Posts Tagged ‘America’

Fog of war

Some days ago, we reported a widespread conspiracy theory (not of our making) that the shooting down of Malaysian Flight 17 was a “false flag” attack conducted by the Ukrainian government to put pressure on Russia’s leadership.

We came in for a lot of flak from a variety of people for giving oxygen to the theory, despite saying that our best guess was, in fact, that pro-Russian Ukrainian rebels shot the plane down, either as the result of a ghastly error or an act of unbelievable bastardy.

Why conspiracy theories need answering

On this blog and elsewhere we pointed out that any criticism of Russia needed to be watertight, and thus the conspiracy theories needed to be answered – debunked – to prevent Putin and his cronies being able to slough off responsibility.

Well, now, the Russians – entirely predictably – are making much of the alleged presence of a Ukrainian jet fighter near the ill-fated civilian aircraft.

The Russian claims

They have responded to the widespread opinion that Russia is responsible for the downing of MH17 by reportedly claiming that it has flight records showing a Ukranian fighter jet was close to the passenger jet before it crashed.

At a specially called briefing, Russian Lieutenant-General Andrey Kartopolov said MH17 had strayed from its regular route (why?) and had been recorded in the proximity of a Ukranian SU-25 fighter jet, which is equipped with air-to-air missiles.

“An altitude gain was recorded for a Ukrainian armed forces plane,” he said, adding that the fighter jet is capable of reaching a height of 10,000 metres. “Its distance from the Malaysian Boeing was three to five kilometres.”

“With what aim was a military plane flying along a civilian aviation route practically at the same time and at the same flight level as a passenger liner? We would like to receive an answer to this question.”

 

The Russian briefing earlier.

 

The Lieutenant-General, head of main operational department of Russian military’s General Staff, left, can be seen above speaking  to the media during a news conference in Moscow. (Photo: AP.) General Kartopolov further claimed that the Russian Defence Ministry had detected a significant reduction in Ukranian radar stations after the accident.

Citing data displayed on slides and charts, General Kartopolov claimed that nine radar stations, which are used to operate missile systems, were operating close to the site of the MH17 crash on the day of the tragedy. Within 48 hours, only two remained.

He also strongly denied Russia supplying Buk missile systems to Ukranian separatists, which has been widely speculated across the world.

“I want to stress that Russia did not give the rebels Buk missile systems or any other kinds of weapons or military hardware.” Well, whilst the first part of that sentence could be true, the last half is very obviously not. (Rebels are using Russian-supplied tanks in Donetsk as we speak.) So does that mean the whole sentence is rubbish? You be the judge.

Elsewhere, US network NBC reported that a report on Russia’s Channel One claimed the CIA was to blame for the shooting down of MH17.

LATER UPDATE

In the interests of integrity, we also point out this story, which has Western defence experts arguing that what damage pattern can be seen on the plane would seem to indicate a ground launched Buk-type missile rather than an air-to-air missile. If that is the case it would seem to be a crucial piece of information to be verified as quickly as possible. US intelligence officials think that the most “plausible” case scenario (and we agree) is that these separatists were not aware that MH17 was a passenger flight when they fired what the United States believes was a Russian-made SA-11 surface-to-air missile.

Seeing through the fog

So what’s going on here? Bluster? Fact? Mis-information? Genuine disagreement? Are these the bleatings of a regime (and an unpleasant one, at that) who which to avoid responsibility being sheeted home to them, or the legitimate complaints of a Government that does not wish to be unfairly blamed for a murderous tragedy?

We do not purport to know. We really do not, and we do not make a judgement. It is virtually impossible to parse what is going on without access to all the technical information and analysis of a dozen intelligence agencies, and certainly not by wandering the internet and watching media.

We do say, however, which has been our point all along, that the world deserves to know the answer, if only to lay the blame where it accurately lies.

In the meantime, therefore, we urge caution.

Cui Bono

In particular, we would also urge consideration of the Latin phrase Cui bono /kwˈbn/ “to whose benefit?”, literally “with benefit to whom?”. It is also rendered as cui prodest.

This Latin adage is used either to suggest a hidden motive or to indicate that the party responsible for something may not be who it appears at first to be, or to argue that the way to find out who perpetrated a crime can be determined by asking ourselves “Who benefits?” Or equally, “Who is harmed?”

We confess that one nagging thought eats away at us. If you wanted to gain traction for a push back against the pro-Russian rebels, and in general terms to stymie the expansionist tone of Russian rhetoric and behaviour after their successful annexation of Crimea, (and noting the lascivious glances they are casting towards the now-independent Baltic states, for example), then what better means than to create an incident of such transcendent horror as to shoot down a civilian plane and blame the rebels directly and Russia by association?

We note, also, that while the world is focused on the crash site and the event itself, the Ukrainian government forces have seized the opportunity to mount a full-blown assault on Donetsk, moving from their foothold at the airport to assault the railway station and surrounding areas, as the first step in what may be a bloody battle to recover the whole city, which is the “second city” of Ukraine and a key target for the Government.

Too bizarre? Maybe. At the Wellthisiswhatithink desk we are not, by nature, enthusiastic supporters of conspiracy theories. We have even seen it suggested – follow this if you can – that the extremist lunatics of ISIS murdered the three Jewish teenagers to provoke Israel into attacking Hamas in Gaza (and effectively destroying Hamas) while simultaneously causing huge outrage both locally and worldwide at the civilian casualties, so that ISIS (or their fellow travellers) can take over in Gaza when Hamas is basically marginalised.

The Israelis know the invasion of Gaza is wildly popular inside their own country, and the Americans, playing a long game, believe that the Israelis can effectively defeat Hamas and then resist ISIS incursion (probably by effectively re-occupying Gaza, which we must remember they left voluntarily, using the region’s strongest army and navy, unlike the weak resistance to ISIS put up by the Iraqi central authorities) so they arrange, via the Ukrainians, to shoot down Malaysian 17 because it takes the world’s attention off Israeli aggression in the key early days of the ground invasion of Gaza, and gives Russia a bloody nose at the same time. Winner winner chicken dinner thinks the CIA and the shadowy forces in the military-industrial regime.

Could such a hideously realpolitik and convoluted scenario ever possibly be true? The answer is, it could. Anything could be true. False flag attacks are common throughout recent history. (Just Google them.) We pray it is not, because what it says about the nature of governance in the world (and especially our bit of the world) is chilling indeed.

The cock-up theory of events

But in the final wash up, we are more pragmatic. Our instinct is always to accept the cock-up theory of international relations – essentially, anything that can go wrong will go wrong –  and we still hold to that view in this case, which is why we tend towards the “idiot Ukrainian rebel makes mistake on the readout on the Buk system and fires missile at Malaysian airliner”. Especially as we know the system had been used to attack military aircraft within the last two weeks. The Buk system “reads” the transponders of the aircraft it is tracking and theoretically identifies that aircraft to the man with his finger on the button. But we know to our cost that transponders on aircraft can give false readings.

Cock up. Bang. Right there. Three hundred bodies fall from the sky.

The absolute need for clarity

However, although that’s our best guess, we nevertheless urge all the authorities concerned to tackle the mysteries involved in this case as speedily as possible. As the Independent (amongst other people) pointed out yesterday, the really bizarre thing about conspiracy theories is that just occasionally, very occasionally, they are actually true. And if this was a false flag attack, then the world assuredly needs to know. Can you just imagine the Governments that would tumble? That’s why, above all, the truth would probably never come out even if it was, improbably, the case. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and find out.

But if it wasn’t, as we suspect, then we need to know who was responsible for this act: fast, and with certain proof. The level of international tension currently exhibited on all sides demands it. In California, Diane Feinstein opined that the level of tension between the West and Russia is now as high as at the height of the Cold War. That’s an exaggeration, to be sure, but it’s not a happy thought even if it’s only half true.

And for that reason alone, before the world stumbles ever closer to the precipice of conflict between its major powers, even the craziest of conspiracy theories need putting to bed, and right now.

Perth woman survives US shooting

Recovering: Amy Matthews. Picture: Facebook

As a father whose daughter just trailed round the world doing the gap year thing, this story made my blood run cold.

As the West Australian reports, a 21-year-old University of WA graduate from Mt Hawthorn has survived being shot in the face during a New Orleans shooting on Sunday. Amy Matthews was celebrating the end of her studies with her best friend from Stirling when she was caught in the middle of a firefight that injured 10 bystanders. After completing a bachelor of arts in March with majors in political science and economics, Ms Matthews and a friend had flown to the US for a gap-year holiday. They had made their way down the east coast from New York City to Nashville, Tennessee, where they hired a car and drove to New Orleans. Warning: Graphic Content Footage of the shooting

It was their third night in the historic French Quarter of the city and by 2.45am, it had stretched into their fourth morning. They were walking to the next neon-lit bar on Bourbon Street, barely halfway through their US road trip, when the crack of gunshots sent people running for their lives.

At some point in the chaos a partial or whole bullet entered Ms Matthews’ mouth through her right cheek and exited through her top lip, causing extensive injuries to her gums, teeth and palate.

At the time, she assumed a flailing hand had struck her in the face but when she stopped running, she realised her mouth was full of blood and teeth.

Speaking from her hospital bed at Interim LSU Hospital, Ms Matthews told  The West Australian that she felt lucky to be alive. “I have about 10 teeth left,” she said. “It shattered the top of my palate in four places and ripped my tongue in several places. “Because the bullet was so hot, it just ripped through my teeth and burnt a lot of my gums. They had to remove a lot of dead gum.

“I think I’m very lucky because I wasn’t the only person who got shot that night. There were two people who were critical and they think one of them is going to die. I can replace my teeth and my mouth will heal but if it had have been a few centimetres towards my brain or my jugular, who knows?”

The young male suspects in the shooting fled the scene, leaving two people fighting for their lives on a panic-stricken street.

Sitting together on the pavement, their dream holiday now a nightmare, the desperate Perth women found help from an unexpected source.

Two US marines kept Ms Matthews relatively calm for the 20 minutes until paramedics drove her to hospital. “One of the marines took his shirt off and used it for my mouth,” Ms Matthews said. “I was trying not to freak out too much and the marines were trained in that so they were keeping my mind off those thoughts. “They were making jokes and telling me how I was handling it better than most of their marine friends would have. They definitely helped.”

Over several hours in the emergency department, Ms Matthews had about 30 stitches put in her tongue and a metal support fixed to the roof of her mouth.

She has since had a visit from New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and her mother Amanda has flown in from Perth to be by her side.

Ms Matthews lives with her parents in Mt Hawthorn and she hopes to fly home this weekend.

“I have to be on a liquid diet for six weeks until I get implants in my teeth,” she said. “Until the bone and the gum heal, they can’t do anything aesthetically about my mouth, so I’ll have no teeth for about six to eight weeks.”

Sunday’s shooting was the third major shooting in Bourbon Street in the past three years.

Gun Culture of the USA

Amy in happier times. We wish her a full and speedy recovery.

Amy in happier times. We wish her a full and speedy recovery.

Ironically, Ms Matthews wrote a thesis paper at UWA examining gun use in the US. But she said her traumatic experience would not stop her returning to the country.

“Because of last year and all the little kids who were shot, I thought something would definitely be done but it just shows you how embedded the whole gun culture is in the US,” she said.

“This won’t deter me from coming back but it makes me angry that the Government can’t be strong enough to say, ‘No, something needs to be done’.”

We can only agree, and wish Ms Matthews well. A very brave – and lucky – young lady.

Perhaps authorities could at least make it illegal to carry guns in places that serve alcohol, at least? This was the third such gun battle in Bourbon Street in recent times.

