the endless supply of money brought on by Citizens United can never be offset by their puny contributions, no matter how many million of them donate - plus the Ace-in-the-Hole backstop of Super Delegates - maybe, just maybe that disaffected electorate will decide to vote for an independent who might just pop up between now and then.

And yes, maybe this is the only real path Donald Drumpf has to the White House.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Shaping Perception at the New York Times

I love my iPhone 6! When I got it and the IOS update that goes along with it, one of the best new apps I got with it was News. It amalgamates the top stories from a long list of news sources that I select. It saves me lots of time from reading across several platforms to get my news. That way, I'm not always in the progressive/liberal echo chamber that us progressives tend to build for ourselves. A steady diet of NYT, Huffington Post, NPR et al. does not make for a well rounded mind, I admit. So now, I also get news from WSJ, Bloomberg and Reuters. It's my idea of a Fair & Balanced approach to the news. Although I still can't bring myself to include Fox News in the con argument.

So, it was with great interest that I read this morning in a report by Azam Ahmed in the New York Times that, "the huge boom in poppy production that began a dozen years ago was strongly identified with the Taliban,... through which the militants bought their bullets, bombs and vehicles".

But, if you have any kind of memory at all,  and I'll admit that mine is sorely tested every day by my age - 61 - and... other variables, you'll remember that the self-same newspaper printed, in May of 2001, that the UN reported the, "first American narcotics experts to go to Afghanistan under Taliban rule have concluded that the movement's ban on opium-poppy cultivation appears to have wiped out the world's largest crop in less than a year".

They extensively quote Steven Casteel, an assistant administrator for intelligence at the Drug Enforcement Administration in Washington at the time, reporting that he, "was still studying aerial images to determine if any new poppy-growing areas had emerged. He also said that some questions about the size of hidden opium and heroin stockpiles near the northern border of Afghanistan remained to be answered. But the drug agency has so far found nothing to contradict United Nations reports" that the Taliban had successfully eradicated all poppy farming in one season.

The story goes on to laud the methods of the Taliban in achieving the ban. "James P. Callahan, director of Asian affairs at the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs who was one of the experts sent to Afghanistan, described in an interview how the Taliban had applied and enforced the ban. He was told by farmers that 'the Taliban used a system of consensus-building.' They framed the ban 'in very religious terms,' citing Islamic prohibitions against drugs, and that made it hard to defy, he added."

But "a dozen years ago" was 2004. What was going on in 2004? Well, the price of Kandahar Province opium had dropped from a peak high of $700US per kilo in September 2001, to $176US in September 2004, after dipping as low as $120US in the summer of 2004.

Now, let's see... What was different in Afghanistan in 2004 from 2001. Oh, right! We invaded.

And in the years since we invaded, opium production has increased year after year after year. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Afghanistan produced 200 metric tons of opium in 2001 during the Taliban's ban, and 4,200 metric tons in 2004. And the top producing province in the country in 2004 was Nangarhar Province. Wikipedia says, "after the removal of the Taliban government and the formation of the Karzai administration in late 2001, US-led Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) gradually established authority across the province".

Now, go back to the statement that got me off the couch and Googling for what I knew to be true this morning: "The huge boom in poppy production that began a dozen years ago was strongly identified with the new Taliban insurgency, as the means through which the militants bought their bullets, bombs and vehicles."

This is how it's done; Shaping Perception. You wait until some years have passed, and then you begin a dialogue where you say, over and over again, what you want the new facts to be; that the opium problem pouring out of Afghanistan is one perpetrated on us by the merciless fanatics in the Taliban, Al Queda and ISIS. That it is them profiting off the deaths of our children by creating a narco state in parts of Afghanistan. You say it even though there are hundreds of credible reports littering the internet that contradict this transparent lie, and then shrug your shoulders and shake your head and mumble "conspiracy nut" when folks like me come along and point out that this Emperor Has No Clothes.

Since 2001 American policy has been to leave the poppy fields alone. Anyone who has looked at newspapers or the internet in the last 15 years has to admit to the ubiquitous nature of photos of American and Afghan military patroling through and around these poppy fields with strict orders not to interfere in any way with opium production. 

