by Matthew Payne on September 19, 2013
Afghan Muhajideen c. 1985, i.e., Afghan Taliban in 2013. Because, yeah, arming and training insurgents always works out (c/o Wiki Commons)
As per CNN (the most trusted name in relaying Pentagon talking points):
The Pentagon has “put a proposal on the table” for U.S. military forces to train and equip moderate Syrian opposition forces for the first time, two Obama administration officials told CNN.
If approved, it would dramatically increase the role of the U.S. military in Syria’s civil war and would for the first time put American troops in direct contact with opposition forces
Must be a helluva big table to bear the weight of all that intended human suffering! And who, after all, are these “moderates”? Maybe Secretary Kerry and the Obama administration are still taking advice from disgraced, non-PhDs on the size and composition of the rebel forces? The article bears careful scrutiny since it admits we have already been arming and directing insurgent forces under CIA auspices and certainly in an age of sequestration the Pentagon wants in on that black budget largesse. But also note the training:
The proposal envisions U.S. troops training certain rebels on small arms, command and control and military tactics, according to one of the officials.
Hmmm, classic small-cadre insurgent tactics–you know, like the kind we taught
al-Qaida the muhajideen in Afghanistan. Now, what could go wrong with that? There is also an implicit recognition that no actually “moderate opposition” exists at this time, since it would have to be built:
“The path to the resolution of the Syrian conflict is through a developed capable moderate opposition, and we know how to do that,” he said.
The “he” here is Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey. Yeah, we certainly “know” how to do that. We are fine trainers of insurgent forces, some of which might even be termed, you know, “terrorists.” Hell, funny how training, arming and financing Jalaluddin Haqqani’s “resistance” movement turned into resistance against us. Things that make you go, hmmmm . . . ‘Cuz the world needs more warlords.
Putting aside my tone of bitter irony for an entirely mock-worthy proposal, this shows the repetitive stupidity of the American NatSec establishment. Nothing, and I do mean nothing, good is going to come out of this little military adventure if they chose to go forward with it. I haven’t heard of anything quite this evil since Hank Kissinger was doing this sort of arming and training ultimately abandoned Hmong and Kurds as diplomatic chips in a cynical game of Great Power poker. Oh, wait . . .
I have always thought the men who have absolute authority over us (and hint, they are mostly men, unelected and old) have the mentality of a bunch of little boys. All this macho bullshit about the army being a “warrior culture” (real warriors do very poorly in the age of industrialized warfare–ask the Zulus), cartoon names for killing machines such as “the Predator” and the “Reaper” (at least previous generations had the shame to name their thermonuclear devises “Peacekeepers”) and Orwellian nomenclature for snooping programs betrays a certain mindset. Not sober-minded realists but megalomaniacs and fantasists run the most powerful national security state every constructed (and yes, I mean Barack Obama as well, he of the belief that you can drone people into submission rather than just pissing them off). The laughable assertion of the NatSec types is that it is a dangerous world out there and they, due to their superior Vulcan intellect and access to “the” data, the need largely unsupervised control (the “black budget”) over government powers to counter nebulous “threats.” And as for the democratic sovereignty made a mockery by suc secret government, well the answer of the NatSec “professionals” (often contractors and PR hacks, the two roles can be interchangeable) is that the public is too infantile to be trusted with the knowledge of what their government actually does. The patron saint of this set, which they are too obtuse to realize was a critique, is Colonel Nathan R. Jessep of A Few Good Men, (you know, “You Can’t Handle the Truth!”–shouted and with spittle flecked vehemence). The upshot of all this is that the public needs to trust them and only them. As if. If nearly three quarters’ of a century’s worth of experience has taught us anything, it’s that these clowns are more fitting to star in Dr. Strangelove than be fitted out for their John Wayne and James Bond fantasies.
But, you know, even I can get shocked and color me shocked. The shocking figure is General Keith Alexander, absolute despot of the NSA. Think that characterization is extreme? His own colleagues in spookdom have noted his thirst for aggregating power and the “blowback” of his methods (first pioneered in Baghdad against a conquered and victimized population) drive a dangerous “cowboy” mentality whose motto is, quite literally, “Collect It All.” This guy wants to “hoover” it all up and it’s very, very hard to believe he hasn’t used that power to the same ends as the original Hoover. But where do we find all this out about an out-of-control spook chief? From some Hippie radical rag, like the New York Times? Hell no, from the establishment flagship of the NatSec Vulcan set, Foreign Policy. Note they refer to his activities as “barely legal.” As if. The guy lied to Congress and got even the super-compliant, alleged, FISA court to brand his activities illegal. It’s just that the law is for peasants, not aristocrats like General Alexander in this environment of impunity we laughingly call a constitutional republic. So, what could possibly shock me about this guy? This.
