October 18, 2014 § Leave a comment
Dan Carlin, Cent Ugar and TYT
For several years I have enjoyed a series of podcasts from a web site entitled “Dan Carlin’s Hard Core History”. Before my legs developed neuropathy that made it impossible, I was a runner (when I was much younger), then a jogger (for years after that), then a walker (in my 70’s). To amuse myself during the hour or so while engaged in those exercises, I listened to podcasts. My favorites were Carlin’s and Ira Glass’s “This American Life”.
Recently I discovered that Dan Carlin has a new podcast series, “Common Sense”, a weekly commentary on various issues and occasional interviews. Carlin is not an ideologue but, because he bases his opinions on facts and research, he usually, but not always, arrives at liberal conclusions. His disdain for both Fox News and CNN is constant, not because of their political biases but because he finds them intellectually barren.
I mention Carlin because, on one of his “Common Sense” episodes, he interviewed Cenk Ugar, the head of an online group of news and entertainment channels called “TYT”, an abbreviation for The Young Turks. Here is a link to that episode: Common Sense
This is an hour-long show. It requires some patience. The first 8 or 9 minutes consist of Dan Carlin’s monologue about himself and his approach to his job. It was interesting to me because, as stated, I have respect for him and I enjoy his ideas. If you don’t want to bother with that, just move the cursor over to about 9 and you will hear a conversation between him and Cenk Ugar. For me, this conversation was a treat. Two intelligent guys talked about several issues that interest me and did so in an intelligent way.
In case you are too busy to invest an hour, please Google TYT Network and sample some of the episodes you find there. Ugar and two or three others discuss politics every week day on a TYT channel called “The Young Turks”. You can click on recent shows from a column along the right side of the screen.
BTW, the TYT network has almost twice as many daily average viewers as CNN and significantly more than Fox. Two billion people have signed up as “members”. You guys are probably already aware of it and are regarding as quaint the fact that I have just awakened to discover it. I hope that is true but, if it isn’t, you should try it. I have found it more interesting than either CNN or MSNBC.
One more thing – and this is important, so listen up – Ugar and his crew are trying to use Article 5 of the Constitution to force a state legislature-compelled convention to add an amendment to the Constitution that will prohibit corporations from making political contributions and declaring that corporations are not people and, hence do not have enforceable First Amendment rights. The state legislatures of Vermont and California have already joined this effort. Recent polling reflects that 80% of Americans are in favor of this idea and opposed to the present money domination of our political system. Both Democrats and Republicans agree on this issue.
The effort is called Wolf-Pak. Please Google it and sign up.
Gary Webb, The Contras and Cocaine
There is a new movie out, Kill the Messenger. It is about Gary Webb, an Oakland California newspaper reporter who, in 1996, wrote a three-part series of articles entitled “Dark Alliance”. He described an alliance between the CIA, the Contras and Central America drug smugglers to finance the ouster of Nicaragua’s government. The Reagan Administration was opposed to that government because its president was Daniel Ortega, the leader of the Sandinistas, was resisting the influence of the neo-colonial policies of conservative political faction backing the Contras. This cocaine connection was an added piece to the Iran-Contra scandal that exposed the lawlessness of Ronald Reagan and led to the imprisonment of Ollie North, one of the wack-a-doos commissioned by Reagan and his neo-cons to trash the “rule of law”, a idea much admired in public but ignored in private when it hampers the current goals of government leaders.
There are two long stories that describe this tawdry episode in our history. One is this recent article in The Nation. Another is a long account of how John Kerry, when he was a freshman Senator, risked his political career by sponsoring an investigation into the Contra-Cocine-CIA connection. This story appeared in Salon.
Waiting for Turkey and Sanity About a Travel Ban
Finally, I am still waiting for some media attention to a couple of facts that are still bothering me.
First, I don’t know why, despite all the pursed lips and head shaking about why Turkey is being so obdurate about doing something about the impending fall of Kobani to the forces of ISIL, no one ever mentions that maybe it might have something to do with the oil deal between Turkey and ISIL Yeah, yeah I know about the PIK issue and Turkey’s complaint about reluctance to join the opposition to Bashar al-Assad. But shouldn’t the oil deal at least be mentioned?
