January 05, 2018

A Brief Chat

This will be an informal, chatty kind of post. I'm trying to spend a little more time out of my sick bed, where I've been for most of the past two weeks. Not a fun time. Various ailments, some are painful, some just debilitating and exhausting. Lots of sleeping, half-sleeping (don't particularly like that half-asleep dream state -- at the moment, I tend to have weird visions that are not notable for their soothing and calming qualities, they tend to be just, well, weird and sometimes upsetting).

Anyway. I was thinking about the developments this week with Trump, Bannon, etc., and all the talk of Trump's "idiocy," "ignorance," "stupidity," etc. Without getting into the details of this latest universe-altering story (until another new universe-altering story comes along next week), it occurs to me that my perspective on Trump may not be in accord with that of some of my readers. Of course, I begin from the indisputable premise that anyone who wants to be President is insane or too close to insane to countenance. I've discussed this issue here, and I will have more to say about it soon. For the moment, I merely emphasize that I don't mean this fancifully, and I don't express the point in these terms simply to be colorful. I mean it literally and clinically: anyone who wants this degree of power is extraordinarily dangerous, primarily because he/she is fundamentally disconnected from the realities of life, suffering and death on the ground.

As I said in that earlier post, anyone who wishes to wield the power of life and death over a single human being is a monster. What are we to say of the person who wishes to wield the power of life and death over millions of people -- and potentially (in the event of a nuclear war, even if restricted to the use of "tactical" nuclear weapons), the life and death of everyone on Earth? This is beyond monstrous, and "insane" is a perfectly valid term to capture the idea. Therefore, I consider both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to be insane or close to insane in this sense. I have the same view of everyone else who has been or wanted to be President, certainly since the end of World War II (and we must include Truman too, because of those incidents involving the atom bomb).

Of course Trump is awful. Anyone who would be President in contemporary America would be awful. And yes, many of his particular views and policy decisions are abhorrent. None of this is news or even worthy of particular note. Where would we be if Clinton were President? We'd have (probably) somewhat different specific views and policies that are abhorrent, and she'd also be generally awful. But also -- and this is not a minor point -- the U.S. might also be on the brink of war (or already at war in some form). Don't ever forget the brutal militancy that Clinton has revealed repeatedly in her public life. Given the enthusiasm with which Clinton and her surrogates have worked to spread and reinforce the anti-Russian sentiment which now engulfs us, it can be treated as a certainty that relations with Russia would be strained to the breaking point, at a minimum.

And what of Iran? and North Korea? And the Middle East generally? (Remember Libya, although Clinton would prefer you didn't.) Who knows what catastrophes Clinton would bring about. If for no other reason -- and frankly, I consider this one point more than sufficient reason in itself -- I'm glad that Trump is President, and not Clinton. I consider all the rest of it pretty much a wash. But on this one issue, Trump is preferable. I leave myself this out, however: given how unpredictable and inconsistent every political leader can be, Trump could certainly lead us into war, or try to, tomorrow. In that case, fuck 'em all. Actually, that's my view now, even though I give the edge to Trump in terms of personal preference on these provisional terms.

I continue to find it fascinating how hard many commentators work to demonstrate their loathing of Trump. It appears to be the case that admission to the "serious adults" table requires that one passionately declare that Trump is an absolute idiot of a kind the world has never before seen, that Trump is disgusting, that he's stupid beyond description, that he's a sickening specimen of a human being. But when we focus on what these same declarants are willing to support -- the bloody, murderous, vicious, duplicitous Hillary Clinton as the most obvious example -- we might begin to think that their real objection to Trump is more in the nature of an aesthetic objection. They object to Trump's style: he's crude, rude and bombastic in a way they find deeply objectionable.

I think in many cases the objection is even narrower than that: they don't like his manners. If we ask the old question about a politician running for office -- "Who'd you rather have a beer with?" -- but perhaps ask it in the form, "Who would you rather have dinner with?," I think the issue becomes clearer. They wouldn't want to have dinner with Trump -- he's crude, and rude, and he says outrageous things. But they'd love to have dinner with Clinton -- she's like us, she's so well-behaved and speaks in ways we find pleasing. In other words, Clinton lies more effectively. They don't care that Clinton lies. They only care that Clinton lies so expertly that they can convince themselves that her performance is genuine.

But, the Trump-bashers insist, we would never have something like this Bannon episode if Clinton were President! Exactly! Trump isn't dull! I give him points for that. Look, one of these monsters was going to be President. If you prefer the war-mongering, vicious, dull-as-dishwater Clinton, well, aren't you special. Me, I prefer the monster who at least doesn't bore me to death, while he endlessly lectures me in that hectoring tone so beloved by Hillary.