There was 2011 – when a 25-year-old was killed in a Bourbon Street shooting-spree that injured eight on Halloween night, including a tourist from France. Or the 2013 Mother’s Day Shooting, whose grainy video mirrors video captured Sunday morning: a celebrating crowd breaking up, sprinting away from the sudden shock of gunfire that left 20 injured. New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas described the shooting in a Sunday press conference as the act of “two cowardly young men trying to hurt one another,” who settled a dispute with “no regard to others.”

That disregard of others has marked a spate of New Orleans crimes, when passersby have been caught in the crossfire. Goyeneche, of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, cited a number of New Orleans incidents when young children were hit by stray bullets.

The shooters “get so caught up in their mission, which is to retaliate and send a message,” Goyeneche said. “That they don’t care who gets in the way.” Or maybe they actually seek to get others caught in the crossfire to amplify the effect. The disregard of human life, as a message, is a strategy used by terrorists, said criminologist John Penny, of Southern University at New Orleans. “That’s a terrifying and a terrorizing message.”

As we keep saying, only a “war on guns” will reduce the number circulating in the America community, and in a community where 200,000 guns a year enter the illegal marketplace stolen from law abiding homes.

To pretend, as some do, that nothing can be done about this problem, or that any restriction on gun ownership is an assault on Second Amendment rights,  is simply not good enough. Just ask Amy.

The Republican Party in the USA have been at it again this week. Demonstrating they are lurching ever more profoundly into the looney tunes orbit of American politics.

http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/arizona-huppenthal-stomp-out-spanish

btobtpcb2s2b4dbkfkceAs you can see in the link above, a frequent GOP blog commentator and schools superintendent in Arizona has owned up to several incendiary anonymous comments.

Among many idiotic remarks, in a late-2010 post on the conservative blog Espresso Pundit, Huppenthal, writing under the pseudonym Falcon9, said that America only has room for English.

“We all need to stomp out balkanization. No spanish radio stations, no spanish billboards, no spanish tv stations, no spanish newspapers,” he wrote roughly a month after he was elected. “This is America, speak English.”

This raises so many issues it’s hardly worth commenting, except to say to the right in America, why be frightened of the growth in Spanish in America? Being a bilingual nation will make it easier for you to trade with South America, where growth will outstrip America this century anyway.

Ann CoulterThis is just typical of the nonsense talked by the right. Ultimately, of course, it doesn’t matter, because within a few years America will be a majority Spanish speaking nation whatever they think. Languages change over time. In the UK Ancient British was replaced by Latin, then Saxon, Saxon was replaced with Norman French. Norman French was replaced with Germano-English and remnants of old British. For heaven’s sake: why can’t the GOP do something more useful than being a bunch of mindless “antis”? Build a bridge, and get over it already.

Meanwhile, achingly dumb commentator Ann Coulter has sparked attention around the world (which is, of course, all she is really interested in), by criticising football just as the USA garners the admiration of the world by getting out of the qualification round of the World Cup for the first time. No American whose Great-Grandfather was born in America could possibly be interested in this “foreign game”, opined the fast-fading right wing hack.

http://www.salon.com/2014/06/26/ann_coulter_no_american_whose_great_grandfather_was_born_here_is_watching_soccer/

Let us be clear what this is. It would be easy to dismiss both incidents as laughably ridiculous, whereas in reality this is, under the rolled eyes of “they’re at it again”, ugly “dog whistle” politics.

By targeting “differentness”, whether it be a different language or the growth of a sport in popularity, what is being done hear is to “wedge” the population. To turn people against people. To leverage the innate fears of “otherness” that fester in the collective consciousness, and to make only one way the right way, if you’ll forgive the pun. And why? To distract people from looking at and tackling real issues that matter, that’s why.

There is a vast right wing conspiracy operating in America to turn one of the legs of the civic society – the GOP – into a party of antis. Anti equality of treatment for gay, lesbian and transgendered people. Anti affirmative action to provide opportunity for women, the poor, and non-whites. Anti social security safety nets. Anti healthcare. Anti “foreign”. And above all, anti-tax, because essentially, the movement is, at its core, anti the very concept of a democratic government that can raise and spend money based on a universal franchise.

This conspiracy is not necessarily conscious – although it may be – but what is undoubtedly being attempted is to coalesce the conservative white population (much of it now working class) into a coherent coalition than can combat the very obvious fact that America is now a multicultural, multi-faith, multi-sexuality and above all urban modern society that is innately not conservative.

America today has many issues to be sure, but it still demonstrates daily that it is essentially a forward-looking nation – evolving, experimenting, changing – as it always has been. This in turn horrifies those who wish to see an endless perpetuation of the position of an idealised white middle-class, by which they really mean the power of the privileged and uber-wealthy to manipulate the political system to preserve their hold over a majority of supine fellow travellers a few steps below them on the ladder.

Ironically, what means they are doomed to fail is that the middle class in America, which has long been the acquiescent lap dog of the rich and powerful, is now in near-terminal decline, as in many places in the world.

The old days of a quarter-acre block with a neat weatherboard home lived in by a nuclear family with a couple of American made cars in the driveway who live and work in a pleasant mid-size town are now utterly behind us. Nowadays more people than ever live in conurbations, and more people than ever live alone. The nuclear family unit has undergone so much change it is now unrecognisable. In the countryside, traditional industries and agriculture have collapsed with the growth of mega-agricultural companies and the disapora of young people to the cities, with the concomitant collapse of small-town retailing. In the cities, rust-belt industries have collapsed under foreign competition, their wealthy workers which once migrated into the middle class now stuck on benefits or in part time work.

What is growing is a large and vocal disenfranchised white working class, standing shifting its feet nervously and threateningly across the street from a still-disenfranchised black working class which looks just as discomforted.

The right wing dog-whistle politics is designed to drag the white portion of that congregation into the GOP’s camp, where previously they might have been expected to steer naturally to the left. The endless anti-big-government whingeing of the Tea Party gives a modicum of intellectual veneer to the process. But in fact, what is being attempted is nothing more nor less to divide America into two nearly-at-war camps, dragging one to the field of combat with a dream of an America that no longer exists and will never exist again.

On the one side, we have the urban community, the professional whites, the urbanised working class and unemployed, the blacks, the bulk of  latinos, and what remains of the contented middle class. On the other, we have the “loser” middle class with declining income and influence, the marginalised working class and non working whites, the upwardly mobile latinos, the old whites, and the Christian extremists. The right believes it can build a coalition that can win from this grouping, all of whom are feeling very “anti” everything they can think of. So they constantly propound dog-whistle “anti” messages. But they can’t. The hard fact is, there simply isn’t enough of them to build a winning national coalition. All they will achieve in building is an angrier and angrier minority, the consequences of which are horrible to contemplate.

If we backtrack a little, the essential post WWII compact between the Democrat and Republican parties ran something like this. “There are certain inalienable rights we have to take care of. We should have as close to full employment as we can create. We love immigration, because we will always need good people. We shouldn’t have too much funny money circulating but a bit doesn’t matter too much. We should support entrepreneurism, because our society is built on it. We should sell as much as we can overseas – we are a trading nation. But while we do all this, we will always look after the poor and needy, because we never want to return to the 1930s.”

Along with this bipartisanship agreement came an essentially conservative social compact. Pride in country. Pride in steady but unspectacular social change. Pride in calm.

That all pretty much changed forever around the mid-late 1960s. American adventurism overseas alarmed and then horrified the youth of the country, (especially when they were told they had to take part), and the sexual revolution galvanised it. Rapid change in the area of civil rights was agreed on all sides, but not because of any great moral conviction. It was rushed through out of fear of a racially-based conflict: the attitudes that lurked behind the change still rankled. Corruption at the highest levels led to an innate mistrust in Government that has never been overcome. The ridiculous levels of expenditure required to fight the Cold War drained the coffers of money that should have been spent upgrading and modernising American industry.

Basically, America fell apart.

The process wasn’t a straight line, but it was inexorable, and it continues. The latest ludicrous forays into the Middle East have merely exacerbated both the discontent and cost burden to the economy.

Now, America faces decades of rediscovering and reinventing itself. Problems that were created in decades will take decades to fix. And the likelihood is that America will never again be as dominant as it was for most of the 20th century. But the eagle can, and should, soar again. America is above all an inventive nation, stable, highly educated, wealthy, and determined. But to get back to the ideal of an America with a strong place in the world will require new creative thinking, and above all it will require unity of purpose as it charts a new course.

There are some signs America has the determination to make the required changes. But what is tragically also obvious is that right now the Republican Party is failing to see the absolute requirement for it to play a full and meaningful part in the compact that will be required to achieve that.

Mesmerised by the types of idiots displayed above, and a few loudmouths in Congress, the leadership of the Republican Party appears unable or unwilling to advance a coherent set of proposals to address the very real difficulties America faces. Where is the new thinking on tax policy, just as one example? Merely “cutting taxes” is nothing more than a mantra. Any attempt to deal with the sovereign debt crisis in America will need a combination of new taxes and lowering expenditure. America needs to approach the fact that it is essentially bankrupt not with ideology but with ruthless pragmatism: the American tax and fiscal system is badly in need of thoroughgoing renewal and revision. But the GOP does nothing but parrot “lower taxes” as a solution. “Lower taxes” is not an answer, is is just an “anti” dog-whistle. And not one, incidentally, that offers any real hope of relief to those that are currently being conned into supporting the whistling. The problem is much more complex than “lower taxes”. It needs America’s brightest and best to work co-operatively to effect profound and lasting change.

As one American commentator David Hawkins noted, it is interesting that in his recent startling GOP primary victory over the expected Tea Party winner, Thad Cochran reached across the aisle to registered Democrats to back him, aware of the unusual fact that in his state voters from either party can vote in the primaries of the other, provided they have not voted in a primary previously. With this timely move, and resisting millions in spending from the far right to unseat him, instead of being tossed out on his ear as the right cheerfully prophesised, he has instead guaranteed becoming one of the most influential players in the coming Congress.

The senator who looked to become the Tea Party movement’s biggest scalp of 2014 is now in position to be the small government conservatives’ worst nightmare of 2015. Cochran’s upset runoff victory has made him a totally safe bet for a seventh term, and also increased by a small notch the prospect that he and his fellow Republicans could win control of the Senate this fall. We don’t think it will, but if that happens, Cochran has not only the seniority but also the vanquished victor’s clout necessary to claim the chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee — where he would surely restore some of the spend-along-to-get-along spirit of bipartisan collegiality that drives insurgents on the right absolutely nuts.

constflagfl2Will the leadership of the GOP take note of the opportunity to resurrect the old bi-party consensus? We are at a tipping point.

If they did, we would see an end to any nonsense about impeaching Obama (who has done nothing impeachable), about any more shut downs of government expenditure, about strangling the Executive of funds, or anything like it. We would see a determination to reform Obamacare so it worked better for a greater number of people, rather than lingering talk of abolishing it. We would see a deal more hard work and effort going into jointly-supported initiatives to create real economic activity, (based on manufacturing, not on paper shuffling), we would see the resolution of currency and trade issues with the fast-growing Indian and Chinese sectors, a deeper engagement with Asia generally, action on developing climate-friendly energy production, innovation in IT and industry, and much more. And we would see a re-working of the American economic system to lift the burden of big government off the backs of those it really hurts most, the very people it is trying to help.

Yes, here will always be differences in emphasis between the Democrat and Republican tribes. But the current split is toxic, and dangerous.

Being “anti” everything is, basically, anti-American, and doomed to fail. It’s called the UNITED States of America, remember?

Someone tell them.

