Snaps From The Underground ~ Soviet/Post-Soviet Punk

by on August 8, 2013

Red Teddies, Leningrad 1984 c/o Alexander Boyko, from the archive of Ruslan Ziggelya

From the Barrelhouse has assembled an excellent gallery of images from the Russian underground scene (1980 – 2012): Teds, Mods, Punks, Bikers (and of course, Pussy Riot). Check them all out.

Willie and friends shooting the movie “Without a uniform.” Volgograd, 1988. From the archive of Villi.

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Positive Money

by on August 6, 2013

Financialization 101: How banks eat the economy, and transfer wealth to the 1 percent.


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“Freedom” of the Press (As Long As You Are Behind Bars)

by on July 27, 2013

Shaye

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.

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A Short List Of Famous (And Sometimes Insulting) Things That Have Been Said About Edmonton, Alberta

by 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.

edmonton

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 »


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Voting Rights Act Effectively Dead–neo-Jim Crow Prevails

by on June 25, 2013

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Yeah, cuz We Can Trust Southern States to Protect Minority Voting Rights . . . (Florida Voting Precinct, 2012 c/o New York Times). And note, you can’t find any similar pictures for white voters. Hmmm.

Given the blatant and rather racist efforts to disenfranchise minority voters recently, the Supreme Court deciding to strike down the pre-clearance portions of the Civil Rights Act clears the way for the construction of a ne0-Jim Crow order.  Think I’m exaggerating?  I’m not.  (But, of course, this time the disenfranchisement will include Hispanic minorities and also, I’m guessing, they’ll get around to single females as well).  That the Supreme Court overturned a law that had passed constitutional muster over and over again, AND, had been overwhelmingly renewed by Congress, only indicates that the highest court in the land is actually the place your rights go to die.  Oh, and the majority include genteel racists (0r, if you prefer, racism enablers) and race fantasists who are trying to socially engineer their own political preferences (which I see as white political hegemony, since only whites will vote for conservative politicians in majorities).  Heeeeeeeeelllllllllllloooooo Jim Crow?  Where ya been?

Is that an extreme statement?  Hellz to the noes.  As the Paula Deen episode indicates, there is a truckload of fairly awful racist sentiment among rich, middle-aged White elites in the South that is probably considered socially unacceptable in other portions of the country.  (TROLL ALERT:  If you view antebellum plantations as anything other than vicious little Gulags designed to produce a parasitical living for an oligarchic elite, you are a racist.  Gone with the Wind was a racist fantasy, not a historical investigation).  Social science has indicated that racist attitudes are far more prevalent among Republican-voting Whites of the old confederacy and not just “rednecks.”  The brouhaha over a cereal ad ought to indicate to anyone who is paying attention that racist attitudes are alive and well (and not just in the South).  As a resident of Georgia, I don’t want to hear this nonsense about how the South isn’t racist.  Chicago and Boston were pretty damn racist in my experience growing up, but here in Georgia I have had neighbors who’s idea of good form was putting a “negro” fishing boy statue (like a lawn jockey) on a dock with noose around its neck (!), rebel flags flying proudly over businesses (said flag not being adopted by the state until Brown v. Board of Education.  Hmmmm.  Heritage!) and neighbors concerned about school district borders including apartment buildings containing “them, you know, the “school-lunch kids.”  Yeah, rural lower class folks (often on welfare or government assistance themselves!) drop the n-word in casual conversation but I have had discussions with professionals and businessmen where circumlocutions like “welfare counties” are used.  Kevin Kruse wrote the book about white flight concerning Atlanta (which was not the “city too busy to hate” but the “city too busy moving to Cobb County to care”), and our state legislature has gerrymandered the hell out of our Congressional districts on racial lines (which even African-American supporters of racial preferences in districting now recognize–thanks, liberals).

And don’t give me the “speaking from ignorance argument”–my President, the President of Emory University for Christ sakes, thought such political machinations over race, in his case the infamous 3/5ths clause of the Constitution, was a fine example of successful compromise.  He forgot the whole “oops” about writing slavery into the constitution and building up an unrepresentative “slave power” that made a brutal Civil War inevitable, despite numerous racial “compromises.”  And where did Mr. Wagner (said College President) get his ideas? Why, at a panel of eminent politicians/alumni at Emory Law School (“The panel included a former US senator, former and current congressmen, and the attorney general for Georgia.”–I’m guessing mostly white.  And, yup.) which opined on how political impasse could be overcome.  I don’t know what is more shocking, that these guys (and one gal) felt at ease to throw out as a model the foundational dirty deal that helped cement slavery in America (over, say, the “Great Compromise” of a bicameral legislature, one house popularly elected, the other with equal representation by state), or that the audience didn’t take them to task.  For my own reasons, especially my sense that my home state is deeply and malignly racist and that political operatives in the GOP will use such sentiments to political advantage, all I’ve got to say to the Supreme Court is, “Thanks, thanks a lot you evil bastards.”

