Monday, July 22, 2013

The Wreck

It's a good time to be in Umbria. It's festival season and people are visiting from all over the world, setting off a long cycle of dinner parties, concerts and varied food fests. We also have to prepare for our our village festa. I have lines to learn for the play in the piazza and an art show to organize. That's more than enough to fill my day, even without a paying job to make demands on my time, but somehow it's been hard to find enough time to get these things done. I just can't break away from my computer. Getting through my emails these days is like creeping along on a highway past a particularly gruesome series of car wrecks. You feel bad about gawking but you just can't bring yourself to turn away. Should you stop and help or would you only be getting in the way? Among the things that have grabbed our attention in just the past few days are the following:
  • Daily Kos reported that on July 12th as the Texas State Senate voted on an anti-choice measure, state troopers ordered all women seeking to attend the session to surrender their tampons and diabetic supplies. Guns were permitted inside as long as their owners held a concealed weapon permit.
  • The trial of self-appointed security man George Zimmerman, who fatally shot unarmed 17 year-old Trayvon Martin, ended with an acquittal on second degree murder and manslaughter charges.
  • CNN reported that in another case in Florida, a young black woman, Marissa Alexander, had fired a warning shot into the ceiling to discourage her husband from attacking her again (she'd already had a restraining order against him after prior assaults). She was denied the “Stand Your Ground” defense afforded Zimmerman and was convicted of aggravated assault, for which she is now serving a 20 year term in prison.
  • Also in Florida, a 51 year-old black man named Alan D. Hicks suffered a stroke while driving along a highway. His car came to rest against a guard rail and police arrived at the scene. When asked for his documents, he couldn't manage a reply but tried to point at the compartment where he had put his wallet. He was dragged out of the car, hand cuffed and deposited in a jail cell overnight lying face down in his own body fluids. He was taken to a hospital the next day, where he fell into a coma and died three months later.
  • The defense rested in the Bradley Manning trial, conducted in a partial news blackout due to the judge denying access to real reporters, as well as to the unwillingness of the main stream media to cover the story.
  • Edward Snowden remains in a transit lounge of the Moscow airport after being granted asylum by a number of countries, but not the means to get to them, since the US has threatened retribution on any country assisting the whistle-blower's movement.
  • The list of jailed and/or persecuted whistle-blowers grows. The ex-CIA agent John Kiriakou, now in prison, wrote an open letter to Edward Snowden advising him to never, never trust the FBI.
  • The official plane of the President of Bolivia was hijacked and illegally searched in Vienna after a coterie of European states, including France, Italy, Spain and Portugal were cowed into denying the plane entry into their airspace. This act of war (or piracy if you prefer) was initiated by President Obama.
  • Student loan interest rates in the US have been doubled from 3.4% to 6.8% as Congress failed to act to avoid the increase.
  • The Iowa Supreme Court upheld a ruling that a dentist acted legally in firing an assistant when he found her too attractive to resist and claimed she was a threat to his marriage.
  • The New York Times reported that the nation's Surveillance Court (FISA) has created a secret body of laws giving the National Security Agency (NSA) the power to amass vast collections of data on Americans.
  • Bloomberg News reports that all eleven members of the FISA Court have been appointed by one man, Chief Justice John Roberts, without a confirmation process conducted by Congress or any other body. All but one member are Republicans and they serve seven-year terms. From 2001 to 2012 the court approved 20,909 surveillance and property search warrants while rejecting ten.
  • Der Spiegel reported an interview with Edward Snowden, in which he claimed that despite protesting US espionage against their country, the German intelligence service works closely with the NSA. Indeed, the NSA has a special department, the Foreign Affairs Directorate, to coordinate spying activities with other nations, most notably Germany and the UK.
  • Salon reported that a 38 year-old optometrist, Sal Culosi, was killed by a SWAT team in a raid instigated by Detective David Baucum, who had talked Culosi into raising the stakes on friendly sports betting. When Baucum arranged a meeting at the victim's house to collect his winnings, he brought along the SWAT team.
  • It's come to light that back in 1998, another Virginia SWAT team had killed a security guard, Edward Reed at a private club being raided.
  • Dave Lindorff reported that according to a Houston FBI document, in October 2011 as Occupy Houston demonstrators took to the streets, the FBI had obtained knowledge of a plot to kill leaders of the movement (by sniper attack). None of the targets were warned. Nor was anyone named or charged in the plot.
  • 80% of processed foods sold in the US are banned in other nations, for using ingredients such as Olestra and brominated vegetable oil.
  • Director of National Intelligence James Clapper appeared to testify under oath before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on March 12th, 2013. When asked by Senator Ron Wyden “Does the DSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Director Clapper replied “No Sir”. Although we now know from documents released by Edward Snowden that this was an unambiguous lie, no perjury charges have been lodged against Clapper.
  • From William Boardman we hear that a working 18 year-old in Texas, who was a bit of a wise-ass, was jailed for making a tasteless joke on Facebook. Bail is set at $500,000 and he's been charged with making a “a terroristic threat” with a potential penalty of two to ten years in prison and/ a $10,000 fine.
  • Journalist Barrett Brown faces 105 years in prison for reporting on files hacked from private intelligence firms.
  • A 20-year-old female student at the University of Virginia was arrested in a near fatal mix-up with police. Alcoholic Beverage Control agents thought the sparkling water she was carrying out of a store was a six-pack of beer. One agent jumped on the hood of her car and another pulled a gun as she tried to flee in panic. She grazed two agents with her car, was charged with three felonies and jailed overnight. The charges were dropped the following day.
  • Former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling had his sentence reduced from twenty-four to fourteen years. His company went from No. 7 on the Fortune 500 to bankruptcy amidst waves of fraud.
  • According to Bloomberg News, the big banks are being subsidized by the federal government to the tune of $83 billion per year by way of the lower interest rates that they pay due to their “too big to fail” status. The food stamp program, which feeds tens of millions of hungry Americans, receives $76 billion.
  • Abusive offshore tax havens cost the US Government more than $150 billion every year, i.e. more than ten times what Obama's proposed cuts to Social Security, via the chained CPI, would save the Treasury.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency is to allow consumption of toxic fracking wastewater by wildlife and foodstock. The proposed permits ignore the EPA's own rules requiring the listing of the types of wastes to be treated or dumped.
  • Paul Buchheit writes that while the US is near the top of the developed world in average wealth, median level adults get a lower percentage of their country's wealth than in any countries other than China and India.
  • The Treasury Secretary of the US is lobbying on behalf of the big banks to persuade European countries not to levy a financial speculation tax, despite overwhelming public support for such measures.
  • Private corporations in the security/intelligence/surveillance field make up a growing sub-sector of the Military Industrial Complex, and it's now a $56 billion a year industry. The leading contractors are all heavy contributors to politicians from Barack Obama to John McCain.
  • Corporate tax rates are now at a 60 year low. Corporate profits are now at a 60 year high.
  • More news keeps emerging of the the “leukemogenic” properties of the pesticides found in many of the foods that Monsanto, with the help of the Department of Agriculture and the State Department, is trying to force into the diets of people all around the world.
  • Wells Fargo got $8 billion in tax breaks although its subsidiary Wachavia admitted to laundering more than $378 billion for Mexican drug cartels. None of the bank's officers have been charged or prosecuted.
  • The exact proposed location of the KeystoneXL pipeline is not known to the State Department, where approval of the pipeline is currently under consideration.
  • The Supreme Court eviscerated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Several states, including Texas and Florida, immediately moved to restore voter suppression laws that had been considered unconstitutional prior to the decision.
  • The TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) is being secretly negotiated by the US and eleven other countries to give more money and power to corporations while threatening food and environmental safety regulations of the sovereign states.
  • The City of Detroit has filed for bankruptcy, in what is by far the largest US city bankruptcy is US history.
  • On July 18th, in the Bradley Manning trial, despite Manning's guilty plea to releasing classified information, Judge Denise Lind refused to drop the “Aiding the Enemy” charges against him.
  • At a meeting in Atlanta sponsored by Atlantik Brueche, a German association established to create stronger ties between Germany and the US, former President Jimmy Carter said that “America at the moment does not have a functioning democracy”. His remarks were not picked up in the American media but were reported by Der Spiegel.

