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1 week Ago

Workfare instead of welfare

Published by marco on

I received the post Maine Just Changed Their Food-Stamp Policy… Every State Should Do This (Conservative Tribune) from a friend.

The friend wondered whether the following was a good idea. They thought it might be, but asked if I could confirm.

“[…] adults 18 to 50 years old with no children and who are able to work must do so or volunteer for 20 hours each week. Otherwise, their benefits will be limited to three months over a three-year period”

This is one of those superficially seductive ideas that keeps coming up. Basically, should the U.S. privatize and marketize the remaining social components of its safety net? Should it remove the last vestiges of mercy from its society?

They are not us

This idea assumes that people on welfare are lazy. That their inability to support themselves and their families and subsequent desperation is purely their own fault. That they deserve their fate.

But—and I think this is the most important part of all—if we believe that those on welfare deserve to be treated poorly, then those of us not on welfare are free to believe that we earned our much better lives.

There is no mercy in such a system, no acknowledgment that the system treats some much worse than others. That luck plays a large role in the lives of both the most disadvantaged and the most advantaged.

There are so many factors dooming people to poverty in America. Programs like this, that force their participants to dance for their supper, are a cruel joke. They make those of us who will never have to be part of one of these programs feel vindicated, but that feeling comes from a petty, stupid and cruel place.

Lazy. Stupid. Ignorant.

Given this presupposition, it of course makes sense to punish others for being poor, to extract what we can from them instead of supporting these parasites.

There are so many reasons other than laziness that people can’t get jobs:

  • There aren’t enough jobs that pay living wages
  • The jobs that are available are soul-killing or physically dangerous
  • The education system is a joke; There is no training for good jobs
  • The continuing education system is weak to nonexistent
  • Many “decent” jobs are out of reach for anyone without at least a bachelor’s degree
  • There is prejudice everywhere against the poor
    • Don’t have nice clothes? Forget office work
    • Can’t speak without an accent? Or slang? Forget office work
    • Bad teeth? Forget a whole slew of jobs
    • Not pretty? Overweight? Same thing.
    • Black? Hispanic?

Tantamount to slavery

Instead of giving the poor help to get them back on their feet, we give them what amount to jobs. I suppose this sounds good to some. There’s a lot of work to do and not enough people to do it.

If they don’t comply, they no longer get the benefit of the doubt. If they don’t comply, they get their super-generous benefits of a few hundred dollars per month for only three months and then nothing for thirty-three more months.

If you can’t find a job of your own—or are unwilling to do so—you have to do the job you’re given by the state. This is just a transformation of the unemployment program, though. Instead of making you seek out jobs in your area of expertise, these new programs just give you a job.

And what do you get paid for this job? The article says “or volunteer 20 hours each week”. If you have to do the work to get benefits, then it is, by definition, not volunteering. But what they mean by “volunteer” is that you’re doing the job for no salary, other than the benefits (which you used to get for free).

Welfare benefits are notoriously meager. Most recipients are scraping the bottom of the barrel by the third week of the month, no matter how well they stretch them. This is not a luxurious lifestyle.

So, even if you do get paid for your work, the salary is almost certainly far below minimum wage.

Life in the hands of the state

Under such a system, people will have a job of sorts, but far less chance to get control back over their lives.

If you spend 20 hours per week working at this shitty, super-low-paid job, do you have time to find a better one? No, you probably do not. Do you have time for your continuing education program? No to that too. What about your kids? Who takes care of them while you work? Hire a babysitter. It’s good for the economy.

It’s hard to imagine that society that converts its welfare program to something like this will pay a living wage. And you can forget about benefits or any thought for how a life is supposed to work under this regime. That’s not the taxpayer’s problem because they’re already being generous enough by throwing a few dollars and a job the recipient’s way.[1]

Don’t like it? Don’t take the extravagant benefits, you lazy bastard.

And stop whining about your kids.

You shouldn’t have had them if you can’t take care of them.

Freeloader.

And your kids are future freeloaders.

Race to the bottom

These programs are not new. Back in the 90s, the “workfare” program was the brainchild of Bill Clinton (yep, the so-called progressive). Mayor Rudolph Guiliani implemented it in NYC by making welfare recipients work in the park system.

What happened? Their salaries were on the order of a dollar or two per hour and so they were much cheaper to hire than the current park staff. The current staff was let go and replaced with much–lower-paid unskilled labor. A win all around, right? The skilled and trained labor lost their good jobs.