As usual, the immortal Atrios over at Eschaton says it better than me, so I’ll end with his words of wisdom.

SCOTUS says places with histories of violating the voting rights of minorities are now free to continue doing so.

 


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A Question of Madness–NSA Edition

by on June 23, 2013

 

Kursk

Nadezha Tylik Tranquilized for “Excessive Emotionalism” as She Questioned Authorities after the Death of her Son in the Kursk Sinking, 2001 (c/o St. Petersburg Times)

The revelations of NSA domestic spying have produced a wealth of commentary.  Most of it is quite useless (when a prevaricating general tells you all of it is done with legal authorization, no, that doesn’t mean that it is legal).  Some of it, however, has been quite sharp and public opinion (especially among the young) seems to have turned on Barack Obama for his obvious hypocrisy.  Hell, even George W. Bush is looking better to people now that they know the Obama presidency is essentially his fourth term–on government snooping and so many other things beside.  Liberals will have to deal with the damage done to their brand by the guy who sold “hope and change” and ended up being the betrayer of hope and denier of change. (When Ari Fleischer and Dick Cheney think you’re doing a swell job, being a change agent is not part of your portfolio.)

But that’s politics or the churning surface phenomena of government’s rigid and inflexible structural imperatives.  Very few commentators have looked, seriously, into what the NSA incident suggests about the creeping totalitarianism of America’s crappy little oligarchy.  Not enough people have given appropriate attention to the fact that, as revealed by Snowden and publicized by Glenn Greenwald at The Guardian, the mass of espionage by this state is directed not principally at foreign powers, but at American citizens (note the name of the program, “Boundless Informant”–a spook’s dream).  National Security Agency, indeed.  Makes you wonder if we should rename it the National Insecurity Agency, since so few people can now be “secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.”  Indeed, when a state charges a leaker under the Espionage Act for giving evidence of that state’s criminal spying to the press (and therefore the public), it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the “enemy” to whom the information has been leaked is, in fact, the citizens of that state.  And to those, especially the liberals, who want to jump up and defend these practices by citing obviously skimpy judicial fig leaves like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court (can we just call it the neo-Star Chamber and leave it at that?), you must immediately apologize to the ghost of the Soviet Union, which had similar legal “authority” for its snooping (and Putin has given Obama a big thumbs up on his domestic surveillance). Big Brother always hires him some lawyers. Moreover, if it’s so damn legal, why don’t they publish the legal opinions saying that this is so?  Because if they were to publish them, as when we got John Yoo’s crayon scribblings pretending to argue for the constitutionality of torture, the vast majority of lawyers not enjoying Big Brother largesse would roll over with gales of laughter, that’s why.  (And note that getting a paycheck from Uncle Sam really does seem to impact one’s legal reasoning. Funny that.)

I would like to note another trend here–not the demonization of the whistle-blower, which was just to be expected–all good Establishment journalists, after all, are united in their opinion that Julian Assange wears smelly socks so can be safely consigned to a road that leads to “sealed indictments,” but rather the psychologizing of his motives.

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Sapien Cinema ~ Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard

by on June 21, 2013

Rowland+S+Howard+row

Autoluminescent, documentary of the late Rowland S. Howard (1959 – 2009) is available for viewing on the Youtubes, enjoy it while that lasts. (I am certainly grateful for the opportunity to finally see it.) Released in 2011, the film is stark and sad, intimate and feral, and so brilliantly matches the music of one of rock’s most distinctive guitarists, one with flick-knives for fingers, who always left blood on the frets.

Film-makers Lynn-Maree Milburn and Richard Lowenstein are to be commended for the balance of their narrative, which gives equal weight to all stages in Howard’s career, and so rescues the biography of the man from the mythology of the Birthday Party, and which neither revels in nor skirts the issue of heroin.

The interview materials contain many gems, but one particularly telling moment occurs early on when Nick Cave concedes that perhaps Howard, and not he, should have sung Shivers (which Howard had written when he was only 16).

I used to dread Shivers coming up in the set, because it required a certain amount of proficiency…a certain amount of talent to sing. It had a kind of melody and stuff… …I was never able to do that song justice, especially back then. Rowland must have been kind of squirming every time I sang it. I really wish he would have sung that actually, when we recorded it. It was his, it was his song.

