Kerry's Incredible Projection

John Kerry: "Everything that we’ve seen in the last 48 hours from Russian provocateurs and agents operating in eastern Ukraine tells us that they’ve been sent there determined to create chaos. And that is absolutely unacceptable. These efforts are as ham-handed as they are transparent, frankly. And quite simply, what we see from Russia is an illegal and illegitimate effort to destabilize a sovereign state and create a contrived crisis with paid operatives across an international boundary engaged in this initiative."

If Money=Speech and Speech is Free, then Shouldn't Money be Free? -- Plus, the History of Money in Politics

Regarding today's McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision: I pulled together this news release: "Supreme Court Establishing 'Plutocrat Rights'," which has some good crit. 

But beyond that, I've always wondered: If (money = speech) and speech is free -- then shouldn't money be free? But the ultimate logic of the "freedom" for money in politics proponents, we have a an argument for a rather radical form of material equality. 

The story of money in politics is in a sense of the story of the United States: As the franchise has expanded, money has been used to make its import seemingly, increasingly meaningless. That is, It used to be that you could only vote if you were a white, male property owner. Now, all peoples' votes are diminished as money dominates. I think this is why some people have an image of the U.S. as having a "golden age" -- being a citizen actually meant something. That's been rather hollowed out because most actual decisions in the society are not taking place in any meaningful democratic form. 

Should note: The NSA story is very much related to this story since the surveillance companies are huge funders for the politicos who enable them. See: "New Study on Campaign Cash Behind the National Surveillance State." Appropriately enough, Thomas Ferguson is featured on that release, he wrote the book Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Party Competition and the Logic of Money-Driven Politics, which traces the influence of money in politics way back, so perhaps the preceding paragraph is too generous to the history of the U.S. 

Barack Obama vs John Adams on Art and the Meaning of Life

Obama: "The problem is ... a lot of young people no longer see the trades and skilled manufacturing as a viable career. But I promise you, folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree. Now, nothing wrong with an art history degree -- I love art history. (Laughter.) So I don't want to get a bunch of emails from everybody. (Laughter.) I'm just saying you can make a really good living and have a great career without getting a four-year college education as long as you get the skills and the training that you need. (Applause.)" 

Adams: “I must study politics and war, that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, and naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”

"Garbage" Ironically is Perhaps Pete Seeger's Greatest -- and Most Political -- Song

So just after I heard that Pete Seeger died, Emily mentioned to me that she was first introduced to him as a child via Sesame Street. So I did a search online and found him singing a song with Oscar the Grouch called "Garbage". I immediately loved it -- it brilliantly played off environmental issues with the garbage that envelops our "culture". Well, today I found another version of "Garbage" which has an additional, overpowering verse that was co-written by Seeger himself (the original song was written by Bill Steele). Here's the song and the part that Seeger co-wrote (with Mike Agranoff):

In Mister Thompson's factory, they're making plastic Christmas trees
Complete with silver tinsel and a geodesic stand
The plastic's mixed in giant vats from some conglomeration
That's been piped from deep within the earth or strip-mined from the land.
And if you question anything, they say, "Why, don't you see?
It's absolutely needed for the economy," oh,

Oh, Garbage! Garbage! Garbage! Garbage!
There stocks and their bonds -- all garbage!
Garbage! Garbage! Garbage! Garbage!
What will they do when their system goes to smash
There's no value to their cash
There's no money to be made
But there's a world to be repaid
Their kids will read in history books
About financiers and other crooks
And feudalism, and slavery
And nukes and all their knavery
To history's dustbin they're consigned
Along with many other kinds of garbage.
Garbage! Garbage! Garbage! Garbage!

[I was delighted that this song was also highlighted in this great post by Jim Naureckas -- err, Peter Hart -- at FAIR: "Pete Seeger: 'It's Hard for Me to Talk About the Media Without Getting Angry'"] 

Do We Really Want Privacy?

Over the last several months, and again today with the NSA porn story, I find myself wondering if we should really be fighting for "privacy" per se as many have been doing for months and years. I think I can imagine a good society where there's little privacy. One where everyone is accepted by others -- and themselves. Rather, the problem is the public (and especially politically involved people in all likelihood) get no privacy from the government and internet corporations while the government and corporations get near total secrecy about their activity from the public. So disparity is really the key. 

Audio: U.S.-Backed Syrian Rebels Acknowledge they Have Refused Negotiations with Assad to End Civil War

At the National Press Club, a representative of the U.S.-backed opposition confirmed this week that they have refused to sit down and negotiate with Assad. 

Investigative reporter Robert Parry reported last week: “Though many Americans may believe -- from absorbing the mainstream U.S. news -- that it is Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad who needs to be pressured to the negotiating table, the reality is that Assad has repeatedly offered to join peace talks in Geneva. It is ‘our’ opposition that has refused to go. 

“The rebel leaders have offered up a host of excuses: they want the U.S. government to provide sophisticated weapons first; they want all Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon to withdraw; they want to be in a winning position before talks begin; they want Assad to agree to resign as a precondition of talks.

“In other words, the fractious rebels, whose most effective fighters are allied with al-Qaeda, don’t want peace talks; they’d rather wait for the United States and other outside powers to be drawn into the civil war and ensure Assad’s ouster, an outcome that also could make Syria the new hotbed for terrorism in the Middle East.”

Yesterday, Parry followed up: "The Syrian rebels, already angry over the postponed U.S. military strikes against Bashar al-Assad’s government, appear determined to obstruct peace talks and thus may be wielding what amounts to a veto against plans to dismantle Assad’s stockpile of chemical weapons, a process that would be fraught with danger if there is no cease-fire.

