Category Archives: History

Fear Itself

litany-of-fear-fixed
I really want to have something comforting to say about Elliot Rodger, about the world, and about people in general. Unfortunately, I’m going to stick with what’s real, as far as I can tell. Before you tell me what to go do with myself for writing such platitudes, I’ll remind you that we are talking about visceral human emotions that are beyond words, even for some of the best writers in the world. I don’t feel like I even live on the same planet as the people who could write about this terror, so I really don’t care how much you think I suck. What I’m hoping is that someone reads this and maybe decides to step back from whatever terror they’ve embraced.

First, the bad news (I’ll keep it short): if you think he was bad, there are far, far worse out there all over the world. Men have cornered the market on that kind of evil, but to be human and to want to control others (which is almost the same thing) is to harm others. Y’all can argue back and forth over who experiences the greater fear (based on whatever sorting category you want), and who experiences the greater pain, who lives with the greater risk, and I’m almost certain you’ll have a sorting criteria that backs your answer (if you don’t, I’m pretty sure you’ll either change your answer, your sorting criteria, or just say “that’s what I believe.”).

Now the ugly (I’ll keep this shorter): most of this is because you can not experience anyone else’s fear as keenly as your own. You just can’t. You can empathize, and how much you try and take other people’s feelings into account is definitely to your credit (unless you start imagining you know what they feel, in which case you’re Scary and Bad, so go away). This means that in this world in which most people are unhappy (or worse) a large percentage of the time, you can’t even comprehend why, and when you’re given a reason, you can’t truly comprehend that either.

Now the good (a good person, that is): About a year after the 9/11 attacks, I met a New Yorker who worked two blocks from the Towers (and definitely knew fear that day). Her main regret, to her a tragedy that eclipsed the attacks themselves, was that we went into Afghanistan, rather than spending all that money and effort on rebuilding the towers, better and stronger than before, to show that we wouldn’t be changed by their image of us or their attack. I haven’t spoken with her since, but I imagine Iraq and the creeping paranoia we live under would make her even sadder. I don’t even know her name, but she’s one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met.

And lastly, a question (with some context): as far as I can tell, your life can best be described as what you build it around. Given that, I don’t care what your gender, race, age, or sexuality might be. I have one question for you: do you want to build a monument to the things that terrify you, and glorify them at the center of your existence, or do you want to build something in spite of them, knowing that you might fail? I’ll tell you what, you will get no lasting reward from anyone either way, and living in fear will not keep you safe. You’ll never get to compare notes with anyone else, and on most days, someone telling you how strong they think you are will probably just puzzle you (if it doesn’t, you’re high on your own self). You will, however, be working to shape yourself rather than willingly be shaped by that which you hate and fear.

tl;dr: the only thing you get to build is you. What will you be?

A Principled Left Should Tell You What To Go Do With Yourself.

Over at Common Dreams, there is a piece titled “Why a Principled Left Should Support the Benghazi Inquiry” by Ajamu Baraka.

And if you thought that didn’t bode well, here’s the subtitle:

The GOP want to destroy Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in one fell swoop, but there’s a deeper issue to investigate that deserves public scrutiny: How the US/Nato invasion of Libya unleashed widespread violence across North Africa and beyond.

So basically let me sum this up for you. You can’t understand Boko Haram without understanding how the operation against Qaddafi’s Libya and the weapons we provided the rebels energized all sorts of crazy radicals in Africa. Oh, but Boko Haram is older than that operation. Also, there are emails that may indicate the administration mislead the public, if by “mislead” you mean “pre-emptively PR spin to counter any possible assertion that the attack was a direct result of U.S. policies,” which I guess is true because nothing is completely a result of U.S. policies. Also, if by “the administration” you mean “one guy in the administration.” Oh, and if by “emails” you mean “an email.”

He also says that… oh fuck this, I’ll just quote him.

The response from the Democrats has been predictable. Democrats already lined-up behind a Clinton campaign understand that no matter what comes out this inquiry, Benghazi has the potential to become a permanent yoke that wears down the Clinton candidacy. But in another bizarre display of political and ideological subordination to the Democrat Party and its rightist elite, elements of the left have also expressed opposition to this inquiry.

