Now eleven million later, I was sitting at the bar

3 06 2015

Many years ago, when my friend T. and I were both broke (she no longer is, I’m, well, I ain’t at her level), we’d fantasize about how we’d support ourselves in old age:

“Let’s rob banks, and if we don’t get caught—helloooo Costa Rica. And if we do, then it’s at least three hots and a cot.”

That’s if the lottery didn’t work out for us.

Well, it seems some seniors have beaten us to it:

Elderly Crime Rates Increase - Bloomberg Business'e

Never was much of a golf fan.





Just let the red rain splash you

9 12 2014

The executive summary of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence torture report.

16 absolutely outrageous abuses detailed in the CIA torture report, as outlined by Dylan Matthews.

I was naïve, years ago, in my outrage at the torture committed by the CIA. Yes, the US had enabled torturers (see: School of the Americas) and supported regimes which tortured (see: US domestic surveillance and foreign policy), but somehow, the notion that torture was committed by US government agents seemed over the line in a way that merely enabling and supporting had not.

I don’t know, maybe US-applied torture was over the line in a way US-enabled/supported torture was not, and busting righteously through it busted something fundamental in our foreign policy.

But given, say, the Sand Creek and Marias massacres amongst the general policy of “land clearing” and Indian removal—policies directed by US politicians and agents—wasn’t it a bit precious to decry this late unpleasantness?

Naïveté, I wrote above. No: ignorance. I’d studied (and protested) 20th-century US foreign policy and ignored its 19th century version, the one directly largely against the indigenous people whose former lands now make up the mid- and western United States.

Ta-Nehisi Coates recently wrote that paeans to nonviolence are risible in their ignorance: Taken together, property damage and looting have been the most effective tools of social progress for white people in America. Yes.

A country born in theft and violence—unexceptional in the birth of nation-states—and I somehow managed not to know what, precisely, that birth meant.

I’m rambling, avoiding saying directly what I mean to say: there will be no accountability for torture. Some argue for pardoning those involved as a way to arrive at truth, that by letting go the threat of criminal charges we (the people) can finally learn what crimes were committed, and officially, presidentially, recognize that crimes were committed.

It is doubtful we will get even that.

Still, we have the torture report, and (some) crimes documented which were only previously suspected. Good, knowledge is good.

But then what? Knowledge of torture committed is not sufficient inoculation against torture being committed.

Coming clean will not make us clean.





Everybody knows the fight was fixed, 5

11 08 2014

What was that joke? I’ll believe that a corporation is a person when one goes to jail?

(Okay, that’s not the exact joke, but you get the idea.)

As ever, the reverse (or inverse, or converse—tough to tell), also works: a person with the wealth of a corporation will be treated like one: pay a fine, and walk away.

Of course, one could argue this is only fair: only the very wealthy could have engaged in the kinds of criminal activity of which Bernie Ecclestone was accused.

 





I see danger come

12 08 2013

If you’re unwilling to allow the police to detain young black and brown men for being young black and brown men then you make “our city a more dangerous place.”

And if you’re unwilling to allow the state to confine men away from any human contact for years at a time, then you apparently want convicts “to restore their ability to terrorize fellow prisoners, prison staff and communities throughout California.”

An open society needs effective enforcement of the law and allows that those who break the law be separated from society.

There must be some way to accomplish both without disregarding the rights of the free members of that society or disregarding the humanity of its imprisoned members.

Those who believe we cannot? You got it: fear-mongering authoritarian rat-bastards.





Springtime for Hitler

28 07 2013

Austria kinda creeps me out.

Rest assured, I have no reason to be so out-creeped—it is not my area of study, I’ve never visited, I used to enjoy this bar/restaurant in Minneapolis that served Austrian food, and I have fond memories of my time in The Sound of Music—but somethin’ about the place sets me off.

Hitler! You might say: It’s Hitler!

Ehhhh, maaaaybeee—except I’m not creeped out by Germany. Yes, der Futur Führer was born and grew up in what is now Austria, but he was just a whiny loser as he mooned about Vienna: he did his real damage while based in the country to his north.

Still, there may be something about German efforts to come to terms with its past which contrasts favorably to Austria, which, famously, has not.

Ah: the creep may come from a sense of all kinds of nasty shit fermenting away below the surface.

Remember that guy who kidnapped and raped his own daughter and kept her and her kids in his basement? Not surprised that this happened in Austria.