Second, when the GOP ignorami bray about travel bans from Ebola infected West African nations, why doesn’t someone ask them how it would work, given the fact that there are no direct commercial flights from any of those countries to the U.S.. Do they really want a travel ban from Belgium or the UK or other European nations from which travelers from West Africa change planes on their way to New York.
These are the matters that evoke conversations between me and a TV set for a few seconds until I realize I am talking to a machine. So, who’s the crazy one?
September 20, 2014 § Leave a comment
The Secret Quid
As I have noted in a recent post, Turkey has been unbecomingly shy about joining the effort to curb and eventually destroy the paramilitary forces calling themselves ISIS or the Caliphate State. When several Middle East nations issued a joint communique declaring their opposition to ISIS, Turkey refused to sign it, citing, as an excuse, their effort to rescue 49 of their citizens held hostage by ISIS .
Today’s papers report that the hostages were returned to Turkey. They were released from “. . .Raqqa, Syria, the de facto headquarters of the Islamic State militants . . .” according the NY Times report.
Turkish officials declared no ransom was paid. An unnamed “senior American official” said the U.S. had not been notified of the release of the Turkish hostages and had not been asked to assist in their rescue.
So, we know what the “quo” was. We know nothing about the “quid”. I may be proved wrong, but I have a guess: It had something to do with the future degree of seriousness with which Turkey cuts off ISIS’s funding resulting from the black marketing of oil stolen from Iraq and sold at bargain prices to people in Turkey.
Part of my suspicion is based on the near hysterical reaction of the Turkish government to last week’s NY Times story about this black market oil. The Times has a follow up story describing that reaction. I invite you to read the story but, to give you a taste of what I mean by “hysterical”, here is a short excerpt from the government press:
“On Friday, leading pro-government newspapers controlled by allies of the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, published front-page photographs of Ms. Yeginsu, [the Times reporter] who is Turkish, and suggested she was a traitor and a foreign agent.”
If and when we ever learn the truth, I suspect we will discover that, not only do Turkish consumers enjoy a windfall from cheap oil, but also a few well placed people, probably related in some way to the government, are profiting handsomely from the new oil business. I confess to having no facts on which to base this suspicion but I’m not bound by the ethics of journalism or the rules of evidence in a trial, so I can speculate.
The Oil Industry
Most of my above stated suspicion is based on my observation of the oil industry during my adult lifetime. I regard it as a unique example of capitalism’s worst offspring. It is an industry whose operation typically begins with deception and ends in corruption.
The deception occurs when the searchers for oil start buying access to the subsurface of land often owned by rural farmers or ranchers. Capitalism regards deception acceptable when, instead of outright lying, it is limited to using fully the asymmetry of information between the buyer and the seller. The concept is enshrined in the patois of the market as caveat emptor, “let the buyer beware”.
So, when a land agent hired by the oil company visits with a landowner, the agent’s employer has done state-of-the-art analysis to determine the likelihood of oil beneath the surface of te landowner’s farm or ranch. The company knows how important to its plans the acquisition of each specific tract is. It knows the probable future demand for oil and the likely effect on oil prices demand will produce.
Little or none of this information is available to the landowner. So, a bargain is struck by two parties, one of whom is blindfolded. His or her “bewareness” is useless but the slogan nevertheless applies to strip him or her of any remedy if the deal proves to be grossly unfair.
Then the corruption kicks in. Once the oil is discovered, it is raised to the surface, where, to be marketed, it must be transported to refineries or to distant markets through pipelines. Paths for these pipelines must cross long lanes of privately owned land. Here, the blindfold won’t work because even the most simple minded landowner will understand, if his land is athwart the most efficient path for a pipeline, he has some bargaining power.
This problem has been taken care of by the concept of eminent domain: The government requires that the pipeline be permitted to proceed. This is not an evil concept. It prevents one or more greedy landowners from sabotaging the availability of a necessary resource in our motorized culture, and greed is not limited to people in the oil business.