Taxpayers win because they also don’t have to pay for benefits or pensions or anything. Awesome, right? Because nobody who mattered knew anyone with a good job in the park system, so the park workers might as well not even exist.

So what happens with all of those people who just lost their jobs? No problem. They go on welfare and can go right back to work in the park, but at 1/10 of their former salary without benefits or a pension. Sweet.

This kind of program gets rid of good jobs and makes everyone race to the bottom, working harder for less. It’s capitalism at its finest.

No more unions, no more pensions, no more benefits. Not for the poor. They don’t deserve it. If they did, wouldn’t they already have it?

Being poor is not a crime

The problem with this workfare kind of thinking is that it demonizes those out of work or down on their luck. It takes the few that are really lazy, makes anecdotes out of them to convince people that everyone is like that, and then making slaves out of them, more or less.

You can’t say, as the governor of Maine did, that you’re doing “all that you can to eliminate generational poverty and get people back to work” if you haven’t actually created real jobs and real job training. If the only jobs around are life-draining and crappy—and you have to get two of them to survive—are we surprised that people don’t want to do them?

Do some take advantage? Sure, they do. Do we doom the majority that actually need welfare programs and could benefit from them just to punish the few that ruin it for everyone? Do we have to do it? Is it that we can’t afford it? Or that we spend money on everything but the poor?

This program will drive people off of welfare—not because they don’t want to work, but because they don’t want to get trapped into the forced-work program of the state. They want dignity and control over their own lives, even though they’re poor. Can’t we afford to give them that?

There’s no money in helping people

If we need to spend billions and trillions to deploy to Iraq or to build the next generation of super-weapons or to start giant new agencies—like Homeland Security and the TSA—ostensibly to fight terrorism, no one says a thing.

Spend a few millions on the poor without them somehow paying us back and we’re up in arms.

We have no sense of proportion. We are not very nice.

Behavioral therapy

And we are cruel to those less fortunate. Because ill fortune is mostly why people are poor: they aren’t lucky enough to have been rewarded for the right behavior. Life has taught them that it’s not even worth trying anymore. They’re not necessarily inherently stupid or lazy; they have just learned the lesson that their lives taught them.

We continue to try because our experience has trained us that if we work hard, we achieve. How many years would you continue to work hard if you never achieved? If you were never rewarded, not even once? If life swatted you down? Every. Single. Time. Would you really keep getting back up?

Would you work as hard as you do if you were paid $150 a week after taxes? Would you keep looking for that job with the same energy after the first year of joblessness? At what point do you say “yes” to something criminal just to get some cash to feed yourself or your family?

And then you’re going to jail. Because you’re a criminal and deserve it. Because being poor pretty much is a crime.

Standing in judgment

We find it so easy to judge people about whom we know nothing. And it’s easy to lump all the poor together because most of us don’t know any of them or don’t have to sympathize with them. Or we hear stories about them from TV. Stories written by people who also probably don’t know any poor people. Or from cops, who have an adversarial relationship to them, granted them by the state. It goes on and on.

We don’t know them but we feel perfectly comfortable judging them. Only a society without empathy could make a so-called welfare system life this.


[1] I’d be delighted to be proved wrong, but am not expecting it.

2 weeks Ago

The Obama Question

Published by marco on

“What do you think of Obama?[1]

He is Barack Hussein Obama,

44th—and first black—President of the United States of America.

Nobel Peace-prize winner.

So-called leader of the free world.[2]

O-bomber.

The Drone Ranger.

Mr. Guántanamo.

Mr. extraordinary rendition.

Mr. N.S.A.

The whistle-blower hunter.[3]

Defender of the 0.1%.

The question above is posed in different ways, in different tones. It depends on the person posing it. If the person hates Obama—for any of a variety of reasons, into which I may go later, then the question is accompanied by a conspiratorial leer. The leer extends a hopeful olive branch, anticipating an enjoyable evening of exchanging highly questionable information about Obama and his purported policies.

If the person likes Obama, they usually hope that you don’t mention torture, the financial bailout, drones, Guantánamo, Israel or any of another host of issues on which Obama is decidedly not progressive. Even the ACA—called “Obamacare” by nearly everyone—which he would likely deem to be the major part of his legacy, crumples under more progressive scrutiny.

