Friday, December 19, 2014

Foreign Affairs: Movie Division

There is a lot of foreign news that, like the 1948 movie A Foreign Affair, is kinda funny.

The Sony Affair
Sony made this comedy about Seth Rogan trying to assassinate Kim Jong Un. It was one of several recent movies where North Korea is one of the few safe enemies left. For example, there was Die Another Day (2002), Red Dawn (2012), and Pyongyang, a Steve Carell drama that was killed due to the Sony affair.

Then Sony got successfully hacked by North Korea because movie industry cyber-security is notoriously lax. They had several movies pirated, but movies are being constantly pirated by Asian hackers. Most damaging was the release of embarrassingly catty emails Sony executives wrote about their actors.

Sony's reaction was swift. They and all Hollywood kowtowed.
Sony Exec.
Sony pulled the Rogan movie, losing the $40 million production costs plus over $20 million in marketing. New Regency cancelled the Carell movie. Paramount refused to allow theaters to replace the Rogan film with Team America: World Police (2004) because of its Korean storyline. Meanwhile, Hollywood plutocrats are suggesting that hacking Sony was an act of war deserving a military response.

A better response would be for Sony to invest a little money in securing their valuable property and teaching their executives this simple rule:
Never put in an email anything you wouldn't want to see on the lunch room bulletin board.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The United States Plutocracy - A History

This is not the first time that the United States has descended into plutocracy - government of the wealthy, by the wealthy, and for the wealthy.

18th Century - Rise of Aristocracy
At its founding the United States was a democratic aristocracy, voting rights were restricted to property owners but within that elite class the greater good of the nation at large predominated.  The election of Andrew Jackson marked the growth of people power where aristocratic standing no longer guaranteed political power and rugged Americanism was more valued than genteel breeding.

19th Century - First Plutocracy
It was in the decades after the Civil War that things shifted again, this time to a pure Plutocracy. The rise of robber barons like Jay Gould, John Rockefeller, and J. P. Morgan saw a breed of Americans who didn't give a shit about the welfare of the nation and sought only personal wealth.

They manipulated markets, bribed politicians, and developed monopolies that allowed them to exploit workers with starvation wages and bleed small businesses by fixing prices. They owned the media and so could censor most of their corrupt practices. They considered legislatures, judges, and even presidents as investment property to be used to expand their wealth.

The years between 1870 and 1900 was known both as the Gilded Age, for the gaudy wealth of this handful of highly successful thieves, and the Long Depression because the rest of the nation suffered 23 years of deprivation unmatched until the 1930's.

Trust Buster Teddy Roosevelt dealt a severe blow to the plutocrats during his presidency although subsequent presidents Woodrow Wilson and Calvin Coolidge tried to restore the plutocrats to their former power. What finally crushed the American Plutocracy was the Great Depression.
The business of America is business. ~ Calvin Coolidge, 1925

20th Century - Democracy's Golden Age
The Great Depression saw banks go bust, losing depositors money in the process, business shut their doors throwing millions out of work that had paid less than 25 cents an hour. The myth that American plutocrats kept the country strong was broken. What followed under Franklin Roosevelt were minimum wage laws, child labor laws, bank regulations, and Social Security. Each of these was fruitless opposed by the plutocrats.

By the 1950's the tax on plutocrats had reached 90% and the United States economy was prospering like it had never before. The Middle Class thrived and America became the envy of the world. While American prosperity waxed and waned throughout the rest of the century the seeds of its demise was the election of Ronald Reagan. The marginal tax rate had been cut to 70% in the 1960's and that had led to the recession of the 1970's. Reagan slashed taxes on plutocrats allowing for the growth of multibillionaires. This trend accelerated under the Bushes, Clinton, and Obama.

21st Century - Plutocracy Triumphant
Today, legislatures, judges, even presidents are wholly owned subsidiaries of American plutocrats. Plutocrats write legislation.  Plutocrats openly buy judges. Presidential candidates make pilgrimages to individual plutocrats like they were holy sites. Plutocrats don't give a shit about the country, they are only interested in what will give them more power and make them more money.