If that looks to you like the bridge of the old cheesy 60′s space opera, Star Trek than you would be right! Alexander had his “war room” remodeled in all the shades of his teenage fantasies (and I mean that. Alexander was born in 1951 and Star Trek debuted in 1966–he was 15). Really, what more is there to say than, “Please, please look at the clowns you have ceded authority to.” Yes, yes. Much of this is designed for PR stunts since, apparently, allowing visiting Congress critters and other dignitaries to sit in “Captain Kirk’s chair” (it makes me humiliated as a US citizen to even report this) impressed them with the need to ever more grossly expand the NSA’s budget. But the narcissistic element to all this is as obvious as John Thain’s (Merrill, Lynch’s–ahem–”canned”–CEO) bathroom. (You are obviously a special guy if you need a million dollar crap house). Glenzilla has the details on Starfleet Ensign Alexander–go, read the details, and weep for the Republic.
In light of the recent furor over Vladimir Putin’s audacity in addressing the American public through the Op-Ed pages of the New York Times, I re-post a video I made in support of Pussy Riot, using Swamp Buggy Badass by Quintron and Miss Pussycat. Putin can look into the eyes of a sturgeon and read its soul.
by Matthew Payne on September 14, 2013
America’s various elites (and oh how elite they are getting!) have been fuming that Vladimir Putin, the man in whose eyes George W. Bush saw a man who was ”very straight forward and trustworthy,” had the nerve to write an Op-Ed in the New York Times. Apparently, hearing a lecture by the man who invaded Georgia without UN support, murdered someone with radioactive sushi and generally made Chechnia a steaming wasteland with 100,000s dead was a bit much. Almost immediately, American defense mechanisms went into play and the President of the Russian Federation was mocked, had to be mocked. Because, you know, mocking a guy with the capacity to turn every city in your country into ashes allows you to forget that, you know, he has the capacity to turn every town in your country into ashes. Yeah, I get it. He once posed bare-chested riding a horse (which is not something ”W” could do since he doesn’t like horses, even on his former ”ranch,” and Obama prefers surf trunk bare-chest shots), so, therefore, the guy is a clown. Really, it has been painful to listen to all the bad comics’ Russian faux accents, Russophobic stereotypes (Russians are the last culture on earth in which it is alright to treat with the most condescending ethnic bigotry and not be accused of being a bigot or racist or such because, you know, they’re ”white”), and the pouring of Putin into the tiny little middle-school facsimile of Heathers we call Beltway politics (“Nine dimensional chess!” “A Farce!” “Appeasement!” “A Blunder!” “Standing Tall!”–blech). But this issue is worth some conversation because Putin reveals two basic truths to us that go far beyond the present-day crisis (soon to be followed by tomorrow’s crisis and the next-day’s crisis and then the crisis the day after, since crisis is how the international system “works”): first he dared to tell Americans they ain’t special and it is dangerous to be special and second, because whether America wants to admit it or not, our contempt for democracy is what made Putin happen.
Now, I want to be clear on this–I’m no fan of Putin. His populist, right-wing re-ordering of Russia as a “dictatorship of laws” has actually led to something akin to a dictatorship of lawmen (but let’s keep in mind the good ol’ USA has a galloping case of the police state at this point as well–secret evidence, secret courts, secret orders of execution; the French absolutist monarchs would love Obama’s sense of lese majeste and the Bastille looks pretty darn humane compared to the
torturing force-feeding of inmates at Gitmo). But the real problem with Putin’s Op-Ed is a) he (or rather his PR firm and speech writer) spoke common-sense–the sort of common sense nationalist extremists have always rejected and b) he holds a mirror up, darkly, to recent US and UK history. To whit, on a):
It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.
