Friday, January 31, 2014

America’s persecuted billionaires

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “The rich are different from you and me.” Since I don’t know any one-percenters personally, I had to take his word for it, until now.

This past week billionaire Tom Perkins had a letter published in the Wall Street Journal crying into his Pernod-Ricard Perrier-Joet about attacks on the uber-wealthy by the unwashed masses.

“I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its ‘one percent,’ namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the ‘rich…’ This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendant ‘progressive’ radicalism unthinkable now?”

So according to Perkins, anyone who criticizes income inequality in America is a Nazi. Tell me, how out of touch with reality do you have to be to make a statement like this in public? It’s one thing to call your critics Nazis while eating caviar and gold-dusted truffles in the back seat of your Bentley, but in an international forum like the WSJ? And to add insult to injury, in an interview he casually lets us know he wears a watch that’s estimated to cost $300,000.

What moron would possibly sympathize with Perkins’ disgusting, unhinged characterization of his critics? Well, the WSJ would. Editors remarked that Perkins was on to something, and lambasted “liberals” and the press who regularly demonize the wealthy.

Oh, the times in which we live. A persecuted billionaire, whose hoards of cash are growing at a faster rate than anytime since that of the Robber Barons at the turn of the last century, wants the unemployed, the underpayed and those of us who scrape by paycheck to paycheck to feel sorry for him and stop calling him names. Sounds like a character from The Great Gatsby, although unfortunately, Tom Perkins represents the reality of America today.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Anti-pot propaganda at the Super Bowl

A silly and irrelevant anti-pot group calling itself Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) will be advertising at the Super Bowl with a message that claims pot makes people lazy and unmotivated and losers at life. “Marijuana kills your drive. Don’t lose the game of life,” it declares. The article from Huffington Post goes on to talk about how prevalent pot use is among professional athletes, and makes the point that it’s not the drug that destroys people’s lives but it’s the harsh legal penalties handed out to convicted non-violent users.

Someone might also want to remind the people behind SAM that a pot smoking, coke using young black man grew up to be President of the United States.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

State of the Union: Bush’s long shadow

State of the Union Address. Didn’t watch it. Obama is very good at speechifying, but has a very poor track record of actually delivering on his promises. Take just about any speech he made during the 2008 “Change” presidential election and you’ll find that he either a) abandoned the proposal/idea or b) did the exact opposite of what he said (transparency, anyone?).

Don’t hold your breath that anything substantive will be done about Obama’s new inequality kick. To actually make a difference, he would have to inconvenience the very people both parties count on for mega bucks, the one percenters. No one can afford to get on their blacklist.

The past six year’s of the Obama administration have been little better than an extension of the Bush presidency. I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that the next two will be much different.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Reefer Madness: DEA head Leonhart lies like its 1954

It’s a given that if you are appointed the head of a U.S. government agency, part of your job is dispensing propaganda, whether it’s the NSA or CIA or the Department of Energy. As the Grand Pooba of your tribe, you must continually make the argument that your group is absolutely necessary (meaning the current level of funding is absolutely necessary) to keep the country from going to hell in a hand basket. However, there’s one agency where self-justification has been taken to deep-space extremes, and that’s the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Apparently, the criteria for becoming the head of the DEA has been a pathological hatred of illegal chemical substances that may somehow, some way enter the blood systems of innocent Americans. “Pathological” meaning that you will not allow any scientific research, data, opinion, logic or common sense weaken your fanatical opposition to illegal drugs. Current DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart has proven to be an exemplary DEA leader based on the above criteria. Recently, she was highly critical of President Obama for saying that marijuana was no more harmful than alcohol (which is only partially true. Marijuana is less harmful to a user’s body than alcohol and tobacco and is not physically addictive). Asked by a congressman whether marijuana was as bad as heroin or crack, she refused to answer the question. She’s also very opposed to using hemp in products, even though industrial hemp contains virtually no THC.