The next time someone tells you that the United States of America is a democracy, feel free to spit in their face. The American democratic experiment is dead, killed by the plutocrats who rule the rest of us as serfs.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

USA Torture, What's New

I already knew that the CIA, with the active knowledge and consent of President Bush and Vice-President Cheney, committed numerous acts of torture throughout the Bush presidency. What I didn't know...
  • When torture defender claimed that waterboarding isn't so bad they were telling the truth. The depth and depravity of CIA torture was so severe that repeatedly nearly drowning people was, by comparison, relatively gentle.
  • The CIA put a unqualified rookie in charge of the Afghan torture camp. In hindsight, that makes sense. If the program went south they didn't want any skilled agent to take the fall. They also probably picked him because he was a psychopath who would enjoy the assignment.
  • The CIA hired outside contractors with no experience in interrogations to design the program. They were quite incompetent but also really got off on developing new torture techniques. We American taxpayers made these junior grade Doctors Mengele into multimillionaires.
  • The claim that "enhanced interrogations" isn't torture wasn't just sophistry. It was an outright lie. The CIA in its internal memos described the program using the word "torture."
There are a few things I can deduce.
  • Abu Ghraib was probably an official approved program. The only apparent difference between the Afghan program and Abu Ghraib was that someone took pictures. The goals were similar. The techniques were similar. The use of untrained psychopaths was similar.
  • There is more, even worse, still secret. The effort by President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry to delay (quash) the Senate report and Attorney General Holder to stonewall it was revealing. Their reasons were ludicrous, like ISIS is going to be even more violent now than a month ago. They are afraid that the Senate report might trigger additional revaluations. Perhaps the drone killing program is as badly run as the torture program or perhaps something even worse. Whatever, it is a secret that President Obama is terrified might get out.
And one outstanding question. What did Hillery Clinton know and when did she know it? I don't care what her opinion on torture is now. I want to know what she knew while Secretary of State.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

On Racism and Police Violence

I have to believe there are good people in the police profession. I have to believe that the profession does not deliberately weed out good people who actually believe the job is to Protect and Serve. I have to believe this because the alternative is a terrifying police state.
One could successfully argue that a great majority of police officer are themselves good people. That said, the profession is attractive to psychopaths. You get to bully people, abuse them, even kill people, secure in the knowledge that district attorneys, juries, and your brother officers will defend you even if they secretly know you are a sick SOB who shouldn't be anywhere near a gun let alone a badge.

Most white Americans believe that young black men are animalistic thugs. You can easily find articles offering "scientific" proof of that belief (I refuse to link to them, look for yourself). This is an old belief deeply ingrained in white American culture.
This fear of black thuggery has spawned two centuries of abuse, suppression, and murder by white Americans. White police officers are a product of their culture. That is why when a Cleveland police officer pulled up to a black preteen sitting alone in a park the officer stepped out of his car imagining he was facing a gang of deadly thugs and fired his weapon at the first movement. Or, when another officer stopped a black man with a pill bottle the officer imagined he saw a gun.

The election of Barack Obama once seemed like the beginning of a new era in America's race culture. Sadly, it probably marked the high water mark of race relations. Conservatives across the country are seeking, and often succeeding, in turning back two generations of advances in racial equality. In many states poll taxes, in the form of Voter ID laws, have been enacted. These laws require proof of citizenship documents that can be expensive and difficult to acquire.
Voting line in a majority black Detroit location.
Another tactic in voting is restricting polling access in minority areas while there are a surfeit of voting opportunities in white suburban areas. You will never see lines like this in rich Bloomfield Hills, MI.

Conservatives have begun to long for a return to other elements of Jim Crow. Recently, a Florida Republican urged turning fire hoses on black demonstrators as did a CNN anchor.
This was a common tactic used by white police forces to breakup peaceful civil rights demonstrations in the 1960's. FOX News commentators have urged literacy tests to weed out undesirable voters. The 1965 Voting Rights Act specifically outlaws such tests but with the Supreme Court's gutting of that act in 2014 it is only a matter of time before some southern state reinstitutes such tests. School segregation is rapidly returning.

I'd like to believe there are good police officers. But as long as the good officers defend and protect the "bad apples" who do the majority of the harassing, bullying, and shooting of African Americans then the entire profession of American policing must be considered rotten to its core.

I'd like to believe that America is not a racist society. But I'd have to be blind, deaf, and stupid to believe that. I also believe that with Republicans in control of Congress things will get a lot worse in the next two years. And if Republicans gain the White House and a stranglehold on the judiciary in the future (more judges like Scalia and Alito) then America's future is bleak.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

How to Avoid Getting Shot By a Cop

Pasty white conservatives whose only experience with the police is leadfooting it down the highway are giving tons of advice to real Americans on how to not get shot. Their advice is seldom useful. If you don't want to become a victim (you will not become a statistic because the United States deliberately refuses to keep statistics on police shootings of civilians) here is a little real world advice.

