Monday Reads

I’ve been highly distressed by so many things recently. The House of Representatives has been overrun by right wing article-2621295-1D95D15200000578-232_634x817extremists who don’t seem to have a grasp on much of anything related to the U.S. Constitution, governance, or reality for that matter. Most of the donors to political parties come from 158 extremely wealthy people which is why we can’t seem to hold any power brokers–like Wall Street Bankers–to account for crime and fraud. We have a broken criminal justice system with out-of-control and ineffective police and we seem caught up in a perpetual global policing role which costs us trillions of dollars and the world millions of lives.  Then, there’s the out-of-control gun violence.

Can we really hold any viable claim to the idea of “American Exceptionalism” or cling to the idea that we are some kind of bright shining city, a beacon of light any more given that you’ve got a pretty good chance of being shot just about any where you go or don’t go these days?  William Rivers Pitt posted a brilliant essay calling the concept a “deadly fraud” that’s been reprinted on Bill Moyer’s site.

This past weekend, Doctors Without Borders volunteers were treating people in a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, when the building erupted in fire and screaming. A US airstrike by a massive AC-130 gunship laid an ocean of ordnance on the building at fifteen-minute intervals for more than an hour, and when it was over, 22 people were dead including three children and ten Doctors Without Borders staff members. One nurse who survived recounted how the hospital was all but destroyed, and when the survivors went in to look, they found six patients on fire in their hospital beds.

For its part, the US said it wasn’t us, then said it might have been us, then said the hospital was a nest of Taliban fighters – a claim the doctors dispute vehemently – before saying Afghan officials asked us to do it. Yesterday, President Obamapersonally apologized to Dr. Joanne Liu, the organization’s international president, for the attack. Doctors Without Borders is not having it, and is not mincing words. Immediately after the attack, the organization’s General Director, Christopher Stokes, said, “We reiterate that the main hospital building, where medical personnel were caring for patients, was repeatedly and very precisely hit during each aerial raid, while the rest of the compound was left mostly untouched. We condemn this attack, which constitutes a grave violation of International Humanitarian Law.” The organization’s Executive Director, Jason Cone, described it as the “darkest couple of days in our organization’s history,” before going on to call the attack a “war crime.” After the apology, Dr. Liu demanded an independent investigation into the incident.

Never fear, however: The Authorities are on the case. The Pentagon is going to investigate the Pentagon to see if the Pentagon obliterated a hospital in Afghanistan by bombing it with precision munitions fired from a massive gunship for more than an hour, incinerating civilians, children and doctors. Sounds legit.

American Exceptionalism in full effect.

Speaking of which, the 247th mass shooting in the United States during this current calendar year took place in Room 15 of Snyder Hall at Umpqua Community College in Oregon on October 1. The man who did it shot down a roomful of students, including a professor and a woman using a wheelchair.

A lady in the next classroom over with gray hair using a cane went to investigate when the noise began, and staggered back moments later covered in blood with part of her arm blasted away. “Don’t go in there,” she said before collapsing. An Army veteran named Chris Mintz attempted to thwart the attack and was shot five times, on his son’s sixth birthday. He survived his service and his deployments overseas intact, only to come home to a rain of gunfire in the 45th school shooting incident this year alone.

UNITED STATES, CIRCA 1902: Vintage US Postage Stamp celebrating George Washington, the first President of the United States of America, circa 1902.

UNITED STATES, CIRCA 1902: Vintage US Postage Stamp celebrating George Washington, the first President of the United States of America, circa 1902.

How related is all of this to the fact that 158 families now dominate political contributions?  Can we say that we’re a plutocracy now?

