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The table is tilted, the game is rigged -- George Carlin
Asking "[w]ho really rules?" researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page argue that over the past few decades America's political system has slowly transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy, where wealthy elites wield most power.

Using data drawn from over 1,800 different policy initiatives from 1981 to 2002, the two conclude that rich, well-connected individuals on the political scene now steer the direction of the country, regardless of or even against the will of the majority of voters.

...As one illustration, Gilens and Page compare the political preferences of Americans at the 50th income percentile to preferences of Americans at the 90th percentile as well as major lobbying or business groups. They find that the government—whether Republican or Democratic—more often follows the preferences of the latter group rather than the first.

The researches note that this is not a new development caused by, say, recent Supreme Court decisions allowing more money in politics, such as Citizens United or this month's ruling on McCutcheon v. FEC. As the data stretching back to the 1980s suggests, this has been a long term trend, and is therefore harder for most people to perceive, let alone reverse.

So before you start arguing that President Obama/Elizabeth Warren/Spongebob Squarepants needs to go to the bully pulpit, beat Republicans to submission, and give voters a reason to hold their nose for him/her/it... keep in mind that Democrats already did that.  In Michigan. (h/t to WaltSorg).  But Democrats also won only to lose a number of other times:
Democrats won more votes than Republicans in:
2000 Presidential Election

2008 U.S. Senate Elections

Democrats won in a landslide. But they were held hostage by Republicans and the filibuster.  

In April 2009, Arlen Specter switched parties, providing a 59th vote.

July 8, 2009. Al Franken leaves 8 months of legal limbo to become seated as the 60th Democratic Caucus member. Republicans prevented progess for 8 months. This 60-seat supermajority was still a hostage to Joe Lieberman and ConservaDems.

August 25, 2009, only 6 weeks later, Ted Kennedy died.

 And we all know what happened after that.

2012 House of Representatives Elections, but Republicans still retained a robust majority.

So it's clear that the influence of corporate money and even our elections are not strictly true to the definition of democracy at this point, and even dubious to the ideals of representative government.  These are systemic failures of government that transcend Al Gore and his lawyers, President Obama's talking points or Harry Reid's policies.  Yes, the Democratic Party should advocate transparency, public financing, mail-in ballots for all, and other sensible election policies.  But citizens should also, independently, take greater responsibility for the machinery of democracy.  And citizens need to fix the system itself, instead of merely tinkering within.

In the United States there is no interest in the nation's real history. We are constantly reinventing our national past to fit the whims of the day.  I know this because one of the most important massacre sites of the last 150 years is about to be the new home of a horse slaughterhouse. Horses are deeply sacred to traditionalist American Indian peoples.

At the intersection of South Dakota racism, poverty, cultural loss, political pragmatism and racial-cultural hybridity is the story of Wounded Knee:

A proposal to built a horse slaughterhouse at Pine Ridge is one of many contentious issues that have emerged at the reservation over the last few months, a reservation that has received the closest media attention since 1973, when a confrontation between Native Americans and the FBI left three dead.

The most emotive of all the present issues is the proposed sale of land adjacent to the infamous site of 1890 Wounded Knee massacre, the last clash of the Indian wars in which the Seventh Cavalry slaughtered at least 150 men, women and children. Some estimates put the death toll at more than double that. The seller of the 40 acres, James Czywczynski, gave the Native Americans an ultimatum: come up with $3.9m, or I'll seek buyers elsewhere. The deadline is Wednesday

Let that price tag settle in for a moment if you didn't spit your drink out.  40 acres in South Dakota for $3,900,000. And it's not even arable land in South Dakota.  40 acres is nothing in the agricultural sphere.  

This is one of the poorest places in the Western Hemisphere outside of Haiti.
People are dying because there's an 80% unemployment rate.

Let me state that if you read more, you will know there's a debate within the tribe over what to do. I do not presume to interfere in a tribe's internal doings or to condemn any in the pragmatist wing who rightly point out that people need jobs, or the traditionalist camp who emphasize sacred obligations.  Because the agent who's at fault here is committing outrageous exploitation. He's a non-Indian who probably has little sympathy or kindness towards any Indian people. If you think that's presumptuous, try being a person of Indian descent in the West. This guys looks and walks like a the duck I'm talking about.