Don't Be a Minority
Your odds of getting shot by a cop go up dramatically if you are Black, Hispanic, or Native American. In Oakland, for example, none of the 45 civilians shot by police between 2004 and 2008 were white. You may say you don't have a choice and that is certainly true, But as may conservative commentators have pointed out recently, when a minority is shot by a cop it's his own fault. Plastic surgery can help.

Don't Be Young
(see picture above)
Police are terrified of young people. If Tamir Rice had been 82 instead of 12 he'd be alive today. Cops think of it as preventive policing, getting them off the streets before they become threats.

Be a Woman
Virtually everybody shot by police are men. There are exceptions. Do not drive a car. Police can develop road rage against women drivers and take pot shots at them. Also, don't be a pretty woman. Cara Knott (above) made the mistake of driving while pretty. She was pulled over by CHP officer Craig Peyer, raped, and murdered. Then there are the cases when police shoot women thinking they are men. On second thought, you don't want to be a woman around cops either.

Don't Be Naked
Police seem to shoot naked men a lot. Police always claim they felt threatened by the naked men, although in this case the cop didn't even bother getting out of his car and just shot the naked man through his car window. I suspect the cops shoot because they are afraid of touching naked penis.

Be Rich
Cops don't shoot the wealthy. The exception is that cops will shoot rich, black dudes. Hell, if you're a millionaire you can literally get away with murder.

Don't Have a Weapon, Also Don't Not Have a Weapon
In that Oakland study mentioned above, 40% of the civilians shot by police were unarmed. It really doesn't make a difference to police whether or not someone has a gun, a toy gun, or is stark naked. Whether or not you get shot by a cop is more dependent on race than whether or not you are carrying a weapon.

Don't Drive a Car, or Walk, or Stay Home, or in Bed 
I've searched the internet for places where an innocent or unarmed person has not been shot by police. I can't find a safe place. Hell, police have accidentally shot and killed themselves on the gun range.

The best advice I can give you is to treat police officers the same way you would treat a rabid pit bull. Avoid them whenever possible. If you can't avoid them don't do anything to anger or frighten them. Remember they may have had a fight with their wives or a bad case of hemorrhoids and should not be allowed anywhere near a deadly weapon. Yet they do have weapons and a license to kill with near impunity.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Bleak House (of Representatives) Finally Sues the President

This scarecrow of a suit has, in course of time, become so complicated that no man alive knows what it means. The parties to it understand it least, but it has been observed that no two Chancery lawyers can talk about it for five minutes without coming to a total disagreement as to all the premises. ~ Charles Dickens, Bleak House
There are reasons for the legislature to sue the president rather than using its legislative powers, but they are entirely to provide perpetual employment to D.C. lawyers. This lawsuit will drone on in judicial purgatory and never decide anything. It will, however, consume entire forests to print the incomprehensible legal briefs.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

California Needs It's Slave Labor

At least that's what state lawyers are saying in federal court. My state, my liberal Democratic state, is telling the court that California cannot release non-violent offenders who should be eligible for early release because they are needed as cheap ($2 a day) firefighters.
The extension of 2-for-1 credits to all MSF inmates would likely make fire camp beds even more difficult to fill, as low-level, non-violent inmates would choose to participate in the MSF program rather than endure strenuous physical activities and risk injury in fire camps. ~ Nov. 17 court filing
Some definitions. MSF is "minimum support facility," they are work camps that have few guards and no walls or barbed wire. They are for prisoners who are no risk to the public. "2-for-1 credits" are a program to grants prisoners two days of time served for every actual day served. Usually these credits are only granted as payment to prison labor but the federal court wants all non-violent offenders to be eligible.

What the state is saying in the above quote is that it can't release non-violent offenders early because they need to keep them prisoners so they can work the fire lines.
the extension of enhanced credit-earning to these inmates would result in higher turnover and an even greater demand for minimum custody inmates. ~ ibid
Apparently there is a high demand for prisoner slave labor and early release threatens that supply of slaves.

Of course, the state could actually hire firefighters at a living wage and eschew using prison slaves as fodder for the flames but even in progressive California that is a step too close to democracy.

California currently holds 136,000 prisoners (equal to the population of Pasadena).