After looking at the donations made to the current crop of presidential candidates, the New York Times reports that $176 million, roughly half of all the money contributed during the first phase of the campaigns, came from only 158 families and the companies those families control. The demographic details about these donors, all of whom gave $250,000 or more, will not likely come as a surprise: The majority are conservative, with 87 percent supporting Republican candidates, and the majority are also white, male, concerned about their privacy, and most of their money has not been made via inheritance or more established American corporations, but has been self-made from risky endeavors in the finance and energy industries. In addition, most of the donors lived near just nine U.S. cities, often as neighbors. One family who earned billions in the recent natural-gas fracking boom, the Wilks of Texas, have donated a nationally leading $15 million, all to Texas senator Ted Cruz. Indeed, the report says that many of the donors, regardless of political affiliation, have supported revolution or reform-minded candidates like Cruz. Also, an additional 200 families donated $100,000 or more, meaning that well more than half of all presidential campaign contributions during the targeted time period came from less than 400 American households.

Is any one as frightened by this as I am?

You can couple that bit of Plutocracy evidence with this one. Writer Rich Cohen found some deeply disturbing trends goingWorld_War_II_Patriotic_Posters_USA_Conservation_Food_Canning_1LG on with extreme poverty in the South and the donations of corporations mostly known for outsourcing all of their production business to oversea sweatshops.

Hooray for Paul Theroux, who, as he toured the rural South, found the community desolation that some of us have long seen and known and realized that the sentiments and programs of corporate moguls to lift the poor out of poverty are often so much palaver. Much of his argument was against the export of American jobs to other nations, reflecting the much greater mobility of capital than labor in the global economy. In Nike’s move of almost all of its manufacturing overseas, it has impoverished American communities under the fiction that in doing so, Nike’s Phil Knight was motivated to lift the developing countries’ poor out of poverty, helped along by the even greater fiction that Americans wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to be employed in factories making Nike shoes stateside rather than watching their unemployment benefits run out and their communities decline.

Given less prominence in his piece was his eviscerating critique of the likes of Phil Knight at Nike and Tim Cook at Apple (on Nike’s board) that the charity of these moguls will somehow uplift the poor. Hooray, again, for Theroux, calling out the hypocrisy behind the congratulatory humanitarian accolades America’s enlightened corporate intelligentsia awards to itself. The notion that the exploitation and devastation wrought by corporate profit-seeking is mean to uplift the poor is hard to swallow whole when one takes into account the total picture of the billionaires’ income amounts, sources, and impacts.

As Theroux put it, “The strategy of getting rich on cheap labor in foreign countries while offering a sop to America’s poor with charity seems to me a wicked form of indirection. If these wealthy chief executives are such visionaries, why don’t they understand the simple fact that what people want is not a handout along with the uplift ditty but a decent job?”

Like some foundation execs who sit atop erstwhile progressive grantmaking machines, these mega-donors and mega-grantmakers attempt, we presume, to make the economic system that generates their economic growth work for everyone. In reality, under current dynamics of charity and philanthropy they are falling pretty short from making the economy work for everyone. For the most part, they sit on their assets, distributing in the realm of five percent, and watch their corpuses grow while the assets of the small towns in the Mississippi Delta and the Alabama Black Belt shrink—and the poverty of their residents grows. Even within their frame of operating within the current economic system, they could be doing much more.

We already know trickle-down economics which is the heart and soul of the Republican Party Denial of Reality platform is a complete fraud.  As you know, depending on the kindness of strangers doesn’t appear to cut it either.  We’re in a full throttle back lurch to the philosophies of before and during the civil war.

UNITED STATES, CIRCA 1922: Vintage US Postage Stamp celebrating Nathan Hale, soldier for the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, circa 1922.

UNITED STATES, CIRCA 1922: Vintage US Postage Stamp celebrating Nathan Hale, soldier for the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, circa 1922.

How can you claim to be a civilized country when one of the two parties has gone completely off the deep end and the other really refuses to do much to point that out?  The brilliant Charles Pierce shows the complicity of the Democratic Party in the enabling of insurgency. Have Democrats allowed the crazy to fester?

Where the hell has the Democratic Party been on the most basic issue of Republican madness?

Time and custom – and the limitations of the Constitution – have decreed that we only should have two political parties at a time in this country. Throughout history, the two major parties  have come and gone with some regularity – Yo, Hugh L. White, represent! — although usually not as quickly as the consistently vain attempts at launching a third-party have. The primary obligation of each of the two parties to their members is to win elections. The primary obligation of each of the two parties to the country is to govern it. Therefore, given all this, if one of the parties goes as thoroughly, deeply, banana-sandwich loony as the present Republican Party has, the other party has a definitive obligation to the Republic to beat the crazy out of it so the country can get moving again. This is a duty in which the Democratic Party has failed utterly.

