Our “best and bravest?”

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

I’m glad that “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is at least being repudiated if not actually repealed. But Obama’s remarks endorsing the so-called compromise caught my eye. Among them, he said, “Our military is made up of the best and bravest men and women in our nation, and my greatest honor is leading them as Commander-in-Chief.”

Wow. That explains why he’s throwing their lives away in at least two futile wars that appear to be widening into an all-out crusade against Islam. That explains why military recruiters lure people who would otherwise be consigned to sub-living wage jobs with the promise of a college education. That’s why our government refuses to take post-traumatic stress disorder seriously, instead privileges ideology to effective treatment, and cuts funds even for programs that don’t conflict with its ideology. That’s why healthcare at the Veterans Administration in general can be characterized as a “failure to provide.”

I tend to be in opposition to the military. I think people who volunteer for military service have failed to question the propaganda that begins every morning with the “Pledge of Allegiance” in school and have too willingly participated in a legacy of war and of empire. At a more fundamental level, I oppose the use of force because as the bumper sticker says, it “doesn’t prove who’s right, only who’s left.” So I’m hard on soldiers too.

But I’ll call a hypocrite when I see one. This hypocrisy runs far deeper than the consideration of anyone’s sexuality as a measure of fitness to serve. And Obama’s ears, among others, should be burning bright red.

(UPDATE: Obama has called for, in McClatchy’s paraphrase, “Americans to honor those who died fighting for the United States with more than just words this Memorial Day weekend.” Of course he did so with nothing but words.)

Evil remains ascendant

According to Reuters,

The chief of the Coast Guard, Admiral Thad Allen, acknowledged on Sunday that the government is forced to rely on BP and the private oil sector to try to plug the gusher. At the same time, BP said the containment method it was attempting on the ocean floor was capturing much less of the leaking oil than three days ago.

Thirty-three days into the spill, it is still gushing. Government and BP estimates of the amounts are simply not credible and the damage that remains to be done is simply incalculable, both in terms of the economy and in terms of the ecology. And the Obama administration’s response has fallen short both in terms of real action and in terms of accountability.

Meanwhile, it is evident that Obama’s strategy in Afghanistan lies in ruins except that the country serves as a setting for prisons where detainees can be held indefinitely (Bush’s error in attempting to remove detainees from civilian judicial oversight appears to have been in choosing Guantanamo rather than Bagram).

I will confess to some surprise that it appears we might actually leave Iraq but what passes for accomplishment there is actually the result of ethnic cleansing. Violence continues and elections there have produced a result even less conclusive than the presidential elections in the U.S. of 2000, in which suspicions persist that Bush stole the election.

The broadest Bureau of Labor Statistics U6 measure of unemployment is at 17.1 percent, just three tenths of a percent shy of its October peak. Shadow Government Statistics pegs it at close to 22 percent. Gallup’s survey puts underemployment, as of yesterday, at 19.2 percent. But the Obama administration seems to view a shortage of jobs as a public relations problem rather than a situation to be dealt with in any meaningful way and many economists who simply don’t want to face reality enable him.

No matter how some faux-Progressives might plead, we have little to be thankful for. I shouldn’t be surprised. I shouldn’t be disappointed.

By July 2008, I knew I couldn’t vote for Obama due to statements he made on late-term abortion. In August, it was clear he had deviated far from the positions that had earned him the nomination. In December 2009, it was clear he was a failure.

It’s the end of another semester, grading time again. And Obama remains a dismal failure. But to say so is now trite. What remains to be remarked upon is something that Charles Krauthammer points to in his denial that the U.S. has become ungovernable.

Krauthammer points to example after example where he claims that bipartisanship is possible. Every single case is in fact an example of capitulation to the right wing. We remain at war, spending trillions of dollars that are desperately needed at home. Obama has not merely refused to prosecute Bush administration criminality; he has embraced it. The accumulation of executive power remains unchecked, civil rights have not been restored, and the Supreme Court continues a rightward shift that embraces corporate influence. And of course, there is so much more that I just can’t remember it all.