One would think that those on the left would support this inquiry, as limited and partisan as it will be, on the democratic principle that the people have a right to know what occurred before, during and in the aftermath of the attack. But even more importantly, by demanding a more comprehensive examination of all the activity of the U.S. in Libya in the aftermath of the destruction of that state, including the mission of the CIA in Benghazi, the left can and should raise serious questions that expose the dangerous strategy of empowering anti-democratic, right-wing forces, from al Qaeda-connected jihadists in Syria to neo-fascists in Ukraine.

Holy fucking shit I can not believe a Lefty human being living in the U.S. over the age of 40 actually wrote that. Limited? Really? Like Ken Starr was limited to investigating Whitewater, then spent YEARS digging into every orifice the Clintons had in order to come up with SOMETHING they could use against him? Partisan? You’d better fucking believe it’s partisan. The only difference now is this has race mixed into it, something you’d think Mr. Baraka would understand, since he’s done a whole lot of work talking about racism in the U.S.. He honestly tries to convince us in this essay that he thinks this is aimed at Hillary Clinton, but not at Barack Obama. Then he flips it around again.

I welcome the hearings and could not care less about the implications for the candidacy of Hilary Clinton or the reputation of Barack Obama.

Neither do I.

I am more interested in curbing the right-ward militarist trajectory of U.S. policy.

You’re a little late for that, and if you think that trajectory is going to be changed by a Tea Party-driven investigation centered in the Republican Majority in the U.S. House, you’re out of your goddamn mind.

As an African American the plight of the more than 200 school girls captured by Boko Haram holds a special outrage for me. But I am also outraged by the murder of people defending their rights to self-determination at the hands of U.S.-supported thugs in Odessa Ukraine, outraged by the fact that people are daily terrorized by the constant buzz of U.S. drones that kill women and children in wedding parties and individuals who may “act” like they might be so-called terrorists, outraged that people can call themselves moral and even progressive and support the brutal Israeli occupation and de-humanization of Palestinians.

Yeah, you’re a goddamn clear-eyed humanitarian. Except for the continued inability of minorities in the U.S. to get the benefits they need, especially in states that (in a shocking coincidence) not only have shitty Medicaid benefits, they also refused the Medicaid expansion and are suppressing the shit out of minority voters! By the way: before someone accuses me of valuing the lives of people in the U.S. over people outside of it, read on, there’s a little lesson for you at the end here.

And I am outraged knowing that U.S. policy-makers don’t give a damn about the school girls in Nigeria because their real objective is to use the threat of Boko Haram in the Northern part of the country to justify the real goal of occupying the oil fields in the South and to block the Chinese in Nigeria.

You display a stunning ignorance as to why this is happening, even as you’re so outraged by it.

Exposing the whole sordid story of the destruction of Libya and the role of Al-Qaeda as the “boots on the ground” for U.S. geo-strategic objectives in North Africa and the Middle East represents the only strategy that an independent and principled left could pursue in wake of the fact that the hearings are going to occur. Anything other than that is capitulation, something that the left has routinely done over the last six years, and some of us still struggle against in the hope that one day the “responsible” left will eschew the privileges that stem from its objective collaboration with the interests and world-view of neo-liberal white power and re-ground itself in authentic radical principles and the world-wide struggle against Western domination.

Let me say this in the clearest, most concise manner possible.

ALL POLITICS IS LOCAL.

The Benghazi hearings are about electing Republicans and defeating Democrats. Period. The overthrow of Qaddafi was as much about local politics in the EU as anything else (a big part of it being an attempt to bail out BP because of their massive losses in the US after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which was destroying pension holdings in the UK). We pulled out of Viet Nam because a domestic political shift made it politically untenable to remain there. Same for Iraq. Same for Afghanistan. If you want to make a long-term change in the behavior of people towards something that’s far away from them, find the intersection between the effects that thing produces and how they live their lives and hammer on that. You do not do it – ever – by giving political cover to your enemies.

All that the Left would do by supporting the Benghazi investigations is help the GOP to continue bashing anyone to the left of Ted Cruz. Assisting the party that is actively encouraging the disenfranchisement of your base is not the way to win in politics unless you are attempting to start a revolution. If that’s what you’re trying to do, you’re a horrible human being because you’re (from a position of authority and privilege yourself) saying that you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, and by eggs you mean people who have virtually no power or voice in this world. Way to go!