Republican extremism should have been the most fundamental campaign issue for every Democratic candidate for every elected office since about 1991. Every silly thing said by Michele Bachmann, say, or Louie Gohmert should have been hung around the neck of Republican politicians until they choked themselves denying it. (I once spoke to a Democratic candidate who was running against Bachmann who said to me, “Well, I’m not going to call her crazy.” She lost badly.) The mockery and ridicule should have been loud and relentless. It was the only way to break both the grip of the prion disease, and break through the solid bubble of disinformation, anti-facts, and utter bullshit that has sustained the Republican base over the past 25 years. Instead, and it’s hard to fault them entirely for their sense of responsibility, the Democrats chose largely to ignore the dance of the madmen at center stage and fulfill some sense of obligation to the country. (In no way does this excuse the far too many Democrats who chose to join in the dance, however briefly. Hi, Joe Lieberman!) Now, as we saw on Thursday, it well may be too late. The national legislature has been broken by crazy people.

Now, of course, is the time where the political elites try to wish it back into order, like those people in the Monty Python skit who live in an apartment building constructed entirely by hypnosis.  We’re seeing it already in today’s hot political story – that all the Republicans are begging Paul Ryan, the zombie-eyed granny-starver from the state of Wisconsin, to sacrifice himself and become third-in-line to the president of the United States because Ryan is the only one who can “unify the party.”

The problem, of course, is that, on most issues, especially on the economic issues that are supposed to be his wheelhouse, Ryan is just as daffy and just as extreme as the rest of his party is. He keeps trotting out “budgets” that cause the rest of his party to hide behind the couch when he comes down the hall, and that also cause actual economists to fall into their sherry in hysterical laughter. On issues with which he is not familiar, Ryan’s performance as the 2012 vice-presidential candidate was quite literally laughable.

If you live in a state run by the crazy party, then you’re trapped in an endless round of watching your infrastructure and institutions fall apart while watching tax dollars bleed to private jails, private schools, and whatever donor class writes the check. In my neck of the woods, it’s chemical companies and oil companies that pollute a fragile ecosystem with abandon.

libertyThere are so many problems with the US Justice system these days that it’s hard to keep track of the inequities.  But, try this one for size.  You can go to the Sixty Minutes site and watch this interview. Be sure to have tissues handy because you will weep.  This is from Louisiana which is the prison capitol of the world.

The following is a script from “30 Years on Death Row” which aired on October 11, 2015. Bill Whitaker is the correspondent. Ira Rosen and Habiba Nosheen, producers.

There may be no greater miscarriage of justice than to wrongfully convict a person of murder and sentence him to death. But that’s exactly what happened to Glenn Ford. He spent nearly 30 years on death row, in solitary confinement, in Louisiana’s notorious Angola prison until new evidence revealed he did not commit the murder.

He was one of 149 inmates freed from death row since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976. In all those exonerations, you have likely never heard a prosecutor admit his role and apologize for his mistakes in sending an innocent man to death row. But tonight, a prosecutor’s confession. Marty Stroud, speaks of an injustice he calls so great it destroyed two lives: Glenn Ford’s, and his own.

Marty Stroud: I ended up, without anybody else’s help, putting a man on death row who didn’t belong there. I mean at the end of the day, the beginning, end, middle, whatever you want to call it, I did something that was very, very bad.

It was 1983, Shreveport, Louisiana, and 32-year-old prosecutor Marty Stroud was assigned his first death penalty case. A local jeweler, Isadore Rozeman had been robbed and murdered. Quickly, Stroud zeroed in on Glenn Ford. Ford had done yard work for Rozeman and was known to be a petty thief, and he admitted he had pawned some of the stolen jewelry. All that was enough to make him the primary suspect. Stroud knew a conviction would boost his career.

Marty Stroud: I was arrogant, narcissistic, caught up in the culture of winning.