 

 

A sign near Sandy Hook

Sandy Hook

We are on record as saying that we think there are far too many guns in circulation in America, and that the very prevalence of them both encourages and creates the appalling gun death and injury statistics that the country endures on a daily basis.

To us, the logical conclusion of the pro-gun National Rifle Associations’s position is very simple: it is that every American should carry a firearm, in almost every conceivable situation.

And to us, that’s as sensible as arguing that every state in the world should have nuclear weapons, on the basis that Mutual Assured Destruction appears to have kept the USA and Russia from going to war. (Which is an arguable issue in itself, but one for another day.)

Or to put it another way, in our opinion, “The right to bear arms is about as sensible as the right to arm bears.”

But we do welcome those on all sides of the debate who believe it should be conducted with civility, with deep thought, and with respect.

Which is why we find this article so encouraging. It questions the current pro-gun environment in America, but in a gentle, thoughtful way, and from the perspective of a pro-gun individual.

We recommend it. Do yourself a favour, and click the link.

Joseph Wilcox, with his mother, who died attempt to stop Jared Miller in the recent shooting in the USA. He was shot in the back by Amanda Miller. A hero? Very possibly. But what is also certain is that he is dead.

Joseph Wilcox, with his mother, who died attempt to stop Jared Miller in the recent shooting in the USA. He was shot in the back by Amanda Miller. A hero? Very possibly. But what is also certain is that he is dead.

http://gawker.com/its-really-hard-to-be-a-good-guy-with-a-gun-1588660306

There. aren’t you glad you did?

Whatever the solution to the situation with guns in America, one thing that should enrage us all is that facts so rarely seem to get produced in the debate.

And whatever the solution might be, the facts in the infographic below need dealing with.

Urgently.

gun related deaths

Why care? Why care about what happens in Georgia or Illinois or California from our neat suburban homes in Australia? Why get involved? Why stick our noses in, uninvited?

Well that’d be because we have many great friends in America, many of whom have had a close shave with gun-related violence.

And because national borders should not stop us from providing advice to friends. Especially when the price of the situation not being dealt with is the same ghastly roll call of dead innocents, and so many of them innocent women and children gunned down in family violence, or in what seems to be the uniquely bizarre and tragic “school shootings” that plague the country. Should we care less about a kid shot down in Sandy Hook that we would if it were down the road from us in Australia, France, Russia, Britain, Korea, Japan or anywhere else? No, we should not. A kid is a kid.

JohnDonneAs John Donne wrote in 1624:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

blackLarge numbers of African Americans
gathered together with handguns, shotguns
or maybe semi-black2automatic weapons on your street corner.

How about a bunch of Muslims, say in full Arabic cultural dress and regalia, outside your local Church?

At your local kids’ football game?

Perhaps your favourite local restaurant?

Is that something all you pro-gun people would feel comfortable about?

Or is the right to bear arms limited to whites? This is the question the NRA and pro-gun people consistently duck, and should be called to task over. Only takes five minutes to read this article: click it now.

 http://www.forwardprogressives.com/racism-ignorance-hypocrisy-confrontation-open-carry-activist/

Strongly recommended. Debate welcome.

In a very welcome departure for a senior Palestinian, Mahmoud Abbas has called the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews (and many others, lest we forget, such as trade unionists, priests, homosexuals, gypsies, and others) as the most heinous crime in history.

Sadly, Benjamin Netanyahu once again failed on the statesman stakes by failing to adequately welcome this courageous and realistic comment from Abbas … but then what else is new? Others, as can be seen in AP story below, were more generous in their response.

Frankly, at this crucial stage, any progress in the Middle East should be warmly welcomed by everyone. It should also be obvious to Blind Freddie that Hamas is moving back towards the middle ground and should be encouraged at every faltering step they take as well, such as the recent rapprochement with the Palestinian Authority. Now is not the time for the Israeli leadership – nor the Americans – to fluff their lines. Carrot and stick is all very well, so long as it isn’t, in reality, all stick.

 

Sipa-usa-30060306-000004

Story begins:
The Palestinian president on Sunday called the Holocaust “the most heinous crime” of modern history, voicing a rare acknowledgment of Jewish suffering shortly before Israel held its annual memorial for victims of the Nazi genocide.

While Israel’s national Holocaust memorial said Abbas’ comments may be a step in the right direction, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brushed them aside.

He said the Abbas’ renewed attempts to reconcile with the Islamic militant movement Hamas raised doubts about the Palestinian leader’s intentions. Hamas, a movement sworn to Israel’s destruction, has questioned the Holocaust and blocked the subject from being taught in schools in the Gaza Strip.

“President Abbas can’t have it both ways. He can’t say the Holocaust was terrible, but at the same time embrace those who deny the Holocaust and seek to perpetrate another destruction of the Jewish people,” Netanyahu told CNN.

For Abbas, however, conciliatory language marked a breakthrough of sorts.

Denials or attempts to minimize the Holocaust, which saw the systematic killing of 6 million Jews by Nazi Germany in World War II, are widespread in the Arab world.

Many Palestinians fear that if they acknowledge the Holocaust, they will diminish their own claims based on years of suffering, including their uprooting during Israel’s 1948 creation and decades under Israeli occupation.

Abbas himself has been accused of minimizing the scope of the Holocaust in a doctoral dissertation in the 1970s, though in recent years he’s edged toward acknowledging Jewish suffering.

Abbas’ office said he discussed the Holocaust in a meeting with an American rabbi, Marc Schneier, who visited Abbas’ headquarters in Ramallah last week.

Abbas told Schneier that “what happened to the Jews in the Holocaust is the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era,” according to comments carried by the Palestinian news agency WAFA on Sunday.

The agency quoted Abbas as expressing his “sympathy with the families of the victims and many other innocent people who were killed.”

Abbas said the Holocaust was an expression of the idea of ethnic discrimination and racism, and connected it to the Palestinian suffering of today.

“The Palestinian people, who suffer from injustice, oppression and (are) denied freedom and peace, are the first to demand to lift the injustice and racism that befell other peoples subjected to such crimes,” he said.

Israel’s official Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem said it hoped Abbas’ comment may “signal a change” in the Arab world, where “Holocaust denial and revisionism are sadly prevalent.” It said it expected Abbas’ stance to be “reflected in (Palestinian) websites, curricula and discourse.”

Abbas’ statement came as the latest U.S. attempt to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal was on the verge of collapse. He urged Israel not to walk away.

“On the incredibly sad commemoration of Holocaust Day, we call on the Israeli government to seize the current opportunity to conclude a just and comprehensive peace in the region, based on the two states’ vision, Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security,” Abbas said.

At the start of negotiations in late July, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had set an end-of-April target date for a peace deal. He later lowered expectations, calling for the outlines of an agreement and, in a last attempt, for a deal on extending the talks.

However, none of Kerry’s objectives appear within reach, and it appears unlikely talks will be salvaged by Tuesday’s deadline.

The Palestinian Central Council, a top decision-making body, said in a statement late Sunday that negotiations can only be extended if Israel agrees to a full freeze of settlement construction and commits to the 1967 territorial lines — before Israel’s capture of the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem — as a starting point for border talks. Israel has rejected both.

In an apparent hardening of Palestinian positions, the council also said it opposes any land swaps. In previous negotiations, Abbas had accepted the principle of trading some West Bank land for Israeli territory to enable Israel to keep some of the largest Jewish settlements.

The council, which convenes every few years to endorse important decisions, also said it “completely rejects” Israel’s demand to be recognized by the Palestinians as a Jewish state. Sunday’s statement came at the end of two days of meetings by the council.

Last week, Israel suspended negotiations in response to the Palestinian reconciliation deal. Israel and the West consider Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in attacks, to be a terrorist group.

“An era has ended and a new era has begun,” Cabinet Minister Naftali Bennett, a powerful coalition partner who heads the nationalist Jewish Home party, told foreign journalists Sunday.

“We are not going to reach a peace agreement in the foreseeable future. I think we need to be realistic about what we can achieve.”

Instead, Bennett advocating giving the Palestinians “autonomy on steroids” in areas of the West Bank they already control, while annexing the remaining 60 percent of the West Bank that Israel rules.

He said the goal should now to make conditions as livable as possible, by giving Palestinians freedom of movement and supporting their economy, and allowing them to hold elections and run their day-to-day affairs. Full independence, however, would be impossible, he said.

“I know it is not as sexy as the perfect two-state solution but this is realistic,” he said.

Abbas said Saturday that any interim unity government with Hamas would be based on his political platform seeking peace with Israel, and not that of Hamas.

Speaking on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Tony Blinken, White House deputy national security adviser, appeared to side with Israel’s stance that it would not continue peace talks with a Palestinian government backed by Hamas.

“Any Palestinian government has to recognise Israel, it has to renounce violence, it has to accept past agreements,” he said.

McConnell v Grimes: forgive our cynicism, but the look of both candidates isn't exactly going to hurt the Democrats either.

McConnell v Grimes: forgive our cynicism, but the look of both candidates isn’t exactly going to hurt the Democrats either. Hey, Kennedy beat Nixon because he was taller, right?

A round of new polls conducted by The New York Times and Kaiser Family Foundation have some good (and surprising, to some) news for a handful of Southern Senate Democrats in key seats. This news may hose down excitement in some GOP and fellow-traveller ranks that the Republicans could win control of the Senate: that now looks less likely, not that we ever thought it was.

The polls, released Wednesday, found Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) leading Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR) by a comfortable 46 percent to 36 percent.

In Kentucky, controversial Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) – long tipped as a very possible loser in the mid-terms by this blog – just barely leads Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) 44 percent to 43 percent, the poll found.

Meanwhile, in North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) is also neck-and-neck with House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-NC) in a hypothetical matchup with Hagan getting 42 percent while Tillis gets 40 percent.

Lastly, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) has a commanding lead over Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and the rest of the field in the Louisiana Senate race.

(That finding deserves a caveat: Louisiana’s primary system is something called a “jungle primary” where there is no Republican or Democratic primary. Instead all candidates run together and if no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote, the top two candidates face each other in a runoff election. The poll found Landrieu with 42 percent followed by Cassidy with 18 percent. No other candidate managed to get double digits.)

The polls were conducted April 8 to the 15. The margin of error for each poll was plus or minus 4 percentage points for registered voters. In other words, despite “weeks of attacks ads” quoted by one source, Mark Pryor in Arkansas has pulled out to a winning lead (his biggest lead since polling started) and looks comfortable in what should still be a relatively tight race. The other races are all within the margin of error.

We believe incumbency will be a negative for all candidates in November, and even more than usual. On that basis we think McConnell looks doubly vulnerable. We shall see.

police

 

This story in today’s Age (and many other newspapers around the world) is very amusing. Click the link if you have ANYTHING to do with business, advertising, marketing or communications.

http://www.theage.com.au/digital-life/digital-life-news/nypd-social-media-campaign-backfires-20140423-zqy75.html

We keep trying to tell people, you cannot do one thing in social media (or any other type of communications) and another thing in “real life”. It will come back to bite you. Big time. Just like NYPD, who got their “hashtag” hijacked, very embarrassingly.

Remember: the best “social media” your business or organisation can use is the oldest one of all. It’s called “Word of Mouth”. People who want to say nice things about you to their friends, family and colleagues, and do.

You don’t got that, you don’t got nuttin’. And if you got nuttin’, don’t broadcast the fact to the world.

Incidentally, social media messages are often left to the least senior member of a communications department while the marketing manager and other important people focus on the sexy stuff like TV commercials and big colourful press ads.

That would be a mistake.

To enjoy the full list of “F*** Ups” we have spotted, reported or re-reported, just put F*** Up in the search box on the top left of our page. Enjoy :-)

I am all for peaceful protest. It doesn't usually involve AR-15s.