Heaven forfend you mention any of Obama’s campaign promises—from 2008 or 2012—because his failure to have accomplished any of them in the manner he’d promised is—according to these people—most definitely not his fault. It is the fault of the Republicans.

So, his detractors oppose everything he stands for and his supporters acknowledge that he sucks but it’s not his fault.

Whose fault is it then?

The short answer? The system sucks and good luck changing it.

That many high-ranking Republicans seem hell-bent on policies that benefit only themselves and their friends to the detriment of all others is abundantly clear. That this group also includes many Democrats is also clear. Just because only 93% of Democrats are assholes versus 95% of Republicans doesn’t make much difference to the casual observer.[4] The natural conclusion to which to come is that they’re all assholes and you won’t be off by much. Assuming this will equip you well for dealing with them all. At the least, not trusting any of them is a good start. But I digress.

Of course, if their policies benefit you, then you’ll think they’re a swell bunch of guys—and they are still, mostly, guys. But you’re in a small minority. The vast majority of people in the U.S. and the world have nearly nothing in common with their representatives, be they in the U.S. or Iran or Russia or China … or any of dozens of other countries that happily count themselves in the OECD. There are a few where the government seems to work for the people instead of the other way around—e.g. Switzerland and a handful of Scandinavian countries, perhaps—but not many of us are lucky enough to live there.

The U.S.. is definitely in the other category, where the people pretty much work for the government, but let’s not forget: the government, in turn, works for its own masters. But those masters are not us.[5]

Corporations are people, in the U.S. at least. Those are the real masters of the 21st century. It is they—and their ultra-exclusive owners—who wield the real power. They call themselves the masters of the universe and have yet to be proven wrong.

Obama: smart? dumb? a dupe? evil?

Which brings us back to Obama. He’s incredibly far removed from any one of us. He can very eloquently express viewpoints that sound as if they sympathize and even echo our own. But he’s lying. We’ll leave it to history to decide for sure whether he himself knows he’s lying—but I’m going to come out and write that anyone that smart is at least self-aware enough to know that what he says and what he does almost never line up.

I’m sure it’s frustrating to constantly have to say things that you don’t mean in order to get things done that you really want. Such is the life of a politician. It’s not easy convincing people to do things against their own best interests—or against basic morality. Which is why you have to lie to them so much.

Is Obama a dupe? No, I don’t think so. That’s giving him too much credit. It’s so easy to buy the story that he’s desperately trying to enact a progressive program in America while presiding over one of the greatest regressive swings in history. Do people think that he’s the Mr. Magoo of politics? That he accidentally swings the economy in the favor of the bankers and Wall Street while really, honestly and desperately trying to do the right thing for the vast majority of Americans? How bloody hopeful and simple-minded could you possibly be to believe that? Believing this fairy tale ensures only that Obama—or someone very much like him—will hoodwink you again.

It’s the system, stupid[6]

But we can substitute the name “Obama” with the name of any politician. I want to emphasize that I don’t think he’s special, or especially bad. He’s just the current president. He’s the same—more or less and for all practical purposes—as all the rest. He starts wars, he runs a drone-based, extra-judicial assassination program that is demonstrably criminal and evil, he lowers taxes, he gives gobs of money to large corporations (hello, health-insurance industry), he glorifies the military and showers it with endless cash and weapons programs, he allows torture while redefining it otherwise semantically, he embargoes and fights economic wars against helpless nations, he ignores climate change, expands fossil-fuel subsidies and he promulgates an arrogant trade program that is a finger in the eye of every nation in the world.

It goes on and on. Business as usual. What the hell is so different about this model versus the last one, objectively speaking?

Why hate Obama? Many seem to hate him because he is black. This can be the only reason because it’s literally the only thing that they objectively don’t like about him. This single reason is overwhelmingly influential in how people form an opinion of him that they ignore a veritable slew of reasons that they should like him, all political and policy-oriented in nature. Reasons that should, by all rights, be much more important to a person than his skin color, but there you have it—man is a frail creature and a fallen one.[7]

Anti-progressives should love Obama

Yes, they should! He’s done absolutely everything he could to make them love him.

Bankers like Obama; he does everything they like. Republicans hate him, but he does almost everything like a Republican. He funnels tons of cash to the richest in our land and neglects everything that would benefit the poor. During his entire administration (and part of Bush’s) all of the income increase has been captured by the top 1%. Everyone else went backward. Is this the mark of a progressive? Only in a country as broken as the U.S., perhaps.

