I’ve decided that the following shall be my response, today and from now on indefinitely, when some kind, yet unlearned soul asks me who I am voting for/if I am voting, or why I am not voting:

“Tell me, of the candidates running, which one wants the last winner of the office to be frogmarched before the Hague to answer for war crimes first thing January 21st?”

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On “Corrections”

Here in the US, on the level of the states there are departments and agencies that parallel many functions that the federal government carries out. One of those has a name I’ve been thinking about, for many reasons: the Department of “Corrections”.

Consider what a “correction” is. A change in something that is at fault, somehow malfunctioning. Broken. Applied to humans, this implies that those under the control of the department of “corrections” are damaged people, people who need to be “corrected”, fixed. Think about the environment of being incarcerated though:

-Under constant surveillance, constant suspicion, denied and not trusted even with things that are considered trivial on the outside despite the violations of liberty that still occur due to the existence of the rulers & the rules they impose on us. This is supposed to “correct” a human being, assuming that they are “damaged” how this system implies they are?

-Living in a constant state of threat and fear. Fear of being assaulted, either by others in your situation or by the guards, or even by the other inmates at the order of the guards. No one concerned about your safety, treated as less than human, disposable, to be beaten, stabbed & raped on a whim with not a care your wounds or ailments whether physical or mental. In fact, people make jokes about it! Your torment is seen as funny! THIS is supposed to “correct” a human being?

-Used to demonstrate the deliberate loophole in the 13th Amendment, forced to labor for pennies if anything, so that our cars can have their convenient identification for the modern day slave-catchers known as the police, so that streets can be cleaned without the indignity of the ruling class having to pay a decent wage, so that moneyed people who think themselves “progressive” because they listen to NPR & vote for Democrats can only pay a somewhat exorbitant markup on produce instead of a ridiculously exorbitant one. Even at times just worked for the sake of imposing work! Useless, pointless work! That toil, that crushing of dignity, that imposition of routine at all costs… THAT is supposed to be a “correction”? A making of a damage whole, a salving of a fault??

Clearly, with recidivism & how having been incarcerated follows people like a Scarlett letter, closing off even more opportunities after release (assuming you make it out…), the idea is about as far from “correcting” anything as one can get, under any view of the term that one not into sadism would recognize. The very existence of this system and all its qualities demonstrates what those who brought it into being see as the “correct” condition of humanity: suffering, humiliation, violence, and ultimately death.

What would be a true correction, on the level of society, would be the end of such a monstrous system, and a reconsideration of all people as human beings, rather than chattel or waste, leading to alternatives to the state and its boot. As long as the carceral state exists, we are all damaged.

(Of course, federal prisons have the same problem, but at least they don’t have the nerve to sugarcoat their purpose in DoubleSpeak. It does what it says on the tin, Prison is as Prison does…)

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Liberal Interventionism: an assumptions check

Did the following exchange & explanation over the course of a night & morning:

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Here’s something I can’t understand

After having done his part to add to the picture of the surveillance state & needing to flee the US because of it, in order to escape being either caged like Chelsea Manning or murdered like several prominent US political figures demanded , Edward Snowden revealed recently… he’s offered multiple times to be imprisoned in the US anyway??

I have no idea what his thinking on this is. None at all:

  • I can’t imagine life in a Russian city as being worse than in an American gulag, no matter how much one dreads cold weather.
  • If he’s expecting a pardon after the fact by way of sacrificial gesture, that strikes me as the bet of someone lacking a proper cynicism gene.
  • Just frustrated with how little the Panopticon has budged & giving up? How would it matter where one is then? Besides, the demonstrated resistance to any semblance of reform by the rulers, at least to my reading, signals not futility of even bothering to care, but the invalidity of their continued claim of power to begin with. Exposure alone can’t shift society anyway, resistance is a must.

There have been since the news of the NSA leaks a bunch of twists and turns, and conflicts about strategy. I’ve come to see the motivation of the activist journalists he first collaborated with to be less about activism than I expected in the meantime, and wish that gate was not sifting the information about a system that is deserving — desperately — of sabotage. Yet still, by taking what was hidden & bringing light to it, Edward Snowden did a good thing.

…so why should a good deed be punished?

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History & Logic on Planet Trump

Due to a total jerk stumbling blindly upon a rich vein of jerks as a potential voting block, presidential campaign horserace media is having to cover Donald fucking Trump. As vapid as campaigns generally are anyway, the performance art aspect here I find fitting in two ways:

1) by going the President as Insult Comic route, the position aimed for is finally being treated with the respect it deserves: Absolutely None.