I am all for peaceful protest. It doesn’t usually involve AR-15s.

 

A question for all my America friends, especially those on the right of the political spectrum.

So, if irregular militia turn up and point semi-automatic guns at lawful officers who are simply trying to enforce multiple court orders to make a greedy rancher stop free-loading his cattle on public land, (which he’s done for 15+ years) how are those people not terrorists?

How is defending someone’s right to make money illegally about freedom?

Can you imagine the hoo-ha if the Occupy movement did anything remotely resembling this? Blocking a highway, defying lawful commands, ignoring court orders year after year, and threatening to shoot officers?

Please. Explain.

Seriously.

Never miss an opportunity to up the ratings, no matter where the truth lies.

Never miss an opportunity to up the ratings, no matter where the truth lies.

 

The appalling Murdoch-owned Fox News, various right-wing Senators and Congressmen, and other Tea Party types like Rush “Pig” Limbaugh and others, have relentlessly tried to stir up trouble for the Obama government about the attack on the American compound in Benghazi which saw four Americans killed.

9 September 2012, Benghazi

9 September 2012, Benghazi

There may, indeed, have been issues surrounding that event that warrant further cool-headed examination, and most likely in the area of how intelligence is handled in the chain of command, and many decent-minded Americans legitimately want those matters discussed.

But it is amazing how similar historical incidents worldwide failed to provoke anything like the froth and bubble surrounding Benghazi.

It surely couldn’t be that the GOP would do anything they can to stop then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton getting to the White House in her own right, could it?

This list of other incidents, including links to coverage, all happened under the previous Administration’s watch. They are reproduced from policymic.com and were originally compiled by Shwetika Baijal who is a PolicyMic columnist and writes for their Millenials and the Media column. She focuses on how the media frames policy and cultural issues, and how the media’s framing of events effects public opinion.

Article begins:

The incidents below include all kinds of attacks — gunmen on bikes, suicide bombs, car bombs, gunmen shooting outside, and terrorists storming Consulate compounds similar to what happened in Benghazi. During each of those incidents Fox News was only supportive of the administration’s reactions and there were no calls for the removal of Secretary Condoleeza Rice.

The GOP and Fox’s fixation on Benghazi is partisan propaganda. In some of these attacks the State Department had been forewarned about potential threats, unlike Benghazi. Instead of reporting the incident and the recent allegations from a whistleblower, Fox News is hacking together their own version of the events to further convolute the story’s reality.

Check out the timeline of attacks on embassies and consulate compounds during Bush’s tenure that received no similar fine-toothed-combing from Fox.

1.Jan. 22, 2002: Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami Attacks Indian U.S. Consulate

Five policemen were killed and 16 injured in the eastern Indian city of Calcutta because of an attack on the U.S. consulate by militant group Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami. American employees including the consul-general in Calcutta, Christopher Sandrolini, were unscathed, and those injured and killed were all Indians.

2.June 14, 2002: Suicide Car-Bomb Outside U.S. Consulate in Karachi

Twelve people died in an attack outside the U.S. consulate in Karachi when militants exploded a car bomb. A Taliban splinter group referred to as Al-Qanoon, or “The Law,” claimed responsibility for the attacks that also injured 51 people. Two hired guards, a Marine, and five Pakistani staff members were among the injured in the attack that followed then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s visit to the country.

3.Oct. 12, 2002: String Of Bali Bombings Included U.S. Consulate

The U.S. consulate in Indonesia was attacked as part of the ‘Bali bombings’ on a devastating October night. While there were no fatalities at the consulate, seven Americans were among the 202 dead at the coordinated blasts inside a bar and outside a nightclub.

4.Feb. 28, 2003: Consulate in Karachi, Pakistan, Attacked For the Second Time in One Year

Gunmen rode up on a motorbike to the U.S. consulate’s security checkpoints and rained gunfire killing two Pakistani police officers. One gunman arrested by paramilitary officers was found to have several rounds of ammunition prepared for what could have been a far more devastating attack.

5.May 12, 2003: 36 People Including 9 Americans Die After Terrorists Storm U.S. Compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

The State Department had warned of a potential strike against the Saudi days before gunmen infiltrated the Al Hamra Oasis Village and two others killing 36 people and wounding 160. This was the most devastating attack on a State Department employees to occur under Bush. The Saudi government cracked down on terrorists group but that did not prevent another attack to occur a year later in Jeddah.

6.July 30, 2004: Islamist Attacks U.S. Embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Two Uzbek security guards died in a bombing on the U.S. embassy in Tashkent days. Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan claimed responsibility of the bombing after 15 alleged Islamist militants went on trial.

7.Dec. 6, 2004: Five Staff and Four Security Guards Die in U.S. consulate attack in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Gunmen fought their way into the complex, reportedly taking 18 staff and visa applicants hostage for a short time before Saudi security forces stormed the building. The final dead counted four security guards, five staff, and three attackers. No Americans were among the dead.

8.March 2, 2006: Third Attack on Karachi U.S. Consulate Killed U.S. Diplomat

U.S. Diplomat David Foy was specifically targeted in the third attack in as many years on the Karachi consulate compound. He was one of four people killed. The bomb occurred two days before President Bush was to visit Pakistan and also targeted the Marriot hotel in an upscale neighborhood of Karachi.

This was a planned and coordinated attack that nobody covered as more than a news item.

9.Sept. 12, 2006: Four Gunmen Stormed the U.S. compound in Damascus, Syria

Gunmen yellingAllahu akbar ” – “God is great” – fired on Syrian security officers guarding the U.S. embassy. The gunmen used grenades, automatic weapons, car bombs, and a truck bomb and killed four people and wounded 13 others. Condoleezza Rice, then Secretary of State praised the Syrians that defended the U.S. employees: “the Syrians reacted to this attack in a way that helped to secure our people, and we very much appreciate that.”

10.Jan. 12, 2007: Greek Terrorists Fired a Rocket-Propelled Grenade at the U.S. Embassy

An antitank grenade was fired into the empty consulate building by leftist terrorist group Revolutionary Struggle angry at American foreign policy. Even though nobody was in the building at the time the attack was a blatant breach of security and showed enormous security loopholes.

11.March 18, 2008: A Mortar is Fired at the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a, Yemen

Similar to the Greek attack, a mortar was fired at the U.S. embassy building killing 19 people and injuring 16. This was the second attempt at a similar mortar attack on the embassy. The first one missed the embassy and hit a girls’ school next door.

12.July 9, 2008: Three Turkish Policemen were Killed When Gunman Fired on the U.S. Consulate Istanbul, Turkey

Four attackers drove up to the high-walled compound of the U.S. Consulate and started shooting the security guards. The gun battle took the lives of three of the attackers but the fourth one drove off. No Americans were injured or killed.

13.Sept. 17, 2008: 16 People Including 2 Americans Die in an Orchestrated Attack on the U.S. Embassy Sana’a, Yemen

An arsenal of weapons including rocket-propelled grenades and two car bombs were involved in the second attack on the embassy in seven months. Eighteen-year-old American Susan El-Baneh and her husband of three weeks died holding hands.

Yes. Hardly a stellar list of events.

Anyhow, since their initial flurry of coverage, Fox may be back pedaling just a tad, and so may the right in general. This AP report, from April 10, shows some of the heat coming out of the issue.

GOP chairman satisfied with military response to Benghazi attack.

The GOP chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said Thursday he is satisfied with how the military responded to the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.

Republicans are pressing ahead with multiple congressional investigations, but Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., said the military did what it reasonably could during a chaotic night of two separate attacks on Sept. 11, 2012. The assault killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.

“I think I’ve pretty well been satisfied that given where the troops were, how quickly the thing all happened and how quickly it dissipated, we probably couldn’t have done more than we did,” McKeon told reporters at a roundtable discussion. “Now, we’ve made changes since then. We’ve got more Marine fast teams that we built up security around the world.”

Republicans accuse the Obama administration of misleading the American people about a terrorist attack weeks before the presidential election by blaming the assault on protests touched off by an anti-Islam video. An independent investigation and a bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report earlier this year blamed inadequate security and faulted the State Department.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the Obama administration has not been forthcoming.

“They owe the American people the truth. And when it comes to Benghazi, we’ve got four Americans who are dead. And their families deserve the truth about what happened, and the administration refuses to tell them the truth,” Boehner told reporters at a separate news conference.

McKeon said five committees are investigating. His panel and members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee interviewed retired Gen. Carter Ham, who headed the Africa command, for nearly seven hours on Wednesday. McKeon said he was told lawmakers heard nothing new in the testimony by Ham, who has spoken to investigators at least six times.

“We have been working on this for a long time. We issued a preliminary report,” McKeon said. “At some point, when we run out of people to talk to, or we run out of people to talk to two or three times, at some point, we think we’ll have as much of this story as we’re going to get and move on.”

Democrats have called for an end to the investigations, arguing that Republicans are on a futile search for information to embarrass the Obama administration. Republicans reject those calls and insist there are numerous unanswered questions and that they owe it to the families of the dead Americans to investigate.

The Armed Services Committee’s interim report released earlier this year said the military’s response “was severely degraded because of the location and readiness posture of U.S. forces, and because of lack of clarity about how the terrorist action was unfolding. However, given the uncertainty about the prospective length and scope of the attack, military commanders did not take all possible steps to prepare for a more extended operation.”

The Senate Intelligence committee report described the military’s actions. One unarmed Predator drone was diverted for surveillance, a seven-man security team with two Defense Department members flew from Tripoli to Benghazi to evacuate Americans and then Defense Secretary Leon Panetta ordered two Marine anti-terrorism security teams from their base in Rota, Spain, to Libya.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Panetta have testified to Congress that the lack of intelligence about what was happening on the ground in Benghazi made it difficult to send in jet fighters or other aircraft.

Wellthisiswhatithink says:

The mob is a dangerous thing. Excite it at your peril.

The mob is a dangerous thing. Excite it at your peril.

What we feel is really sad about events like Benghazi – beyond the tragic loss of life – is the way that partisan politics muddies the waters deliberately to whip up fury against those in authority, whoever they happen to be, before it is possible to parse exactly what may or may not have taken place.

We are all for clarity, and transparency. We would never argue that any administration, in any country, should be above scrutiny, and close scrutiny at that.

But neither should anybody seek, by the endless drumbeat of malicious mistrust, to inculcate the view in the general public that whoever is in power are automatically lying, mendacious  types who seek to rule without democratic oversight or who have something to hide. Sometimes, no matter who is in charge, “shit happens”. We need to be big enough to accept that.

The mob is universally poorly informed, easily excited, and it rarely serves any good purpose to stir them. There has been a lot of wanton stirring going on in the bloodsport that American politics has sadly become, where truth appears to be endlessly malleable, and where it seems nothing matters beyond pulling down the other guy to the lowest possible level of public respect.

The key point is that if our democratic institutions become too mistrusted, through continual howling and unreasonable attack, then they will be easily done away with by those who never believed in them anyway …

In our view, the only things that defends democracy from the mob is the endless and truthful repetition of facts; repetition that occurs in large enough doses that it can puncture the vested interests of those who seek to trivialise – and thus marginalise – democracy. You may care to share some of the facts you find in this article.

Every little helps.

obamaIt is easy to be cynical about our politicians, and especially about those from parties or causes which we do not support. But sometimes, events conspire to show us the human being behind the facade, the empathy of a husband and a father rather than the dignity of a President.

We could but wish we saw this side of Barack Obama a little more often.

This is an excerpt from the book, The President’s Devotional by Joshua Dubois, the former head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

He’s recounting the Sunday, two days after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. He had gotten word the day before that the President wanted to meet with the families of the victims.