Well, that was a bit longer than I expected. I have lots more to say about all this; hopefully, I'll feel a bit better in the coming weeks, so I can get some of it onto the blog. To be continued...


Very sorry to mention this, but I really need a little help at the moment. Thanks to some very kind donors, I was able to pay the January rent. But having made that outlay, I'm basically broke again. And I have some bills due next week: the internet bill, an electricity bill (with an already extended due date), and a couple of others. Right now, I can't pay any of them. And I have no money for food.

Donations would be most gratefully received. And I'll be spending some time this weekend writing thank-you notes to those who have made donations recently. I haven't been able to do that before now, just too sick. So I'll get those notes out as quickly as I can.

Many thanks for your support!

December 20, 2017

Holidays, and the Bleak Mid-Winter

Only because of the help of wonderful donors, I finally managed to pay the December rent a couple of weeks ago. It was a few days late, and I only managed it by inches. But it was paid. In terms of finances, I've been surviving on fumes since then.

All that worsens my health woes. In the last two weeks and continuing now, I've been contending with a variety of physical ailments, some of which are enormously uncomfortable and occasionally quite painful. So I'm afraid my writing plans were once again derailed, for which my sincere and profuse apologies. At least half a dozen articles of varying length and complexity are partially completed. I can't focus sufficiently to get them into publishable form.

This morning, I also had to confront the fact that I have two bills to pay by the end of the week. Both are comparatively small; together, they total $90. I don't have it. And at the moment, it appears the food cupboard will be bare just in time for Christmas, with no means of replenishment currently available.

If you have a little excess holiday cheer that you would like to throw in this direction, it would be most gratefully and humbly received. If the ongoing tension over money were even partially and temporarily relieved, I think it possible that I might feel a small bit better, or at least not so utterly undone by stress. Many, many thanks for your kindness!

So as to avoid focusing solely on my personally bleak mid-winter in this post, here's a very beautiful version of the famous song performed by Chanticleer. Other essential holiday music must include this from Leontyne Price, and here's the entire Price-von Karajan Christmas album, which still ranks among the very best holiday albums from classical performers.

Although it has nothing to do with the holidays in particular, I need to point out that Claudio Abbado's magnificent reading of the Mahler Third Symphony is available on Youtube. The final movement (beginning at 1:12:30) is among the most breathtakingly glorious creations in any of the arts. You may need to listen to it several times to begin to appreciate it more fully, but you could spend your time in far worse ways. It is truly mind-expanding! Please give it a try if you're not familiar with it.

For the holidays, we can't forget the version of "A Christmas Carol" from 1951, with the staggeringly wonderful performance by Alastair Sim as Scrooge, also on Youtube. Some of the other versions of the classic story are very good, but none measures up to the totality of this version, now almost 70 years old. (I used to assume that everyone knew of this brilliant film, but I continue to find that some people aren't even aware of its existence.)

I'll try to complete a post or two before Christmas; if I'm unable to, I'll try again next week. Hopefully, my personal situation won't be quite so bleak then. Thank you again for your consideration.

December 04, 2017

Scrooge Is Knocking at the Door

Another new post is up, this one about sexual abuse and foreign policy. Oh, yes, they're related. And how.

Many, many thanks to the eight additional people who made donations after the most recent post about my woeful financial situation. Unfortunately, I remain about $500 away from what I need for rent and a few other bills that need to be paid this week (internet access among them). I would be terrifically grateful for any assistance you might be able to provide.

Thank you! And I'm writing again. Very happy about that. Let's try to keep it going!

Thank you thank you!!

The Sickeningly Narrow Focus of Our Outrage

One of the more striking aspects of the ongoing sexual harassment stories is the speed with which individuals are struck down. A new target is acquired and, within a matter of days, the target is eliminated, job and reputation utterly destroyed. I don't offer this observation as a criticism: thus far, the men dispatched in this manner appear to fully deserve their ignominious fates. Yet the warp speed at which these events unfold is breathtaking.

This past weekend, we were first offered this story:
The Metropolitan Opera announced Saturday night that it would open an investigation into its famed conductor, James Levine, based on a 2016 police report in which a man accused Mr. Levine of sexually abusing him three decades ago, beginning when the man was a teenager.

Met officials acknowledged they had been aware of the police report since last year, but said that Mr. Levine had denied the accusation and that they had heard nothing further from the police. They decided to begin an investigation after receiving media inquiries about Mr. Levine’s behavior.