2) Trump is an open, proud oligarch and thief (but I repeat myself…) in a way that gives away what the game is and always has been all about. It’s as if a tobacco company came out with Lung Cancer brand cigarettes.

Unfortunately, for each person who sees this 2 by 4 upside the head for what it is, there’s plenty eating it up like usual. Recently, over at the Washington Post, David Weigel talked to a couple of them in Alabama:

“He runs an empire,” Renee Byrd, 44, said of Trump. “That’s what the country needs, someone who runs an empire.”

The Byrds say they think the nation needs someone who is realistic about immigration, too. Officially, less than 10 percent of Robertsdale residents are Hispanic. According to Kim Byrd, 45, that does not account for the trailer parks “saturated with Mexicans” or for “all the convenience stores” bought by immigrants with mysterious tax breaks.

“They all work under the table and make [loads] of money,” said Renee Byrd. “The poor white people who work around here are all screwed.”

Funny thing about this immigration uproar & the screams for draconian measures against the “crime” of existing in a place without the written permission of the government is that Alabama tried a state level version of this garbage already. At the time, even Trump criticized it — meaning he’s effectively doing on immigration what Romney did on health care policy. A few bits about those statements the Byrds provided though:

  • America from the beginning has been a project of conquest, founded on theft & genocide. The US presidency now wields control of the most expensive military on the face of the earth, deployed over pretty much all of it. By definition then, “someone who runs an empire” has been the accurate description of everyone that has ever held the office or ever will in the future, until the day that empire (rightfully) ceases to exist.
  • A “realistic” view of immigration, attributed to someone proclaiming a desire to build a wall between the US and Mexico & somehow make the Mexican people pay for it. Never mind that there are populations along that imaginary line that regularly engage in commerce on both sides, or that chunks of the US used to literally be Mexico (like I said, project of conquest).
  • “saturated with Mexicans”… note the implicit assumptions that they are all undocumented, and that there’s such thing as too many of an ethnic group. Racist much? How come you never hear the opposite? Can a brother get a “there’s not enough Mexicans here” at least once in awhile? (BTW: drastic overestimation of immigrant populations is a common thing in the US, as well as in Europe)
  • The working under the table thing reminds me of what I regularly heard in immigration complaints back in Georgia, claiming undocumented migrants have it easy & rake in the dough Off the Books. If, hypothetically, that claim were true, then why aren’t lightbulbs going on over their heads, followed by a wave of white people renouncing citizenship?

The spectacle is hilarious, I just wish more people would get the joke.

(Update/edit – 445pm)

I would like to clarify something, just in case I’m misinterpreted: The “joke” that I refer to is the open expression as farce of the royal screw job that serves as the skeleton of the US political system, the not even bothering to sugar coat how much of a scumbag he and inevitably whoever actually wants the job is. On the other side, the thuggish hard right, racist and straight up fascist cheerleaders he’s been picking up are a dead serious problem that needs to be combated — and I don’t mean at the polls.

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Ok, *now* Bernie has a race problem

In passing during the occasional discussion on the 2016 presidential campaigns, I’ve used as short hand for how skewed to the right the US political system is (and as a nod to how progressives come to save capitalism rather than bury it) referring to Senator Bernie Sanders (I – Vermont) as the most reasonable conservative candidate in the race. Well, in an interview with quixotic Serious Person Ezra Klein over at Vox, he went conservative in a way even Republicans would recognize (screen capture because I’m on mobile doing this):

2015-07-28 12.28.05

He goes on to denounce the very idea of basic freedom of movement as a nefarious plot to undermine the wages of Real Merkins (as if migrants cannot be part of an organized labor force for some reason) and do away with the United States as a nation-state. I don’t think Pat Buchanan would mind much of how Bernie put this line of nativist dreck, seriously.

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Zài shànghǎi tóuzī de èxìng

Spotted in passing earlier a bit of international news that I found rather illustrative of the logic behind global capitalism & high finance, and how pervasive it is: a deliberate goosing of the stock market has been taking place in… China?

Three weeks ago, the Chinese government took extreme measures to reverse a massive 32 percent drop in stock prices. The plan worked — over the next two weeks, stocks gained 17 percent. But now the government has a bigger problem: Stocks fell 8.5 percent on Monday, the largest one-day decline in eight years, and people are blaming the government for it.