Apparently, Leonhart believes it is okay to lie in service to her country (and to keep her job). Yes, other agency heads lie, but Leonhart goes beyond mere self-serving deception and takes lying to another level, with the goal being to perpetuate ignorance among the American people. It’s like insisting we should continue the Cold War after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The research and facts about marijuana are out there for anyone to see, yet Leonhart still wants to pretend it’s 1954 instead of 2014.

Leonhart also made the comment that Obama’s remarks on marijuana were disrespectful to those agents who had died fighting in the war on drugs. As I recall, no one asked the American people if they wanted to start a war on drugs. Nixon kicked off the whole thing and it’s been passed on to following administrations that have been too fearful of the political damage shutting it down would cause. The war on drugs has always been a political war measuring a candidates “tough-on-crime” level and was never seriously considered as winnable.

Obama smoked pot and snorted cocaine as a young man and went on to become president of the United States. Thankfully, more and more people are seeing through the reefer madness propaganda still perpetuated by Leonhart and a shrinking minority of deluded political pundits. I’m actually surprised and grateful I’m seeing this happen in my lifetime.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Trust Issues - A Short Story

A police siren screaming from the highway gradually pulled him up from the darkness. As he drifted to the surface, his phone rang and he quickly achieved basic, yet foggy, consciousness. The large, lumpy mass that was Wayne Manning shifted under the bedspread and a pale arm emerged. He knocked over an empty beer can searching the top of the bedside table for his phone. “Yeah?” he asked, rubbing his swollen eyes with the back of a tattooed hand. It was 1:32 a.m.
            “Is this Fall City Towing?” asked a hesitant woman’s voice.
            “Yeah. It is. You need a tow?”
            “I do. Can you come out tonight?”
            “Yes, Ma’am. Were a 24-hour service.”
           “That’s awesome. My car’s stuck in the mud and I—“
            “Sure. Give me your address and I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”
            Pulling on yesterday’s oily clothes, Wayne stumbled around the bedroom as rain pelted the trailer’s thin metal roof. It had been pouring steadily for two days and he was getting more and more calls from motorists losing the traction battle to mud-covered roads and driveways. The trailer reeked of pot smoke and dishes left too long in the sink, but owning one of only two tow truck businesses in the Fall City, Washington area meant being available at all hours and sleeping and smoking in between gigs. He was still high and pissed at having to go out in a downpour, but he couldn’t afford not to. As he passed by the photo of his three children mugging like monkeys on top of the dresser, he shook his head. He loved them but they were draining him dry. He slid a joint down his shirt pocket, picked up his coat from another pile of clothes and grabbed his truck keys.
            Windshield wipers slapped at the deluge with little effect. The call came from a rural area northeast of Fall City just up in the Cascades foothills off of 356th Drive. He’d scored some peyote buttons a few years ago from someone up in those hills. Woke up a day later shirtless in a porta potty. A white mist hung in the clammy night air just above the ground and he strained to find the Blakely mailbox through the gloomy torrent. Soon he turned right onto a snake back drive leading to a non-descript ranch bookmarked by sagging outbuildings. It was clear this wasn’t a working farm. The target vehicle was clearly the Chevy Tahoe buried up to its axles in brown muck. As he pulled into position, a woman came trotting from the house pulling a thin jacket around her for warmth. She was petite and pretty with dark brown hair jumbled up on the top of her head. He stepped out of the cab to greet her.
            “Evening. This the car?”
            “Really? What do you think?” she snapped, holding a hand across her brow to keep the rain out of her eyes. “Sorry. Just a little pissed about all of this. Janice. I need it pulled up onto the gravel road.”
            “Wayne. No problem. It’ll just take a minute. You should wait in the house.”
            “Okay,” she replied, although her tone and body language expressed uncertainty. “I’ll be right inside when you’re done.”