But just as it is inadequate to point at Tea Partiers and snicker, so it is to do so with the government. It is not even sufficient to point to the faux-Progressives who betray us or to point out how so many of us remain steadfastly silent under Obama about that which we so vociferously protested under Bush. For while much of what is happening compounds a central problem, it remains evident that an elite whose only interest lies in the acquisition of power will not solve global food insecurity that arises both from climate change and an increased reliance on meat, will not address the loss of glacial water resources upon which billions of people rely, will not even end a crusade against Islam that perpetuates war, and will continue to substitute fine-sounding words for urgently needed actions.

And we should by now have learned that substituting one elite for another will not solve these problems, that voting is fundamentally inadequate, that any economic system of exchange does not merely reward individual greed but promotes an individualism that disregards a greater common interest in our fellow humans and in the planet upon which we depend, and that we will have to solve all these problems ourselves. No one else will do it for us.

But we have not learned these really very simple lessons. So perhaps the title I have given to this entry is incorrect. Perhaps it is not that evil remains ascendant but that ignorance itself is evil, that those who embrace ignorance are evil, and that we fully deserve the extinction which heads our way.

Yes, Rand Paul is insane. Here’s why we should pay attention anyway.

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

I am not unhappy with Rand Paul’s remarks on the Civil Rights Act, about BP’s liability in the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, or about Massey’s liability in a coal mining accident.

I can’t be. Because all Paul has done is to unmask the fraud of capitalist libertarianism.

When I was teaching public speaking at CSU East Bay, I had my students take the Political Compass test in order to increase their sensitivity to a diversity of political opinion that is actively suppressed in the mainstream media. By and large, my students came in with left-libertarian views (shown in the chart below in the lower left quadrant); a few might crop up in other quadrants. But all the mainstream politicians were in the right wing authoritarian (upper right) quadrant. With my finger I would trace a small area in that latter quadrant, label it the range of acceptable political discourse, and explain to my students not only that they had to consider a far broader range of views than those they saw in the news, but that their own views were not being represented.

Theoretically, capitalist libertarians are in the right-libertarian (lower right) quadrant. But where true libertarians are anti-authoritarian, capitalist so-called libertarians don’t actually object to authority. They object only to political authority. They accept corporate or economic hierarchy as earned and deserved even when it has been inherited.

And in fact, capitalism could not function in the absence of authority. We can begin with the very notion that certain people may control what Proudhon saw as our common heritage, our shared birthright to the earth. Property reveals its inherently authoritarian character when homeless people have no place to legally be and no place to legally do what their bodies require; and it reveals an inherently authoritarian character when some people profit wildly off the labor of others.

Capitalist so-called libertarians insist that workers are on a level playing field in negotiating with employers. Which is why Paul sees minimum wage as harmful; capitalists think that minimum wage undermines the ability of workers and employers to freely negotiate the terms of labor.

That minimum wage is set far below a living wage, that so many people barely earn a minimum wage, and that capitalists think that in the absence of legislation they could pay even less than minimum wage in fact unmasks the powerlessness of workers against employers. That the police and even the armed forces have been called in so many times in our history to protect property against workers, in effect to defeat labor actions, reveals that the apparent political corruption seen in efforts to pass weakened health care and financial reform legislation is in fact fundamental to the system.

“What I don’t like from the president’s administration is this sort of, ‘I’ll put my boot heel on the throat of BP,’” Mr. Paul said, referring to a remark by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar about the oil company. “I think that sounds really un-American in his criticism of business.”

And in preferring economic authority to political authority, capitalist so-called libertarians refuse to recognize the state’s role in protecting the allocation of our common birthright to a favored few. If the experience of racism at a Birmingham lunch counter seems to lack the theoretical grounding that justifies the Civil Rights Act, it is only because we have never questioned why it is that some people have property, why it is that others do not, and the actions which would have been required for property to ever arise in the first place.