Even the ACA is a sop to insurance companies—the far more progressive single-payer model was swept off the table by the Obama administration even before negotiations started. People don’t remember that he didn’t even fight for it; he never wanted it.

Obama has the sweetest gig in politics: everything he wants, the Republicans want the exact opposite with a religious zeal. So he can say he wants the most outlandishly progressive things and he is nearly assured that the Republicans will deliver America the exact opposite. He looks like he’s trying to save humanity, and the Republicans deliver the regressive program he actually wanted.

Support is opposition; war is peace;

His recent support of net neutrality is a good example. What are the odds that the Internet will be regulated as a utility with the Republicans in charge for the next two years? Vanishingly small. What are the odds that it will happen if Obama wants it to happen? Zero percent.

The exact same goes for the much-ballyhooed climate agreement with China. More smoke and mirrors that looks progressive, but is all about meeting voluntary targets. China will probably actually meet theirs. The U.S.? With a Republican-controlled Congress and Senate? Not a fucking chance by Peter Lee (CounterPunch). But Obama gets the progressive praise for “trying”.[8]

So why does Obama support these things now, when he was all wishy-washy about it before? Hard to say.

I would like to think that it’s because Obama has found a backbone and realized that he has nothing to lose by finally standing up for what he believes in. I’ve always said that he should have been doing exactly that, that he could at least stand for what he believes in rather than compromising all the time and getting nothing out of it.

But if you have a hint of cynicism in you, you’ll be gut-laughing at my naiveté right now. Hell, I’m laughing at me for even having written it. This is the story that Obama is selling. Do not buy it.

I think that it’s much more likely that this is yet another example of something that Obama doesn’t really believe in but that he thinks he has to say in order to seal his legacy as a progressive president—because history has little do with reality, and American history even less so.

Or maybe he really is just manipulating the Republicans into doing what they all really want: the further privatization of America and the world, the promulgation of the single-minded and simplistic breed of capitalism that we seem to be stuck with.

Is he ineffective because he’s stupid? Or too smart? Too principled? His opposition is too evil? Is he actually effective?

Who knows? Who cares?

How many more years do we have to waste thinking about this?

What matters is that he is not part of the solution for the real problems that we have. That’s all you need to know, I think.


[1] A long while back, a reader asked me if I couldn’t write an article about Obama. Over three months later and I was finally inspired to do so. Unlike the two examples I give in the article, he was actually genuinely interested to know. Apologies for the delay.
[2] I suspect strongly that he only called that—at least non-sarcastically—in the U.S.
[3] With a nod to Hans Landa’s nickname in Inglourious Basterds
[4] Totally making these numbers up—but they feel right.
[5] I’m going out on a limb and assuming that you’re not in the 1% or the 0.1% or the 0.01% and gracing my blog with your presence. And if you are and haven’t been offended away? Fantastic!
[6] To paraphrase James Carville.
[7] To paraphrase the always delightful, pure of hatred and sorely missed Alexander Cockburn.
[8] Hell, hard-core Obama supporters probably give Obama credit for landing that probe on the comet himself. Even though it’s an E.S.A. venture.

John Oliver on the power of state legislators

Published by marco on

Congress may be at an ineffective standstill and the next two years are a legislative wasteland stretching before America and the world. The state legislatures, though, aren’t sitting still. Instead, they’re filled with the crème de la crème that America has to offer: from mildly racist to super-racist, from batshit crazy to crazier than a shithouse rat.

After introducing many of the lunatic creatures that will have an inordinate effect on ordinary citizens’ lives, Oliver notes that they are all running unopposed and concludes:

“We look forward to you wielding a terrifying amount of power over the next several years, safe in the knowledge that no one is paying attention.”

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: State Legislatures and ALEC (HBO) by John Oliver on Nov 2, 2014 (YouTube)

 

1 month Ago

Ukraine Update

Published by marco on

The article The IMF’s New Cold War Loan to Ukraine by Michael Hudson (CounterPunch) provides some interesting insight into the IMF’s machinations on behalf of its masters in Europe and the U.S.

“[…] the IMF signed off on the first loan ever to a side engaged in a civil war, not to mention rife with insider capital flight and a collapsing balance of payments.”

The IMF has hard and fast rules for loaning money and is famous the world over for being an exceedingly unforgiving creditor…unless the creditor is the European continent’s newest democracy, the propping up of which is an opportunity to provoke the Russian bear that is just too good to pass up.