I left early to help the advance team — the hardworking folks who handle logistics for every event — set things up, and I arrived at the local high school where the meetings and memorial service would take place. We prepared seven or eight classrooms for the families of the slain children and teachers, two or three families to a classroom, placing water and tissues and snacks in each one. Honestly, we didn’t know how to prepare; it was the best we could think of.The families came in and gathered together, room by room. Many struggled to offer a weak smile when we whispered, “The president will be here soon.” A few were visibly angry — so understandable that it barely needs to be said — and were looking for someone, anyone, to blame. Mostly they sat in silence.

I went downstairs to greet President Obama when he arrived, and I provided an overview of the situation. “Two families per classroom . . . The first is  . . .  and their child was . . . The second is . . .  and their child was  . . .  We’ll tell you the rest as you go.”

The president took a deep breath and steeled himself, and went into the first classroom. And what happened next I’ll never forget.

Person after person received an engulfing hug from our commander in chief. He’d say, “Tell me about your son . . . Tell me about your daughter,” and then hold pictures of the lost beloved as their parents described favorite foods, television shows, and the sound of their laughter. For the younger siblings of those who had passed away—many of them two, three, or four years old, too young to understand it all—the president would grab them and toss them, laughing, up into the air, and then hand them a box of White House M&M’s, which were always kept close at hand. In each room, I saw his eyes water, but he did not break.

And then the entire scene would repeat — for hours. Over and over and over again, through well over a hundred relatives of the fallen, each one equally broken, wrecked by the loss. After each classroom, we would go back into those fluorescent hallways and walk through the names of the coming families, and then the president would dive back in, like a soldier returning to a tour of duty in a worthy but wearing war. We spent what felt like a lifetime in those classrooms, and every single person received the same tender treatment. The same hugs. The same looks, directly in their eyes. The same sincere offer of support and prayer.

The staff did the preparation work, but the comfort and healing were all on President Obama. I remember worrying about the toll it was taking on him. And of course, even a president’s comfort was woefully inadequate for these families in the face of this particularly unspeakable loss. But it became some small measure of love, on a weekend when evil reigned.

coupleWe heard coverage of this story on the radio a little while ago, and it struck us as terribly sad then – it’s good to see people with some clout taking it up.

We are forever depressed and angered by the way the poorest and least able to defend themselves are chewed up by “the system”, when these are the very people we should be looking after most intensively.

Regular readers will know that we are especially concerned about the fate of “vets” in particular, most obviously in the US, where 100,000+ of them languish in jail, usually for drug abuse and minor theft issues, but also in many other countries around the world including Australia. This is just one more especially tragic and completely avoidable case of a hero falling through the cracks once he’s been discarded by the services.

Homelessness is very often the result of family break-up (especially for young people), substance abuse, mental illness, (especially affecting people who were tossed out on the streets under the trendy move towards de-institutionalisation, but without anything like adequate provision for the de-institutionalised being put in place), post-traumatic stress, and other matters that a genuinely civilised system would deal with effectively.

Instead, we see an increasing reliance on anti-homelessness laws that are a weak and vindictive response that ties up the time of police who should be doing much more important work, and which victimises victims.

We must do better.

The UN Human Rights Committee says the U.S. should stop criminalising homeless people for being homeless.

Jerome Murdough, 56, a mentally ill homeless veteran, was just trying to stay alive during a New York City cold snap when he thought he found his spot: a stairwell leading to a roof in a Harlem public housing project. But that desperate act set in motion a nightmare ride through New York’s criminal justice system that would end with Murdough dying of heat stroke in a Riker’s Island jail cell. New York officials now say the system failed Murdough every which way.

When he was discovered, he should have been offered shelter.

When he was arraigned, he should not have been slapped with $2,500 bail.

When, unable to make bail, he ended up in jail, Murdough, because he was on medication for a mental condition, should have been monitored every 15 minutes, not left unwatched for at least four hours.

It was during that untended time that Murdough, as an official told the Associated Press, “basically baked to death.”

Now, as New York officials discuss the “tragedy” of last month and scapegoat one Riker’s Island guard for Murdough’s death — suspending him for 20 days — the United Nations has taken notice. Murdough is just the latest statistic in a series of needless deaths of homeless people while under arrest for “crimes” related to being unhoused, such as loitering or trespassing.

The U.N. Human Rights Committee in Geneva on Thursday condemned the United States for criminalising homelessness, calling it “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” that violates international human rights treaty obligations. It also called upon the U.S. government to take corrective action, following a two-day review of U.S. government compliance with a human rights treaty ratified in 1992.

“I’m just simply baffled by the idea that people can be without shelter in a country, and then be treated as criminals for being without shelter,” said Sir Nigel Rodley, chairman of the committee in closing statements on the U.S. review. “The idea of criminalising people who don’t have shelter is something that I think many of my colleagues might find as difficult as I do to even begin to comprehend.”

The Committee called on the U.S. to abolish criminalisation of homelessness laws and policies at state and local levels, intensify efforts to find solutions for homeless people in accordance with human rights standards and offer incentives for decriminalisation, including giving local authorities funding for implementing alternatives and withholding funding for criminalizing the homeless.

Those recommendations run counter to the current trends in the nation. Laws targeting the homeless — loitering laws that ban sleeping or sitting too long in one public spot, or camping in parks overnight — have become increasingly common in communities throughout the country as homelessness has skyrocketed.

The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP), a D.C.-based advocacy organization which monitors laws that criminalise homeless people and litigates on behalf of poor people regularly conducts reviews of cities criminalising homelessness and finds more and more laws banning such activities as sitting or lying in public places with each new survey.

“We welcome the Committee’s Concluding Observations and call on our government to take swift action to solve homelessness with homes, not jails and prisons,” said Maria Foscarinis, the NLCHP executive director, in a statement. The NLCHP had submitted a report to the U.N. Committee for review.

Paul Boden, executive director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, an umbrella organization of advocacy groups in the Western U.S. that is hoping states will sign onto a Bill of Rights for homeless people, said that more and more homeless people are being arrested, prosecuted and killed for actions relating to their poverty. (See below.)

Article reproduced from Alternet.org

Meanwhile, in a tragic irony given the UN report, video has emerged in the last few days of yet another tragedy.

We warn you, this video is very distressing.

 

The shooting in Albuquerque of a homeless man dead has drawn attention to the city’s officer-involved shootings, especially those involving the mentally ill.

Since 2010, the city’s police have shot 37 people, The New York Times reports. The New Mexico Public Defender Department estimates that 75% of those shot had a mental illness, even though nationally about half of those shot by police have mental health problems.

The Albuquerque Police Department (APD) has identified the man in the recently released video as 38-year-old James M. Boyd. The Albuquerque Journal reports dispatchers informed APD officers responding to the incident that Boyd was mentally incompetent and possibly had paranoid schizophrenia.

The disturbing video from March 16 shows officers aiming their weapons at Boyd, who was camping illegally. We later learn was holding knives, but he doesn’t appear to be threatening the officers.

At the beginning of the video, Boyd gathers his bags containing his belongings.

 

Police shooting James Boyd

 

One officer then says “do it” while another throws a flash grenade that explodes as officers and a police dog charge him.

 

Albuquerque police shooting James Boyd

 

The man drops his bags and scuffles briefly with the police dog before turning his back as if to retreat, but he is immediately shot in the back.

 

Albuquerque police shooting James Boyd

 

Officers then restrain the mortally wounded man and the video reveals he has a small knife in each hand, although it is unclear from the video when he pulled the knives out.

 

Albuquerque police shooting James Boyd

 

In a press conference held shortly after the March 15 shooting, APD Chief of Police Gorden Eden said he believed the shooting was justified. According to his version of events, the man threatened APD officers with knives after they approached while he was sleeping at his illegal campsite.

Eden said officers were attempting to use non-lethal means when they threw the flash grenade. But the man pulled out two knives and threatened an officer handling the police dog, according to the police. “The officers then perceived a directed threat immediately to the canine handler who was trying to redirect the dog towards the suspect, when the shots were fired,” Eden said.

While Boyd’s actions in the video appear non-aggressive, Eden said he had not obeyed officers’ demands. “The suspect did in fact make a decision not to follow the directions that were provided to him by the officers,” he said.

According to The Times, Boyd had a history of mental illness and may not have followed the officers’ directions because he believed he was a federal agent who shouldn’t be bossed around.

The APD has a history of allegedly using excessive force during confrontations with civilians, spurring the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an ongoing investigation into the matter in November 2012. Of the 37 people shot since 2010 more than 20 were killed, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

In 2013 a judge ruled that the 2010 fatal shooting of an Iraq War veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder was not justified.

This week, an attorney announced he intends to file a class-action lawsuit against the APD over repeated shootings of people with mental health problems. The lawsuit would seek to guarantee additional training for officers to peacefully end confrontations with mentally ill people.

The video recently sparked a large demonstration in Albuquerque streets against recent APD shooting deaths, according to the Albuquerque Journal. Some community members have criticised the APD for making arrests and resorting to riot gear and tear gas during that 12-hour demonstration sparked by the shooting. Another demonstration followed, and another is set for Friday.

However, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry and Eden said the police actions were an appropriate response to some protesters who behaved like a mob committing illegal acts.

APD Chief Eden started at his position February 27. He previously spent eight years serving as the U.S. marshal for New Mexico in the same Department of Justice still investigating the APD. As the new ADP chief, Eden has vowed to begin improving the department before the investigation reaches its conclusion. He said his major priorities are community outreach, bolstering APD’s leadership structure and police retention. Eden also hopes to increase the department’s manpower, which currently stands at 900 officers although he said there is funding for 1,100 officers.

From Business Insider and others

Well, having viewed the video, we believe this is an unlawful or morally reprehensible killing, at best, and barefaced murder at worst. This man was clearly no threat.

The “flash-bang” is launched as he is complying with the police commands. He is further assaulted when he is clearly no threat whatsoever.

Even if he was initially considered a threat, (even though we cannot see why), why was force not used to disable him (shooting at his legs, for example) rather than to kill?

The police concerned are on “administrative leave”. In our opinion, they should be in court. As for the police chief believing the shooting was justified, well, if that’s what he calls “community outreach”, then words fail us.

yoThis well-researched article gives the lie to those that argue that corporate tax rates in America are too high, and continually blame the state of the economy on welfare recipients and the unemployed. If you tire of hearing this nonsense parroted daily by right wing politicians and commentators, I suggest you share this post widely with your friends.

What is bizarre is that here in Australia, and in the UK, American corporations are coming under increasing fire for not paying any taxes locally either. So one is obliged to ask, where is all the money going?

From RT.com

Twenty-six of the most powerful American corporations – such as Boeing, General Electric, and Verizon – paid no federal income tax from 2008 to 2012, according to a new report detailing how Fortune 500 companies exploit tax breaks and loopholes.

The report, conducted by public advocacy group Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ), focuses on the 288 companies in the Fortune 500 that registered consistent profit every year from 2008 to 2012. Those 288 profitable corporations paid an “effective federal income tax rate of just 19.4 percent over the five-year period — far less than the statutory 35 percent tax rate,” CTJ states.

One-third, or 93, of the analysed companies paid an effective tax rate below 10 percent in that timespan, CTJ found.

Defenders of low corporate taxes call the US federal statutory rate of 35 percent one of the highest companies face in any nation. But the report signals how the most formidable corporate entities in the US take advantage of tax breaks, loopholes, and accounting schemes to keep their effective rates down.