The problem with eminent domain is that adjusting the relative rights of pipeline operators and landowners can become legal contests between financial behemoths and struggling individuals lacking the wealth to finance extended litigation. This week’s Texas Observer describes how this process actually works. I acknowledge the process doesn’t always involve the kind of horror reported here, but the story illustrates the danger of legal weapons that can be used as a sword to overwhelm weak adversaries.
The real corruption occurs after the oil reaches the refinery or the market place. Like the drug business, the awl bidnes involves billions of dollars and the managers of those billions are often newly minted millionaires and billionaires. Noblesse oblige is not a concept with which they are familiar. They have not been acculturated by generations of wealthy living. They are driven by fear that unimaginable wealth rapidly acquired, can as rapidly be taken away. That fear, like most fear, makes them ruthless. They correctly identify democratically elected government as their most dangerous foe, because it is the only foe with enough resources to challenge them. So, with unerring logic, they focus their capacity for corruption on elective officials.
Whether it’s satchels of cash, jewelry and fleets of expensive automobiles for Middle Eastern sheiks or six-figure bribes disguised as “contributions” to domestic politicians, they use their wealth to twist tax laws, block enforcement of environmental protection, weaken bargaining rights of workers, goad foreign policy, including military policy, toward protection of their foreign oil interests, the world’s oil companies spread ugly capitalism everywhere they operate.
I suspect Turkish awl bidnes is afflicted by all these defects and, at this moment, that is protecting the interests of ISIS.
I can think of no remedy short of socializing the oil and gas industry for many of these problems. The likelihood of that approximates the chances of John McCain announcing, following an epiphany, he has decided to join the Peace Corps. Nevertheless I believe, because energy, especially the oil and gas industry, is vital to the viability of our nation, it should be owned and controlled by our government for the same reason our highway system is. But, as stated, pun intended, that is a pipe dream.
There are some things, however, that could be done and, if some voting patterns change, might have a chance. My thinking is shaped by over fifty years as a trial lawyer. The only institution I have encountered that has remained generally true to the concepts of justice is our legal system, especially our system of trial courts where decisions are made by juries.
The problem is, access to those courtrooms has become so expensive, they are not available in many situations where they are desperately needed. One is the system of eminent domain I wrote about earlier in this post. Land owners can challenge the right of eminent domain asserted by a utility like a pipeline but, the challenge requires the expense of a lawyer, often beyond the reach of the landowner.
This is the kind of obvious problem recognized when the National Labor Relations Board was established to insure the collective bargaining rights of workers. Rights under that Act are litigated by government lawyers. If that were not true, individual workers would be helpless when faced by U.S. Steel or Shell Oil or Boeing.
That same remedy should have been included when the Civil Rights Act was adopted. Because it wasn’t the enforcement of the Act was left to a small group of lawyers in the Department of Justice who take only what they regard as precedent-setting cases. Individual rights were left to “private attorney generals”, private lawyers who were expected to finance very expensive litigation in order to enforce the Act. My observation and occasional participation in this process convinced me it was not a good idea. Lawyers were often faced with what amounted to a conflict of interest. If they refused to settle a claim and chose to litigate it, their adversary was invariably more able than they were to finance years of hearings, trials and briefs. Some of the results, especially the class actions, benefited the plaintiffs’ lawyers at the expense of the plaintiffs. The statute should have established a government staff of lawyers trained and equipped at public expense to enforce that law.
I am not familiar with the new Consumer Protection Act but, if it does not make available a government lawyer to represent a consumer who is victimized by a violation of the Act, it will not be enforced as it should be.
The principle should be recognized and adopted as part of the accepted jurisprudence of America that when legal rights are created to correct an imbalance between powerful interests and individual citizens, the law should include the right to representation by a government lawyer to enforce the rights protected by the law.
I have no fear my remedy will undermine the health of the legal profession. We live in a litigious culture. There will always be plenty to keep private lawyers busy.
September 15, 2014 § 6 Comments
I just got around to reading yesterday’s New York Times. I just read two stories that made me angry.