The man’s accusation and the inquiry by the Met, one of the world’s most prestigious opera houses, showed that the national reckoning over claims of sexual misconduct had entered the world of classical music at its very highest echelons.
With regard to the highlighted paragraph, note what prompted the Met to action -- and what did not. The Met knew of the police report "since last year." Levine denied the accusation, and the Met did nothing. Then, "after receiving media inquiries about Mr. Levine's behavior," the Met "decided to begin an investigation."

A year or two ago, the matter might have ended there. The Met's investigation would probably have ended inconclusively, and life would have gone on as before. In the current climate, the fatal blow was delivered in less than 24 hours:
The Metropolitan Opera suspended James Levine, its revered conductor and former music director, on Sunday after three men came forward with accusations that Mr. Levine sexually abused them decades ago, when the men were teenagers.

Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Met, announced that the company was suspending its four-decade relationship with Mr. Levine, 74, and canceling his upcoming conducting engagements after learning from The New York Times on Sunday about the accounts of the three men, who described a series of similar sexual encounters beginning in the late 1960s. The Met has also asked an outside law firm to investigate Mr. Levine’s behavior.

“While we await the results of the investigation, based on these news reports the Met has made the decision to act now,” Mr. Gelb said in an interview, adding that the Met’s board supported his actions. “This is a tragedy for anyone whose life has been affected.”
Longtime readers here know that opera is one of the great passions of my life. I do not have close connections with anyone at the Met, but I am on an opera email list along with many people in the business, and I regularly visit sites devoted to opera. Some of those sites offer posts and comments from many people in the opera world and/or who are extremely knowledgeable about it. So I can confirm certain aspects of what many others are saying about these developments.

I myself heard rumors about Levine and his predilection for young boys (usually boys of color) as long ago as the 1980s. In the last day, some commenters have said that they often saw Levine in social settings (at parties and in restaurants, for example) accompanied by young boys. One of these commenters noted that it wasn't simply that Levine's behavior was an "open secret" (yet another "secret" that everyone knew, about which phenomenon more in another post, soon), but that he was so blatantly open about it -- and that he "got away with it" for so long.

The "worst kept secret in the business" isn't the only similarity the Levine case has to some others in recent weeks. Levine's days of glory at the Met were the 1980s and 1990s. He began having major health problems several years ago. As a result, he lost some high profile jobs (one was with the Boston Symphony Orchestra), and his importance at the Met had been steadily diminishing. He was on his way out.

That is: Levine was no longer protected by the immense power he had once wielded, and he was no longer a hugely valuable asset to the Met. From the Met's perspective, all the incentives were now on the side of dumping Levine, particularly in terms of general public relations concerns and with regard to fundraising, a vital issue for the Met and its future. Today, there are no downsides to the Met's cutting all ties to Levine; 20 years ago, the calculations would have been very different.

In this regard, Levine is much like Harvey Weinstein, another man who was on the downward slope of his career, with much of his previous power now dissipated. And in both cases, the sexual abuse and even criminal acts were known to many, many people. One of the questions I wonder about is what other "open secrets" have yet to be identified in the onslaught of coverage about Hollywood, the media, and other businesses. Claims that sexual abuse will no longer be tolerated by the culture at large would be far more convincing if the person accused of such abuse were in the position of a Levine or Weinstein at or near the height of their power -- if the person accused were, say, a Steven Spielberg. I hasten to add that I know nothing whatsoever to suggest that Spielberg has ever been guilty of odious behavior of this kind; I use him only as an example to make the point. It is one thing to take down a man whose career is winding down or almost over, however influential and powerful he might once have been. It is quite another to level accusations at a man who remains one of the most powerful people in his particular field. What are the stories, and who are the people, that we are not hearing about?

Sexual abuse, harassment and violence are deeply embedded in our institutions of power; indeed, they are deeply embedded in our culture. I refer you to an earlier essay of mine, "A Depraved, Violent and Indifferent Culture" for a fuller discussion of this subject. I greatly fear that the current obsession with sexual abuse will fade in the manner of all other "hot topics" which consume our attention for a comparatively very brief period, only to be discarded when another subject pushes it aside. (See my comments last week about how mass surveillance has all but vanished from our national "debate.") I will address these issues further in upcoming posts.

Tragically, and sickeningly, the claims that "we" are now alert to the significance of sexual abuse and will no longer tolerate it are also completely false. Change the identities of the victims and the context in which the abuse occurs, and make the perpetrator the U.S. government itself, and almost no one gives a damn. But the invaluable Jim Bovard thankfully does give a damn:
Americans are rightly outraged over revelations that Congress spent $17 million since 1997 to pay off and muzzle victims of congressional sexual misconduct and other abuses. But the U.S. government has spent vastly more effectively bankrolling far worse sexual atrocities in Afghanistan — in brazen violation of U.S. law.