“Tax subsidies for the 288 companies over the five years totaled a staggering $364 billion, including $56 billion in 2008, $70 billion in 2009, $80 billion in 2010, $87 billion in 2011, and $70 billion in 2012,” CTJ states. “These amounts are the difference between what the companies would have paid if their tax bills equaled 35 percent of their profits and what they actually paid.”

Just 25 of the 288 companies kept tax breaks of $174 billion out of the $364 billion total. Wells Fargo received the largest amount of tax subsidies – $21.6 billion – in the five-year period. The banking giant was joined in the top ten on that list by the likes of AT&T, ExxonMobil, J.P Morgan Chase, and Wal-Mart.

AFP Photo / Etienne FranchiAFP Photo / Etienne Franchi

 

About 1 in 11 of the 288 companies paid a zero percent effective federal income tax rate in the five years considered.

Pepco Holdings – which supplies utility services to Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, and parts of New Jersey – paid a cumulative five-year effective rate of -33 percent, the lowest of any company in that period.

In fact, utilities came out particularly well among other industries.

Reuters / Jonathan ErnstReuters / Jonathan Ernst

 

“The sectors with the lowest effective corporate tax rates over the five-year period were utilities (2.9 percent), industrial machinery (4.3 percent), telecommunications (9.8 percent), oil, gas and pipelines (14.4 percent), transportation (16.4 percent), aerospace and defense (16.7 percent) and financial (18.8 percent),” CTJ reported.

CTJ said the companies are allowed to pay such low federal rates based on factors that include offshore tax sheltering, accelerated asset depreciation based on continued investment, stock options, and industry-specific tax breaks.

“Of those corporations in our sample with significant offshore profits, two thirds paid higher corporate tax rates to foreign governments where they operate than they paid in the U.S. on their U.S. profits,” according to CTJ.

The non-profit group says this lax taxation climate among the most powerful US corporations comes amid an aggressive push by lobby and trade groups on Capitol Hill “to reduce the federal corporate income tax rate, based on the claim that our corporate tax is uncompetitively high compared to other developed nations.”

Just this week, US House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (Republican) introduced a tax reform proposal that would lower the maximum federal effective tax rate to 25 percent.

Though, tellingly, this aspect of the plan – among other attempts at bipartisan consensus in the proposal – renders it no chance of even getting a hearing in the Republican-dominated House during a mid-term election year, when such a conciliatory offering can be used as a cudgel against disapproving conservatives.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) (AFP Photo / Chip Somodevilla)House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) (AFP Photo / Chip Somodevilla)

 

Companies have already disputed CTJ’s report, saying that the study only looks at federal income taxes while ignoring other tax burdens they face, such as on the state and local level. In addition, the companies say low effective rates are part of congressional attempts to offer tax relief to corporate America in order to create larger economic opportunity.

To reverse low corporate federal tax rates, CTJ recommends Congress end corporations’ ability to “defer” taxes on offshore profits; limit use of executive stock options that reduce taxes by “generating phantom ‘costs’” the companies don’t really incur; end accelerated depreciation opportunities; restore the corporate Alternative Minimum Tax; and strengthen corporate income and tax disclosure regulations.

“These findings refute the prevailing view inside the Washington, D.C. Beltway that America’s corporate income tax is more burdensome than the corporate income taxes levied by other countries, and that this purported (but false) excess burden somehow makes the U.S. ‘uncompetitive,’” CTJ concluded.

Centralised wealth creating socialists more effectively than any socialist speaker ... some things haven't changed much since the early 20th century. Indeed, the trend continues.

Centralised wealth creating socialists more effectively than any socialist speaker … some things haven’t changed much since the early 20th century. Indeed, the trend accelerates.

Researching some photos to illustrate this article, and as luck would have it, I came across Charlie Chaplin’s astonishing cry from the heart in The Great Dictator, (see below), calling in both despair and hope for a better world.

It’s a dry old subject, but cracking down on tax avoidance and more equitably sharing the burden of creating a fair and just society would be a good start to creating a world that everyone can enjoy.

The power of centralised wealth is reaching epic proportions, greater than at any time in humanity’s modern history.

One does not have to hark back to the trade union-dominated era of much of the Western world post-WWII, nor to toy with ideas of reviving nationalisation and  government-owned enterprises (although in Australia renewed Government ownership of Qantas should be considered in return for taxpayer support) to see that the current situation is a million miles from the idealistic dreams of a participatory, share-owning democracy where capitalism would produce widespread wealth.

Concepts of “trickle down” economics from low-tax regimes have been comprehensively debunked as nonsense. I am a fan of markets that are as free as practically possible, but what business needs to face up to is that with freedom comes responsibility.

Where the Directors and Boards of massive corporations devote the bulk of their time to avoiding tax rather than growing their businesses, democratic Government must intervene to correct the balance.

If they do not, the reaction will be severe. The people are beginning to work it out: machine men with machine minds and machine hearts – be warned.

 

You, the people, have the power. Look up. Look up. Naive? Perhaps. But it is wonderfully, inspirationally naive. Little wonder the “powers that be” in America hated Chaplin with a passion. If you haven’t seen it before, I warmly recommend it.

Alfred Wright was a 28-year-old physical therapist, a “man of great faith,” and father of three sons. He grew up in Jasper, Texas along with four siblings, and a father who was both the town’s pastor and gym teacher. Friends described him as ambitious, clean-living, hard-working, fun-loving, brilliant and a wonderful father. He went missing for 18 days.
He was found by volunteers and his father, stripped down to his shorts and one sock, with his throat cleanly slit and one ear missing.

The police recorded the cause of death as “accidental drug overdose.”

Alfred Wright was also a black man married to a pretty white woman…in small-town Texas.

Alfred Wright 3

Alfred’s truck broke down in a package store parking while he was on his way to see a patient. He called his wife Lauren, who called her parents; by the time they got there, he was gone. Lauren attempted to call him back, but all she heard when he picked up the phone was heavy breathing. The store clerk, who remembers Wright because he was dressed in scrubs, said he saw him tuck his phone into his sock (where it was later found) and take off jogging “of his own free will.”

Four days later, the Sherriff’s department called off the search for Alfred, saying they had “exhausted all of their resources.” His wife and family maintained that there was no way he’d just take off into the woods for no reason, especially in a town as racially tense as Jasper. Doubtless, they had in mind another incident that had taken place in 1998 about 45 minutes away, when a black man by the name of James Byrd was abducted, dragged behind a pickup, chopped to pieces and left in the Jasper cemetery — by three white men.

They found Alfred in the woods on November 13th, stripped down, with two missing teeth, a missing ear and a slit throat. When the local authorities performed an autopsy, the examiner said that there were methamphetamines and cocaine in his system. He recorded the cause of death as a drug overdose, and chalked up the injuries to animals scavenging on his corpse. The case was closed as far as the Jasper police were concerned.

But Wright’s family wasn’t buying it. For several reasons.

  • Even at the time, it was noted that Wright’s state of decomposition was nowhere near what it should have been for someone left in the woods for 18 days and exposed to the weather. This indicated that he had died much more recently, long after he’d disappeared.
  • Animals don’t just break front teeth and cleanly slit throats. the missing ear might have been the result of an animal, but Wright’s body was, if anything, notable for its LACK of obvious animal scavenging in this coyote-infested area.
  • The family reported that Wright was a sober and religious man who had no history of drug use, never showed the slightest interest in drugs and displayed no signs of drug addiction or use.

The family paid to have its own autopsy performed. Full results have yet to be released insofar as Wright’s blood tests, but the private examiner did say this:

“Wright’s cause of death was severe neck trauma and a slit throat. The kind of severe neck trauma you get from getting hit in the face with a blunt object, and the kind of slit throat you don’t get from a cocaine overdose.”

Sheila Jackson Lee, Democratic congresswoman and member of the House Judiciary Committee said:

“The Department of Justice will investigate and take appropriate action and will conduct a thorough and independent investigation into all the circumstances surrounding this tragedy and to take appropriate action necessary to vindicate the federal interest, protect the civil rights of all Americans, ensure that all persons receive equal justice under law.We are all better off when the facts are discovered, the truth is discerned and the family and the community are at peace.”

Savion Wright, Alfred’s mother, has set up a GofundMe account to allow others to make donations to help support the wife and three children Wright’s murderers left fatherless and without a means of support. The stated goal is $20,000, and she has to date raised $13,351 and change.

TimeFor Christmas this year, the Wellthisiswhatithink household bought itself a subscription to Time.

In years past, as a reflection of the household’s main occupation (advertising) we used to get a weekly complimentary copy.

But a few career excursions (including a year off to write a book of poetry) meant that our freebies declined proportionately.

It’s embarrassing to ring up and mutter “I used to be important, please can you put me back on your complimentary list?”, so we simply stumped up the dosh for a change like the rest of the population.

And a very good investment it has proven to be. This consistently excellent news magazine gives us a good overview of a week of world events, backed up by really good in depth reporting.

One such report in the February 10th issue contained, for us, a staggering statistic.

jail vets flagThere are about 200,000 veterans in jail in the USA, making up about 14% of the country’s prison population.

Contrary to public perception, veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are actually less likely to be incarcerated than those who fought in earlier wars, but they are three times more likely to suffer the agonies of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, whether inside prison or out.

All told, around the country there are around 10,000 veterans of the two most recent conflicts imprisoned, and in an environment where mental health treatment is spotty at best.

Let us just pause and consider those two statistics slowly.

200,000 vets languish in American prisons

200,000 vets languish in American prisons

Two hundred thousand veterans in total. Ten thousand veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Psychiatrist Stephen Xenakis, a retired Army bridgadier general, remarked:

“We are throwing these guys away.”

One does not have to be a fan of American foreign policy or militarism generally to feel, very strongly, that this state of affairs is a disgrace. American society idolises its serving men and women, and a career in the forces is often held up as the most virtuous choice a young person can make. The very least that prevailing culture demands is that the resettlement back into civilian life and post-trauma care of people so seduced is proportionate to their sacrifice.

Perhaps equally significantly, the very large standing forces of the USA hoover up vast numbers of young people without better career prospects, keen to make a decent fist of their low-prospects life. These people, often turned loose like so much mincemeat from the end of a grinder at the end of one, two or even more periods in the military – and after they have seen service in some of the most difficult conditions imaginable – are often returning to backgrounds with poor employment opportunities and less-than-optimal social situations that make the drift to petty crime, substance abuse and mental illness depressingly obvious and sadly predictable.

By world standards America locks up a ridiculously high percentage of its population, anyway, and sentencing regimes are frequently savage.

Under the ludicrous “three strikes and you’re out” legislation that prevails in some states people end up incarcerated for life for the most minor felonies. In many states, “three strikes” and mandatory minimum sentences help politicians look “tough on crime” to their electors, but frequently lock up for ludicrously long periods people who the presiding judge would much rather set free and into a diversion programme.

The same legal excesses are now frequently demonstrated in other countries like Australia and the United Kingdom.

But locking people up and throwing away the key need not be the answer. In Sweden, for example, they are now closing jails because they haven’t got enough offenders requiring prison time to keep them open.

That the American jurisprudence system is sick is hardly revelatory commentary. The ludicrous obsession with petty and interminable legal wrangling in the civil arena is well-known, but more significantly the prison population is bloated way beyond anything that is necessary for public safety.

A concerted effort to free tens of thousands of people would reduce costs to taxpayers, and right many judicial wrongs. As the American economy picks up, there is work for these people to do. Of course, no-one would argue for violent or serious offenders to be prematurely released, but there is little doubt that the dominant factor in American sentencing, as elsewhere, is revenge for social non-conformity. Why, if it was otherwise, would we lock people up for years or decades for personal possession of small amounts of illict drugs?