Finally in the spirit of the title, I’d just like to say this:
bagofdicks

Meet the New Ken Starr

Brace Yourselves
<em>Updated below</em>

So the House Majority has decided it’s time to go for the throat, and that Benghazi is the issue that will be on point. The following from is a puff piece describing the Chairman of said committee:

For once, Rep. Trey Gowdy had no questions to ask. It was Sep. 19, 2013, well into a full day of House Oversight Committee hearings on the 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi. The morning had been spent on the facts gathered, then and later, by the State Department. After that the panel heard from the family members of victims—from people like Patricia Smith, whose 34-year old son Sean had been killed in the attack.

“When you were testifying, I couldn’t help but think about this dichotomy of death,” said Gowdy. “That sometimes, it walks slowly to the front of your life—it gives you time to get your affairs in order, you’ve had a good life, you have time to say goodbye to the people you love. It just walks slowly and knocks gently on the front door. And then sometimes it kick downs the door.”

Patricia Smith was transfixed. She had not come to Congress expecting to hear low country poetry about her son. But here it was, spooling out on C-Span, and here came more of it. “I can’t offer you closure,” said Gowdy. “What I hope we can offer you is the truth. Facts. Justice. And let you do with that what you need to do as you walk down that road called grief.” He insisted, “From church, to the grocery store, to Costco—frankly, to the golf course—I am asked about Benghazi.”

Smith finally interjected, forgetting to use her microphone: “Get answers, please!” Gowdy said that he would. It was the most compelling moment of a day that the White House was largely able to ignore. And it was resonant in a way that Chairman Darrell Issa’s post-game response—to tweet a photo of empty Democratic chairs in the room, as if the other party had taken a respite to spit on some graves—was not.

So what we have here is a man who is eminently conversant with wielding style in the courtroom. Substance, not so much.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) slammed House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for creating a select committee to investigate the deaths of four American officials in Benghazi. In an e-mail to supporters Friday, Warren called the committee “shameful” and “no-holds-barred political theater,” accusing the GOP of exploiting a tragedy for political gain. And for Warren, it’s a bit personal.

In the email, Warren notes that she is particularly concerned about Boehner’s selection of Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) to chair committee. She recalls testifying before Gowdy in 2011 when she was setting up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “I know a little bit about the way Trey Gowdy pursues oversight,” she writes. “I was on the other end of it when I was setting up the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and I was called to testify before the House.”

Warren says Gowdy lacked basic knowledge of the new agency and was a grand-stander, pushing empty political points rather than conducting a serious investigation. She goes out of her way to make Gowdy appear foolish, quoting a Huffington Post account of the hearing that describes Gowdy as mistakenly suggesting that Warren had written rules that were, in fact, direct quotes from a bill passed by Congress.

Despite claims that this will solely focus on Benghazi, I’m betting this is going to be the Whitewater/White House Travel Office/Vince Foster/Lewinski/Where’s Waldo investigation all over again, and the Beltway media is already salivating. I still have a copy of the Starr report somewhere (it is as salacious in its details as it can be), and the playbook that produced it was essentially one sentence: “keep pushing until you find any mistake, and then beat them to death with it.” We may find that not having any sex scandals to focus on may turn out to be Obama’s detriment. People can empathize with being horny, but most people’s eyes glaze over when confronted with the multi-layered process of producing government communications (let alone government policy).

God damn, but I feel for Senator/Secretary* Clinton. You should not have to face this kind of rabid crazy twice in one lifetime.

Update: Rep. Gowdy is even more of a jerk than I thought. Remember the GOP attacking the Park Service for closing the monuments? Yeah, that was him.

* Not sure what the protocol on former titles is, or which takes precedence

Economic Gravity

With all the talk of Piketty’s book and its implications for the future, I decided to dust off an analogy that’s helped me make sense of what happens with a society’s money. At a microeconomic scale, money whizzes around with some degree of stability (because human beings need food and shelter) and some degree of unpredictability (because sometimes human beings buy pet rocks). It’s very hard to tell precisely what people are going to do with their money, let alone whether or not that’s going to be a good or a bad thing for that person (or any other party) beyond a very short time horizon.