Since 2002, the U.S. has spent more than $70 billion financing Afghan security forces, including the Afghan military and police. A law sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) prohibits the Pentagon from bankrolling any foreign military units if there is “credible information that the unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.”

The U.S. government has long known that U.S.-funded Afghan units routinely engage in "bacha bazi" — boy play. Afghan military commanders and police kidnap boys and use them as sex slaves. American troops have complained of seeing boys chained to beds and hearing their screams at night. ...

The Pentagon ignored the abuse until a 2015 New York Times expose of American soldiers who were punished for protesting atrocities against young boys. The Times reported that U.S. troops were confounded that “instead of weeding out pedophiles, the American military was arming them in some cases and placing them as the commanders of villages — and doing little when they began abusing children.” ...

After the Times’ report, 93 members of Congress requested that the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) investigate the problem. SIGAR finished and submitted its report early this year. In a brief section in its July 31 quarterly report, SIGAR noted, "Afghan officials remain complicit, especially in the sexual exploitation … of children by Afghan security forces." The Washington Post reported on November 26 that the Pentagon is blocking the release of the SIGAR report, instead releasing “its own report offering a far less authoritative review” of the abuses. ...

Americans would never tolerate federal funds paying for a notorious child rape regime in Cincinnati or Omaha. But your tax dollars are underwriting similar sordid abuses in Kandahar and Kabul. Doctors, teachers, and social workers can be jailed for failing to report child abuse here at home. But, six thousand miles away, U.S. troops risk their career for protesting pederasty.
Bovard has more, and I urge you to read it.

So, "we" will no longer tolerate sexual abuse? Please. The ongoing national paroxysm about sexual harassment and abuse is unjustifiably, illegitimately and sickeningly restricted in its scope. The patient -- our culture itself -- is dying of multiple stab wounds, and "we" have chosen to wipe its runny nose. I do not mean to minimize in any respect the seriousness of the crimes now finally receiving attention that is long overdue and fully merited. I mean the opposite: the problem is far worse, and far more complex, than most people are willing to countenance. And the horrors in Afghanistan -- horrors which only a few brave souls like Bovard will even discuss, and of which most people are not even aware -- are only one example of the panoply of horrors committed by our government, both abroad and at home.

If "we" keep this up, and "we" almost certainly will, this culture will finally be dead for good. And not a moment too soon.

December 02, 2017

"Eviction!" Scrooge Snarled

I just published a new post.

My deep thanks to the nine people who donated in response to my request of several days ago. I've collected a little less than $400.

This leaves me well short of what I need for rent, as well as for internet service and a couple of other bills that need to be paid during the coming week. If my rent isn't paid by Tuesday, it will officially be late. At that point, I will probably receive a three-day notice to pay rent or quit the premises. If I still can't pay the rent, we are then off to the eviction circus. Just in time for the holidays!

I'm getting my writing legs back. In addition to today's earlier post, I expect to publish one or two additional pieces over the weekend. And then I'll continue next week, unless I'm consumed with anxiety about the spectre of homelessness ...

This is grimly, horribly serious. I would be profoundly grateful for any assistance you may choose to provide.

Thank you.

The "Intelligence" Fraud (1)

In a post earlier this week, I remarked that I'm working on a new article about the monumental fraud represented by "intelligence," a fraud that includes "intelligence" itself -- that is, the supposedly vital need for "secret information" about everything under the sun, to hear the so-called "intelligence" experts tell this fable -- to every aspect of the State's insatiable appetite for "intelligence," including all the operations of the "intelligence community." I've decided to start a series of posts documenting the endless "intelligence" failures of the State. Stories about these failures appear with stunning regularity, even in our gutless, monochrome, propagandistic news media.

I included links to earlier essays that explore this issue in detail. The second half of this article offers a good summary of the argument I've developed over a number of years. Two other articles I mentioned were this one and this one. (There are many, many more posts about this issue in the archives.) I can state my theme very briefly. Insofar as "intelligence" is concerned, such "secret information" is almost always wrong; on the rare occasions when it is correct, it is likely to be disregarded, especially if it goes against a policy that has already been decided. "Intelligence" is most commonly used as propaganda, to justify policy decisions that have already been made to an alarmingly gullible public.

A year ago in The Nation, James Carden examined how the media drove "itself into a self-righteous frenzy over what it perceives to be President-elect Trump’s grave show of disrespect to the CIA." I noted the article at the time and jotted down some thoughts about it, because it was one of only a handful of pieces to approach the question sensibly, which included, not incidentally, looking at the CIA's actual record. Carden wrote:
A democracy, it is true, cannot function if its elections are the target of outside powers which seek to influence it. To see what a corrosive effect outside powers can have on democratic processes, one need look no further than the 1996 Russian presidential election, in which Americans like the regime-change theorist Michael McFaul (who was later to become US Ambassador to Russia from 2012–14) interfered in order to keep the widely unpopular Boris Yeltsin in power against the wishes of the Russian people.