The “war on drugs” has been comprehensively lost anyway, and the price paid by, in many cases, veterans, has been dis-proportionately high. Locking people up in their tens of thousands has become a fig leaf to cover the comprehensive failure of the American political system to tackle the problems of poverty, lack of social engagement, poor education, and more. That the matter is almost never mentioned by leading politicians and social commentators is a tacit admission that no-one has put any real thought into alternatives or has the will-power to devise them. A population that fails to engage with the problem – out of sight, out of mind – is equally to blame.

veterans court

Judge Mike Denton, who served in the Army, talks to a veteran in a new court where combat veterans who face nonviolent misdemeanor charges are eligible for special consideration.

Laudable efforts to stop veterans ending up in jail are underway.

Now, a determined attempt to free as many of those imprisoned veterans as possible, and to provide them with the appropriate support to re-make their lives, would be a good and honourable place to start fixing the bigger problem.

Vets do deserve special consideration, having served their country as volunteers, or, indeed, perhaps most poignantly, as conscripts, shipped overseas to fight in Vietnam for example, through the wrong-headed belligerence of politicians obsessed with empire building, and lacking the social connections or wealth to get out of the draft.

And anyway, if the only job you can get is to sign up to be a “grunt”, then really, what sort of life choice did you have anyway? Whether you’re conscripted by a law or by force of circumstance, the outcome is surely the same.

However they ended up in a trench, a humvee, or ducking behind a tree or a wall with armalite in hand, these are people – often young, terrified, and confused – who have given their lives, not by falling in battle, but by surviving it.

They deserve better.

Depending on your office, of course.

This is hilarious. Very, very funny. Totally politically incorrect. Do watch it, I urge you. We were crying by the end.

 

Meanwhile, we see that a petition – it calls for Bieber to be deported from the United States back to Canada – on the White House’s official petition site has now garnered more than 100,000 signatures, meaning that the Administration is legally required to take action and respond.

We await with bated breath the Canadian equivalent arguing they don’t want him back.

train-wreck

Meanwhile, Bieber has appeared been charged at a Toronto police station for allegedly assaulting a limo driver back in December.

A statement issued by police said the alleged incident occurred about 2.50am (local time) on December 30.

Police allege that:

“A limousine picked up a group of six people outside a nightclub …. (and) while driving the group to a hotel, an altercation occurred between one of the passengers and the driver of the limousine.

“In the course of the altercation, a man struck the limousine driver on the back of the head several times.

“The driver stopped the limousine, exited the vehicle and called police. The man who struck him left the scene before police arrived.”

2.50 am? Much too late for this lad to be up, surely? Anyway, apparently, Bieber is scheduled to appear in court on March 10.

Train. Wreck. Look away.

Obama state of the union

All the rhetorical flourish is still there, but has Obama, in reality, run out of puff?

The BBC commentator on Obama’s annual address to America mentioned him having had the idealism beaten out of him.

At the Wellthisiswhatithink outpost we find that perceptively accurate, and as a corollary  think that the speech was a lost opportunity to appeal over the heads of the Republican leadership and make a general appeal for genuine national unity and bi-partisanship.

Yes, any President has a perfect right to point to falling unemployment and so on, but Obama often tends to the triumphal in his commentary on current events and the performance of his administration, and in our opinion it’s always the wrong note to strike, and right now, especially so.

Despite having supported him in general since before the primaries, and still doing so, we think it’s fair to say that he has generally been a disappointment as a president, with some good marks for attempting things that matter (whatever one thinks of Obamacare seeking to extend health cover in the USA is laudable and productive – a healthier nation is not only morally correct it’s also good sense economically) but then again the expectations on him at the start were ludicrous, born of both his soaring rhetoric and the excitement of the country actually electing someone who was half black.

It is too early to write his political obituaries, and we think (others will disagree) that he will ultimately win praise for co-ordinating an effective response to the financial/Wall Street collapse. (The alternative, after all, was unthinkable.) But he has squandered his political capital, and a new style and approach would recover some of it and leave the refuseniks on the right blind-sided.

The problems America faces are very substantial, so it is questionable whether anyone would do a really “good” job at the moment – the weaknesses are structural and ingrained, not at surface level. We are not sure the American people are ready for the pain of a root-and-branch reform of the Government, though unquestionably the size of their Government, at all levels and under both parties, is vastly over-bloated. If the pain of restructuring was accompanied by less overt politicking, more transparency and more obvious progress towards recovery it might be welcomed. But we are not holding our breath.

In general, whilst a recovery is underway, it is weak, patchy, and it will do nothing to address the overall problem of Government (and private) debt. Congressional sabre-rattling cannot obscure the fact that besides cutting social programs there are no real solutions being offered. There seems no appetite at all on the right for increased taxes – an inevitable component of any long-term effort to solve the debt crisis that needs to accompany reducing expenditure – nor for cutting back the ludicrously large military budget. As always, political posturing wins out over simple commonsense.

As the website “Science Progress” pointed out three years ago, “As the debate in Washington pivots this week from deficit reduction to job creation, progressives and conservatives will be vying to convince the American people that they have the best plan to get America working again. But any jobs plan will fall flat if it doesn’t lay out a strategy for investing in innovation. Conservative proposals largely echo now-defunct Reagan-era thinking that tax cuts alone can spur the private sector to create jobs. Yet effective corporate tax rates are lower today than they were under President Reagan and are certainly much lower than many of our competitor nations. The same is true of the effective tax rate for top-, middle-, and low-income families. Tax cuts neither created the jobs of the past nor will they create the jobs of the future. Investing in innovation will.

Innovation is what has created the bulk of American jobs today and it will most certainly be the force that creates the jobs of tomorrow. America is home to the world’s best jobs and most prosperous economy quite simply because we’ve invented and made the things that the world wants to buy. And then we’ve invented ways to make those things better, faster, and cheaper.

The cotton gin, the trans-continental railroad, interchangeable parts, assembly line manufacturing, the automobile, the airplane, the personal computer, the photovoltaic solar cell, GPS technology, the Internet, the mapping of the human genome, the iPhone—these inventions and the companies that produce them have directly or indirectly supported millions of American jobs.”

President Barack Obama delivers a speech on innovation at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, N.Y. But America needs to move beyond fine words and onto a national effort.

President Barack Obama delivers a speech on innovation at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, N.Y. But America needs to move beyond fine words and onto a national effort.

Indeed, as President Barack Obama said in his 2011 State of the Union address, “In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives. It is how we make our living.” Yet progress is painfully slow.

This goes neatly to the real issue behind everything, which is that whilst America will continue to be a vast and powerful player in world markets, it has really not wrestled with the growth of Asia and what it means, and it shows no real signs of doing so. As the middle class in Asia grows and provides adequate markets for its rulers to sell to, their desire/need to sell their goods cheaply to the West will fall, as will their appetite for bailing out the West with their profits to keep the overseas markets liquid. At that point, all economic hell breaks loose.

That’s why long-term solution for America has to be innovation. The country cannot compete with a vast Asian population producing run-of-the-mill goods more cheaply. Creating and manufacturing products that reflect the finest pinnacle of American ingenuity and forceful determination is really the only option available. Goods that the rest of the world want to buy, and are willing to pay a premium for. To his credit Obama did mention the need for new hi-tech industry hubs. But those remarks already seem to have disappeared without trace in the commentariat. Yet public investment in the human genome project, for example, had a return on investment of more than 14,000 percent in terms of economic output per federal dollar invested since 1988, and has led to the creation of millions of biotech jobs that could not have existed without it. Similarly, a seemingly tiny investment of the Defense Advanced Research Agency, or DARPA, spawned the Internet, giving rise to trillions of dollars in worldwide economic activity, new businesses, and, more importantly, new ways of doing business.

It seems so obvious, yet the political elite seem unable to bend their mind to the opportunity. Fort example, the response to the speech from Republican Cathy McMorris Rodgers was timid, one might almost say “vapid”. One tweeted review of it read “We have a plan. The plan is to come up with a plan.” Quite.

In our view there is little doubt that the entrepreneurial flair for which the country is famous is flagging: running a business now seems as much about rapidly merging your firm with someone else’s, taking a big payoff and bonus tranche of shares, and heading off to enjoy your new found wealth – aided and abetted by so-called rain-maker brokers who exist merely to grease the wheels of deals that make little or no economic sense, as often as not, beyond enriching the participants – as it is about dreaming new dreams, innovating, creating markets, and selling to them.

One of the reasons is that many American businesspeople have spent their entire careers wallowing around managing businesses cautiously to avoid a loss rather than to create a profit – and doing so for so long that they have actually never experienced the sort of drive and courage needed to create real new wealth. They are risk-averse managers, not passionately-driven owners. There are honourable exceptions, of course, but not many, and their numbers decline.

All that stuff? That’s not capitalism. That’s corporate laziness. And the Republicans are as much to blame as anyone else, for markedly failing to use their cosy relationship with corporate barons to urge them to do something useful with their economic power instead of just lining their own pockets, for fear of the endless flow of donations into their re-election coffers drying up.

A President who dared to tackle all that nonsense? Who put the country’s problems squarely in front of the population, and dared Americans to recapture their brighter past?

Yes, we’d like to see that. No, we don’t expect it. Especially from a man who seems to have lost much of his appetite.

Incidentally, one curiosity. The speech is a constitutional tradition given in front of a joint session of all the members Congress each year. The exception is one “designated survivor” who remains separate in a secure location in case the Congress and President are wiped out in an attack on the Capitol. This year, it was Obama’s Energy Secretary, Ernest Moniz, who also happens to be an expert on nuclear weapons. Cheerful thought.

In a sign of some excitement returning to the art market – a sure sign that the American economy is recovering, courtesy of the vast buckets of taxpayer (and Chinese taxpayer) money that has been chucked at it, this, er, blue thing, just sold for nearly $44 million US dollars.

art wank

The edges of the white stripe aren’t even perfect. “Send it back, Jeeves.”

Bloomberg gushed:

“The speculative element is returning to the market,” said Jonathan Binstock, senior adviser in postwar and contemporary art at Citi Private Bank. “There’s more money to spend on riskier opportunities, ones that would have seemed unappealing just a few years prior.”

Hours earlier, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index stock benchmark climbed to its eighth high in nine sessions.

The auction’s tally surpassed the presale low estimate of $284 million but fell short of the $383 million high estimate.

Records were set for four artists, including Gerhard Richter and Nate Lowman, while 11 of the 64 lots didn’t sell. Bidders from 35 countries registered for the sale, Sotheby’s said.

Consigned by Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), Newman’s 8.5-by-10-foot “Onement VI” was estimated at $30 million to $40 million. Its sale was ensured by an undisclosed third-party guarantee.

What a load of total tosh.

Yet another example that the uber-rich go soft in the head the richer they get. Who cares if they make money, or don’t, on such a transaction? It’s immoral, obscene, and ludicrous.

I have a similar work in my garage. It’s called a ping-pong table. It’s yours for $125. Or $100 and a slab of beer. Can’t say fairer than that.

Troy Davis & his family

Troy Davis and his family in a picture taken before the prison cut off “contact visits.”

Two days ago – incredibly, really, as it seems like just yesterday – it was two years since The State of Georgia, and America, put an innocent man to death.

Two years that Troy Davis and his family have had robbed from them. Two years of mourning.

Two years since the largest ever worldwide campaign for an innocent man to be freed when his conviction was obviously flawed was completely ignored by the parole institutions in Georgia, the Georgia Governor, the Supreme Court of the USA, and ultimately, President Obama. Two years when the State of Georgia knew better than a former head of the FBI, former president Jimmy Carter, 35 members of Congress, and even the Pope.