Now, I repeat: this is completely unfair to Austria, especially given the recent escape by three women from years-long imprisonment from a house in Cleveland. There are psychopaths and serial criminals—not to mention unmentioned crimes of the state—in every country, so it’s unfair to single out Austria.

But I’m still singling out Austria.

All of this is a very long way to a very short point: the recent “discovery” of a village bell dedicated to Adolph Hitler is yet another crack in  the Austrian-victim-of-Anschluss excuse for history, and as such, ought to be celebrated.

I get the point of Raimund Fastenbauer that the bell could become a pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis and thus should be “disappeared”, but given how much mid-century Austrian history has been disappeared, I think getting rid of the bell is the exact wrong approach.

Let it ring out, literally and metaphorically. Let it be seen, and heard. Let it be talked about.

After 80 years, let it finally be talked about.





Hit me with your best shot

24 06 2013

Quick hit:

I think the reason most Americans don’t seem to care about the massive secret agency info-suck is the same reason most Americans don’t seem to care about the massive numbers of us imprisoned for long periods of time in inhumane conditions.

Actually, two, related reasons. One, we don’t think “we” are at any risk of having info used against us/imprisonment and thus don’t feel any sympathy for or solidarity with “them”, who are justly targeted.

Two, we punish legislators who are “soft on crime/terrorism”, not those who are harsh—again, because those legislators are protecting “us” against “them”.

At its worst, this kind of thinking means that any questions of responses to crime/terrorism opens the question-er to intimations that she might not be one of “us”, not to be trusted, and, perhaps, should come under the same type of treatment as “them”.

Damned effective at keeping “us” in line.





With liberty and justice for all, cont.

20 09 2011

This time, bitterly:

Georgia Pardons Board Denies Clemency for Death Row Inmate

By KIM SEVERSON
Published: September 20, 2011

ATLANTA — Troy Davis, whose death row case ignited an international campaign to save his life, has lost what appeared to be his last attempt to avoid death by lethal injection on Wednesday.

Rejecting pleas by Mr. Davis’s lawyers that shaky witness testimony and a lack of physical evidence presented enough doubt about his guilt to spare him death, the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles ruled on Tuesday morning that Mr. Davis, 42, should die for killing Mark MacPhail, an off-duty police officer, in a Savannah parking lot in 1989.

Emily L. Hauser, among many, many others, has thrown herself into efforts to halt his execution, writing about him repeatedly on her blog, on the Team Commie/Golden Horde/Black Republican open threads at TNC’s place, and in two pieces for The Atlantic. (I did only the bare minimum, clicking through one of Emily’s posts to sign a petition.)

More than 630,000 letters asking the board to stay the execution were delivered by Amnesty International last Friday. The list of people asking that the Georgia parole board offer clemency included President Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 51 members of Congress, entertainment figures like Cee Lo Green and death penalty supporters, including William S. Sessions, a former F.B.I. director.

Davis had faced his death three times previously, each execution stayed as courts ordered a reconsideration of the evidence.

But in June, a federal district court judge in Savannah said his legal team had failed to demonstrate his innocence, setting the stage for this latest execution date.

That’s right: he couldn’t prove his innocence.

I am opposed to the death penalty in all instances. If Davis were guilty, I would be opposed to his execution, but there is considerable evidence to suggest that his guilt is not beyond a reasonable doubt.

So tomorrow, when Georgia straps Troy Davis down and injects him with a lethal drug, there’s a good chance the state will be committing a double injustice: in killing one (likely innocent) man, and in not pursuing the man who really killed Officer MacPhail.

Anneliese MacPhail, the slain man’s mother, hopes Davis’s execution brings her peace.

For the rest of us, there will be no peace.





Cash money, ain’t got no use for you

18 12 2010

No no no no no no NO! No. No no no. NO!

In terms of public safety and national security, the sooner the world moves to a digital cashless economy, the better.

So says Professor Jonathan Lipow. To which I respond, well, you read my first line.

Consider the opening graf:

THE 500-euro note is sometimes called the “Bin Laden” — after all, Europeans may never see the 500 euro, but they know it is out there somewhere. Unfortunately, Al Qaeda’s leader and the 500-euro bill are connected in another way: high-denomination bills make it a lot easier for terrorists to operate.

Got it? A joke about a name actually reveals a deeper reality!

Although, exactly how high-denomination currencies make it easier for terrorists isn’t really explained so much as it is “analogized”:

Organized crime has always been a cash industry. In 1969, the Treasury stopped issuing $500, $1,000, $5,000 and $10,000 bills specifically to impede crime syndicates — the only entities that were still using such large bills after the introduction of electronic money transfers.