Cave walks right up to the edge of admitting that he’d been in the wrong, and stops just shy, with a dark grimace and glare.

Autoluminescent (entire film)

Rowland took London personally, like someone had built it to make him unhappy… and he may well have taken the world in that way.
– Nick Cave

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Reading and Resistance Behind Bars: Interview with G20 Toronto Protestor After 13 Months of Prison

by on June 21, 2013

Next week will mark the third anniversary of the G20 Summit in Toronto, in which we were treated to the largest mass arrest in Canadian history. One of those arrested during the summit was Alex Hundert, an activist from Toronto. He eventually pleaded guilty to counselling others to commit mischief to property and obstructing police. He served a total of 13 months. I interviewed him 6 weeks after his release from the Central North Correctional Facility in Penetanguishene, Ontario.

alex-hundert

A lot of your incarcerated time was spent in a detention centre. Describe the conditions there versus an actual correctional facility.

The detention centres are probably the worst conditions of any levels of imprisonment that we have institutionally, though each facility has its own particularly egregious units or types of punitive incarceration… In the detention centers there is no programming, virtually no facilities of any kind. They’re so overcrowded. People are sleeping on floors… You get twenty minutes of yard almost every day. Other than that, you wake up, you get locked out of your cell. You’re on “the range” all day with nothing to do. The range is the day area. You’ve got a big room – at the West [Toronto West Detention Centre] or the East [Toronto East Detention Centre] – the day rooms are quite small – and then the cells line the rooms. Playing cards, watching TV or reading, those are your options. In the detention centres there is no space to work out… It’s important to remember that the people in remand centres have not been found guilty of anything… Because people with access to capital are not in those centres, what you’ve got is… poor people and people from marginalized communities are not in the position of having access to the right of being presumed innocent until proven guilty. You could do more time than your sentence, potentially, just waiting for your trial… A lot of people reach that point where they’ve done more time than the Crown has asked for and so they plead guilty just to get out.

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American Middle Class Ranks 27th. “USA! USA” (Foam Finger Edition)

by on June 20, 2013

Ruined home in Youngstown, Ohio

It has long been the position of this blog that much of American life is run as a cynical grift by feral elites in which the goal is to corrupt every single institution to the benefit of their own enrichment and everybody else’s impoverishment (not a solitary view).  It is simply obviously the case that the American economic and political system is bad for the average person’s prosperity and has been ever since the advent of neo-liberalism in the Reagan and Clinton years.  Despite all the marketing around the American Dream, the reality is that we have a progressively economically-stressed society and, with the complete collapse of the Bubble Economy, a profound crisis in the economic well-being of all but a very tiny and largely predatory elite.  American economic and political arrangements are about as good for the average person as McDonalds is healthy eats and BP is good for the environment–clever PR don’t reality make.

Although we have sophisticated economic defenses of this reality (economist Greg Mankiw pretending it’s all about Steve Jobs and not Bank of America) and atavistic screeds of congressional social Darwinists in its Ayn Rand coloration, economic policy and the political system that designs it is very definitely and purposefully creating this new “Gilded Age” (which ain’t so gilded for most people–See George Packer’s new The Unwinding).  And really, the liberals can spare me any claims that they are different.  Whether one is Labor or Tory, Conservative or Socialist, Democrat or Republican, the push is for low tax rates on capital, high consumption taxes on labor, “austerity” to dismantle social welfare and “reform” to strip people of earned benefits while conducting a relentless attack on labor rights.  This consensus of what Krugman calls “the Very Serious People” is an elite consensus without any popular support.  Trust me, if anyone speaks to you about “reform”–grab your wallet.  It is a great “structural reform” which, in fact, is a sort of Pinochet-lite formula and has been openly articulated here by JP Morgan.  Sure, why not subvert democracy to make nations more tractable for capital?  As the banksters point out (care of Leigh Philips’ Austerityland),

The political systems in the periphery were established in the aftermath of dictatorship, and were defined by that experience. Constitutions tend to show a strong socialist influence, reflecting the political strength that left-wing parties gained after the defeat of fascism.

Yeah, bummer the anti-fascists had so much influence after Mussolini, Franco, Salazar and the Greek junta.  So let’s just change their constitutions, undermine labor rights, and usurp their parliaments by implementing strong executives (I’m not making this up–click the link).  As a blueprint for Citigroup’s “plutonomy” not even the Russian Oligarchs under Yeltsin were so bold and open about their contempt for political democracy as the “very serious people” (pro tip, the structure they’re reforming is your right to political agency).  And what has the recent G-8 summit taught us–we should have more of the economic policies that have hammered the American and European middle classes (complete with that great fail of a politician, Angela Merkel, lecturing the only pro-stimulus politician, Prime Minister Abe of Japan on getting the austerity going!).