Not to mention petitions with literally millions of signatures on them.

That’s how obdurate the desire to kill an innocent man was.

Two years in which the anger has not dimmed.

In Troy’s memory – if you signed a petition, if you stood with a placard, if you wrote letters or emails, if you called your representative, if you commented on Facebook, if you stood vigil, if you cried – now you can continue your personal witness and purchase I Am Troy Davis, published this week and written by Jen Marlowe and Troy’s sister, Martina Correia-Davis, who died of breast cancer soon after her brother was killed.

It’s the story of Troy, his remarkable family, and the on-going struggle to end the death penalty.

Can’t say it better than Susan Sarandon: “I Am Troy Davis is a painful yet very important book” — unless it’s Maya Angelou: “Here is a shout for human rights and for the abolition of the death penalty. This book, I Am Troy Davis,should be read and cherished.”

The book tells the intimate story of an ordinary man caught up in an inexorable tragedy. From his childhood in racially-charged Savannah; to the confused events that led to the 1989 shooting of a police officer; to Davis’ sudden arrest, conviction, and two-decade fight to prove his innocence; I Am Troy Davis takes us inside a broken legal system where life and death hangs in the balance. It is also an inspiring testament to the unbreakable bond of family, to the resilience of love, and that even when you reach the end of justice, voices from across the world will rise together in chorus and proclaim, “I am Troy Davis”, I stand with you.

eve

“This book will devastate you …” Eve Ensler

If you make your purchase through the non-profit publisher, Haymarket Books, it’ll cost you just $18 to commemorate one man’s courageous yet ultimately tragic fight for justice.

And, by doing so, to make your personal stand against a justice system which is laughingly labyrinthine and slow, where process regularly overpowers any consideration of issues of right or wrong, where the application of the death penalty is obviously biased heavily against racial minorities, and which regularly has executed, and still does execute, innocent people.

A place, in other words, where “And justice for all” is clearly a sick joke. If that’s not what you want America to be, then buy the book. Buy it for friends. Buy it and donate it to your local library, or school. Buy it.

I am still Troy Davis.

Deep, deep concerns about the wisdom of this course of action - the least the powers that be could do is show us the evidence.

Deep, deep concerns about the wisdom of this course of action – the least the powers that be could do is show us the evidence.

With his “red line” commitment, and the likely imminent bombing of Syria, Obama may have committed the worst blunder of what has in many ways been a Presidency mired in lost opportunities and disappointment.

When all’s said and done, it was never likely that Obama’s incumbency would reach the height of expectation generated by his first election victory.

And the economic crisis he had to deal with – and which he handled with some aplomb despite the criticism of an ornery Congress and the rabid right in America – dominated his first term.

Yet as we go along, there were also worrying signs that Obama lacks any genuine understanding of his role as a centre-left reformer on vital civil liberties issues.

He didn’t close Guantanamo as he promised to – but why? Was there ever any real doubt that Guantanamo inmates could be housed humanely and safely in America? No.

Just one of the many blight's on Obama's record as a small "d" democrat,

Just one of the many blights on Obama’s record as a small “d” democrat.

After years of incarceration, he has not released Guantanamo inmates who have been shown by any reasonable standard, including the opinion of the Administration, to be innocent of any crime. And trials of those considered guilty seem endlessly delayed.

Guilty as hell they might be, but justice delayed is justice denied, no matter who the defendant is.

He has not intervened to pardon whistleblower Bradley Manning, a principled if somewhat naive young person who many consider a hero.

He has argued it is acceptable for the Administration to kill US citizens without trial, via drone strikes, even within the USA’s borders if necessary. (You can’t even lock people up without trial, but you can execute them, apparently.)

For all his posturing, he has failed to act effectively on gun control.

He has done nothing to persuade states to drop the death penalty, nor has he intervened in cases where it is patently obvious that the soon-to-be-executed prisoner is innocent.

Troy Davis, just one of many executions against which there was serious disquiet, where Obama could have intervened, but didn't.

Troy Davis, just one of many executions against which there was serious disquiet, where Obama could have intervened, but didn’t.

He has continued – indeed, increased – drone strikes in countries nominally allied to the USA, despite their counter-productive effect on local opinion.

And now, faced with worldwide concern that we might be about to slip into a morass from which our exit is entirely uncertain, he seems determined to bomb the hell out of Damascus.

Current plans involve nearly 200 cruise missiles being dropped on the poor, benighted citizens of that beleaguered city.

(And that doesn’t count the payload of war planes that were yesterday landing at a rate of one every minute in Malta, according to one correspondent we have.)

One of our more popular t-shirts. You might check out this one, and others, at http://www.cafepress.com/yolly/7059992

One of our more popular t-shirts. You might check out this one, and others, at http://www.cafepress.com/yolly/7059992

Large scale civilian casualties will be brushed off by everyone as “sad but inevitable” except, of course, by the vast majority of the Arab and mid-East populace, already instinctive opponents of America, who will become, without doubt, angrier at the US and the West than ever, whatever they think of Assad.

Meanwhile, rumours continue to swirl unabated that the gas attack in the city was nothing to do with the regime, and could even have been an appalling accident from stocks held by rebel forces.

The US claims to have evidence of rockets being prepared with gas by the regime, but as this article argues, then why on earth not release that evidence?

We also have previous evidence that Syrian rebels have used gas themselves.

We have the persistent assertion that neo-cons have been planning to use Syria as just one more stepping stone to Mid-East hegemony, and that current alarums are just part of a long-range plan to hop into Syria on the way to Iran, as disclosed by retired general Wesley Clarke, presumably to depose the theocratic Islamic regime and grab the Iranian oilfields at the same time.

The fog generated by the secret state also makes it completely impossible to discern what was really going on when the Daily Mail first printed, then retracted as libellous (paying damages), an article about a British defence contractor revealing plans for a false flag gas attack on Syria.

So now, on the brink of war, we have the Obama government refusing to release all the facts that it is showing to members of Congress.

We can only ask “Why?”

If the case against the Assad regime stacks up, then the world – especially those in the mid East – need to know it before any action takes place. So does the UN, whether or not the Security Council can be persuaded to unanimity. (Extremely unlikely.) Because after Damascus is reduced to a smoking ruin will be too late to save the West’s credibility if it acts prematurely, or without irrefutable evidence.

And forgive us, but politicians reassuring us that the evidence is irrefutable just doesn’t cut it any more.

The continual accusation that something murky is going on will bedevil Obama unless this whole situation is conducted with total transparency. Memories of the “sexed up” dossier that led to the bloody war in Iraq (casualties 500,000 and counting) are still raw and fresh.

If he cares less about his legacy, Obama would do well to observe how Bush’s and Blair’s reputations have been forever trashed by that event. The tags “aggressors” and “war criminals” will follow them to their grave and beyond.

Why not simply release all the evidence, publicly. Why? That's what you have to tell us.

Why not simply release all the evidence, publicly. Why? That’s what you have to tell us.

As far as Wellthisiswhatithink is concerned, one piece of commonsense reasoning stands out for us above all others, fundamentally requiring an answer.

Obama had issued his red line warning. Why, in the name of all that is sensible, would Assad risk bringing down the wrath of Nato on his head by flinging chemical weapons at a relatively unimportant residential suburb, knowing full well what the response would be?

The war in Syria is a stalemate, his regime has suffered some losses but also some gains, and there is no evidence his personal grip on power was threatened. Why would this turkey vote for Christmas?

On the other hand, if a rogue Syrian officer wanted to aid the rebel cause, then what better way than to launch an attack which was guaranteed to provoke the West’s intervention, and possibly tip the scales emphatically in the rebel’s direction, something they seem unable to achieve for themselves?

As we contemplate the utter and ultimately murderous failure of diplomacy, we feel constrained to point out that the West – and all the other players like Russia – had a simple solution to the Syrian conflict available on the 23rd December 2011, while casualties were still horrific but minimal (just over 6,000), and before another civilian population had been utterly torn apart and traumatised.

Instead of standing back and doing nothing except chucking verbal rocks, Putin could be part of the solution. Nu-uh. Not so far.

Instead of standing back and doing nothing except chucking verbal rocks, Putin could be part of the solution. Nu-uh. Not so far.

We offered it in an article that explained patiently that there cannot be a solution to the Syrian crisis unless the leaders of the Baa’thist regime are offered a safe haven somewhere (either Russia or Iran, in all likelihood) and also pointed that we would need to keep the bulk of the civil administration in place even after a handover to the Syrian opposition, in order to prevent a complete breakdown in civil society as occurred in Iraq. And, of course, to prevent handing over power to the appalling al-Qaeda forces that were swarming into the conflict on the rebel side.

Now, thanks either to the complete ineptitude of Western politicians, or due to some hazy conspiracy the details of which we cannot clearly discern, we have the ultimate disaster on our hands.

One hundred thousand men, women and children who are NOT combatants are dead, and countless others injured.

Assad is weakened but has no way out.

The Opposition is in thrall to murderous savages that cut the heads off innocent people with pocket knives and shoot soldiers captured on the battlefront.

And we are about to waste hundreds of millions of dollars that we don’t have “taking out” Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles which, in reality, means taking out civilian neighbourhoods with yet more horrendous losses while the Syrian Government squirrel any WMDs they do have deep underground where they can’t be found, let alone bombed.

As the new Australian Prime minister Tony Abbott presciently remarked a few days ago, our choice in Syria is really between “baddies and baddies”.

Not exactly the brightest intellectual star in the political sky, for once Abbott's common touch pitched it about right.

Not exactly the brightest intellectual star in the political sky, for once Abbott’s common touch pitched it about right.

He was criticised for dismissing the conflict so colloquially, but frankly we think he deserves to be applauded for putting it so simply. We may well be about to intervene on behalf of one baddie, when the other baddie is at least as bad, if not worse.

And we do not refer, of course, to the principled, secular and democratic Syrian opposition that has bravely argued for regime change for a generation, but for the lunatics who would hijack their cause in the chaos.

And we are not even allowed to see the evidence for the upcoming attack. We repeat: why?

So much for democracy. So much for humanity. So much for truth and justice. Meanwhile, let’s feed the population bread and circuses – a steady diet of game shows, reality TV and talent quests, with some sport thrown in – let us anaesthetise our sensibilities to the hideous nature of what is about to happen – while the real powers behind the throne seemingly effortlessly manoeuvre public opinion in a relentless search for power, personal wealth and to justify corporate greed.

Frankly, always more of a fan of the cock-up theory of public administration (that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong) we are actually beginning to sense that the shadow state is more real than any of us beyond the wildest conspiracy theorists ever truly imagined.

And we are also so very grateful that we do not live in a country with major oil fields.

His administration decided that it was better to let gas attacks continue if they might turn the tide of the war against Iran. And even if they were discovered, the CIA wagered that international outrage and condemnation would be muted. How times change, huh?

Declassified CIA reports reveal that his administration decided that it was better to let gas attacks continue if they might turn the tide of the war against Iran. And even if they were discovered, the CIA wagered that international outrage and condemnation would be muted. How times change, huh?

Last but by no means least: how do you like the hypocrisy of flattening Syria for theoretically using chemical weapons – although we are not allowed to see the proof – that actually might well have made their way to Assad via Saddam Hussein, that were originally cheerfully supplied to him by America, to chuck at Iranian troops in the Iraq-Iran war?

That’s when Saddam was still our good ol’ buddy, remember. Before he got a bit uppity.

Those weapons – which the dictator was actively urged to use by America backed up by American supplied intelligence – killed tens of thousands – if not hundreds of thousands – of people.

But that’d be wrong, right?

Sorry, my brain hurts.