Memorial Day

Edward Snowden should be remembered favorably this Memorial Day. ‘Should be’, but probably won’t be in most precincts. Nonetheless, I watched this interview as my way to meditate on the meaning of this day.

I have been out of town for several days and have been out of touch with the news. I read this morning that the Senate under Mitch McConnell is trying (or will be trying) to restore the legal power of the NSA to do bulk-collection of telephone data, but the original enabling legislation will expire over the Congressional recess.  Opponents of McConnell’s efforts are described as ‘cautiously optimistic’.

We’ll see.  Optimism is not my strong suit.  The summary of Ray McGovern’s piece over at Firedoglake read something like “Remember the Fallen…They Were Pushed”. That pretty well summarizes how I feel.  If this day is to be about reflection and catharsis, I have trouble seeing much evidence of it. We will have the video-clips of the obligatory playing of taps and the planting of flags, and President XYZ placing a wreath in Arlington, then on to the hamburgers and beer.  I am confident veterans and their families  take the day a lot more seriously and no less ceremoniously.  On the other hand, it reminds me of going to church as a child. At church, there was an enormous amount of ceremony and hours worth of pious talk, but it pretty well evaporated by lunch time and was gone entirely by the opening kick-off the NFL game of the week.

If there is one thing we Americans can do it is trivialize anything on an industrial scale.  We aren’t the only ones mind you, but we seem to have it down to a science. Or art.  This weekend I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and saw a work by a Polish artist named Piotr Uklański. The work was The Nazis. It consisted of  117 promotional Hollywood studio-stills of different famous actors in roles where they wore Nazi uniforms—Charles Bronson, Christopher Plummer, Clint Eastwood—you name one, he was up there. The posters were stacked onto a single wall panel perhaps twelve feet wide by twenty feet high. It was funny and it was awful. I believe the artist’s critique might be summarized “So Who Is Trivializing Evil On An Industrial Scale Now?”

I suppose my point of view casts a pall over some of the most hopeful things Edward Snowden says.  He says he wants the “press” to decide what the evidence points toward (as if the Press actually would). He wants the American People to decide what they need to do about the evidence of the Security State apparatus we have built. He believes public sentiment is turning in favor of reigning it in.

On this Memorial Day, as much as I would like to share Snowden’s hopefulness, I do not.  The only thing I do agree with is his assessment about a fair trial should he ever return to the USA.

More To Life Than Bacon: Huevos Rancheros

Because a new bacon recipe that deserves to be shared…

4 slices bacon
4 corn tortillas
1 (14- to 15-ounce) can whole tomatoes in juice
1/4 cup chopped white onion
1/8 cup chopped fresh cilantro plus additional for sprinkling
1 tablespoon chopped canned chipotle chiles in adobo
1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
sliced avocado, for garnish
cotija cheese, for garnish

1. Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 200°F. Stack 4 ovenproof plates on oven rack to warm.
2. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and add bacon (in batches if necessary). Cook 4 minutes on one side, then flip and cook another 4 minutes, or until crispy. Set on a plate lined with a paper towel.
3. Return skillet to heat and add 2 tortillas in a stack. Warm in the bacon fat 30 seconds, then flip stack and cook 30 seconds more. Wrap in foil and keep in warm oven. Repeat with remaining tortillas.
4. Purée tomatoes with their juice, onion, cilantro, chipotle, garlic, salt and half the bacon in a blender until very smooth. Carefully add mixture to hot skillet and simmer, stirring occasionally, until salsa is slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and rinse skillet.
5. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Crack eggs into skillet and cook to desired doneness. Season with salt and pepper.
6. Spoon salsa onto each plate and top with tortillas, eggs, remaining bacon, extra cilantro, extra salsa, sliced avocado and cotija cheese.
     h/t Hunter S Thompson

…and… Read More

Wild West Warfare in Waco

America’s escalating reliance on firearms as a means of settling petty arguments ratcheted up another level this weekend, when at least five biker gangs engaged in an all-out gun battle in Waco, Texas.  The matter at issue: a parking spot.  At least nine bikers were killed, and dozens more injured.