This is not a static place that was only significant once.  We do have people who were there for the reclaiming of Wounded Knee and fought the FBI for it: Carter Camp and Meteor Blades.


The always obnoxious John Bolton, now working in a plum job as a fellow at the American Interprise Institute, has polluted The Guardian with his imperialist braggadocio. I'm not going to bother refuting his article's 5 major lies, since that was already done 10 years ago by kos, Atrios, billmon, Meteor Blades, and everyone in the Berkeley phone book, except that he begins by implicitly stating how much better Iraq is now than under Saddam. Surprisingly, he offers no data to verify this assessment. Instead, he deflects to calling critics commusociafascists:

1. Iraq is worse off now than under Saddam. This charge could come only from people with a propensity to admire totalitarianism. Iraq has certainly gone through a hard decade, and its future is far from secure, but that uncertainty derives from long-standing historical tensions and animosities among its major confessional and ethnic groups which were suppressed under Saddam. One might as well pine for Stalin or Tito. Iraq's inherent defects as an artificial nation may yet bring it to grief, but not because of the US-led invasion. To the contrary, Iraqis now have a chance, denied them under Saddam, to forge a new society, as Germany and Japan did after World War II. But we didn't wage war after Pearl Harbor to do nation-building for our enemies. And, in any event, the issue was never about making life better for Iraqis, but about ensuring a safer world for America and its allies.
Bolton does not seem to be familiar with the word 'projection.' "I know we may be responsible for some atrocities, dontcha know, but you must be an admirer of Stalin to point it out!"

What Bolton does not address is that Iraq is at best a 'mixed' regime and for all intents and purposes an authoritarian state. Remember Nouri al-Maliki? What has he been up to lately?

Heba al-Shamary (name changed for security reasons) was released last week from an Iraqi prison where she spent the last four years.

"I was tortured and raped repeatedly by the Iraqi security forces," she told Al Jazeera. "I want to tell the world what I and other Iraqi women in prison have had to go through these last years. It has been a hell."

Heba was charged with terrorism, as so many Iraqis who are detained by the Iraqi security apparatus are charged.

"I now want to explain to people what is occurring in the prisons that [Prime Minister Nouri al-] Maliki and his gangs are running," Heba added. "I was raped over and over again, I was kicked and beaten and insulted and spit upon."

Heba's story, horrific as it is, unfortunately is but one example of what a recent report from Amnesty International refers to as "a grim cycle of human rights abuses" in Iraq today.

So in absence of Bolton's quantitative data we have to do a qualitative assessment. Iraq is in no way a state befitting eight-hundred billion U.S. dollars. It rounds up ethnic and political enemies and rapes, tortures and then executes them without any form of due process. Its political economy is more crooked than a scrub oak. The Jewish community in Iraq is extinct. One of the oldest Christian communities in the world has been slaughtered and dispossesed. At the National Museum of Iraq, countless artifacts now destroyed or stolen by looters will never yield to us information about the history from which Europe, Asia and Africa derive. Depleted uranium is stalking and killing civilians. LGBT are being kidnapped, tortured and burned to death.

Four thousand, seven hundred and seventy five American military men and women died.

The ten-year anniversary of the vernal human sacrifice is on the 20th. And Bolton is in a position to celebrate. For these events which flow from Bolton's crimes he should seek forgiveness. For the crimes he committed he should be writing for clemency from a cell.


Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 08:37 AM PST

He's Not Even Pretending Anymore

by Nulwee

A new documentary on Showtime is revealing Dick Cheney at his most unguarded. With time he no longer cares about hiding the truth.

He is going to die an old man in his bed. How many people won't because of his crimes?