In a macroeconomic sense, money is a little easier to describe for me. I think of money as having a strange kind of mass or as being matter in an abstract sense; it stores and transfers energy (think of momentum and collisions as what happens when money is invested or used in a transaction), its energy state can change to mirror the amount of entropy in the system (the higher the velocity of money, the higher the “state”), and most importantly, gravity (the return on financial investment, where you use money to make money almost in the abstract via investment in securities), and it can be transformed into other types of matter (currency trading/bonds/stocks, with some loss of value in the form of exchange fees and market inefficiencies). Now it’s not a stable analogy. The two counter-examples that first come to mind are that money is very often created or destroyed, and that while you can convert matter into energy, you can not transform money directly into economic activity. The thing money collides with to transfer energy is also ill defined (another type of matter? I wasn’t interested in thinking it through that far). The problems with the analogy largely but not completely center around money being a set of symbols that human beings use to signal other human beings that certain activities will produce a desired result that usually involves a monetary transfer. The transfer of energy (economic activity) itself is not an inherent property of money in the way that the transfer of kinetic energy when a bat hits a baseball is a property of matter.

So if the analogy has so many holes in it, why do I find it so fascinating? Because of gravity. The metaphor built into the statement that money has gravity is incredibly powerful. While money can and often is used to generate more money through investment in capital markets, money in large amounts can draw even more money only interacting with other financial products: a money market (whether this money is made for the person it belongs to or their agent, such as a bank which uses it as reserves for making loans). See here for a description of the difference between the two. This means that in every period where the return on capital investment is less than the return on financial investment (or what you get as an almost freebie for being rich and not doing stupid things with your money), the divide between the haves and the have-nots will increase even more, and the wealthy stand a decent chance of missing out on most of the effects of the stagnation, since their constant income stream will be diminished (losses on investments in capital markets) but their bread-and-butter money market investments are more secure.

From the Economist blog post linked above (please keep in mind that this is not an approving description so some things (such as the difference between ideal rate of return and actual rate of return) are completely skipped:

From this history, Mr Piketty derives a grand theory of capital and inequality. As a general rule wealth grows faster than economic output, he explains, a concept he captures in the expression r > g (where r is the rate of return to wealth and g is the economic growth rate). Other things being equal, faster economic growth will diminish the importance of wealth in a society, whereas slower growth will increase it (and demographic change that slows global growth will make capital more dominant). But there are no natural forces pushing against the steady concentration of wealth. Only a burst of rapid growth (from technological progress or rising population) or government intervention can be counted on to keep economies from returning to the “patrimonial capitalism” that worried Karl Marx. Mr Piketty closes the book by recommending that governments step in now, by adopting a global tax on wealth, to prevent soaring inequality contributing to economic or political instability down the road.

So when you see the wealthy and their political agents directing what looks like (and really is) the destruction of our ability to make money by building things, doing things, and making sure people have reasonable living conditions, remember that this is because they are protecting their ability to make money with money, which is not only a more secure “investment” to them (to horribly abuse the word “investment”), it is also something that is much easier to pass on to their heirs. Of course, while this may be a perfectly reasonable economic decision on their part, it is a remarkably shitty way to treat the rest of us, and should attract the appropriate amount of outrage in response.

This Is Some Bullshit.

From Russia Today:

The federal agency for mass media control has started to test software to automatically monitor online media for the use of obscene language, both in articles and in user comments.

A spokesman for the Roskomnadzor agency, Vadim Ampelonskiy, told the mass circulation daily Izvestia that the system was expected to be launched before the end of the year. The cost of the project is estimated at 25 million rubles or about $694,000. Technicians are making lists of keywords for the searches as they manually monitor the Russian language sector of the internet.

The current version of the software only scans text, but in the future it will be also work with audio and video files, Ampelonskiy said.

The monitoring of the internet for obscene language has become necessary as in April 2013 President Vladimir Putin signed into force a federal law banning the use of obscene language in mass media under threat of fines up to 200,000 rubles ($5,500). Breaking the law will result in an official warning to the media outlet and two such warning within 12 months could mean the outlet’s government license is revoked.The law applies both to text prepared by editorial teams and to user comments if they are publicly accessible.

I’d love to be proven wrong (only because I like learning and becoming less incorrect), but by the time a society gets around to petty bullshit like this, free political speech is a distant memory (if it was ever present at all).