            “Sure. Is it unlocked?”
            It took less than five minutes for Wayne to pull the SUV up on solid ground. He glanced toward the house as he unhitched the vehicle and could see Janice standing at the kitchen window watching his progress. She met him at the front door and ushered him in. He was a thick, broad man with a dense brown beard and his appearance alone could be intimidating to some, but he didn’t get any of those vibes from Janice.
            “Here,” she said, ushering him into the kitchen and then a chair at the table. “Sorry I barked at you. Can I get you anything? Coffee? A beer?”
            “Thank you, but I should be getting back. More than a few people around here in your same predicament.”
            “Right. Sure. So how much?”
            “Normally, it would be $90, but it wasn’t anything so let’s say $75. I can take a credit card if you want.”
            “Okay. Yeah. No. I’ll pay in cash, but I left my purse out in the car. Can you just wait here for a minute?”
            “Sure. Not a problem.”
            Janice pulled on her coat again and walked out the front door. Glancing around, Wayne’s attention was drawn to a counter to his left, where a purse was laying on it as plain as day. Before this contradictory data could be processed, a dripping Janice came back through the front door and made her way to the kitchen. She held out a soggy $100 bill. “Thanks so much for your help. The rest is a tip.”
            Wayne shrugged and stood up. “That’s very generous. Thank you.” She smiled the way a hostess smiles waiting for the last party guest to leave. Wayne walked to the door and stopped at the threshold. “Thanks again.”
           “Okay. Good night.”
           As he sloshed back to the truck, he was focused on the woman’s Tahoe. She’d lied about her purse, and when she came back from the car, she had a $100 bill. He pulled his tired, wet body up into the truck cab and sat holding the wheel, staring into the rain. “She has money in her car,” he whispered to himself. “Maybe serious money.”
            The rain continued its incessant drum roll on the metal exterior of Wayne’s trailer as he sat in his recliner after a shower. A Bud in one hand, joint in the other, he alternated chemicals for the next fifteen minutes as he contemplated the attractive young woman who had cash hidden in her car and what, if anything, he should do about it. The broken blinds, stained carpet and general stench of near poverty called out to him with the answer. The three kids in the photograph on his dresser called out to him with the answer. Even the rain called out to him with the answer. It’s dirty money. It has to be. No one keeps $100 bills in a car that isn’t dirty money. And because it’s dirty money, it’s up for grabs, he thought, flicking an ash off of his distended stomach. That’s a law of nature. He drained his beer, tossed the last pot ember into the kitchen sink and picked up his coat and cap.
            After passing the Blakely mailbox, he found a set of old farm tracks heading to nowhere and turned off the road, pulling the tow truck as far as he could into the chest high bramble. Confident it couldn’t be easily seen from the road, he got out clutching his small tool set and began trudging across the muddy fallow field toward the yellow lights of the ranch house.
            Having fallen several times during the journey, Wayne was a mud-caked mess when he finally reached the SUV, and could easily be mistaken for a small Sasquatch. He slowly crept around the vehicle until he was kneeling in shadows at the rear door, keeping one eye on the house, and the other on his packet of lock picking tools lying at his feet. Just as he slid a thin metal hook into the lock, white headlights swept across the front yard of the house and a vehicle clattered along the gravel in his direction. Wayne crouched down trying to become the smallest ball of human he could as the lights grew brighter. The beams bounced up and down and finally a glistening BMW came to a crunchy stop in front of the house. Through the curtain of rain, he could see a man in a dark suit get out of the driver’s side and walk briskly up to the front door, where Janice let him in.
            This was an unwelcome twist. He shivered inside his clinging, cold clothes and finally decided he should keep working the lock and let the little domestic drama go on undisturbed. Despite the cold and dampness, his fingers deftly worked the thin metal rods until finally he felt a satisfying release…then there was a gunshot.