Among the tactics taken up was the Chinese central bank pumping cash to a state-run intermediary that loans out money specifically for buying stocks. Sound familiar? Remember how the catalyst for the actions of the Fed & Treasury during the height of Capital Paradox was how after some finance players went kablooey the stock market sank? And there was all the talk about “liquidity”? Even now the Federal Reserve is highly wary of taking a foot off the gas, for fear that the casino lights will go out.

Now, one of the rotating boogeymen we’re constantly told to fear is using the same playbook, and for the same reason.  It all must go up! Pump that bubble, comrade! What, do you want the terrorists to win some semblance of actual market forces to apply? That’s how the game goes, big bank always has to get bigger, perpetually, forever, at all costs, regardless of how stupid their bets are or how most people are actually doing.

When you see the numbers on these kind of exchanges, whether in Shanghai, London, or NYC, they’re less prices and more like points in a video game.


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Tired of bleeding

Busier than normal lately, still here.

There have been more (and more. and more…) bodies piled up by cops in the US since Ferguson. Feels like there’s a new one every day. Latest life extinguished in police custody being talked about is Sandra Bland: pulled over in Texas for trying to move out of the way of a police vehicle without signaling, then dragged from her car, assaulted, and arrested for not genuflecting to the cop that pulled her over and continuing to smoke in Her Own Damn Car. She was later found dead in her cell — the cops claim she committed suicide, but indications are ultra fishy about that, and her death is being investigated.

A few things to note:  she just so happened to be an active critic of police brutality. Also, there’s been discussion online about the mugshot released of her afterwards along the lines of cues in the picture suggesting it may, rather than being a picture of her angry yet alive against a wall, actually be a picture taken of her on the floor after she died — which would indicate a coverup… which would pile onto the appearance of the dashcam video of her arrest having been edited. Which has been lately followed by leaking the completely irrelevant report of marijuana in her system — the cherry on top of the sundae straight from the outright fascist Eric Cartman School of Policing.

It’s The Boot all the way down, folks: assert your rights, they assault you. Question their reason for stopping you, they assault you. Hell, run and they assault you! Even the total compliance they scream for doesn’t save you — ask Oscar Grant about that one. The police will do any and everything they can do to make examples, to strike fear in people, to control and subjugate us and enforce the class hierarchy, particularly the racial aspects of it.

Something that has stuck with me about this is what her mother said about experiencing the pain of a parent having to bury their child:

I have a baby to put in the ground. She wasn’t my convict, she wasn’t my suspect- she was my baby. Once I put this baby in the ground, I’m ready…This means war.

The understandable anger is itself important, but I also think of it in the perspective of the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement, a movement that while I for obvious reason sympathize with, I at times ask myself how far people are really willing to go to achieve justice. What is it all coming to? Sure, protests are gaining attention, but we cannot march and chant forever. Some respond to the pressure by proposing piddling reforms like body cameras on police officers, which has multiple obvious flaws (for one, they have control of those cameras — there’s already been a case of a cop in a brutality case shutting off theirs). Others do even less, responding to the phrase Black Lives Matter with “All Lives Matter!” as if merely asserting that the people being constantly assaulted by badged thugs are not to be treated as disposable is a threat to anyone else.

Yet… going back to the words Sandra’s mother spoke in her honor… maybe we should change that.

We have and use the ability to record police encounters, and it’s important to show a side beyond the cops & their slurpers in the media. But what about direct action? What if the recognition was made that their implied legitimacy because of the shiny badge and uniform were a figment of imagination, an enabling lie to serve an unjust system? What if the next time we saw a cop using force against people who are not harming anyone… we went and stopped the cop? What if many people did that?

What if we all did?

I don’t like war. But when you’re actively being attacked, you don’t have a choice. Media puppets and members of the executive committee of the ruling class can bark about ISIS, or Iran, or Russia all they want, our last moments are more likely to come at the hands of Johnny Law than any of them.

I hope to live a long and fruitful life. But mark my words, if my last breaths are taken in the hands of the police… may that mean war.

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Comebacks require leaving

try and stop US

For as much as empire persists, it goes rather unmentioned by virtually anyone outside of Left opposition to it, which has (unfortunately) little weight in the US at all. Those who support US hegemony & keep it going have learned over time to use code words & feelgood lies to avoid having to actually discuss the intended outcomes they shoot for. Well, today Robert Kaplan of the Center for a New American Security (really) decided to ignore that memo, putting a piece at Foreign Policy titled “It’s time to bring imperialism back to the Middle East”.