For its part, the CIA has a long history of overthrowing sovereign governments the world over. According to the historian William Blum, the CIA has “(1) attempted to overthrow more than 50 governments, most of which were democratically-elected, (2) attempted to suppress a populist or nationalist movement in 20 countries, (3) grossly interfered in democratic elections in at least 30 countries, (4) dropped bombs on the people of more than 30 countries, (5) attempted to assassinate more than 50 foreign leaders."

Perhaps if it was doing the job of intelligence gathering rather than obsessively plotting regime change, the CIA would have amassed a record worthy of the establishment media’s incessant fawning.

But alas. Consulting the CIA’s historical record, one is confronted by a laundry list of failures, which includes missing both the break-up of the Soviet Union (during the 1980’s a CIA deputy director by the name of Bob Gates called the USSR “a despotism that works”) and the 9/11 attacks.

In the years following 9/11, the CIA has been caught flat-footed by, among other things, the lack of WMD in Iraq (2003); the Iraqi insurgency (2003); the Arab Spring (2010); the rise of ISIS (2013); and the Ukrainian civil war (2014).
An issue I will return to is whether the "failures" Carden lists are, in fact, failures. As but one example, "the lack of WMD in Iraq" was entirely clear to millions of people around the world before the invasion, including me and you (I hope). A great deal of evidence compels the conclusion that the Bush administration was also well aware of this fact. But the Bush administration was determined to have its war. It wanted a massive military presence in the Middle East for strategic reasons (including, but not limited to, access to natural resources), and nothing was going to stop it. This is a textbook example of the manner in which the "intelligence" does not matter. That is the central fact, which must never be forgotten:
You must never, ever argue in terms of "intelligence." That is playing the State's game, on the State's terms. Guess what: the State will win. You must always argue policy. That is all that matters. The Bush administration knew there were no WMD in Iraq. They didn't care. So much for the "vital need" for "secret information."

Here is Gabriel Kolko on this point:
The function of intelligence anywhere is far less to encourage rational behavior--although sometimes that occurs--than to justify a nation's illusions, and it is the false expectations that conventional wisdom encourages that make wars more likely, a pattern that has only increased since the early twentieth century. By and large, US, Soviet, and British strategic intelligence since 1945 has been inaccurate and often misleading, and although it accumulated pieces of information that were useful, the leaders of these nations failed to grasp the inherent dangers of their overall policies. When accurate, such intelligence has been ignored most of the time if there were overriding preconceptions or bureaucratic reasons for doing so.
Compared to these earlier "failures," today's example of the boondoggle that is "intelligence" seems almost minor. However, given the frenzied intensity with which the media has tried to convince us that hacking by "evildoers" will consume all the multiverses that exist, the advocates for massive "intelligence" gathering can hardly view it as minor themselves.

Consider this:
The FBI failed to notify scores of U.S. officials that Russian hackers were trying to break into their personal Gmail accounts despite having evidence for at least a year that the targets were in the Kremlin's crosshairs, The Associated Press has found.

Nearly 80 interviews with Americans targeted by Fancy Bear, a Russian government-aligned cyberespionage group, turned up only two cases in which the FBI had provided a heads-up. Even senior policymakers discovered they were targets only when the AP told them, a situation some described as bizarre and dispiriting.

"It's utterly confounding," said Philip Reiner, a former senior director at the National Security Council, who was notified by the AP that he was targeted in 2015. "You've got to tell your people. You've got to protect your people."

FBI policy calls for notifying victims, whether individuals or groups, to help thwart both ongoing and future hacking attempts. The policy, which was disclosed in a lawsuit filed earlier this year against the FBI by the nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center, says that notification should be considered "even when it may interfere with another investigation or (intelligence) operation."
The full story offers many details about this "failure" to notify, but these opening paragraphs summarize the problem.

Not so by the way: "FBI spending in constant 2016 dollars has more than tripled since 1990, from $2.7 billion to $9.1 billion."

So what is the FBI spending all that money on? The basic answer lies in recognizing that the FBI's operations, as well as those of the CIA, the NSA, and any other agency you care to name, are directed toward what the State is doing to you, not what it claims to be doing for you.

And this is just the beginning ...

November 29, 2017

Holiday Donation Drive!