Continue Reading

From the 1870s until the 1990s, 150,000 Indian children were compelled to attend Canadian 'residence schools.' New research uncovered 3,000 confirmed deaths with a proximate cause; that's a 2% (and probably higher) mortality rate. The deaths were mainly due to rampant disease caused by poor conditions:

"The schools were a particular breeding ground for [tuberculosis]. Dormitories were incubation wards" -- Alex Maass, researcher, the Missing Children Project.
In 1937, four boys between ages 8 and 9 fled their school and froze to death in slush ice on Fraser Lake, trying to make their way back to their families on Nautley Reserve. A contemporaneous investigation cautioned the school administration to limit "excessive corporal discipline."  Child physical abuse, child rape. Suicide. Malnourishment. It's all there:
The records reveal the number of deaths only fell off dramatically after the 1950s, although some fatalities occurred into the 1970s.

"The question I ask myself is: Would I send my child to a private school where there were even a couple of deaths the previous year without looking at it a little bit more closely?"

Architects set aside burial space in the construction of these schools.  

Deliberate concealment of deaths:

The annual death reports were consistently done until 1917, when they abruptly stopped.

"It was obviously a policy not to report them," Maass said.

The political geography may be different but Canada, like the U.S., has a shared history of Indian dispossession, mass captivity, torture, assimilation, environmental racism. Both countries share the Indian schools and the outcomes were much the same.  The successful merger of public education and Christian religious institutions--Episcopal/Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, Quaker, et al, in the bondage and torture of children.

In the 1990s, thousands of people who were wronged by this racist and barbaric system reached a critical mass in Canada, suing the national government. Not only did the victims achieve a $1.9 billion settlement in 2007, but Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was prompted to instigate a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. (Harper is no friend to First Nations peoples; see the Idle No More Movement for more.)

But you cannot erase history and money does not undo harm. The real history of this continent needs to be told. Children need to learn it. It needs to see the light of day at all levels of society. It lives because we who've lived it are still here. Our stories cannot be reduced to legends and ghost tales.


If by 'Valentine's Day smoochies' for FDIC, you mean this not innocuous question, raised at the Senate Banking Committee Hearing:

"When was the last time you took a Wall Street bank to trial?"
Over, and over again.

Tom Curry, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency:

"When did you last take... a Wall Street institution to trial?"
CURRY: ...We do not have to bring people to trial...

WARREN: I appreciate that you say you don't have to bring them to trial. My question is, when did you bring them to trial?

CURRY: We have not had to do it as a practical matter to achieve our supervisory goals.

WARREN: ...Ms. Walter?

"Can you identify when you last took the Wall Street Banks to trail?"
The Treasury, FDIC, SEC, and a laundry list of regulatory agencies were just used to mop to floor by Senator Warren.

She quite surprisingly points out that every day, US Attorneys are prosecuting ordinary citizens for relatively minor-impact crimes, and that there is a disparity between the justice system they experience and the one upon which Wall Street depends.

Yesterday, Warren was aggressive but not discourteous, mimetic in a senate all too often removed from the world we live in, yet not overly sententious in her role as a committee member. She demonstrated an example for Senate Democrats in the future, and why electing more and better Democrats still matters.

They certainly do not seem to have been fed upon lately to any marked extent, for we found them everywhere in abundance along the edge of the ice, and they appeared to be very fat and prosperous, and very much at home, as if the country had belonged to them always. They are the unrivaled master-existences of this ice-bound solitude, and Wrangell Land may well be called the Land of the White Bear -- John Muir, The Cruise of the Corwin. 1881.
                        Cubs retreating into the security and comfort of their den.
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Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 11:04 AM PST

Epic and Sweeping Ecocide

by Nulwee

It was 1826. British sailors of the third rate, 74-gun ship Wellington had docked in the Sandwich Islands, on the island of Maui.  Tasked with resupplying fresh water, a barrel was then rinsed out in a beautiful stream that flowed down from the mountains.

Reverend William Richards was shocked when, at the dawn of 1827, Hawaiians living near standing pools in Lahaina and the mountainside-ends of valleys reported a new fly 'singing in the ear' and causing itching.  His counterpart on O'ahu, Gerrit P. Judd, was a physician and missionary from upstate New York, stationed in Honolulu.   It wasn't long before Judd was dealing with the same complaints.