Kaplan starts off by noting the capture of Palmyra by Islamic State, and stating that the conditions of the region indicate the usefulness of the long departed Ottoman Empire. Because there’s no way that diverse peoples can live in the same area without an imperial caliphate imposing its will over them. Funny how easily he implies that self-determination & multiculturalism are poisonous…

(Wait, if he thinks that, then shouldn’t he *like* I.S.? They even have a declared caliph!)

Along with that burst of Brown People Are Naturally Nuts, he contradicts himself about what happened after the fall of that empire, in one part saying its collapse brought forth the ethnic & sectarian disputes and then in the next acknowledging that Europe divvied up the land as if loot from a successful bank robbery, drawing the lines that are effectively being erased to begin with. You can’t pin the fights on what you consider a power vacuum AND admit foreign parties rushed in to play with the ruins — unless Kaplan is saying They Were Asking For It. “How dare they temp the West by not having the military power to push them out after a huge global war??”

He continues:

[…]the demonstrably hands-off approach to these developments by President Barack Obama manifests the end of America’s great power role in organizing and stabilizing the region.

Because missiles fired at both Iraq & Syria as well as arms & aid to Syrian anti-Assad fighters don’t count. Even a Spec Ops raid inside Syrian territory doesn’t count! At this rate, neo-cons won’t count any actions in a war as war acts unless the president themself is on the ground gunning like Rambo.

Going on, Kaplan states, in lamenting their falls, that post-colonial strongmen (his term) like Saddam and Qaddafi held together their regimes with a secular identity, indeed had to due to those borders left behind. Yet more Brown People Are Nuts, while glossing over who got those regimes removed (George W. Bush & Barack Obama) and how (invasion under false pretenses & an undeclared air offensive on a side in someone elses civil war under false pretenses). He then notes a correlation between the relative stability of Morocco, Tunisia & Egypt (I guess you can call going from de facto military dictatorship to a Muslim Brotherhood regime to a coup & return to de facto military dictatorship in the span of four years “stability” on Planet Kaplan) with the locations of old Roman settlements.

“Why, if only Strom Thurmond had won the Romans had conquered more we wouldn’t have all these problems now!”

Returning to Libya, Syria & Iraq, Kaplan reiterates his view of dictatorship as the only glue that works. There’s a question raised here though: if this view is correct, then why bother? Of what value is attempting to hold together something so unstable? I’m not a believer in the intractability of ethnic & religious conflict, nor a separatist, but as one familiar with a strand of anti-regime nationalism at home (that is, black nationalism as embodied in parts of the black power movement) I’m also not one to blame an oppressed group for at the least shooting a side-eye at being ruled by outsiders. If they can’t trust each other, call the whole thing off, why not?

Iran is observed by Kaplan as stable due to its Persian cultural identity (read: these brown people are smarter than Those Damn Arabs), and as having inherited what the American empire left behind. This is like saying you inherited from your cousin leaving town the deer that he hunted & butchered & brought back for you to cook. Of course, Kaplan is among those that pushed for the war in Iraq (even having helped draft a government document advocating the invasion) only to later wring his hands over it. Gee, who could’ve known that obliterating a hostile neighbor to Iran would work to the benefit of Iran?

That said, the benefit to Iran as Kaplan sees it of current situations is far overblown. He portrays the nuclear program negotiations as a declining global power coming to terms with a rising regional power, never mind that the global power’s sanctions & constant threats over a non-issue — the fable of Iran seeking nuclear weapons, despite no evidence of such nor any clear incentive for their use if they did get them — are the only reason there’s anything to talk about. Oh, the poor downtrodden USA, having to make deals with people they hold at gunpoint, how sad.

To contain a post-accord Iran, the United States will need not only to bolster Saudi Arabia, but Egypt and Turkey as well. […] America requires a strong Egypt — democratic or not — as a regional anti-Iran ally to bolster Saudi Arabia.

Caring at all how the Saudi royals are fairing among all this, while they spread & largely practice the same kind of nuttery that when it’s I.S. doing it prompts BREAKING NEWS!! bulletins & heaping scoops of Be Afraid in the media.  Man, that oil addiction has some power, doesn’t it?

Strong Arab dictatorships across the region were convenient to American interests, since they provided a single address in each country for America to go to in the event of regional crises. But now there is much less of that. In several countries, there is simply no one in charge to whom we can bring our concerns

Why should they care about the US regime’s concerns?