A hint to some folks in Santa Cruz: violence begets violence

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

I haven’t been to SubRosa but it sounds like a really, really cool place. Apparently, however, members of the “law” enforcement community blame this operation for some recent mayhem in downtown Santa Cruz and a report came out that they had “visited” SubRosa. Now this from SubRosa itself:

Four armed deputies visited SubRosa Wednesday May 21st. They allegedly wanted to talk to SubRosa staff about “worker’s comp issues.” One of them was an inspector from the Santa Cruz District Attorney’s Office. SubRosa was closed at the time.

Beyond this unsuccessful visit, SubRosa has not had any contact with law enforcement. SubRosa was not raided, and our door was not broken. We did not, and do not call the police.

SubRosa is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, and has no paid workers and is an all-volunteer space. SubRosa has a business license to operate in the City Of Santa Cruz. SubRosa is in compliance with all city and county fire codes, zoning requirements, entertainment permits, health codes, workers compensation, and sales tax requirements. No workers comp claims have been filed, nor have we been contacted by the Division of Workers Compensation.

I have seen a number of published claims of credit for vandalism, typically directed at fast food establishments or bank branches in Santa Cruz. I do not know and am in no position to verify if these reported actions have even occurred.

But assuming the veracity of these latter claims, those responsible for them and those responsible for the destruction on May 1 should consider the cost of their accomplishments. Did they have enough or attract enough support to mount a credible uprising? Did their bravado impress anyone outside their own small clique? Can they point to any evidence whatsoever that their deeds have hastened a revolution or even brought any substantial relief to any oppressed persons? Is there even any evidence that their “message” has been understood?

Anarchists already know that cops are authoritarians who serve an elite primarily composed of wealthy white males that passes laws principally against everyone else. We did not need Professor Gates’ experience in Cambridge last year to understand the meaning of “disorderly conduct.”

That cops are stupid does not rationalize stupidity in return. And even if it did, these vandals have failed to weigh first, that any act of violence is in fact an authoritarian, anti-anarchist act; and second, that such actions reinforce a violent stereotype of anarchists that leads common people to see us not as their defenders but as criminals who threaten their safety. So I’m feeling a need to hear again from those who seem so fond of broken glass just how it is they are doing any good whatsoever.

Indians, Mexicans, and a sacrifice

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

The unfortunate part about leaving Facebook is that I will be losing contact with some very interesting people. I was, for instance, astonished at the quality of response offered to someone who protested that veganism was somehow disrespectful of native peoples; in this argument, native people understand themselves as part of the food chain (which, as our corpses rot in the ground or our ashes nurture the Earth, remains true whether we eat animals or not) and to assert a moral preference for a vegan diet is to imply that native people were wrong.

I had responded that an animal rights perspective asserts that animals have rights equal to humans, that just as we would regard it as wrong if Indians engaged in cannibalism, we can regard as wrong for them to eat meat–as vegans do for anyone else. Just as female genital mutilation is unquestionably wrong, regardless of cultural heritage, it is not racism to refuse Japanese or native peoples permission to hunt whales or club seals. And when she argued that we are all animals and part of the food chain, insisting that veganism constitutes an accusation against native people, I responded that an important difference between humans and animals is that we have a choice, that we can choose to do a right thing.

This conversation had occurred on a third person’s page, one whom I hear is now in a hospital, having been seriously injured at an immigration rights rally. She pointed out that my interlocutor was romanticizing native people and seeing things in black and white. In essence, to see veganism as an attack on native people is to assert that they were entirely correct–in fact, perfect humans–in everything they did and therefore to cast any attack against them as the antithesis of perfection.

Because this person’s injuries may be life threatening, I may lose contact with her anyway. But then I see from someone else today that they are drawing a parallel between Nakba, the catastrophe, whose anniversary was just yesterday, and Arizona’s fascism, expressed both in the recent “illegal” immigration law and in a law that forbids anyone with an accent from teaching English and forbids ethnic studies courses. This point reaches into U.S. history.

Israel has pursued an aggressive settlements policy in occupied Palestinian territory that has stolen land and displaced people. Indeed, even at its founding, commemorated as Nakba, it displaced Palestinians to make space for a Jewish state. Over sixty years later, many of these people are still refugees, dependent on United Nations aid. Israel has deprived Palestinians of farmland and, in a relatively dry part of the world, deprived them of water. It has severely constrained Palestinian economic development. While Israel justifies its actions by asserting that it is a country under attack, the fact remains that it provokes these attacks not only by expelling people but through its brutal treatment of people who remain under occupation.