As recently as 2013, Wired magazine reported, "Lt. Christopher Gackstatter... and his roughly dozen riflemen and machine gunners are mindful of the many poppy-related prohibitions, developed over 12 painful years of war, that have been passed down to their Bravo Company by the higher unit, 3-41 Infantry, part of the Texas-based 1st Brigade of the 1st Armored Division. They’re not allowed to actually step foot in Sartok’s many acres of poppy fields or damage the fields in any way. They can’t even threaten to destroy the fields or send in Afghan troops to burn, plow under or poison the delicate, pastel-colored flowers. Nor can they discourage poppy farmers, however gently, from growing their illicit crop, which is hardier and commands a higher price than alternatives such as wheat."

The 2013 report from the same UN Office of Drugs and Crime cited earlier states that opium production had grown to 5,500 metric tons.

6,400 metric tons in 2014.

3,300 metric tons in 2015, a decrease the report admits is due mainly to "the availability of improved technology [that] led to a major improvement in the methodology used to estimate area under poppy cultivation. The changes affected all 12 provinces", further stating, "the actual extent of the change needs to be taken with caution as some of it may be due to methodological changes. The low production is a result of a reduction in area under cultivation, but more importantly of a reduction in opium yield per hectare... Reports from the field... pointed towards a lack of water, which may have affected field quality and thus yields. This has been confirmed by satellite imagery and field photographs from the Western and Southern regions, which showed overall poor quality of the fields (low plant density)."

It would appear from all of this that the only entities that have had any success reducing the size of the opium harvest have been the Soviet Union, the Taliban, and Mother Nature. 

The U. S., not so much. So I'll continue to deny the New York Times' version of The Truth about who is letting all the heroin proliferate in our world. It ain't the Taliban, folks.

It's US.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The More I Know, the Less I Expect From My Fellow Man

I'm just an old dinosaur. I still read the paper every morning. Yep, the old inky-fingered habit of going out on the front lawn, getting the paper, unwrapping it and settling in with morning coffee in the easy chair and finding out what is going on in the world.

I believe that the newspaper is still the best way to get your news. It's not the fastest, for sure. Between the evening news, the emails from all the news sources I've subscribed to over the years, and the 24 hour news cycle that bombards me from every monitor that fills my day, whether I'm sitting in a restaurant, or pretty much any place of business these days, or at the gym, or the news popups on my iPhone and iPad, there are very few headlines that I haven't already heard about by the time I pick up the morning paper.

But the ones that I haven't heard about yet, those are the ones that are often the most interesting. Like today, this Thanksgiving 2012, there's a small story about two news co-anchors at the Bangor, Maine television station WVII, who unexpectedly resigned on-air at the end of the 6 PM broadcast. The article is about 15 column inches long, and throughout it gives no reason for the resignations, except for vague allusions to  "a dispute over journalistic practices".

Mike Palmer, the station vice president and general manager, is the only person quoted in the story, and he comes off a bit heavy handed. A read-through of his comments left me with the sense that he was basically saying "good riddance to bad rubbish". Yeah, I know, pretty dated reference. But hey, I'm fifty-eight years old, and it's my blog, so if you think you can do better, then get your own blog.

The last paragraph of the story is the payoff, though. It's so delicious that I want to quote it verbatim; "WVII [an ABC affiliate] and another station that Palmer manages, Fox affiliate WFVX, have made headlines before. In 2006, the New York Times reported that Palmer prohibited his staff from doing stories on global warning."

Really? As late as 2006? Who's the dinosaur now?

This guy Palmer is a real piece of work, isn't he? A little Googling filled me in better on his history. Like the story said, in 2006, the two stations he managed were no longer allowed to report stories on global warming. But there's more to it than that. It was after one of his stations did a live report from the opening of the movie An Inconvenient Truth. He sent an email to staff asking, "where we should send the bill for the live shot Friday at the theater for the Al Gore commercial we aired", and then went on to say he wanted no more stories on global warming until "Bar Harbor is underwater, then we can do global warming stories. Until then, no more." His rationale was that "a) we do local news, b) the issue evolved from science to hard politics and c) what you might have heard from the mainstream media, this science is far from conclusive".

When you try to find out more about this guy, he's a bit like smoke; easy to see but hard to pin down. Except for a short quote in the most recent article about the anchors quitting, he isn't given to interviews or explaining his actions. Which pretty much leaves those of us wondering about this great, fat idiot to draw our conclusions by inference and Googling. But we're left with inference only, because after reviewing 12 pages of Google results, I still couldn't find anything about Mike Palmer except that he's a global warming denier and two of his station news anchors told him to shove their jobs up his butt on television, and all across the internet as the video goes viral.