And just when that wasn’t enough, he coughs up an outright falsehood with regard to the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980’s (emphasis mine):

That war, going on as long as it did, represented in part the deliberate decision of the Reagan administration not to intervene *snip*

Reality: during the Iran-Iraq war, the US provided intelligence help & weapons to Iraq, including helping with the launch of chemical weapons, and funneled arms to Iran. That is, not only did the Reagan administration intervene, but they did so on both sides. Whatever contractors made those weapons is probably still spending money from ’88.

The challenge now is less to establish democracy than to reestablish order. For without order, there is no freedom for anyone.

Actually, “order” in the sense that the West sees it in that part of the world (that is, centralized authority that happens to play ball with their interests, populace be damned) is the problem. Seeking to impose that order is itself the chaos, as people like Robert Kaplan will never accept the alternative: a spontaneous order that finally writes the US out.

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The Burger Bot horizon

With recent news about fast food workers striking & demonstrating in connection with the general “Fight for $15” campaign by low wage labor, I thought about a common right-wing response trope aimed at such people: “they’ll just automate it & fire you, so nyah nyah”. As luck would have it, a couple of people on social media obliged in linking what they saw as proving their point — a burger robot, built by the company Momentum Machines. Click on the links for detail,  & I’ll be below throwing cold water on this.

A few things that stick out in coverage of the device I’d like to remark on:

  • Multiple sources each referring to this exact product suggests that this is the only remotely viable one out there, which means thanks to intellectual property law (the company has several patents on it) they can charge a monopoly price on it. Any competitor shows up & if their bot has any similarities to the Momentum Machines bot, they can be sued to death. Due to this, the hypothetical business landscape the anti-labor snark implies would be one where curiously each burger chain is sourcing its equipment from a single company.
  • …and that assumes the company would even be selling it. As the second link — a piece at the food lovers site Serious Eats — shows, their plan sounds more like wanting to compete with McDonald’s instead of going into business with them (they straight up say most fast food burgers suck, & emphasize various custom options pointing toward a more high-end burger experience). Plans can and do change over time, but this isn’t promising for the dreaded Grill Jockey Apocalypse.

Say they change their minds, then what?

  • The timeframe they set at the time of that article was 11 months. That Serious Eats piece is from October 2012, and the company’s own website gives no update on the project as of today. Even then, the machine wasn’t cooking the patty itself yet. They also stated an accuracy of 95 percent in properly constructing the burger — which, note, is the only thing this machine does. Most fast food places that currently exist have a relatively wide variety of options, from chicken sandwiches, nuggets, fish sandwiches, etcetera (famously, Jack In The Box even does tacos). Even the intentionally stripped down Five Guys has fries. Though fast food workers are widely stereotyped as a bunch of surly incompetents (which based on their ubiquity & frequency of people still, y’know, eating at these places looks more a matter of Class Shaming than truth), surely a comparison study could be done.
  • As anyone with an understanding of business & economics knows, swapping people with machines isn’t magic. Hiring workers is a steady, constant transaction — Wage times Hours equals Labor Cost. Replacing those workers with a machine is known as a capital investment, which after the planning stage is a lump cost transaction followed by depreciation as the machine is in service. The company profiled gives an estimate of labor cost savings to the standard fast food restaurant of $135,000 a year… which leaves the obvious question of how much acquisition & installation would cost. Also, maintenance* is an unknown at this point since it hasn’t gone live.
  • There’s a cultural sense to this as well, with human interaction being part of the experience of eating out. As Kevin Carson mentioned in his C4SS piece on the “Fight for $15” movement, carving that interaction out of food service has been attempted before, & it fell off. The concept of the Automat, as it was called, resides in history books, other than the occasional outlier in urban Japan that tends to be used after the bars close for the novelty of it (and because they’re drunk).

As we can see, the future of Burger Bots making millions of workers obsolete is nowhere near as inevitable as anti-labor critics portray. There is an additional implication such critics make about the market value** of fast food labor I’d like to touch on, that is “anybody can do it, that’s why it’s low pay, shut up”:

Well, you chose not to do it. You had the option to make a cheeseburger yourself & decided, whether due to time constraint or simply valuing the leisure gained by doing otherwise, to go somewhere and exchange money for the service of preparing your meal. To say ones labor is worthless while you LITERALLY eat its product… that sentiment leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

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