The original antagonists were the Cossacks Motorcycle Club of Texas, and the Bandidos Motorcycle Club, though at least three other motorcycle clubs from the Dallas/Forth Worth area rushed to the scene and participated in the shooting.  The scene of the shootout was a parking lot of a shopping mall in Waco, where the Twin Peaks Restaurant (think Hooters, but with a less suggestive name) serves as a biker hangout.  Management of the restaurant hosts a Bikers Night promotion every Thursday, and local police are so familiar with disputes arising between biker gangs at this restaurant, that they were at hand before Sunday’s shootout began.  In the end, though, the Waco police were unwilling or unable to mobilize their paramilitary forces to stop the shooting, though the police do report that several officers exchanged gunfire with the bikers and may have injured or killed some of them.

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You have heard the expression “that’s really more than I want to know”?

A Duke University professor is suspended from his duties for having revealed in social media his notion that Black people ought to be more like Asian immigrants. He thinks Asians embrace European first-names because they want to integrate while Blacks deliberately avoid them because they really don’t want to integrate.

A professional computer security expert makes jokes in social media about the gaping holes in airline in-flight entertainment software which he can hack to take over the flight control system in real time from his seat in Coach.  The FBI picked him up during a scheduled stop-over because airline security sees the tweet. Turns out, however, the FBI interviewed him twice months before because he delivered professional remarks on the same subject to a convention of security firms. Apparently they did not believe him at the time.

An orchestra violinist –a passenger on the derailed train in Philadelphia– tweets a bitterly snarky remark addressed to the railroad company about their incompetence and requests their assistance recovering her baggage (her violin). She’s attacked on Facebook by her “friends”.

In the past several months, we have heard a great deal about how social media is levelling the playing field between journalists, activists and law enforcement.  It is said that without social media there would have been no Occupy Movement, no Arab Spring. There would have been no attention paid to Ferguson, to Tamir Rice, or Freddie Gray. There would have been no influx of ISIS recruits from Europe or America.
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Why Syriza failed; Why Europe may fail with it

Hullabaloo / Down With Tyranny, By Gaius Publius, May 15

I haven’t written much about Greece lately, but there’s quite a story going on. It’s not that difficult to follow, but you have to be careful whom you read. Conventional wisdom (backed by corporate, pro-austerity media outlets here and abroad) says it’s a morality tale — bad Greeks who went into too much debt and now they can’t pay up. Good German bankers want their money and are reluctant to forgive bad deeds because it might encourage other debt-owing entities to seek debt relief as well. They’re calling that “moral hazard,” fear that a bailout might encourage more bad behavior. There must be consequences, or so they think.

The bottom line of those who tell this tale — Greece provides a place for lovers of austerity (like cuts to social programs) to point and sneer. Their refrain, which I’m sure you’ve heard, is “We don’t want to end up like Greece, do we?”

The reality of the Greek situation is different — not hard to understand, just different.
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The First Time

I thought it would be more painful.  It wasn’t completely painless, to be sure…, but after 63 years of absolute abstinence, there was bound to be a little discomfort, at the least.  Luckily, it didn’t last long.  It was over almost before I knew it.  I was left with some feelings of guilt…, maybe remorse.  Time will tell about that…, I guess. 

I left my name, mailing address, phone number and email address.  No physical address.  I learned that lesson many years ago.  When all I used to give out was a post office box for an address and had an unlisted phone number…, not even the IRS could track me down.  And they were trying…, family and ex-employers told me so.  Two weeks after I got a phone listed in my name for a house I was sharing with the rest of the logging crew working on an out of town job…, an IRS agent left a note on the door for me.  But I digress…, in this case I want some acknowledgement of my contribution.  Then again…, I don’t want it to turn into a constant and relentless demanding…, or begging…, for more.

Yeah…, it’s already started.  It wasn’t a demand or a beg really…, more of a thank you note via email, with a not so subtle hint that it would be ever so helpful if I could give again.  Maybe I shouldn’t have been so generous the first time…, probably should have taken it a little slower and easier.  But after all these years, I felt that if I was going to do it…, I was going to do it right and go all the way.  Or at least as far as I felt I could, without feeling some real pain.  So I clicked that $100 button…, and it was over and done with.  No turning back now.  And I am not feeling too bad about it at this time…, I guess.