One reports that, when Secretary of State Kerry asked Mr. Sameh Shoukry, the Prime Minister of the Military Government of Egypt, to join the effort to stop the growth and spread of ISIS, he responded, ‘Egypt believes it is very important for the world to continue their efforts strongly to fight this extremism.’ But Egyptian officials declined to specify what help they would provide in the campaign against ISIS, and Mr. Shoukry made it clear that he also had in mind fighting Islamist militants at home and in neighboring Libya.”
Translation: “Oh, you mean those crazy ISIS people? Oh no, we wouldn’t be interested in becoming involved in that problem. After all, they’re in Iraq and Syria, aren’t they? We’re too busy with our own issues to help you out over there. Good luck, though!”
The other story reveals how ISIS picks up over a million dollars a day by selling oil they steal from Syria and Iraq and selling it on the black market in Turkey. When President Obama asked Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to crack down on that illegal avenue of funding, a Turkey “senior official” described the talks as “sensitive”. The real response came a few days later. Here is how it went:
“Turkey declined to sign a communiqué on Thursday in Saudi Arabia that committed Persian Gulf states in the region to counter ISIS, even limited to the extent each nation considered ‘appropriate.‘ Turkish officials told their American counterparts that with 49 Turkish diplomats being held as hostages in Iraq, they could not risk taking a public stance against the terror group.”
Translation: “We are grateful you guys decided to send your pilots over here to stop ISIS. They’re real scary dudes. We hope not too many of your young people are shot down. It would be terrible if they are captured by ISIS. But we think we may be able to make deal to save our diplomats. And besides, our people really like the bargain prices for that black market oil. Good luck!”
Yesterday I posted my reaction to Obama’s pledge to stop ISIS. I think he allowed himself to be bullied into making an unwise promise and violated the Constitution. After further thought, and after these two stories confirm what I expected to be the reaction of the countries located in the Levant [see yesterday's post to find out what "Levant" means.], I have a sort of “Plan B” reaction.
If President Obama intended to declare war on ISIS, he, at least, should have negotiated with Middle Eastern countries who face more imminent threats from ISIS than we do, before announcing his decision. That would have given Secretary some leverage. By making the commitment first and recruiting allies second, he left his negotiator nothing with which to negotiate. Why should Turkey, Egypt, Syria or Saudi Arabia become involved in an expensive and dangerous conflict with ISIS when all they have to do is make encouraging but meaningless noises while American men, women and taxpayers do the all the fighting and bill paying?
Here is a link to the Egypt story: Egypt
Here is a link to the Turkey story: Turkey
To paraphrase President Obama, this was a dumb way to start a war.
September 6, 2014 § Leave a comment
I don’t have anything to add to this. I just watched Elizabeth Warren talking to Bill Moyers.
It is inspiring and her obvious authenticity and sincerity are so different from the usual talking points presentations of Washington politicians, carefully vetted and sanitized, that it broke through my political filters.
I hope you will watch the program and then look on the left side of the screen to find a list of other videos. Try the one labeled “Web Extra . . . .”
Here is the link: Elizabeth Warren
September 3, 2014 § 6 Comments
I have a proposal for consideration. I know that, at least for today, it has no chance of any consideration. It may be a permanent “non-starter”, the common euphemism for a fatuous fantasy. Still, because I have been thinking about it, I have decided to own it by posting it on the internet.
I propose that the United States Congress enact a law requiring every citizen of the United States, on the day he or she becomes eighteen years of age, be drafted into public service for a period of two years. No exemptions should be granted for physical impairment (unless the impairment is so severe that the person is unable to perform any useful work). No exemption should be granted to permit the person to attend an educational institution.
The draftee should be permitted to apply for available types of public service and the applications should be approved or denied by boards of citizens residing in the communities where the draftees live (similar to draft boards during WWII).
Those decisions should be based on a quota system established to insure that enough applicants are approved to perform all the tasks and goals set for public service during the period for which the draftee is being considered. One of the categories of public service should be military service. That category should be large enough to insure that the national security requirements of the nation are satisfied.