“Based on fictitiously trouble-free projections of the ability to pay, the loan supported Ukraine’s hernia currency long enough to enable the oligarchs’ banks to move their money quickly into Western hard-currency accounts before the hernia plunged further and was worth even fewer euros and dollars.”

Not only does propping up Ukraine’s currency help keep that civil war alive—and keep Russia occupied—but it also—and this is purely coincidental, mind you—provides enough cash for all of the usual exceedingly rich suspects to continue being exceedingly rich. This by the usual mechanism of roping the collective taxpayers of the world into paying for said rich individuals’ bad investments by their respective governments, most of which are also comprised of rich people or those who would like to be rich people or who are otherwise beholden to them.

“In practice, the IMF simply advances however much a government needs to bail out its bankers and bondholders, pretending that more austerity enhances the ability to pay, not worsen it.”

As the rulers of the world have realized that people are much more interested in bad housewives, cute cat pictures and an explosion of inanity on social media (first-world version) or are utterly distracted by the sheer misery that is every waking hour of their lives (third-world version), they make less and less of an effort to hide how they’re ripping everyone off.

“Ukraine looks like a replay of the Greek situation with an exclamation mark! One official last year called its Debt Sustainability Analysis, “‘a joke,’ a [European] commission official described it ‘a fairy tale to put children to sleep’ and a Greek finance ministry official said it was ‘scientifically ridiculous.’””

I mean, why even bother to expend any effort hiding what’s going on when (A) very few are paying any attention at all and (B) no-one can really do anything about it. And the analysis that we do get on issues of merit are skewed by the authors’ paymasters. Here, Hudson describes the obvious and reprehensible cherry-picking of history that an ostensibly serious analysis engaged in when she tried to declare some debt as “odious”.

“The double standard here is that instead of labeling Ukraine’s entire series of post-1991 kleptocratic governments odious, she singles out only Yanukovich, as if his predecessors and successors are not equally venal. But an even greater danger in trying to declare Ukraine’s debt “odious”: It may backfire on the United States, given its own support for military dictatorships and kleptocracies.”

The designation “odious debt” carries with it a freight of baggage. As Hudson points out, the U.S. has instilled no small amount of such debt in its various puppets over the decades. This is, however, an argument that concerns Hudson, but not the original author he attempts to chastise. As they say, “if you have no taste, you can do anything”. A useful corollary for today would be: “If you don’t care about consistency or hypocrisy on your own part, you can write throw as many stones as you like”.

The article Gaza and the Threat of World War by John Pilger (CounterPunch) contained another likely futile attempt to point out the parallels to even very recent debacles of failed diplomacy and deceitful motives: the most recent invasion of Iraq. Though the U.S. media has seemingly formed a diamond of fact out of the coal dust of rumors of Russian invasions and troop involvements, there are others who are a bit more gun-shy.

“What matters is a Russian “invasion” of Ukraine that seems difficult to prove beyond familiar satellite images that evoke Colin Powell’s fictional presentation to the United Nations “proving” that Saddam Hussein had WMD. “You need to know that accusations of a major Russian ‘invasion’ of Ukraine appear not to be supported by reliable intelligence,” wrote a group of former senior US intelligence officials and analysts, the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “Rather, the ‘intelligence’ seems to be of the same dubious, politically ‘fixed’ kind used 12 years ago to ‘justify’ the U.S.-led attack on Iraq.””

But what of those who are perhaps not so stupid, who make what, on the surface, seem to be cogent arguments in support of a free Ukraine and a liberated Russian people, free from the yoke of Putin? The article Back to Yalta? Stephen Cohen and the Ukrainian crisis by Nikolay Koposov (Eurozine) is one such article. In this article, Koposov takes on Stephen Cohen, painted as a Putin-lover but who I’ve found to be relatively balanced and coherent in the few interviews I’ve heard. Anyway, let’s let Koposov describe his thesis,

“For his part, Cohen presents himself as a “political realist” and an American patriot whose concern is the security of the United States, which according to him has been consistently undermined by US policymakers and experts whose incompetence and “Putinophobic follies” have deprived the United States of “the best potential partner we had anywhere in the world to pursue our national security”.”