Woohoo! Exciting stuff, right?! Yeah, okay, so it's more annoying and intrusive. Very annoying, I understand. But December 1 is two days away. Two days, yikes. I am close to broke. I have a little cash, which I'm saving for an emergency. The credit card I use for groceries and other necessities is maxed out. Nothing left there. So I have no funds for rent, internet service, and a few other bills that are due this week and next.

Any and all donations will be received with profound gratitude. I'd prefer to avoid a pre-"reform" Scrooge Christmas, and I'm not quite ready to die and decrease the "surplus population." Recently, my body seems to be disagreeing with that assessment; I've had a couple of bad scares in the last few weeks. But I'm still hanging in, and I'm very happy that the writing bug has returned. (I wasn't able to do what I had planned in November primarily because of my numerous physical infirmities. I was semi-comatose for most of the month.)

I posted a new piece yesterday. In passing, I mentioned the current "hot" topic, sexual harassment. As I've thought more about it over the last few weeks, I realize that I have quite a lot to say on that topic, and its two primary components: the very real, awful problem of sexual harassment (and, not infrequently, sexual assault), and the public performance aspect which consumes all media at the moment. I've come across very little commentary which analyzes these two aspects of the problem in a satisfactory manner.

So I think the next articles will deal with this subject. I've already begun the first of those pieces. And because it is part of that subject but doesn't comfortably fit in with the themes I'll be developing -- but is simply too delicious to ignore -- consider this:
Think ahead to the end of your life. And think about what you would like to be remembered for at the end of your life. It’s not honor. It’s not prestige. It is character. It is integrity. It is truth. It is doing the right thing. It’s hard to imagine or think about that when you’re 22. It’s easy when you’re 73.
That was Charlie Rose, speaking to the 2015 graduating class of Georgetown University.

I never could stand Rose. He's always been a pompous, smug, insufferably self-satisfied nincompoop. He never offered even a single, exceedingly small original thought. And he was more than a little creepy. To read those remarks from 2015 in light of recent events ... sometimes, life is better than fiction. Not often enough, but sometimes.

Much more to come about all that. In the meantime, donations will help keep Sasha and me going. Thank you thank you thank you!!! And I hesitate to mention it, lest I be accused of too obviously trying to tug at your hearts, but if I receive enough in donations, Sasha will be going to the vet. Something(s) is going on with her -- not what I was so concerned about some months ago and it doesn't appear to be unduly serious -- but something's not right. She ought to be checked out; if I had the funds, she'd already have been to the vet.

Many, many thanks for your consideration, as always. If all goes according to current plans, a new post will be up in two or three days.

November 28, 2017

"Earth-shattering!" Bah! Humbug!

Our national discourse is made up of a series of public charades designed to convince the huddled, powerless masses that crucially important issues are being debated, so as to determine the best way forward for our society. Meaningful debate followed by profound change! That's the ticket or, to be truthful and accurate (unwelcome and unpleasant, but neither I nor you crafted this system), that's the propaganda. In fact, the debate and change are almost entirely illusory. If there is any alteration in the general state of affairs, it will be to strengthen and enlarge still more the power and wealth enjoyed by the ruling class, and to make certain that those huddled masses are further beaten down and fragmented. In this way, the ruling class's grip on power is tightened, and the already powerless masses are made still weaker.

In recent years, one of the most offensive and destructive of these charades has been and continues to be the Snowden Follies, also known as The "Massive" Leak that Changed Nothing Except to Make a Terrible Situation Worse, Which People Would Understand if Only Our Public Debates Weren't So Goddamned Stupid. We can now incorporate into our joyful holiday celebrations the latest risible sketch in this fifth-rate vaudeville show. Among other offenses, this "new" routine is one that has been performed countless times in endless variations; any slight novelty or interest that the sketch might have offered in a bygone era was worn away at least a hundred years ago. Yet our rulers continue to offer us stale and inedible morsels as if they constituted a seven-course gourmet meal. And many of us eagerly savor and swallow the nauseating swill. A lifetime of propaganda and control will reliably erase the possibility of serious resistance.

Thus, The Hill tells us that time for this year's legislative agenda is rapidly running out. In addition to a possible tax "reform" bill and measures required for government funding, this issue needs to be addressed:
Another item on the agenda is the reauthorization of Title VII of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), including the controversial Section 702.

The current authorization for Section 702 expires on December 31, and it’s the first time Congress has faced this reauthorization since Edward Snowden’s earth-shattering disclosures about the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance apparatus. Committees in the Senate and House have competing proposals to reauthorize the program. But with the clock running out, Congress once again appears to be poised to jam through reauthorization.
The article helpfully explains that, even though "FISA allows federal intelligence agencies to collect the electronic communications of foreign persons to surveil for certain illicit activities, including terrorism," "90 percent of account holders whose communications were collected were not the intended targets." Many of those whose communications were collected in this manner are U.S. citizens or residents.