It is up to the reader to suss out the reason for big bills: My guess is that it’s a lot easier to store a load of cash if that load is a pallet-full rather than a room-full.

In any case, while it is clear that terrorists and other assorted bad guys [and presumably a few bad broads] prefer cash to credit because, as Lipow helpfully points out, one can collect and dispense cash without showing any ID whatsoever(!!!!) it is not at all clear that bin Laden and his henchmen [what a great word, by the way, henchmen: it even sounds sinister] are actually using those 500-euro notes.

But no matter: the point about the mob was just to reinforce that bad guys and dolls use cash, and that the government can make it harder for those bad guys (and dolls) to use lots and lots of cash.

(Did such actions lead to a lessening of organized crime? Well, no, since Lipow himself notes that drug traffickers pile up the cash, only now in $100 denominations. But that’s another column, right?)

(And for another aside: We should be grateful that after distribution about $19 billion in cash in Iraq and Afghanistan,

the military has gradually realized that the anonymity of cash makes it easy for terrorists and insurgents to smuggle in money and make purchases without a trace.

So the Treasure figured out in 1969 that cash was king among the kingpins, but it took the military 40 years to figure this out? Or is that, too, another column?)

Anyway. Lipow then tells us the solution to all these terroristic and trafficking woes is to move from actual to virtual cash, not just cell-phone based but, preferably, “smart cards with biometric security features.” He offers the charming example of the Universal Electronic Payments System:

In South Africa, the technology company Net1 now distributes social welfare grants to almost four million people. It’s simple: with a battery-operated, point-of-sale device akin to a credit-card terminal, money is transferred from one person’s card to another; during the process, the cards download and record each other’s transaction records.

Every few days, employees from the payments system head out to the villages and make their own money transfers, downloading the transaction histories of the cards they come into contact with, which contain the histories of the cards they interacted with, and so on. That data is then downloaded into the company’s mainframe, as a way of monitoring the flow of funds across the cards.

Best of all, the system can function offline and off the power grid, providing a secure means of payment under all conditions and without any geographic limitations. And the incremental cost of executing a transaction via this system is essentially zero. It is a promising model for the global economy.

It’ll be cheap, easy, and fun!

No, what’s important about this system is not any benefit provided to consumers, but that the crooks, absent the ability to accumulate funds off the books, would find their transactions open to audits:

In a cashless economy, insurgents’ and terrorists’ electronic payments would generate audit trails that could be screened by data mining software; every payment and transfer would yield a treasure trove of information about their agents, their locations and their intentions. This would pose similar challenges for criminals.

Because in a cashless economy, there’s no way—no way—these criminals could dodge a (gasp!) audit, amirite? And since electronic systems are by definition impenetrable, there’s also no way that these same criminals could smash their way through or tunnel their way under these virtual walls to hide, steal, or otherwise mess with these currency bytes, right? Right?

I’m snarking on Lipow, perhaps undeservedly—after all, I’m hardly a fan of either Al Qaeda or organized crime—but he hijacks the wheels (and grease) of the economy in service to the omnipresent national security state without a consideration for all of the other licit purposes of real-world currency, or any inconveniences (or worse) to people of that same world without cold, hard, cash.

Following Lipow’s example, I won’t bother actually to spell out all those inconveniences (Matthew Yglesias provides some possibilities in the link, above), but let’s consider some of those “or worse” scenarios.

  • You don’t have enough money to open a bank account, or enough of a steady infusion of funds to overcome any of the fees associated with low-money accounts. As a result, you are shut out of the economy.
  • You lose your e-cash-card (loss, theft, catastrophe) and have no way to access your account. No one can lend you money to tide you over, because the problem is not the lack of money, but lack of access to the money.
  • You are in an abusive relationship and need funds to get away. Abuser is able to track you through your purchases, or in some way interfere with your ability to access your funds.
  • The government doesn’t like you and slams down a gate between you and your money. (Think this can’t happen? Consider what happened to Muslim charities designated in some way as “terrorist”: their funds were frozen; search “muslim charities funds frozen” for examples. Or asset forfeiture when the cops think you’ve committed a crime; see here and here, among others).
  • The government doesn’t like you and pressures financial institutions to block your access to funds; see WikiLeaks.

The thread running through these possibilities? The loss of access, which can inhibit not just your purchases, but your purchase on the economy, your mobility, and your ability to engage in disfavored political activity.