These remote islands had "heretofore" been free of even mosquitos! It's been argued that the introduction of the mosquito Culex quinquefasciatus and with it avian malaria was the single most destructive act in Hawai'i's ecocide. But there's some stiff competition for the title.

Islands Almost Unimaginable

The I'iwi leaving an 'O'hia (Metrosideros polymorpha) tree.

Continue Reading

Sat Sep 29, 2012 at 10:26 AM PDT

I Will Never Forget Omar Khadr

by Nulwee

I've known about Omar Khadr since he was a boy. He's 26, like me.  At age 15, U.S. military found Khadr face-down, unconscious, under a pile of rubble in Afghanistan. When Khadr regained consciousness a week later, he was at Bagram air force base, "one of the worst places on Earth":

Damien Corsetti, who was known as "Monster" at Bagram, based on a tattoo on his chest, and also as "The King of Torture," described himself as "a disabled veteran suffering post traumatic stress disorder as a result of his interrogation work in both Afghanistan and Iraq," and explained how, on seeing Khadr on July 29, 2002, just two days after his capture, he was struck by how he was an injured "child" detained in "one of the worst places on Earth." He added, "More than anything, he looked beat up. He was a 15 year-old kid with three holes in his body, a bunch of shrapnel in his face. That was what I remember. How horrible this 15 year-old child looked."
The well-circulated photo of Khadr at age 14, only a little younger than he was at his capture, still haunts me, not unlike the photo of the bombing victim Ali Ismael Abbas which I used to wave at Iraq Occupation protests.  It has been alleged that Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen, was a child soldier, used as a pawn first by terrorists and then punished by the U.S as if he were an adult with agency.

Khadr is being released to Canada after a decade long battle by civil rights groups.  He will serve out his sentence in Canadian prison, with eligibility for parole in 2013.

The U.S. defence department issued a statement Saturday referring to the five war crimes to which Khadr pleaded guilty before a military commission:

murder in violation of the law of war
attempted murder in violation of the law of war
providing material support for terrorism

There are too many ironies and outrages to catalogue in this diary entry.

Khadr was still injured when the torture began. The interrogators pried open his mind and used fear to transform him:

There is much more in the affidavit - casual cruelty, whereby guards made Khadr do hard manual labor when his wounds were not healed, and, significantly, threats "to have me raped, or sent to other countries like Egypt, Syria, Jordan or Israel to be raped." He also noted, "I would always hear people screaming, both day and night," and explained that other prisoners were scared of his interrogator. "Most people would not talk about what had been done to them," he declared. "This made me afraid."

Khadr also described what happened to him in Guantánamo, where, as I explained last week, he "arrived around the time that a regime of humiliation, isolation and abuse, including extreme temperature manipulation, forced nudity and sexual humiliation, had just been introduced, by reverse-engineering torture techniques, used in a military program designed to train US personnel to resist interrogation if captured, in an attempt to increase the meager flow of ‘actionable intelligence' from the prison."

At various points in 2003, while the use of these techniques was still widespread, Khadr stated that he was short-shackled in painful positions and left for up to ten hours in a freezing cold cell, threatened with rape and with being transferred to another country where he could be raped, and, on one particular occasion, when he had been left short-shackled in a painful position until he urinated on himself:

Military police poured pine oil on the floor and on me, and then, with me lying on my stomach and my hands and feet cuffed together behind me, the military police dragged me back and forth through the mixture of urine and pine oil on the floor. Later, I was put back in my cell, without being allowed a shower or a change of clothes. I was not given a change of clothes for two days. They did this to me again a few weeks later.

Khadr was subjected to a 'Palestinian hanging':
The first to reveal a glimpse of the regime at Bagram was, ironically, a medic called as a witness by the prosecution. "Mr. M," as he was identified, who testified by video link from Boston, countered Khadr's claims that, while he was at Bagram, "five people in civilian clothes would come and change my bandages," and that they "treated me very roughly and videotaped me while they did it," stating that he alone changed his bandages twice a day, and that no rough treatment was involved.