Although it is not the focus of this post, I urge you to keep in mind the 90% figure. That is a stunning error rate -- and an error rate is precisely what it is, at least if you believe the "intelligence" agencies are actually doing what they claim to be doing. 90% of collected communications are from people "who were not the intended targets." But that is only one example of "intelligence" agencies' incompetence, if it is indeed incompetence. I will soon be returning to this issue in a new post about the immense fraud that is "intelligence." I have examined this subject at length and in detail (see here, here and here, all of which have links to much more), but there are some additional observations to make. The 90% figure is also an apparently much-needed reminder that whenever the government speaks (at any level), it is almost certainly lying, either by omission or commission, or both.

With regard to FISA reauthorization, The Hill article goes on:
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has marked up the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act, S. 2010. The bill, sponsored by Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) is actually worse than existing law. It explicitly allows the attorney general to use information collected under Section 702 for domestic crimes that have nothing to do with national security and forbids judicial review of that decision.
So the "national security" requirement is eliminated -- along with judicial review, which is forbidden. Why, it's enough to warm the cockles of a bloody tyrant's heart. The House version isn't any better:
The House version of the USA Liberty Act, for instance, has a weak warrant requirement, which would allow the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to conduct backdoor searches of electronic communications collected by the NSA for domestic, non-terrorism investigations. Additionally, the proposed end of “about” collection, in which the government collects information that is neither to nor from a target, would sunset after six years.
The article mentions some better alternatives, one of which is the Ron Wyden-Rand Paul USA RIGHTS Act. The article describes that Act as "by far the strongest reform bill on the table." But the article also concludes that, "With no clear path to the floor for any of these bills, the chance that Section 702 reauthorization with no or minimal reforms is included in an omnibus has grown significantly."

Where is the vaunted "public debate" about any of this? Mass surveillance is so yesterday. It would appear that almost no one gives a damn about it any longer. We've had "public debates" about many "crucial" issues since the time of the Snowden "leak." Today, the burning issue is sexual harassment. Talk about public charades! But that's a subject for another day; I'll get to it soon. (Sexual harassment is a real and very terrible problem. The various melodramas currently being enacted for a voracious public -- sex sells like nothing else -- have precious little to do with the actual dimensions and contours of the problem, and nothing to do with a genuine solution.)

As for FISA, what has happened is precisely what I predicted four years ago:
Consider the enormous value of the hugely restricted publication of the Snowden documents to the various States involved. Rusbridger, Greenwald, et al. all trumpet the great triumph represented by the "debate" publication has engendered -- the clamor of public voices demands "reform," so committees will be formed, investigations will be undertaken, and when the dust has settled, life for the States involved will go on almost exactly as before (remember: if the NSA were disbanded today, identical surveillance would continue via other agencies and institutions of power) -- and the States will be able to claim that the public knows the "truth," and their activities now have the full blessing of informed public consent.
In connection with that parenthetical comment about the NSA, I refer you to "When the State Floods the Zone, Reform Is Dead." The beginning of that post describes the FBI's InfraGard program, which should legitimately terrify you. What's especially terrifying is that the government isn't at all secretive about InfraGard: it's enormously proud of the program and can't wait to tell you all about it. While preparing this, I checked on the InfraGard site. It's still there, right in the open. If you've forgotten about InfraGard, or are hearing about it for the first time, this is how InfraGard describes itself on the website's welcome page:
InfraGard is a partnership between the FBI and members of the private sector. The InfraGard program provides a vehicle for seamless public-private collaboration with government that expedites the timely exchange of information and promotes mutual learning opportunities relevant to the protection of Critical Infrastructure. With thousands of vetted members nationally, InfraGard's membership includes business executives, entrepreneurs, military and government officials, computer professionals, academia and state and local law enforcement; each dedicated to contributing industry specific insight and advancing national security.
See the earlier post for details on InfraGard's operations. After discussing InfraGard in that post from 2013, I wrote:
As a result of the recent NSA/surveillance stories, there is much debate about the NSA and its massive spying apparatus. But as the existence of InfraGard shows, the NSA is only the beginning of what should concern us. In fact, and it gives me no pleasure to say this, but it's better to face the truth as fully as we can, if the NSA ceased to exist today, it would not make any appreciable difference in the surveillance activities of the United States government. Given InfraGard's existence, which the State happily tells us about, if only we would pay attention, what other programs of this kind is the State engaged in, doubtless including many programs that the State is determined to keep secret? ...