Yeah…, I donated to Bernie Sanders campaign.  The first time ever, that I have contributed as much as a single penny to a politician.  I might just do it again before it’s all over…, though most of the pundits in the media say he doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in this global warming climate of acing out Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. 

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Illinois police to use drones at crime scenes, won’t call them ‘drones’

RT, May 13

Illinois State Police has been granted permission from the federal government to employ drones at crime scenes and crash sites in order to take photographs. However, law enforcement officials won’t use the word “drone” when describing their new tool.

That’s no accident, either. Police said that they want to stay away from the word “drone” because of the negative connotations people have come to associate it with. Specifically, the department said “it carries the perception of pre-programmed or automatic flight patterns, and random, indiscriminate collection of images and information,” the Chicago Tribune reported.

Instead, police will refer to the drones as “unmanned aircraft.” Law enforcement also emphasized that the technology will not be used “for surveillance purposes” and noted that it worked with civil liberties groups to ensure that the privacy of Americans continues to be protected.

GOP head of Senate environment committee says carbon pollution is good for the Earth

Raw Story, By Eric W. Dolan, May 7

As carbon dioxide levels surpassed 400 parts per million globally, Republican James Inhofe of Oklahoma headed to the Senate floor on Wednesday to explain the benefits of greenhouse gas emissions.

“Counter to the doomsday predictions of climate alarmists, increasing observations suggest a much reduced and practically harmless climate response to increased amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide,” he remarked. “Also missing from the climate alarmists’ doomsday scenarios and well-scripted talking points are the benefits from increased carbon that has led to a greening of the planet and contributed to increased agricultural productivity.”

Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, wondered why people didn’t understand that carbon pollution was good for the Earth.

“People do not realize that you cannot grow things without CO2,” he said. “CO2 is a fertilizer. It is something you cannot do without. No one ever talks about the benefits that people are inducing that as a fertilizer on a daily basis.”

Video at the link.

The Killing of Osama bin Laden

The London Review of Books, By Seymour M. Hersh, May 21

It’s been four years since a group of US Navy Seals assassinated Osama bin Laden in a night raid on a high-walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The killing was the high point of Obama’s first term, and a major factor in his re-election. The White House still maintains that the mission was an all-American affair, and that the senior generals of Pakistan’s army and Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) were not told of the raid in advance. This is false, as are many other elements of the Obama administration’s account. The White House’s story might have been written by Lewis Carroll: would bin Laden, target of a massive international manhunt, really decide that a resort town forty miles from Islamabad would be the safest place to live and command al-Qaida’s operations? He was hiding in the open. So America said.

The most blatant lie was that Pakistan’s two most senior military leaders – General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, chief of the army staff, and General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, director general of the ISI – were never informed of the US mission. This remains the White House position despite an array of reports that have raised questions, including one by Carlotta Gall in the New York Times Magazine of 19 March 2014. Gall, who spent 12 years as the Times correspondent in Afghanistan, wrote that she’d been told by a ‘Pakistani official’ that Pasha had known before the raid that bin Laden was in Abbottabad. The story was denied by US and Pakistani officials, and went no further. In his book Pakistan: Before and after Osama (2012), Imtiaz Gul, executive director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies, a think tank in Islamabad, wrote that he’d spoken to four undercover intelligence officers who – reflecting a widely held local view – asserted that the Pakistani military must have had knowledge of the operation. The issue was raised again in February, when a retired general, Asad Durrani, who was head of the ISI in the early 1990s, told an al-Jazeera interviewer that it was ‘quite possible’ that the senior officers of the ISI did not know where bin Laden had been hiding, ‘but it was more probable that they did [know]. And the idea was that, at the right time, his location would be revealed. And the right time would have been when you can get the necessary quid pro quo – if you have someone like Osama bin Laden, you are not going to simply hand him over to the United States.’
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