I fail so far to see the problem with Cohen’s positions as described in this article. The conclusion implied by the tone is unsupported by the evidence provided. That the tone is so snide, disparaging and dismissive indicates strongly that the author will not be as even-handed as one might hope or as his introduction suggests. He seems to see everything as black and white, with poor Stephen Cohen seemingly incapable of doing anything right.

If you don’t support the U.S. in its crusade, you’re a Putin supporter. The fact is that the U.S. has provably been a force for evil in the world—for pretty much everyone other than a small handful of the privileged. It has been an overall detriment for the people it bombs and for its own citizens, who are constantly short-changed by its policies. The changes proposed by the U.S. have come to tears for many other countries, Iraq being only the most recent and prominent victim. Afghanistan, Libya and Palestine may also have something to add about the effectiveness of U.S. policy for improving their countries.

Should the U.S. get its way in Ukraine, there is every reason to believe—simply by looking at the history books, which are clear—that conditions will be worse for Russians than even the awfulness of the reality of today’s kleptocracy. Said state of affairs being something for which the U.S. and its allies are largely responsible. It’s not a coincidence that the rich and powerful did so well in the post-Glasnost years.

“Cohen blames Bill Clinton for beginning “NATO’s eastward expansion”, which hurt Russia. Is he suggesting Clinton’s only legitimate concern should have been Russia’s security, as opposed to say Estonia’s? Did Russians occupy Estonia in 1940, or did Estonians occupy Russia? Who has better grounds for feeling insecure? Or is it the case that only nuclear giants may have legitimate concerns about their national security? ”

Now I’m thinking that this guy is a facile idiot who seems to honestly believe that NATO has Estonia’s concerns at heart. It’s not that only nuclear giants can express their concerns, but that for the last twenty years we have heard only one voice: that of the U.S. Even when Estonia talks, it’s either the U.S. or—hardly better—the EU that makes its mouth move. The U.S. and the EU have shown themselves to be self-interested to the core. They have every interest in portraying Russia as an intractable enemy and giving it the Libya treatment, if possible.

That is the dream, anyway. If they could finally topple the Russian empire, Europe would finally have its resource problem under control, or would at least have cozier terms with a Russian territory under U.S. control. Let’s not lie to ourselves, this is the dream. The U.S. doesn’t give two shits for democracy in Estonia. It wants to build missile bases ever closer to its age-old enemy, the only country capable of resisting it with nukes. China would be logically next.

Don’t think that this is not the official policy of the U.S. It’s probably even written down in no uncertain terms somewhere. NATO is a tool to be used to enact this vision; it is not there to protect European countries. To believe so is utter foolishness.

Even the Yeltsin years, during which Russians had hope, despite the torrent of capital and power rushing out of their country at the time, would likely be a paradise compared to what is to come, should the U.S. get its way. But hope dies last, as the Germans like to say, and the author is eminently hopeful to lend the U.S. support in the hopes that this time it will be different.

“For all Yeltsin’s imperfections, Russia had a moment of relative freedom (especially freedom of expression) in the 1990s, which did not end until the formation of Putin’s regime. In a similar way, conflicts between Yeltsin’s Russia and its eastern European partners over the interpretation of history were rare.”

Bullshit. There was never a democracy in anything but name in Russia. No more so than the purported democracy the U.S. enjoys in this, the second gilded age, the age of plutocrats. The Russian government was allowed to play at democracy like a little girl with her teddy bears plays tea party. Meanwhile, the country was stolen out from under the Russian people by rapacious so-called free-market capitalists, who differed in no way from the Huns or Ghengis Khan in their ruthlessness. With the approval of a handful of Apparatchiks who also benefitted, armies of lawyers and financiers dismantled the Soviet Union rather more efficiently than an invading army could have.

The Russians went from a totalitarian occupation to an economic one. As mentioned at the top of this essay, the IMF is moving full steam ahead to do the same for Ukraine.

Koposov goes on to describe the evils of Russian policy,

“The program of cultural conservatism includes a quest for stability and hatred of change, especially revolutions; an emphasis on traditional values and an alliance with the Orthodox Church; the revival of a Soviet-style anti-intellectualism and a crusade against “deviant behaviour” (including what is called “non-traditional” sexual behaviour). This politics is complemented by repression and new legislation that has considerably increased police control over Russian society.”

Is he writing about the U.S. or Russia here? Do people like the author have no sense of irony? No self-reflection whatsoever? Do they really see things only from one side, without any notion that their depiction of the world as black and white might be a touch simplistic? Anti-intellectualism, repression, gulags—doesn’t that remind you of anything? How can you piss on Russia when Guantánamo is still open? They’re both bad. But to promote the lily-white U.S. vision over the obviously evil Russian one is to lack all nuance and perspective.