[T]o focus on the NSA as if that agency is the only or even a major source of the problem is entirely wrong. The NSA is only one source of the rot that is spread across numerous agencies and programs, the rot that has infected our government at every level (federal, state, county, municipal, etc.) and in countless ways. But the unique and restricted focus on the NSA is also an enormous boon to the State; it is largely the result of our culture's idiotic and myopic focus on the "hot" story of the moment, devoid of history, of context, of everything that should inform our understanding of the issues involved. It creates and supports the view that, if only we "fix" the NSA, then a significant part of the problem will be solved. But that is flatly untrue.
Even if the Wyden-Paul USA RIGHTS Act were passed, and that would appear to be extraordinarily unlikely or impossible, it wouldn't make any difference. The State will continue to do exactly what it does now. If any change does occur, the State will engage in more extensive and intrusive surveillance. You can comfort yourself with the notion that the ruling class is dumb and incompetent -- and on numerous particular issues, that is certainly true -- but it is not dumb and incompetent with regard to power. The ruling class is very experienced and adept at acquiring and wielding power. And to the degree that our rulers are brainless boobs, such defects are more than compensated for by the massive power they have already accumulated. That's why they constitute the ruling class, and you don't.

But we will have had a lovely, enlightening debate about it. Doesn't that make you feel warm and tingly? Humbug. It's all humbug.

November 05, 2017

A Month of Horribles

October was a ghastly and horrible month for me. Start with three excruciating heat waves. Was it only three? At least three, but it felt like more. You may have heard about the last one -- when the first World Series game began in Los Angeles when the temperature was 103 degrees. This wasn't at noon or 2 PM, mind you: it was at 5 PM. 103 degrees. In my second-floor, non-airconditioned apartment, it was close to 103 degrees, maybe only 96 or 97.

For someone with serious heart disease, who always experiences some amount of difficulty breathing these days, heat like that is a calamity. I can essentially do nothing, not even move around my apartment, except for slow and careful movements a few times a day -- to feed Sasha, to eat a little myself (on the hottest days, I would often just eat a handful of crackers once or twice a day -- also not good for me, but I honestly couldn't prepare or eat anything more -- also my poverty in recent times has gotten me used to eating next to nothing, usually a couple of days a week now, out of necessity). It would take me about a week to recover after these heat waves; by "recover," I mean only to get back to the stage of still being able to do very little, but a little more than utterly nothing.

So the heat and the severely compounded health difficulties basically destroyed October for me. Hence, no writing, for which I offer sincere regrets. I now have the following hanging fire: 1) continuation of Ken Burns series (at least one, more likely two additional posts); 2) a discussion of the ways in which many/most "dissident" writers ultimately capitulate to the terms and arguments of the Establishment, and why; 3) a discussion of autism, including the reposting of a long-lost old article and some additional new observations; relatedly, 4) some thoughts about "science," or what passes for science nowadays, especially with regard to psychology and certain dangerous fictions that almost everyone accepts; 5) thoughts about Mr. Trump and where we are in the life of our glorious (also non-existent) "Republic."

I haven't mentioned items 3 and 4 previously, but those issues are of considerable importance to me. To these articles, I have to add one other: thoughts about the Harvey Weinstein business and related matters. I find most discussion of this subject remarkably unsatisfactory -- superficial, and lacking in genuine understanding of some of the dynamics in play. That's at least one post, but probably more.

So I'm anxious to get to all that, which I will start to do in a day or two, when I feel just a bit stronger. Some of my health problems now make it difficult to sleep sometimes, and that's been especially true the last few nights. I've only been able to get a few hours sleep, and then I have to nap several times during the day. My whole system has been wrecked and is only recovering a small bit in almost imperceptible degrees.

Meanwhile, I scrounged together every penny I could and managed to pay the November rent. I have nothing left. No thing, in terms of money. Can't pay the long postponed electric bill that must be paid by Wednesday ($94); can't pay the internet bill that must be paid by a week from today ($80); can't pay several other bills that are due in the next couple of weeks. And I have no money for food -- spent my last $25 for groceries on food for Sasha. I should try to eat something other than crackers, so it would be nice if I had a few dollars to buy something other than crackers.

As always, I would be profoundly grateful for any donations readers would care to make. I have no other source of income at all, so what I receive in donations here is it. Therefore: Thank you thank you thank you thank you. And thank you!

I'll be back later this week, if not with a longer, complicated essay, then with a couple of short posts on the order of "quick hits." I've been meaning to do that for years, so I think it's time to begin the practice before I'm totally incapacitated. I certainly don't plan to be totally incapacitated in the near future -- but then, people don't usually plan such things, do they? So I'd better get moving.

I offer a multitude of thanks, once more.