He did, however, note that, on one occasion, he found Khadr hooded and chained to a cage by his wrists with his arms "just above eye level," and that when he lifted the hood, Khadr was visibly upset. The medic added, as Carol Rosenberg described it in the Miami Herald, that "he didn't object to Khadr's treatment, because chaining was an approved form of punishment" at Bagram, "adding that he didn't know the reason for the punishment nor how long Khadr had been chained."

This rather nonchalant description of "chaining" may not have shocked the medic, especially as the chains were apparently "slack enough to allow Khadr's feet to touch the floor," but the only reason for this was because of the severity of his wounds, as Khadr explained in his affidavit, in which he also stated that he was chained up "several times." Otherwise, like numerous other prisoners, including Dilawar (the subject of "Taxi to the Dark Side") and Mullah Habibullah, the two prisoners who were killed at Bagram in December 2002, he would have been fully suspended by his wrists, in a torture technique more commonly known as the "strappado" technique or "Palestinian hanging."

Nevertheless, as Barry Coburn, Khadr's lead lawyer, explained, the medic's testimony provided "critically important validation" of statements in his client's affidavit, and another of his lawyers, Kobie Flowers, added, "Had this been an American soldier in North Korea, people would be outraged. Here we have a 15-year-old individual who was nearly killed with bullets in his back who was left up there to hang as punishment."

There's more in the long, sad, tale of Omar Khadr. But that gives you some idea.

This is a critical story and its embers have to remain hot.  These are the stakes. The U.S. can choose to forget that it captured and tortured a boy for years, physically and psychologically. That it tortured many people, some Middle Eastern, some Western. I guarantee you that the price of forgetting will revisit us in the future. Or we can remember the stain on our nation, like many other countries have to each day.


When Peter Cappelli published an industry-admonishing article vis-a-vis the 'skills gap' in the Wall Street Journal, it attracted a good bit of notice.  Steven Cherry at IEEE Spectrum recently interviewed Cappelli masterfully.  Cappelli demolishes the irrational beliefs, the vaulting greed, of the jobs-market gatekeepers.

Continue Reading

I was not born on a reservation. A majority of Americans of Indian descent don't live on reservations anymore.  I have been comparatively blessed (and only comparatively) in terms of career and financial opportunities compared to many American Indian people. There is great poverty, disease, and suffering among Indian peoples as a result of generations of genocide, from contact through the wars of the 19th century to the mid-20th century.  It tends to be more concentrated on reservations because of generations of malfeasance by government and private interests. And they almost never want any part in fixing their long-lasted harm to native peoples. Instead, the people are left in isolation to deal with everything on their own. Or, if there is a fix, it's by an unprepared and ill-educated outsider.

A recent New York Times article discusses the high crime rate on the Wind River Reservation. I am not an expert on life there.  But there are problems with the way the story was written.

The gist is a reservation of rampant crime, murder and mayhem, to the point of banality.  Mentions of drug-abuse and school dropouts are casual.  The article doesn't explain anything about why Indian students historically have problems with education--and educators are typically outsiders. Or that many tribes traditionally had low rates of of family violence. These products of history are not investigated.

Why would anyone want to stay there? is a natural wondering after reading the piece. It's unfortunate that this article is all that's offered to educate in its isolation. With little context. One tribal member named Larry McAdams pushes back against the conversation that the NYT article sparked:

Another point, and a major one, is that the Wind River Indian Reservation has, like many Western states and Wyoming itself, long distances between communities. Yes, there are vast distances to travel that have sage brush, hills—distances that seem “scrub” to an Eastern individual whose vistas comprise pavement, city blocks and communities melding into one another by comparison. Wyoming and the Reservation are blessed with the natural resources that are not always available in the environment from which the writer of the “Brutal Crimes Grip Wind River Indian Reservation” obviously comes. The Eastern Shoshone people were blessed with a prescient leader of the 1800’s, our Chief Washakie. He was a man of peace and vision, who wanted to retain this great and beautiful land nestled between snow packed mountain peaks, lush valleys abundant with game, and clear rivers and streams for the Shoshone People. The Shoshone Tribe was one of a very few Indian Tribes that was allowed to settle on their own land, and we are a PROUD people.