            Muscles tensed instantly. “Holy shit,” he sputtered, dropping a pick into the mud. He knew he had to get out of there in a hurry, so he turned the handle and opened the door just enough to slide his torso in and start feeling around. He slapped his hands over every surface, then lifted up the false bottom and searched the dark cavity around the spare tire, but he found nothing. She’d moved the damn money. He angrily slammed the door shut, which set off the car alarm. Christ. He rested his head on his forearm in defeat. There was no use hiding now, and trying to run across the muddy field to his truck could get him a bullet in the back, so he pushed himself up and walked slowly toward the house. Shortly, the door opened and Janice’s silhouette stood in the threshold.
            “Who’s there?” she shouted.
            Wayne stopped, not even sure how to answer the question. “Uh, It’s Wayne, the tow truck guy from earlier.”
            She held up a hand and the wailing car siren stopped, followed by a few seconds of rain-splattery silence. “I have a gun.”
            “Yeah. I know.”
“What the hell are you doing here?”
            He took a deep confessional breath. “I came back to rob you, but then I heard the shot.”
            The edge in her voice ticked up a notch. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
            “I suspected you had money that you didn’t want anyone to know about by the way you paid me for the tow, and it appears from subsequent events I was right. Is he dead?”
            “Tell me why I shouldn’t just shoot you dead, you fucking thief.”
            “I ain’t stole nothing yet because you were smart enough to move the money, but I’d say the reason you shouldn’t shoot me is that I can help you with this mess.”
            Her voice was now only a decibel or two under a scream. “You came here to rob me. Why would I trust anything you say?”
            “Okay. You’re right, but I didn’t rob you. And you got a gun. But for a small portion of the money that you stole or embezzled or sold drugs for, I can help you by getting rid of the body and the car. I know this country like the back of my hand, and I can make things disappear if I want to. If you shoot me and just leave, you won’t get very far. Now, you can tell me to go fuck myself and deal with all of this yourself or you can let me help.”
            “I should trust a tow truck driver who just tried to rip me off.”
            Wayne wiped rain from his face. “Now there’s no need to denigrate what I do for a living. I’m just saying that if you shoot me it’s only going to make things worse for you. If you let me help you, it might make things better.”
            After several beats, her dark visage shifted slowly away from the door. “Come in here, but don’t think I won’t shoot you.”
            Muddy, dripping and shivering, Wayne stood in the living room looking like something that had just crawled out of a hole. He caught the towel thrown to him by Janice and gratefully wiped his face and head. To his left, he could see the legs of the man she’d shot in the hallway. There were papers with columns of numbers lying on the floor around the body as well, telling him that was probably some kind of embezzlement scheme gone wrong. What was interesting to him was that Janice was not shaking or showing any physical signs of fear. Her hands were steady. Eyes were clear. She was pretty and poised, even with a gun pointed at him.
            “Let’s talk about your offer for a minute,” she said, leaning back against a bookshelf. “What’s going to keep you from going directly to the police or coming back here with a weapon?”
            “I could go to the police, but I have no idea where you put the money, so I get nothing out of that deal. Even if I wanted to take the time to search the place, it’ll be a crime scene and the police would probably find it before I did. As for getting a gun, I’m just not a violent person. I smoke a lot of pot and play the guitar badly and yes, I am a thief, but violent, no. Besides, you killed one guy already, I’m sure you wouldn’t have any qualms about killing another if you had to.”
            “You’re pretty good at thinking on your feet, I’ll give you that. And if I were to throw the money in my car and take off while you’re gone…?