This lack of perspective colors everything. Even something relatively glaringly obvious like Crimea is described thusly:

“In a very profound sense, the annexation of Crimea is also an expression of cultural conservatism, with its pre-modern land-hunger and predilection for tangible symbols of power.”

How can he fail to mention or address Sebastopol, one of Russia’s largest naval bases. Can he not even bring himself to mention that this might be the most obvious reason that Russia would want to secure Crimea? It’s not an honorable reason, but one understandable by the realities of a war-suffused world with belligerent entities crawling the earth, looking to pick a fight.

Even in describing the Ukrainian culture, he given the current ruling party the benefit of a doubt that they have not earned, not even if we ignore all of the accusations of fascism and anti-Semitism.

“What has for decades been crucial about Ukraine is that most Ukrainians acknowledged their differences, but wanted to live together. This was a structural foundation of Ukrainian democracy (and one that made Ukraine so different from “monocentric” Russia but similar to countries such as Canada and the UK, among others).”

If most Ukrainians share these feelings of commonality, why do they put up with a new parliament whose first act was to vote to outlaw the Russian language for official purposes? When more than half of the country speaks that language as their primary language? Is this the kind of democratic inclusiveness that he’s talking about? Did this fool of an author really just compare the the newborn civil-war–torn hemi-democracy/hemi-putsch–governed Ukraine to Canada? How can anyone take this seriously?

And then Koposov trots out the old saw that he’s simply trying to get Russia to help itself by trying to keep some friends rather than making everyone an enemy.

“Let me ask Cohen: is it in Russia’s best interests to be a country without friends, except for a couple of other dictatorships?”

In honesty, Russia has friends, but they lie to the east and south rather than the west and north. With the U.S. bending all of its might—both miltary and fiscal—to ensure this outcome, what can Russia realistically do? It can strengthen its ties in Asia, I suppose, for which it will also be castigated. The only solution that will satisfy is a complete capitulation to western desires.

“However, Russia has to accept the right of eastern European countries to be suspicious of it and avoid making them choose between Russia and the West. Whatever other countries’ misdeeds may be, Russia bears the lion’s share of historical responsibility for the issues it has with its neighbours, simply because they were ruled from Moscow, and Russia was not ruled from Kiev, Tallinn or Warsaw. Russia has an obligation to take the lead in peacefully overcoming these issues. I think this would be the only democratic way of defining Russia’s national interests “on its own borders”. President Yeltsin’s policy was at least for a while based upon this understanding. (Emphasis added.) ”

While he’s right that the only thing Russia can do is work with what it’s got, that little emphasized sentence absolves the U.S. and Britain and others of their entire involvement at the geopolitical level, in general, and in Russia and Eastern Europe, in particular.

Russia should, in effect, do what its armed-to-the-teeth NATO neighbors want. Make nice, in other words, do what the U.S. wants—expressed through its proxies.

“Stephen Cohen complains: “If Russia under Yeltsin was presented [by US media] as having legitimate […] national interests, we are now made to believe that Putin’s Russia has none at all.” But this is fairly normal: democracies often cannot accept as legitimate what an authoritarian regime views as its rights.”

What is wrong with that complaint, if one doesn’t accept a priori that Putin is evil incarnate? Or that Cohen is a shill for a new totalitarianism? That even Putin should get the same treatment as other leaders of his country is the heart of diplomacy. But diplomacy is a lost art.

Putin’s concerns cannot, by definition, be legitimate because he’s a dictator—and not one of the good ones because he doesn’t agree with the U.S. unilaterally. It has always been this way: we only keep the ones we like and we only like the ones who suck up. It’s Putin’s own fault for being so intractable. If, however, the Russians choose a different president, they better not choose one that does anything for them, else he’ll follow in the footsteps of Mossadegh or Lumumba or those poor fools in Palestine who voted Hamas into power in a democratic election. Better to choose a manipulable puppet and see if you can get something for yourself.

And to cap things off,

Russian aggression against Ukraine has betrayed the general expectation of the major powers to pursue a responsible and, therefore, predictable politics, such that the world is spared major military conflicts. This is why the current crisis, no matter what its outcome may be, has already created a new international situation. (Emphasis added.)”