I am very perplexed by the article and comments. I have lived most of my life on this wonderful and beautiful Reservation and have never heard of “murderers’ row.” I am sure that individual people have their own names for local places, but that is downright misleading.

...Hard work, family support, and determination were the basis of my education. In growing up on the Reservation, I never found it gloomy nor was aware of horrendous murders.

During my early years, we didn’t have Meth, Cocaine and other drugs, not to mention prescription drug abuse. People cared for each other and were involved with each other. Indeed, times have changed. Today, as a result of the alcohol abuse that is rampant on this reservation and many other reservations, most major crimes are alcohol related. I do not see Tribal people, or any people on the Reservation for that matter, deliberately, with premeditation, planning these major violent crimes. People can safely visit this beautiful reservation, rich in natural resources and culture, without the fear of being a target of crime, to learn about a history rich in tradition and tribal lore.

Many if not most Indian people would surely prefer to be living in their tribal communities if they had the chance to find meaningful work and a livable wage. I'd go a step further: I would rather be an outsider, working on another nation's reservation, than I would be the marginal minority I always am within the context of the dominant national culture.  I will gladly stick by my belief that Indians are, as a whole, among the most considerate and generous people you can know.  

Reservations are still beautiful and worthwhile places to be. I would prefer to wake up to the snowy mountains outside my window. Native songbirds and deer on the prairie. To be near momentous, sacred places, rather than a sea of concrete and 'busy' people (code word for 'distracted').  There's places in our country still lacking in the worldly addiction and the mindlessness of much of American life now.  You don't tend to see a lot of shopping malls or endless suburbia on reservations.  There's still a strong sense of community and obligation to one another--pure social libertarianism is not compatible with any Indian culture with which I'm familiar.

One other statement I need to make after reading the comment section to the article is this: Comments advocating getting rid of the reservations and assimilating Native Americans into the majority society are so wrong. I read several that admonished Native Americans to “get over it”, and “that happened 150 years ago, ancient history.” We, as Indian people, have a connection to this land, whereas the white majority who immigrated to this country has no connection to the land that resembles what we have. We not only have a spiritual connection to our land but a history that is not “ancient history.” Many of us have grandparents who were born in the 1800’s and can relate to our ancestors not as “ancient history, get over it,” but with that direct connection. I can see why the non-Indian can make this kind of statement because of their disconnect to the land and local history.
Those feeling a lack of heritage and identity can easily tell Indian peoples to forget the past.  But how can a people forget the past when the government has disrupted them and attacked them, physically, legally or culturally, with every generation? The armchair commentators always reveal their ignorance and their complete disregard for the actual well-being of Indian peoples.  It's not about stopping crime, educating young people or creating prosperity and harmony. Instead, it's not having to feel guilty. And not having to be bothered with the doings of the dispossessed and oppressed over there.

Yes, there is horror and tragedy on reservations. More should be done about that. But there is also great beauty, in the deepest sense, in Indian communities. The relationships and incarnations of traditional culture have endured at great cost across time.

Read more:


Wed Feb 29, 2012 at 10:38 AM PST

Breaking: Davy Jones, 1945-2012

by Nulwee

NBC News:

Singer Davy Jones of The Monkees has died of a heart attack at 66, the medical examiner's office in Martin County, Fla. has confirmed to NBC News

...Jones was most famous for his role in the pop group The Monkees, which was put together in 1965 for the TV show of the same name. Their hits included "Daydream Believer," "Last Train to Clarksville," "I'm a Believer," and "Pleasant Valley Sunday." They also charted with the theme song from the show.

I really liked this alternative version of "Girl":

Many more videos embedded in kestrel9000's comment, below:

Via LaEscapee: Davy Jones Through the Years (10 photos).

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