            “You could do that, but the police would get an anonymous tip about a car and body at the bottom of a lake and instead of just being wanted for embezzling you’d eventually be wanted for murder. You’d have to run pretty hard and fast to get out of that one. Oh, and once our deal is consummated, then I become an accessory, so you don’t have to worry about me calling anyone after the fact.”
            Janice smiled and shook her head. “Damn, we would have made a good team. Okay, Wayne the proud tow truck driver. You’ve got a deal.”
            Back out in the rain, Wayne retrieved his truck, hitched up the man’s car and came back into the house with a dark tarp. He wrapped up the body in the tarp and dragged it out the door. Breathing heavily, he reentered a few minutes later and met Janice coming out of the kitchen with a glass of wine.
            “Would you like some chardonnay?” she asked.
            “Tempting, but I’d better get busy. It’ll take me a at least an hour to do this.”
            She raised the glass in a toast. “See you soon, then.”
            Wayne smiled weakly through his matted beard and turned toward the door.
            After cleaning up the man’s blood, bleaching the area and then burying the handgun in the middle of a nearby thicket, Janice showered and put on clean clothes. Wayne had been gone 30 minutes, and she knew she couldn’t waste any more time. With grunts and bumps, she lugged a large military style canvas bag up from the basement and managed to get it into the back of her Tahoe, stowing it in the cavity beneath the flooring. Despite Wayne’s warning, there wouldn’t be any hard evidence that she murdered anybody. Besides, she left $500 on the kitchen table for him. She’d always been a gambler and she bet herself that he’d take the money and keep his mouth shut. Starting the ignition, she gave the now dark house one last look before rolling out to the driveway and up the hill to the highway.
            Familiar chimes reached out for him once again. Wayne groaned and located the phone, which told him it was 5:30 a.m.
            “Yeah?” he said, trying to accelerate cognition by blinking his eyes wildly.
            “Hey Wayne, it’s Bill Lance from the sheriff’s department. Listen, can you come out and take a car to our impound lot?”
            “Sure. Just give me directions.”
            The sun was starting to leak through dark clouds over the horizon as he drove east on Highway 26, highlighting the fact that his windshield wipers should have been replaced months ago. After a small rise, he saw the knot of police, highway patrol cars and an ambulance off on the shoulder and shortly he eased his truck just in front of the Chevy Tahoe that was the center of attention. He slid out of the driver’s seat and shook hands with a serious Sgt. Lance.
            “Staying out of trouble, Wayne?”
            “Oh, you know. Working at it. What the hell’s going on, Bill? Drug bust?”
            “Not this time. Got a murder on our hands.”
            “You’re shitting me.”
            “Found the body of a dead man lying on the floor behind the front seats covered with a tarp. Anonymous tip. Woman did it. She’s in the back of my car.”
            Wayne leaned around Lance and made eye contact with Janice sitting behind the foggy glass of the cruiser. Her wide eyes were filled with cold rage. She appeared to be struggling with something, noticed Wayne, but he quickly turned his attention back to Lance. “Fuck me. I pulled that Tahoe out of the mud last night.”
            “Are you serious?”
            “Totally. A little after one A.M. Pulled it from a mud hole up onto the gravel at the Blakely place.”
            “Blakely. Her name is Janice Blakely. Must be her parent’s farm.”
“Jesus,” he said, stroking his beard with grimy fingers. “That could have been me.”
            “There’s more truth to that than you know. Just got word that she’s wanted in Nevada for assault and California for the attempted murder of two people…with a butcher knife. They’re both in bad shape.”
            Wayne swallowed. “Crazy bitch.”
            “Crazy is right. So just tow the vehicle to the usual spot. We’ve still got to process it.”
            “Sure. Okay. I’ve got to stop off at my place for a minute, but I’ll get it there within a half hour.”
            “No problem.”
            As Sgt. Lance walked away, Wayne couldn’t help but look over at the captive Janice again. She was wearing a disturbing smile now, although her eyes remained wide and locked on him. Then he noticed words written in the condensation on the window. Wayne took a step forward to see more clearly. Crooked letters spelled out, “C U soon.”