Please watch or read about this.

Please also consider that SCOTUS let a man die that Oklahoma killed with the wrong drug. This is all kinds of wrong.a5bc29e57bbeeaa14bfc46152dbadc63

You need five Supreme Court justices to halt an execution. In January, Charles Warner got four. Oklahoma executed him that same day.

But the court did something strange eight days later: It agreed to hear Warner’s case. For that, you only need four votes. That case, initially docketed as Warner v. Gross, was posthumously renamed Glossip v. Gross, one of the highlights of the last Supreme Court term.

No one knows which of the nine justices voted to hear the Warner case, but it was probably the same ones who would have spared his life a week earlier. Dissenting from the one-sentence order that refused to keep Warner alive a little longer, the four justices said a few things about Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol. They were none too pleased.

“The questions before us are especially important now, given States’ increasing reliance on new and scientifically untested methods of execution,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in January.

Those words now ring prophetic.

On Thursday, The Oklahoman revealed that an autopsy report for Warner showed that he had been executed using potassium acetate, a chemical not approved for such use in Oklahoma. The state’s drug protocol calls for potassium chloride.

The Warner case marks the first time that any state has administered potassium acetate in an execution, according to the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center. Oklahoma almost used it a second time on Richard Glossip last week, except Gov. Mary Fallin (R) gave him a last-minute stay after state Department of Corrections officials discovered the mix-up involving the wrong drug the day of his execution.

Then, there’s the so-called “sharing” economy where a few of your neighbors claim the right to ignore zoning laws and make money off creating misery in your backyard. No one wants to freaking act like their neighbor’s keeper any more.  It’s all about grabbing what you can for yourself.

The houses are often among the nicest on the block, or at least the biggest. They may be new construction where a smaller structure once stood, or an extensively renovated home with cheery paint in shades of yellow or blue.

But then the telltale signs appear, including an electronic touch pad on the door that makes it easy for people to get in without a key. The ads on HomeAway or Airbnb eventually confirm it: A party house has come to the neighborhood.

Some neighbors have warmed in recent years to travelers dragging suitcases through their residential neighborhoods, and they are happy that the visitors spread their money around. But when profit-seeking entrepreneurs furnish homes they do not live in to make them attractive to big groups and then rent out those houses as much as possible, parties and noise are nearly inevitable.

This article is on Austin but it really describes what goes on and about in New Orleans and I’m sure other destinations too. This is awful but hey, a few carpetbaggers can collect their checks without even living in the state.

So, today we celebrate a holiday where one of the absolute worst human beings in the world is given a complete make over.  Read some of these quotes from Colombus and then think about it what the day really meant to the indigenous people he ‘discovered’.  Some times I think we’ve really not come that far along.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

(Oh, and before I forget, a word from your sponsors.  We have a bill coming due on the 20th which needs to be paid.  Several of you have already contributed some and I really appreciate it.  It basically houses us here in our current form and it provides a bit more memory and our nifty address.  If you could see your way to sending us a little bit of cash, we’d appreciate it.  We’re close, but not close enough!  The donate button on the left works just fine. Thank you!)

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5 Comments on “Monday Reads”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    Excellent post. The whole American exceptionalism myth is stupid and harmful.

    • dakinikat says:

      Thx. There were just all these things the last few weeks and days that make us look like an insane country.

      • NW Luna says:

        I’ve never understood people parroting “American is the greatest country in the world” when we have obvious problems. US statistics on infant mortality, health status, gun violence, pay discrepancy, mass transit, vacation, paid parental and sick leave, and worker protection are low compared with European countries. Yet pointing out these facts is usually seen as unpatriotic behavior. But you can’t improve something if you deny that the problem exists.

        • dakinikat says:

          The problem also is the blame goes to the wrong people too when the do focus on the rapid decline of lifestyle here. The poor get blamed and minorities or women that won’t get preggers and stay home. It isn’t the plutocrats who are draining us dry.

  2. Pat Johnson says:

    Joe Biden needs to stop playing “peek a boo” with the press and public.

    Either s–t or get off the pot!!!