That first sentence is utterly blind to U.S.—and possibly British—actions in the last half-century. It’s utterly flabbergasting. How could anyone with a passing knowledge of history say that we have been “spared military conflicts”? Oh, I suppose he means that war no longer takes place on western soil. That it is waged by western powers seemingly everywhere else doesn’t enter into it. And the subtlety of economic warfare is something not even worth raising, if this guy can’t even see the bullets and bombs that are literally everywhere.

Instead, this fool heaps his entire opprobrium on Putin’s shoulders, putting a halo on the rest of the world and white-washing history to a degree that makes me think he’s suffered a serious head injury.

From that sentence alone, there is no need to take this guy seriously. A pity he put it all the way at the end of the article or I could have saved myself some time, I suppose.

8 months Ago

Criminal Justice in the U.S.

Published by marco on

The article Theater of Justice by Molly Crabapple (VICE) is an article by an artist who also occasionally does courtroom sketches.

She tells of Cecily McMillan, who was beaten into a seizure by police offers and who two years later stands trial for assaulting a police officer, facing seven years in prison. The officer’s record of having beaten other suspects was deemed inadmissable.

Or there is the other recent case of a black woman who tried to stand her ground, as others have successfully done. She fired a warning shot into the air, killing no one, not even wounding anyone. These were the actions of “Marissa Alexander, a PhD and mom who [wanted to] stop her husband from beating her,” That’s not a good reason, is it? Are we even sure that her husband isn’t allowed to beat her in that state? And that’s not nearly as good a reason as the guy had who killed a boy in the back-seat of his SUV for playing music too loud. Not guilty! But Marissa’s going to go away for a long time for her transgression.

“[She] was offered three years as a plea deal for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. She refused, knowing herself innocent. The judge sentenced her to 20 years. Now, she’s appealing. If she loses, the prosecutor wants to lock her up for 60.

“This is a “trial tax” you pay if you annoy the courts by insisting you are innocent.”

Who does this uppity woman think she is? Does she think she’s white? Rich? A citizen? A human being? Do not speak of justice in a system that produces hypocrisy on this scale. And the system does everything it can to make being poor or disadvantaged increase chances of prosecution dramatically.

We still have jury trials in the States; this means that non-professional, easily misled and nigh-constantly deluded undereducated head-cases are deciding your fate. Those are your peers. They can’t string two logical sentences together; what are the odds that they can wend their way through the facts of the case to come to a just conclusion? Nearly zero. What are the odds that they will decide your fate based on how you dress or act rather than evidence? Nearly certain.

“The poor, the brown, the trans – to juries, they’re guilty unless proven otherwise. Innocence is the absence of guilt. It is near impossible to prove a negative. […] If you’re too poor to afford bail, you arrive in court in chains. If you have no family to bring you a suit, you wear your prison jumpsuit.”

And people who haven’t yet been convicted are made to suffer beforehand. The unconvicted are left to stew behind bars because they can’t afford ridiculous bail. The homeless guy who was recently broiled to death in Riker’s Island because he couldn’t pay $2500 for bail on his charge of loitering was in jail for this reason. He was luckier than the homeless guy in the SouthWest U.S. who was executed by police officers for the same crime. Sure, those are anecdotes, but that doesn’t change the fact that “[…] the average defendant [is] a person of colour charged with a drug crime.” And more and more prisoners are going away for longer sentences; more and more people are taking years before they get their trial.

“Because the entire system would implode if everyone demanded a trial, prosecutors push plea bargains like restaurants hawking early bird specials. But instead of money, they’re haggling over life. If you’re too poor for a lawyer or have already spent months in jail because you can’t make bail, plea bargains can be irresistible. They account for 95 percent of felony convictions.”

As mentioned above, 95% just take the plea bargain in order to get some form of a life back. This is a life with a felony record and drastically reduced chances of making anything of yourself in a society that hates its ex-cons.

“Most trials resemble not grand dramas but factory farms. The raw material is a person. The product is a prisoner. Trials are deliberately dull. They move glacially, on state time rather than human time. If you hire your own lawyers – a necessity to have a chance of winning – you’ll blow through your life savings. As the cop cliché goes, “You can beat the rap, but you can’t beat the ride.””

If you don’t plea out, you lose your life savings and may still go to jail. If you do plea out, you lose all chance of ever making decent money again. You see? In America, you still have the freedom to choose.