Friday, January 24, 2014

Obama, the privacy board, and the NSA

According to yesterday’s edition of The Guardian, “The US government’s privacy board has sharply rebuked President Barack Obama over the National Security Agency’s mass collection of American phone data, saying the program defended by Obama last week was illegal and ought to be shut down.”

What is interesting about this is that the White House handpicked the members of the privacy board from the Washington establishment. They couldn’t even stack the deck in their favor on this issue. Of course, the administration immediately issued a response saying that it totally disagreed with the report.

As I’ve noted before, Obama taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago. Unlike the NSA’s supporters in congress, who all have their own agendas, there is no way he doesn’t understand the illegality of warrantless searches. And he also has to be aware that this type of indiscriminate surveillance has been very ineffective. Can he possibly be intellectually convinced that this mass collection of phone data is legal? I find that hard to believe. However, alternative explanations are unsettling. He knows it’s wrong but he’s being pressured to give it his okay. Or he’s being blackmailed.

Could it be possible that the White House chose the members of privacy board knowing what the outcome would be, in order to send a message not to Obama, but to further undermine the NSA? It’s Washington. Anything is possible.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Let me count the ways: A partial list of the illegal, immoral and downright unconstitutional actions of our current U.S. government.

I know I’m only scratching the surface here. Let me know if you have suggestions to add to the list.
  1. Indiscriminately collecting communications data on hundreds of millions of Americans who are not suspected of any terrorist or illegal activities.
  2. Conducting surveillance and data gathering on friendly foreign leaders.
  3. Imprisoning and torturing people in Guantanamo Bay who have not been charged with any crime.
  4. Using drones to murder foreign nationals who have not been convicted of any crime.
  5. Using drones that regularly kill innocent civilians in foreign countries.
  6. Allowing the FBI and local police departments to spy on and infiltrate peaceful, legitimate protest organizations.
  7. Allowing the militarization of America’s police departments.
  8. Admitting marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol, yet continuing to arrest and imprison people for using marijuana.
  9. Continuing to pour billions of dollars into a worldwide drug war that is universally condemned as a failed policy.
  10. Continuing the long running policy of supporting foreign leaders who are “friendly” to the U.S. regardless of their human rights records.
  11. Continuing to be the largest exporter of weapons to the world.
  12. Punishing whistleblowers instead of those criminals who are exposed by the whistleblowers.
  13. Not making campaign finance reform a major policy initiative.
  14. Not charging any bankers or Wall Street power players with crimes for the 2008 economic meltdown.
  15. Trying to push through trade agreements like TPP in secret without sufficient input and discussion from stakeholders.
  16. Allowing Israel to have undue influence over policy making both in Congress and the White House.
  17. Continuing to spend a disproportionate amount of taxpayer dollars on the military and intelligence operations.
  18. Allowing radical Republicans to set the parameters of debate on a number of important topics.
  19. Not doing more to reverse or negate the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.
  20. Continuing to underfund scientific research.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

We are living in Gordon Gekko’s America

It’s a quiet Sunday morning. A good time to reflect on things, especially after spending an hour or so immersed in the latest news the Internet has to offer. Although the sun is out in Minnesota, the climate of this country, and the rest of the world, is very dark and gloomy.

I have an interest in conspiracy theories, but that doesn’t mean I subscribe to all of them. One theory that has been growing in popularity, especially since the Da Vinci Code captured the world’s attention, is that there is a cabal of ultra wealthy individuals, some call them the Illuminati, that pull the economic strings of the international financial systems for their own benefit. This is one theory that I think overcomplicates and over romanticizes a far simpler explanation.

What I believe has happened in America to bring us to our current situation is the growth of unfettered, unrestrained, unregulated capitalism. Since Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980, we’ve had three Republican administrations and two pro-business Democratic presidents. During those 34 years, these corporate-friendly administrations, with the help of congress, have succumbed to the desires of the military/corporate/media complex and weakened, watered-down and done away with the regulations that were created to keep capitalism in check. As a result, Wall Street and the big banks nearly brought the world to a financial Armageddon in 2008, and there is nothing to say that won’t happen again.

At the same time this massive deregulation was taking place, campaign finance laws were also under attack, culminating in the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that allowed companies to pour almost unlimited amounts of money into political campaigns. The result is a congress filled with pro-business puppets who obediently do the bidding of their deep-pocketed masters. How bad is it? House Republicans have just nominated a climate change denier to head the Science Committee’s environmental subcommittee.

None of this needed the invisible hand of a secret group of monocled European aristocrats to happen. It just needed a large enough group of wealthy, greedy, near-sighted capitalists willing to spread around greenbacks to get what they wanted. And they have. Perhaps the most prophetic catchphrase to ever come from a movie was Gordon Gekko’s pronouncement in Wall Street that, “Greed is good.” Way too many corporate leaders and spineless politicians took those words to heart, and we’ve ended up with a situation where Scrooge McDuck and a few of his friends now sit on their mountains of money while the rest of us are happy to be able to pay our monthly bills.

I don’t see a conspiracy here. It’s not nearly as romantic as the Illuminati, but I think stone cold greed has brought us to where we are today.