This somewhat parallels the Mexican-American War, the outcome of which was to deprive Mexico of about half its territory. Many Mexicans, according to Manuel Gonzales in Mexicanos: A History of Mexicans in the United States, remained in the occupied and annexed territory. The elites of Canada, the United States, and Mexico have adopted the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which has devastated small farms in Mexico, depriving people of their livelihoods, compelling them to come north to seek employment as easily exploitable laborers often willing to work in deplorable conditions for less than minimum wage.

It is thus possible to understand the United States’ support for Israel as a defense of its own history. If Israel is wrong, so too is the U.S.

Glenda Laws has written, in an essay I find in Thomas Shapiro’s Great Divides: Readings on Social Inequality in the United States, that as opponents of immigration see it,

immigrants have two important potential impacts on local labor markets. First, wage rates are driven down. Second, immigrants are employed in jobs that would otherwise be filled by unskilled or low-skilled U.S.-born workers. For immigrants who had been in the United States less than five years in 1990, average wages were almost 32 percent below those of U.S.-born workers. It may seem unclear why immigrants should be castigated for the unfairness of this situation if we assume that employers should pay fair and reasonable wages to all workers, regardless of their immigrant status.

But of course employers don’t “pay fair and reasonable wages to all workers, regardless of their immigrant status.” Instead, immigrants’ desperation and consequent acceptance of ill-treatment is leverage against people born in the United States who seek to keep their own jobs, that all of us must accept lower wages and more abusive conditions, in order to be “competitive.”

The part I never quite understand, that indeed Laws suggests is “unclear,” is why so many blame immigrants rather than the capitalists who exploit us all, who use “competition” principally to increase their own profits, to set themselves apart as an exclusive elite by widening the gap between rich and poor. I never quite understand why so many of us are so determined to view Mexicans, rather than capitalists, as a threat that we kill Mexicans in the desert, making an already dangerous trip even more so by erecting walls and defenses at a border that cuts across land that really isn’t even ours to begin with.

Not to mention that the land we didn’t steal from Mexicans, we stole from Indians, and in some cases both. But Arizona’s immigration law, under consideration in ten other states, simply seeks to deny this reality. I can’t sum up this hypocrisy any better than in the cartoon that Nicole Belle, on Crooks and Liars, points to:

That cartoon, too, apparently appears originally on Facebook. It is now only two days until I leave.

Starting yet again….

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

The accumulated problems had just become too much.

First, I’d never gotten a good synchronization of my old blog to my new site. Second, and truly troublesome, I was getting “white screens of death” when accessing administration pages and user profiles. Third, forums weren’t working. And fourth, there was little hope I’d be able to resolve these issues through the various forums that supposedly exist to help people through these sorts of problems.

So I’m starting almost from scratch. I blew away the database. I didn’t have to blow away the theme, so that’s almost back to the way I like it.

But I’ve lost all my users. So if you’re attempting to log in to this site, whether or not you’ve received an invitation, whether or not you accepted that invitation, you’ll need a fresh invitation. Contact me.

In the mean time, I have a lot of reconstruction to do.

Five days til I leave Facebook — important site news

Originally published at Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

I’ve been fighting with my server some more today, now fully implementing the advice I’d partly implemented before.

I’ve been misled before, but I’m hoping my system performance issues are now resolved. Among other things, I’m blocking all search engine bots. My stuff gets automatically cross-posted to my old blog anyway, so I’ll let that site take the hits.

I could still use a bigger Linode. In the meantime, I think I’ve got things to the point where I can safely do what I’ve already done: add more features. More on that, further down.

As of now, I’m still planning on leaving Facebook on the 18th, although it’s starting to look like Facebook is paying a price and may well reconsider its privacy policy. UPDATE: Facebook’s reconsideration appears to amount to certain security enhancements which, in and of themselves, are good, but do not touch the concerns which so many have expressed.