"While it might seem counterintuitive for the rebels to undercut an international plan to eliminate the government’s poison gas, there is logic to the rebels’ position, in that their goal is the overthrow of Assad, not simply removing one category of weapon – and indeed one whose primary value may be that it makes a U.S. military intervention against Assad more likely." 

On Tuesday, I questioned the Special Representative to the United States for the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces Najib Ghadbian at the National Press Club and he confirmed that the U.S.-backed rebels (as opposed to other, independent factions) are refusing to sit down with Assad [emphasis added]: 

Husseini: I want to clarify something you said earlier.  ... You didn't want to negotiate with the current regime of Bashar al-Assad. Can you clarify -- so -- what have been the modalities, for those coming in to this late, you folks have been refusing to negotiate up until this point? Is that accurate?

Ghadbian: No, that's not accurate.

Husseini: That seems to be what you were saying.

Ghadbian: Let me be very specific: We supported every political initiative to end this conflict. We supported the Arab League initiative, which begins with Assad delegating his powers to his vice president, we thought that was a good idea. We supported the elements of Geneva One. We were willing -- in fact we were working -- to go to Geneva Two. But, our understanding of Geneva One is the following: there will be a transitional government with full executive authorities, including the security and military areas, which means Assad has no role in these areas. That's our understanding of Geneva One. So, we were going to Geneva Two with this understanding. We wanted to include an element of accountability in the negotiations, in the political process. And that is why we believe Bashar al-Assad has committed crimes against humanity. And he is not acceptable as a person. We believe that his departure from the scene is a positive step for any political solution, by any means. And definitely after the use of chemical weapons, he's absolutely not acceptable. He, his brother and those who are implicated in the use of chemical weapons.  

Now, there are a lot of people who support Bashar al-Assad. They are Syrians. Some of them are forced to do so. Some of them are in fact under the propaganda of the regime. Some of them are defending their privileges. It's those elements, in fact, we want to talk to. Those, those are Syrians and that's what we want to talk about. So -- again -- we want a political solution that -- again -- would include some element of accountability. And -- again -- we believe Bashar al-Assad is a basically destructive element in any negotiations. So, that's the way we understand Geneva and any political solutions after the use of chemical weapons. He should, in fact, be brought to justice; preferably very soon. Any international effort by our friends at the UN should include that. Otherwise, we would not support it.

Husseini: Now, just to clarify, it's not a new position -- it's been your consistent position over time -- that you will not sit down with him for negotiations, you want to sit down and negotiate with other factions.

Ghadbian: Right.

Husseini: Well prior to this, over the past two and a half years, you will not sit down with Bashar al-Assad --

Ghadbian: Well, that position evolved. Early on -- before the regime committed atrocities on the mass scale -- early on we were, people were asking Bashard al-Assad before the revolution, to take serious, reformists steps to bring Syria into a democratic kind of conclusion. But, you know, the regime was using lethal weapons, using live munitions from day one, in Dara, remember. And so, immediately, as the regime continued, and it was obvious that the regime did not believe in a political solution, Bashar al-Assad up to the use of chemical weapons, he communicated to us, directly and indirectly, that he can achieve a military victory and he's working toward that end. He's talking Geneva, but he's not going to go to Geneva. Why should he talk about his departure Why should he talk about his stepping down? I mean, it doesn't make sense. But, I think, for us again, since the Arab League initiative, we took that position that, if he in fact were to delegate his powers -- at that point delegating powers; maybe he could stay for a while. - But as he continues to commit atrocities, crimes against humanity, against Syrian people, we were clear -- we would not negotiate with individuals who committed crimes against humanity and against the Syrian people. That's a principle position. We continue to stick by that, position.

Audio of full event below. Excerpt from above starts at 26:55:

By Sam Husseini; special thanks to Brendan Kelly.

Projections of Manning

The 35-year sentence today seems to give Bradley Manning a chance at being free in ten years and seems to have been what the defense realistically wanted. It seems why they did not purse arguments as outlined in "Bradley Manning's Legal Duty to Expose War Crimes" by Marjorie Cohn for example. 

Manning's short statement toward the end of his trial -- and the associated defense strategy -- have prompted some heartache and soul searching among his supporters. Having been alternatively in the courtroom and in the adjacent trailer with a video feed of the trail the day of his statement, it certainly hit me with a mixture of feelings still to complex to communicate effectively. 

But the thing that struck me most that day was the little discussed government line of argument. It was a case study in projecting the faults of the government on to Manning. The prosecution sought to disparage Manning as someone who was "narcissistic," who thought he was "special," lacked "empathy" and blamed his "problems on others." 

This from a government whose leaders have openly espoused U.S. "exceptionalism," calling it "the indispensable nation" which can use violence and violate international law largely at whim, deny or minimize the carnage it inflects on innocent civilians -- and, on those rare occasions when confronted with said violations, does not take responsibility, but demonizes those who expose said wrong doing -- for example the record number of whistleblowers the Obama administration has prosecuted, such as Manning. 

The prosecution, when pushing for a 60 year sentence for Manning stated: "There is value in deterrence, Your Honor. This court must send a message to any soldier contemplating stealing classified information. National security crimes that undermine the entire system must be taken seriously. Punish Pfc. Manning’s actions, Your Honor.” So, the military is incapable of maintaining discipline except upon threat of penalty of decades behind bars.