Friday, January 17, 2014

U.S. spies eager to kill the messenger

Today’s Buzzfeed has an article titled, America’s Spies Want Snowden Dead. The article is packed with inflammatory comments like, “I’d love to put a bullet in his head,” from a Pentagon official, and “Most everyone I talk to says he needs to be tried and hung, forget the trial and just hang him,” from a defense contractor. What’s problematic about the article is that the quotes all come from “Unnamed sources.” On the one hand it makes sense. Spooks can’t be spooks if they hand out business cards. But in today’s world of manipulated media, it raises suspicions about the authenticity of the quotes.

If these sentiments are accurate, however, the article reveals that many people employed by the surveillance state live in an impenetrable bubble of self-importance. Despite the fact that during the past ten years only one or two terrorist plots have been exposed as the result of mass electronic surveillance, they deem Snowden a traitor who has seriously damaged their efforts to stop the bad guys.

The fact is that the NSA has very little to show for its intrusive and costly intelligence gathering operations. Even setting aside the many constitutional issues involved here, there simply hasn’t been much return on the taxpayers’ investment of billions of dollars. Snowden’s revelations have less to do with disrupting America’s spying capabilities and more to do with pulling back the curtain on the ineffective and unconstitutional NSA/CIA programs. 

Obama is making a speech today regarding proposed NSA reforms. Many believe it will be too little too late, and will not sufficiently reign in the intrusive spying tactics already in place. Regardless, if it weren’t for Snowden, we wouldn’t even be having this debate, as we’d still be in the dark about who was listening to our phone calls and reading our texts. If accurate, the ugly quotes about killing Snowden demonstrate an attitude among security officials that lawlessness in the pursuit of one’s objectives is acceptable. Not much of a surprise there.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Israel is trying to drag the U.S. into war with Iran

As the Obama administration is in the midst of delicate nuclear agreement negotiations with Iran, 58 Senators, including 16 Democrats, are co-sponsoring a sanctions bill that would effectively torpedo the current talks and increase the likelihood of war with Iran.

Despite the fact that Americans overwhelmingly oppose another war in the Middle East, these Senators are pushing hard to antagonize the Iranian government. Why? This one fact will provide a key hint. Fifty-five of the 58 Senators who are co-sponsors of this pro-war bill are the largest recipients of money from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), totaling $7.3 million (2007-2012). Israel has long made its desire to attack Iran (or have the U.S. do it) public, and their strong lobbying efforts are bearing fruit with this latest sanctions bill.

Obama met with the Democratic Senators supporting the bill at the White House yesterday to try and persuade them to let the current negotiations proceed, but only time will tell us who has more influence in Washington, the President of the United States or the State of Israel.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Anchorman 2: The Legend of Ron Burgundy Ends Here

(Spoiler alert)
I hardly ever write movie reviews, but after seeing Anchorman 2 recently I feel irritated enough to say something. The first Anchorman movie came out in 2004 and with the exception of the Austin Powers series, no film in recent history has resulted in more memes and oft-repeated catchphrases (“I’m kind of a big deal.”) then The Legend of Ron Burgundy. So, fans hoping for a sequel waited patiently almost ten years for the next Anchorman installment. What they got, unfortunately, was a lazy, sloppy, unimaginative retelling of the first Anchorman.

Every funny bit from the original movie is simply rehashed with a few minor alterations and updates. Really? After ten years, the writers (who include Will Ferrell) couldn’t come up with anything even slightly original? Do they have so little respect for fans of the first movie that they thought it would be okay to simply redo the jokes, and everyone would think that was hilarious?

And speaking of Austin Powers, the creators of Anchorman 2 were so lazy that they unabashedly ripped off a bit from one of Myer’s movies. When Burgundy meets the new African American producer, he can’t stop saying “black,” a direct lift from Power’s inability to stop saying “mole.”

Even the core storyline of the movie is off key. Basically, Ron Burgundy is credited with starting the vacuous infotainment trend prevalent in today’s network news. The more original approach, in my opinion, would have been to have Burgundy naively oppose the new trend and to fight quixotically for presenting actual news. This just strikes me as being more in keeping with his dolt-with-a-golden-heart character.

Anchorman 2 would have been a disappointment if they’d rushed it out on the heels of the first movie, but after 10 years, this bastard clone is inexcusable.