And, oh boy that line has rankled! But, of course, this is the central claim of all nationalisms, whether it be that of the French Revolution, Italian Risorgimento, Germany’s sonderweg or, especially, American nationalism (which is rather more full-throated and red-blooded than most contemporary nationalism–excluding, of course, and ironically, Russian nationalism [and I'd say Chinese, as well]). Extreme nationalists with their insistence on remaking the world in the image of their own culture, often with a xenophobic attitude towards other cultures and people, never consider themselves nationalists. Oh, no. That is, as everyone knows from Mussolini and Hitler, just a bad word. No, rather they are patriots. And humanitarians. And what is best for humanity is what the nationalists consider to be best about their own national culture, institutions and quite literally, bodies. So, whether it’s the “white man’s burden,” “manifest destiny,” “mission civilisatrice,” “fighting for socialism” or “making the world safe for democracy,” nationalists are easy and happy imperialists. You see, when you are just so damned exceptional at home, you want to share that exceptionalism with everybody else. I’m sure I’m not the only one who remembers the full-throated defenses of American Imperialism about a decade ago, before the imbroglio in Iraq became a complete fiasco. This is gauche, of course–much better to keep such discussions implicit rather than explicit, but really hyper-nationalism much better explains America’s wars of 9/11 than oil, politics, Israel, etc. Both Bush and Obama have tried, pretty mightily in the case of Obama’s farcical Noble Peace Prize speech, to make the world safe for American imperialism.
Avocado, El Dorado, Pablo Picasso
Much as I love the Modern Lovers and have been enriched by the music of Jonathon Richman, I find it hard to believe that Picasso was never called an asshole – perhaps not as often as me, but it must have happened at least once or twice.
Read the rest of this entry »
Proles off to Work in Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis”–At Least They’ve Got a Job.
So, Labor Day has come and gone in the States and the only thing to say about American labor is that it is flat on its back. The most recent, and ballyhooed, jobs report indicates continuing stagnation in the US labor market despite the high-fives all around from an Obama economics team that seems thrilled it is the proud owner of the lowest civilian employment participation rate since 1978! As CNN reports, the headline U3 jobless number may have fallen to a still eye-popping 7.3% (nearly a year after Obama was re-elected so, so much for all those populist speeches on jobs), which is being hailed as a victory despite the downward revision of jobs’ growth in June and July. The reason the unemployment number has declined, however, is because folks dropped out of the labor market:
Meanwhile, the unemployment rate fell to 7.3%, but the decline came for the wrong reasons, as 312,000 people dropped out of the labor force. Only 63.2% of Americans now participate in the labor force – meaning they have a job or are looking for one. That’s the lowest rate since August 1978.
CNN provides a handy graph:
US Civilian Labor Force Participation
The numbers among the “prime age” Americans (25 to 54, i.e., out of college and not yet retired) working or searching for jobs is a miserable 81 percent–the lowest number since Reagan’s first term. The percentage of those with actual jobs has stagnated at 76%, which is much lower than the 79 percent averaged during the last “recovery” of 2003-2007. Makes you long for the “malaise” of 35 years ago, doesn’t it? (And please note, Jimmy Carter was a great president for jobs created–he added far more people to the rolls of the employed in his first term than Reagan did, while beating out even Clinton’s two terms in the pace of job creation. Of course, Bush I presided over stagnation and Bush II and Obama have been disasters. The Obama team would be thrilled if they were as effective in delivering jobs as Jimmy Carter, but their 1.2 million jobs added to the civilian workforce is dwarfed by the allegedly economic incompetent Carter’s more than 10 million). Paul Krugman is right to call this a catastrophe.
The Carolina Chocolate Drops give new life to the near forgotten genre of Afro-American banjo and fiddle music. I will be enjoying them later today at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. The awesome sauce should be sweet and savory, with zing.
Hit Em Up Style
by Nick Glossop on August 9, 2013
The Blue Fairy from A.I. Artificial Intelligence
1. The robot who loved his ‘mom’ too much
2. The robot who loved whoever came into the room, too much
Kenji was part of an experiment involving several robots loaded with custom software designed to let them react emotionally to external stimuli. After some limited environmental conditioning, Kenji first demonstrated love by bonding with a a stuffed doll in his enclosure, which he would embrace for hours at a time. He would then make simple, but insistent, inquiries about the doll if it were out of sight. Researchers attributed this behavior to his programmed qualities of devotion and empathy and called the experiment a success.