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Americans–Eating Their Young

by on June 16, 2013

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Francisco de Goya ~ Saturn Devouring His Children (a Metaphor for Today’s Youth) c/o Wikimedia

One of the enduring myths of the Lesser Depression is that older and more prosperous employees have been devastated by the economic turndown by selfish and better-trained wunderkind.  That slacker hipster youth are simply sponging off their parents and refusing to acquire the skills needed for today’s vicious labor market is a persistent charge.  A prime example of such generational slander can be seen in this vapid Time article (click through at your own risk).  By the way, a brief check of the author, Joel Stein’s, biography indicates the 42-year old “journalist” (who acts as periodic pet commentator on the completely ridiculous I Love the 80’s and got his start with Martha Stewart) is as much a representative of a “Me, Me, Me” ethos as any person on the planet.  Problem with this mythology is that it is total crap.  Unemployment data for May indicates the jobless rate is 13% for the 20-25 age group, 6.9% for 25-34 year olds, 6.3% for 35-44 year olds, 5.6% for 45-54 year olds and 5.0% for 55-64 year olds–i.e., your job prospects get better with the age.  Now, remember this is the measure of those actively seeking work–so none of this crap about these young people preferring to sit in basements playing video games, if you please.  The recent figures for education and age are even more stark.  The jobless rate for college-educated 20-24 year-olds quickly jumped to double digits in the Great Recession and have stubbornly hovered around 10%.  For Mr. Stein’s demographic the number is less than 4% and even for the oldsters (college-educated 55-64 year olds), allegedly the demographic being hammered by the Great Recession (actually, as boomers, the loudest generation), the unemployment rate is under 4%.  Yeah, the kids are not lazy–they’re unemployed.  And, of course, let’s leave out of the equation that thanks to the shameless exploitation of higher education (an industry every bit as crooked as banking, as NYU is proving), these college-educated are carrying heavier debt loads than the traditional big categories of the consumer society, car loans or credit-card debt (and they are having more difficulty in paying this debt off than mortgage holders–which is saying something in this “housing bust” economy).

One of the things you hear about this situation is that we have a “structural unemployment” problem, i.e., a lack of fit between skills and job offerings.  Let’s leave aside the fact that Krugthullu has repeatedly destroyed this fabulism on a macro-level, detailed studies have proven that no gap between skills being produced and skills needed actually exists.  Just because an ignoramus (or, more likely, tool of the oligarchs) like Bill Clinton keeps saying it, doesn’t mean that it is true.  In fact, a recent study by Demos shows the continued hammering of young workers, even in the service industry–five years into the Lesser Depression, young people (and btw, my demographic–but at a far lesser rate that 20-25 year-olds) are still losing jobs (note that the kvetching Mr. Stein’s age cohort and the endlessly bitching boomers are doing just fine).

YA-unemploymentMay-2

Youth Unemployment for May and 2013 vs. other Demographics (c/o Demos)

Looks like a long, hot summer for youth!  As Demos points out:

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Grayson vs. NSA Apologists

by on June 14, 2013

Perhaps you are familiar with the term polish a turd? In the video below, Rep. Alan Grayson peels one down to its stinky nub as he destroys the legal rationales that have been floated in defense of the NSA Internet, email and cellphone scoop and snoop (and time travel) programs.

Yes, this is the Grayson of don’t get sick, and if you do, die quickly fame, and the same one who roasted Ben Bernanke on a spit on this same floor of the House.

I continue to suspect he may be a blood-relative of Shrek.

Via Digby


Eyes Of A Drone

by on June 14, 2013

A new camera developed by the Pentagon’s research arm was highlighted in a recent special on PBS’ “Nova” in an episode called “Rise of the Drones.” It’s a camera system so detailed it can discern specific movements and even what a subject is wearing.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA’s) Autonomous Real-Time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance Imaging System (ARGUS) has 1.8 billion pixels (1.8 gigapixels), making it the world’ highest resolution camera. The sensors on the camera are so precise, PBS stated it is the equivalent to the capabilities of 100 Predator drones in a medium city.
In the clip from PBS, it is said this is the first time the government has allowed information to be shared about these capabilities.

“It is important for the public to know that some of these capabilities exist,” Yiannis Antonaides with contractor BAE Systems said in the clip, but noted the sensor itself cannot be revealed. “Because we are not allowed to expose some of the pieces that make up this sensor, so you get to look a pretty plastic curtains.”

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