In fact, the only thing out there about him other than these two stories is his Linked In page, where I learned that he started out in Sales & Marketing. Now, how a person who whores products and services for a living gets to make decisions about news content, well, that's beyond me. To deny global warming even in 2006, much less today, is a genocidal exercise in putting lipstick on the biggest pig of all; our planet and our future on it.

Good luck with your Karma, Mr. Palmer.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Chomsky and Me

Every time I pick up one of Chomsky's books, it's very much like stepping through the looking glass. It never stops reminding me how invasive our culture is in affecting the way that I perceive the world around me. Yes, I know. That sounds a bit like the first step to insanity, followed by less frequent bathing, hoarding, feral cats and all. But hear me out on this.

Today I picked up Rethinking Camelot; JFK, the Vietnam War and US Political Culture, and in the introductory paragraphs he mentions how this book - or booklet, really - was intended to be part of another book, Year 501; The Conquest Continues, as part of a theme he is trying to help us all see that the war in Indochina was a continuation of the 500 year European-centric conquest of the world, that the "war planning for Indochina illustrates rather clearly some leading features of the Columbian era".

You see, like Howard Zinn, Chomsky looks at the world through the prism of those who are being beat over the head with the stick, and not from the perspective of those holding the stick, that stick-holder being you and me, dear fellow American.

So, quite normally, he sees the invasion of South Vietnam BY THE UNITED STATES as nothing more than an extension of that same effort that brought Columbus to the shores of the New World - the Bahamas, actually - where he immediately enslaved the Arawak inhabitants and worked them mercilessly at mining for gold and silver until he turned a population of about a half a million human beings into about 500 in the 1550 census. Fifty-eight years and about a half a million deaths.

But I wasn't taught that in school. I was taught that he discovered America and established relationships with the Indian tribes that he encountered. In the same way, the American media didn't tell me what was going on in Vietnam when I was growing up, getting nearer and nearer to that magic number of 19, when I'd be eligible for the draft and get to go over there and carry out the policies of our government in it's terrorist war against the people of Vietnamese, both North and South, especially South.

And that is the odd part, that it was the South that we waged our war of terror against. You see, I was being told that we were there to help the people of South Vietnam. But in fact, we were killing them by the bushel basket. We can look back clearly now and in the de-classifed records see that this was true. As an example, read the Toldeo Blade's Pulitzer Prize winning series about Tiger Force and their operations in South Vietnam.

Here is an opening paragraph:

"This series reveals for the first time anywhere that members of a platoon of American soldiers from the 101st known as Tiger Force slaughtered an untold number of Vietnamese civilians over a seven-month period in 1967."

This all came out in 2003. Seymour Hersh uncovered and reported about the My Lai Massacre in 1969. The massacre occurred in March of 1968, and United States government covered it up until if finally leaked out to the "radical press", and from there was picked up and printed in America by the St. Louis Dispatch.

Many were involved in My Lai, and many more in the attempted cover-up. But only one was prosceuted; Lt. Calley. He was sentenced to life in prison. But instead of being reviled by us all as the leader of a gang of mass murderers - which is surely what he was - we responded by making the 45 RPM single The Battle Hymn of Lt. Calley a one million copy seller in just four days. It was declared a gold record on April 15th, 1971. The day after his sentencing, that sentencing was quietly modified from confinement at Fort Leavenworth to house arrest at Fort Benning. And then, after a few years had elapsed, he was ultimately awarded a Presidential Pardon by Richard M. Nixon at the end of 1974.

If you can read any of that and call anything we did over there an effort to help the people of South Vietnam, then you are a prime example of the point I'm trying to make; through a bending of facts, to an underreporting of events, to outright lying, a media can shape the way that we perceive events until there is no truth in what we know about something. Whether it's the annihilation of the Arawak people by the man that we revere as our nation's discoverer, or the whole nation cheering for the release of Lt. Calley and the creation of him as some sort of demented hero through a wildly popular song, even though somewhere between 374 and 504 unarmed people, mostly women, children - including infants in their mother's arms - and old men were forced into ditches and massacred.

But it's even more than that. More later...

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Editorial Content & Structure... & Nuclear Accidents

When most of us read an article in the paper, we rarely read past the first couple of paragraphs. The old Who, What, When, Where of the story, as it were. Let's face it, most of us don't read the paper any more. And let's be even more honest; most of us don't read any more. But, putting a pin in those topics for another day, let's go back to the first premise; most of us don't read past the first few paragraphs.