What they didn’t count on were the effects of several months of self-iteration within the complex machine-learning code which gave Kenji his initial tenderness. As of last week, Kenji’s love for the doll, and indeed anybody he sets his ‘eyes’ on, is so intense that Dr. Takahashi and his team now fear to show him to outsiders.
by Nick Glossop on August 8, 2013
Financialization 101: How banks eat the economy, and transfer wealth to the 1 percent.
by Matthew Payne on July 27, 2013
Recently Released Yemeni Journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye, Jailed at Obama’s Behest (photo c/o AP)
One of the more contemptible policies of the Obama administration is its efforts to criminalize journalism. While the Bush administration should be held in a very high level of contempt on this issue as well, if only for treating a cameraman as an enemy of the state, the Obama war on journalism is unprecedented. While this campaign is generally reported as a war on whistleblowers (and, oh boy do the executionocrats who run the American national security state hate those guys), it has been quite apparent for some time that not simply journalists’ sources but journalists themselves have been targeted by this administration. Members of the non-establishment press have been aware of this persecution for years–and the actions taken against those with actual press credentials during the violent smashing of the Occupy Movement make it clear that all levels of American power–local, state and federal–prefer that the public remain in the dark about their actions and the actions of their clients. Remember, America is a place where even the most vile torturers are allowed to publish books bragging about their illegal actions while those who report torture to the press sit in prison. That really clarifies the Obama Administration’s attitude towards governmental illegality in a nutshell–sign off on torture and get promoted to top cop (you’re a good soldier and just mumble the appropriate mea culpas). Drop a dime to your local reporter on torture (recognized as illegal even by the Secretary of “Justice”) and you go to jail. Any questions, boys and girls? By the way, liberals seem just fine with this state of affairs, just as conservatives were under Bush, because it’s Team “D” breaking the law and repressing truth tellers, not that wicked Team “R.”
Generally the establishment media do not stray from their rolee of paraphrasing official statements and providing government and corporate officials anonymity to shape the “information environment”–they know their place–so they aren’t in much danger of repression. Let’s hear some more about Anthony Weiner’s weiner, fellahs and gals! But even elite establishment journalists are finding themselves in the cross-hairs of a Justice Department gone wild. Thanks to over-classification and the ratcheting up of penalties on those unauthorized leaks (from career-ending to freedom-ending), such elite journalists as James Rosen of FoxNews and James Risen of the New York Times find themselves in the cross-hairs of the American security state. While there was a bit of a kerfuffle once the boys and girls in the golden circle of establishment media (largely government lapdogs–helloooooooo Barbara Starr of CNN!) realized that one of their own, James Rosen, had been quite literally made the target of a criminal probe for doing his job, that concern was mollified by some head patting and “there there-ing” from Secretary Holder. That Mr. Holder’s assurances have been made immediately moot by his dogged, Inspector Javert-like pursuit of James Risen for receiving a leak about an ancient keystone cops episode in the cloak-and-dagger business has not quite been processed by these folks. Since Mr. Holder seems to be only making a Kabuki-effort to prosecute the allegedly high-powered leaker of the Stuxnet attack–a far more consequential leak as it shows the United States is involved in reckless and highly aggressive cyberwar–one can only read the Risen affair as a continuing effort to criminalize national security reporting. That the national press corps is only vaguely aware that it has been deceived on this score speaks not to well of its collective intelligence.
For me, as an old Soviet historian, this seems like a classic type of police-state ratchet job. First you criminalize the leakers (Stalin had a nice word for it, breaking konspiratsiia–the Bolsheviks were refreshingly honest on seeing control of information as a conspiratorial activity), then criminalize those who received and propagated such information (good ol’ article 58.10 of the RSFSR Criminal Code–anti-Soviet agitation). Of course, the last step–criminalizing the consumption of such information, either through listening to foreign radio broadcasts or reading unsanctioned press–was eventually reached via this criminal statute as well. To be fair to the Soviet dictatorship, even it considered the draconian sanctions of article 58.10 and its follow-on post-Thaw implementation statute, Article 70, “Anti-Soviet Propaganda and Agitation,” a bit harsh for just reading or passing on a piece of samizdat’, so they added a fresh legal sanction for the critical minded (i.e., dissidents). Article 190-1, Dissemination of Knowingly False Fabrications that Defame the Soviet State and Social System promulgated in 1967 provided for a mere three-year sentence in a work camp.
by Laurence Miall on June 29, 2013
The recent outcry by Edmonton’s outgoing mayor, Stephen Mandel, over the apparent slur against his city by the National Post continues a long tradition. The Post, whether slanderously or satirically – you be the judge! – said that if Edmonton had suffered the kind of flooding Calgary recently did, it would be “a smoking hole in the ground at this point, infested with twitchy-eyed, machete-wielding savages.” This is not the first time an outsider has turned his or her gaze upon Alberta’s capital and said something – to put it mildly – irreverent.
Here is a short list some of the other colourful things that have been said about Edmonton over the years. Read the rest of this entry »