The non-military categories would consist of such tasks as public park construction and repair; public school construction and repair; teacher aide and student mentoring; expanding the availability of health care to under served communities with supervised health care trainees; and other public service jobs. The model would be the CCC program of the 1930’s.
One feature of this program should be the extension of the GI Bill to insure that each draftee is able to enroll in a college, university, technical school or apprentice program for a period of at least four years. It should provide for payment of tuition and a stipend sufficient to support the draftees who choose to take advantage of the education benefit.
The Draftees’ Reaction
I assume the young people would complain about this idea, but spending two years between high school and college, some job or career wouldn’t damage them as much as they might think. After all, we all live longer now, so they’d have had plenty of time to make mistakes after they reached twenty. Getting a late start wouldn’t be so bad.
When I was eighteen, I had the results of polio and didn’t qualify for the draft. But I would have been happy to join this kind of program. I probably would have married my sweetheart, just like I did. We would have found some way to work together and we would have been fine, probably better than the way it actually happened. Who knows? One thing sure. It wouldn’t have been the end of the world.
This would address five problems.
First, it would moderate the eagerness of our population to goad our government toward military solutions for world problems. If our military forces consisted of a general cross section of our population, mothers would not be so sanguine about going to war.
Second, it would transfer a sizable amount of money to American young people as well as furnishing them with employment alternatives to gang membership, drug culture and irresponsible idleness.
Third, it would enable generations of Americans to get college educations.
Fourth, the transfer of money the program would help to solve the inequality problem presented by Thomas Picketty.
Finally, it would encourage a sense of community and involvement in public service, a counter measure against the current and growing culture that foments division and suspicion, especially based on hatred of democratically elected government.
Well, if you’ve read this far, you’re probably shaking your head and have concluded that Bob has finally lost his last marble. I know this is a fairy tale today. I don’t like professional armies. I don’t like wealth inequality. I don’t like price tags on higher education that limit it to a dwindling elite class. I don’t like military cops and center city crime and a criminal justice system that jails generations of mostly black young men. I think this would address those issues.
What do you think?
September 1, 2014 § 2 Comments
The Dallas News has published a description of how Gregg Abbott used the authority of the Texas Attorney General’s office in 2010 to shut down a Harris County voter registration drive called “Houston Votes”. Here is a link to the story: Houston Votes .
I urge all to read it carefully.
The only honest and truthful statement made by any representative of the Attorney General’s office is this one, made in response to the story: ““In this investigation . . . evidence uncovered dictates direction,” Now I have omitted the phrase “. . .and all other investigations conducted by the office of the Attorney General . . .” because, while I have some suspicions about those other investigations, I don’t have any information about them.
So far as concerns the Houston Votes investigation, the facts uncovered by the Dallas News are: The accusation that apparently triggered it came from Catherine Engelbrecht, leader of the King Street Patriots, a right-wing outfit based in Harris County. Her public statements about the Houston Votes effort to enfranchise people in low income neighborhoods were laced with multiple easily identifiable lies. She quoted an inflammatory statement attributed to a Black Panther. The statement was made four years before the Houston Votes effort was launched. Then, she claimed that the building housing the Houston Votes project was associated with Black Panthers, a lie. The Houston Votes office was nine miles away from the Panther headquarters. There was no connection between the two .
The evidence acquired by Abbott’s investigation was submitted to the Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos, a Republican, who refused to file any criminal charges. A spokesman for the DA’s office explained that criminal charges were filed only if there was “probable cause to believe that a crime had been committed.”
So, as stated, I agree that the “evidence uncovered” dictated the “direction”. And the “direction” was, in fact, a gross assault on democracy’s most basic principle: That government should be based on the consent of the governed, expressed through their votes.
I urge you to read the Dallas News story carefully and reflect on the likely consequences of elevating this man Abbott to the governorship. How would you like to have a governor who slavishly responds to the reckless lies of Catherine Engelbrecht?
By the way, I have written about these King Street Patriots before. See “King Street Patriots”, a post in September 2010.