And that's truly unfortunate. I've learned so much by trying to read to the end. I say try because, too often, people who write for newspapers can't really write very well and it's all I can do to listen to their dull, droning voices in my head until I get to the tedious end. But, more often than not, that's where all the information is. At least the information I want to know, and have come to suspect every time I read about this or that man-made disaster.

As-a-fer-instance; if you read the banner headline article in today's New York Times that Japan had to flood two of it's nuclear reactors with sea water to avert meltdown, but didn't read to the bottom of paragraph five of that article, you wouldn't have been teased over to page 11 to the two articles, one about the types of radiation being released, and the real Money Shot in the other article, "Nuclear Industry Braces for Increased Scrutiny After Explosion in Japan".

Even then, unless you read to the bottom of column six of that article, you wouldn't find out that, in the debate about the location and safety of other reactors with colorful histories in Japan, the very people arguing the Pro side of "should we put more and more of our energy eggs into the nuclear basket", had doctored video of a 1995 fire inside that nuclear power plant. Because that kind of information is important when you're trying to figure out if you want to get out in the street with a placard (or create a blog from the comfort of your home) and rally against a nuclear power plant being built in your back yard, or, as the case may be, along the San Andreas Fault, like the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant in southern California, which, with it's beachfront/fault-line location, is susceptible to both big-ass earthquakes AND tsnunamis, just like those folks in Japan - just in case you were thinking, "Well, at least we're smarter than the Japanese when it comes to where we put our most dangerous power generating facilities".

Not really.

I say our most dangerous power generating facility because that's what it is. All you have to do is ask the residents of Chernobyl how their-up-until-now-worst-nuclear-accident-in-history is working out for them. Oh, I forgot. No on'e allowed within 30 kilometers (18.65 miles) of the plant, so you can't ask them, can you?

And credible people are saying the Japanese aren't out of the woods yet. They could end up with a 7-on-a-scale-of-7 nuclear accident on their hands. Worse than Chernobyl. But then, it won't just be on their hands. It'll be on all of our hands. To quote the other NYT page 11 article; cesium-137 has a half-life of over 30 years, and it takes about 200 years to reduce it to 1 percent of the original contamination level. Cesium-137 is the biggie, because it's soluble in water and is easily metabolized in the body, because it's chemically similar to potassium.

Too, the idea that they're using sea water to cool the reactor shouldn't be as reassuring as that may sound to you on first hearing it. Where's that water going to go? I have a little experience with this stuff. I rode a nuclear powered submarine in the 70's, and while I wasn't a Nuc - as we called those Mushroom People who worked aft of Frame Forty - we all had to learn about the nuclear plant that we were never more than a few feet away from. You cool a nuclear pile with coolant in pipes that run through the reactor compartment. That's the primary cooling loop and the coolant in those pipes is called the primary coolant. It is a closed loop system and the coolant is considered highly radioactive. Then you use a heat exchange process with a second set of pipes, filled with - you guessed it, secondary coolant - to absorb the heat from the primary coolant. In that way, you keep the nuclear pile cooled to the level of nuclear chain reaction you want to generate the heat/energy you want. A controlled nuclear reaction.

So, when you get to where you're just dumping raw sea water into an exploded nuclear vessel to keep it from being an uncontrolled nuclear reaction - commonly called a nuclear explosion - that is what is known as a Last Ditch Effort To Stave Off Disaster, and you're going to end up with a shit-ton of nuclear waste from using all the sea water you can for as long as you need to, to cool that nuclear pile down.

And you don't get that up front, when you just read the first few paragraphs. But you've probably already stopped reading and missed my point anyway, because here we are in the ninth paragraph already, well past the average reader's threshold.

But I hope I've at least been entertaining. I mean, really, at this point, that's what's important, as we all rearrange the decks chairs on this planet that resembles the Titanic more and more every time I pick up the newspaper - which I do mostly now by tapping an icon on my I Phone instead of actually reading The Paper. Except early on Sunday mornings, while the Sun is just coming up, and I do the old fashioned inky finger thing and read the papers and drink coffee until my wife is screaming, "Take me to breakfast now!" So, we get into our CO2 belching Cadillac CTS and ride off into the new day, the Sun high enough in the sky so that the beautiful hues of ochre red, violet and blue - which are nothing more than light refracted off of smog particles suspended in the lower atmosphere - are no longer visible to the naked eye, and don't make me wonder, "Wouldn't we be better off if all of our energy needs were provided by clean, green, nuclear power?"