Towards that end, I’m pleased to announce that I’ve brought in some of the functionality that Facebook offers to this site with an XMPP instant messaging service that is (or should be) linked with this Drupal installation.

If you’re a user on my site, you should be set up automatically with an account and the password you have on this site. CORRECTION: You can configure the instant message service to use with the site by editing your profile (look for XMPP on your frontnot the instant message–page and enter your JID and password); contact me to set this up. It’s on my server, it runs over SSL, so I’m thinking there should be no privacy issues beyond those you already incur being on this site (barring, of course, someone cracking the SSL connection and decrypting your communications, in which case you have serious problems I can’t address).

If you’re having problems, contact me.

You can (or at least, should be able to) hook up with pidgin or any instant messaging client that supports XMPP. I recommend pidgin; it’s what I use, it supports multiple accounts, and there are lots of add-on features to make it even better. If it doesn’t work, let me know (and don’t be surprised when I’m irritated, but honestly, I haven’t had the opportunity to test this).

UPDATE: The chat experiment failed miserably. I’m getting damned annoyed for only about the millionth time with crap that does not work as documented, documentation that doesn’t explain what to do when something fails, and user support forums that yield no answers when questions are asked. The people who come up with this bullshit–and it is bullshit–use it to pad their resumés without actually following through on what it takes to make a contribution to the community that people can actually use. I hope they’re getting really great orgasms stroking themselves this way. Speaking of which….

The bad news is that forums are down. And it will probably be a while before they’re fixed. I hit a booby trap and haven’t seen an adequate answer on how to fix them. This may be a while.

That might interfere with multiple user chats. I’m hoping not.

I’ve installed mailman and the relevant Drupal modules so when the forums come back up, you subscribe to associated mailing lists and post to the Drupal forum in your email.

This is still a work in progress. And it looks like I’ve got the summer off with nothing else to do, so there might be yet more to come.

Surviving a DDOS attack

Originally published at Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

It appears I brought some trouble on myself by starting this social network.

Initially, I allowed potential users to register through an on line form, but recognizing the potential for abuse, I moderated these registrations. Within six hours–and you’ll find others who have had a similar experience–I was getting fairly blatant spammer registrations. I deleted the accounts, of course.

As this went on, I came to realize that I was going to spend a great deal of time reviewing and deleting these registrations. So I made the site invitation-only. Any authenticated user of this site may invite others and that’s how people will get in.

At some point I started noticing serious server performance issues, particularly after I posted an entry. (Guess what I’m about to do as I write this?) Watching the logs, it became apparent that my server was getting slammed by bots. Some of those bots are legitimate search engine bots that offer advice on how to reduce or eliminate their impact if you just click on the link that appears in the log file. Some of those bots were not legitimate–even if they offered advice on how to modify robots.txt, they didn’t honor the requests therein.

I eventually found Drupal’s Bad Behavior module. It seems to be working, though the only way I knew was that as bot activity seemed to drop, it became apparent that I was under a distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack on my mail server. (Both my mail and web server are on the same Linode.)

My Linode is the smallest (and cheapest) they’ve got. It’s what I can afford. So it doesn’t take much of a DDOS attack to flatten it. But I have now reconfigured my mail server both to dispense of spammer connections instantly and to limit the connections they can make.

While I was there, I fixed some things so my mother can use her email address on my server if she needs to ditch her crappy ISP (Comcast).

I’m receiving mail (though I bounced some last night because I forgot I needed to stop my fetchmail cron job while I had postfix down) and my server now seems a lot more responsive. I’m hoping that’s the end of it.

Playing with numbers

Originally published at Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

Alternet has probably as good an article on Shadow Government Statistics as you’re going to find. It’s about John Williams, whom most most economists refuse to even talk about. That’s because he challenges the orthodoxy on the government’s economic statistics. The underlying data is manipulated, he says, in ways which appear to benefit incumbents in political power.