I can recall radical regime changes in Cuba, Iran, Chile, Spain, Portugal, the Soviet Union, South Africa and more recently in Iraq, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. I've watched them all with curiosity but not very much involvement because they were not my countries and I had little contact with them. After abrupt government changes, with the notable exception of the Soviet Union, most countries kept their names, languages and their territory. Some of these coups, revolutions, wars and revolts have been bloody, others not so much, but although life goes on in the affected countries, the changes have been real and often dramatic. Now it's my country's turn. I have no idea how it will turn out, any more than I can know the future of Syria. I only know that the government of my country, like that of Syria, has lost all credibility, and appears to have been taken over by sociopaths, intent on its self-destruction. There is no longer an operational constitution; the three branches of government are all now in the hands of the multi-national corporations; the regime is the most heavily armed in history and it can track our every move and communication. The USA has become unrecognizable to anyone who has grown up there more than thirty years ago. We can expect to experience growing pressure for revolt as the country's spiral into Third World status accelerates, but the fantasies of gun enthusiasts, who worship the Second Amendment while having little regard for the other parts of the Constitution, will prove small consolation in dealing with the military might of the corporatist regime. The landmass isn't likely to change soon, except perhaps for the immersion of the southern half of Florida, but what will emerge in the post-Republic phase of the United States of America remains to be seen.

1 comment: said...

Hi Robert,
There was an interesting, though sac article in the NYT today. It really epitomises the downstream effects of such negativity.

Long way from Aqualoreto!