If he’s right–and as time goes by, I’m taking him more seriously–even my measure of unemployment is simply wrong. My U3 fails to consider people who are working fewer hours than they’d like. It probably does include discouraged workers, because I use the highest measured labor force participation rate applied to the current population estimate. That might overstate the labor force, but my assumption is that if opportunity were truly present, these people would be taking jobs because it isn’t like they don’t need the money.

So here’s my U3 (which I named after my cat):

Here’s Williams’ U6 (with the BLS U3 in red, BLS U6 in grey):

Chart of U.S. Unemployment

Here’s what Williams has to say about the government’s definition of discouraged workers:

Up through 1994, this was the definition of discouraged workers: You met all the other qualifications, but you haven’t looked for work in the last four weeks,” Williams said. “In ’94, they changed the definition so that in order to be discouraged, you had to have not looked for work in the last four weeks, but you had to have worked in the last year. The result knocked several million people out of consideration.

And here’s my problem:

[Maurine] Haver [chair of the statistics committee for the National Association for Business Economics] has little regard for Williams’ argument about discouraged workers. “If someone has done absolutely nothing in one year’s time, I frankly think they’re not very serious about working,” she said. “The U-6 gives you a measure of the very worst in unemployment, period. I don’t think there are any more people who truly are out of a job beyond that, people who won’t get their butt out of bed. If you have done nothing in a year, do you really think that person is a member of the labor force?”

So I’m “not very serious about working.” I finally gave up chasing thunderstorms hoping lightning would strike because even with my Master’s degree and even with a professionally-prepared resumé, I wasn’t getting any traction. I finally did get an interview last month, but even though it went well and they think I’m “very qualified,” they’ve covered their positions. (I might get a job if someone dies.)

Simply put, I’m not seeing the process of finding advertised positions and sending in applications as anything other than a waste of time. And the only alternative means marketing myself as a consultant. So I guess I’m “not very serious” because I can’t do marketing, even the very minimum that our socioeconomic system regards as necessary to find employment. (But “Octomom” is.)

It’s true that there are jobs I will not accept and am not pursuing. If Haver had had my experience, she might understand. But for me, Haver’s arrogance is breathtaking. It isn’t like I’m just lying here on the dole. For one thing, I’m a Ph.D. student. For another, because my last teaching job, as a Teaching Associate at CSU East Bay, didn’t pay into unemployment insurance, I have not qualified for benefits since losing that job. I wouldn’t have left it, at least without something better lined up, but graduating meant I was no longer eligible for it. To even qualify for food stamps, I would have to become homeless. I’m not collecting any of that.

My only option, at 51 years of age, is to live with my mother, who should be retired, but is working many more hours than she wants, in part, to keep me fed. But I’m “not very serious about working.”

I guess I just don’t belong on this planet.

A “feel good” jobs report.

Originally published at Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

Normally, I get to the unemployment data much earlier in the day but I’m coming down to the wire on a class project due at the end of the semester (preview here). I’m hoping I’ll finish that tomorrow.

The big news is that over 1.5 million people returned to the labor market in April and some of them are finding jobs. According to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, over 1.1 million more people were employed in April than in March. But the number of people the Bureau of Labor Statistics counts as unemployed also rose by about 423,000. The results make the headline (U-3) unemployment rate rise to 9.86 percent. Meanwhile, Admiral Janeway’s U-3, which works from a different notion of labor market size, declined to 12.43 percent.

The word I’m getting, though from many sources, is that policymakers’ responses to the Greek financial crisis are inadequate, that some form of default is inevitable, and that this will induce another financial crisis. It doesn’t appear to me that Greeks are accepting the austerity measures which are being imposed; there have been riots and a general strike. And of course, I don’t blame them. I think they understand that they’re being ripped off by the elite. And frankly, that’s the kind of contagion I’d like to see more of.

Unfortunately, the rest of us will likely only see the effects of another banking crisis. And I suspect that’s coming sooner rather than later. That may be compounded by the other thing I keep hearing about happening in this country: deleveraging. Frankly, I don’t know where these jobs in today’s numbers are coming from. It might be that what I really should be doing is just throwing this particular project overboard because I can’t help but suspect the numbers are bogus and if that’s the case, then my calculations are at least as bogus as those of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.