Admittedly, the last three examples  could be used against me just as I used the only-partial-effectiveness of Treasury Dept. actions to halt crime against Lipow, to wit: these things are already happening in the cash-ready world. Unlike, Lipow, however, I don’t argue that this means we should get rid of all e-money and rely solely on cash.

The virtual economy is useful, which is one of the reason that so many of us have moved happily into it, i.e., we were neither suckered nor coerced into doing so. Common currency was developed, as Adam Smith pointed out, as a convenience to both buyer and seller (as well as a way for sovereigns to accrue and maintain creditable wealth), and while some might have grumbled at the loss of commodity-barter, it is likely that most others liked the fungibility and—wait for it—accessibility of currency.

In other words, currency gave its holder options.

This mix of actual and virtual money seems to me to offer money-holders a reasonable array of options. Don’t like holding cash? Go with the debit or credit card. Prefer shopping online? Ditto. Like being able to fish a buck or two out of your pocket to buy a slice of pizza or to toss into a busker’s guitar lid? Cash. Don’t want a store (or another household member)  to track your spending—or know it was you who bought something embarrassing? Ditto. Want the convenience of the card as well as the ability to buy and sell anonymously? Duh, both.

You can do variously nefarious things with cash, of course, as well as have variously nefarious things done to you, but so, too, with electronic monies. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it were more likely for you to be victimized electronically than, um, cash-ically—but I won’t push it.

So we make our choices—sometimes after much thought, sometimes with no thought at all—and do what we can.

I disdain the glib security-versus-liberty equations, not least because they are not necessarily opposites, and don’t necessarily have anything to do with one another; this particular “versus” implies a death-match which doesn’t necessarily exist.

“Necessarily” is the key term: Sometimes they are in relation to one another, and sometimes one does have to choose more risk in exchange for more freedom, and less freedom in exchange for less risk (although, even here, I question whether trading away one’s freedom will result in greater security—but I’ll leave that for another day).

Lipow, however, commits the opposite error: he doesn’t even consider that his quest for security could have any effect on liberty, large or small; in his eagerness to close off the options of criminals, he doesn’t much consider the effects on the options of the rest of us.

“Money’s destiny is to become digital,” he quotes an OECD report. But he and the report’s authors forget that money doesn’t have a destiny.

It has a use.

Which means we should, theoretically, have some say in how it is used.





D’oh! (and you wonder why this is called ‘absurdbeats’)

24 10 2009

Arizona May Put State Prisons in Private Hands

Have these people not seen Robocop?

——

For an Episcopal Parish, a Path to Catholicism

(link)

As an old colleague once said of Jews who profess the belief that Jesus was the Messiah: ‘Do you know what we call Jews for Jesus? Christians.’

——

Yankees Claimed a Park; Children Got Bus Rides

Are you telling me a kabillionaire organization got better treatment than Bronx kids?

As Chrissie Hynde once said, ‘I’m stunned and amazed.’

——

Rich Germans demand higher taxes

Tho’ further down in the story one participant in the pro-tax demonstration, a Mr. Vollmer, found it “really strange that so few people came”.





This was not helpful

21 05 2009

From the New York Times Lede Blog:

May 21, 2009, 7:38 am

Updated: 7:38 am

Catholic Archbishop Explains Remarks on ‘Courage’ of Abusers

The new head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Archbishop Vincent Nichols — who said on Wednesday that it “takes courage” for members of the clergy in Ireland who abused children “to face these facts from their past, which instinctively and quite naturally they’d rather not look at” — tried to clarify his comments on Thursday.

Archbishop Nichols, who officially takes over the post of Archbishop of Westminster at a ceremony on Thursday, told British television on Wednesday, after the release of a 2,600-page report detailing the abuse of Irish children at Church-run state institutions:

It’s very distressing and very disturbing. And my heart goes out today, first of all to those people who will find that their stories are now told in public…. Secondly, I think of those in religious orders and some of the clergy in Dublin who have to face these facts from their past, which instinctively and quite naturally they’d rather not look at. That takes courage. And also we shouldn’t forget that this account today will also overshadow all of the good that they also did.

On Thursday, Archbishop Nichols told BBC Radio that his remarks were “perfectly sensible” and stressed that he also said that anyone guilty of abuse should be prosecuted. The BBC reported that Archbishop Nichols said, of members of the clergy who had committed abuse:

It is a tough road to take, to face up to our own weaknesses. That is certainly true of anyone who’s deceived themselves that all they’ve been doing is taking a bit of comfort from children.

The Irish Times reports that Archbishop Nichols was also asked if members of the clergy should be subject to prosection and that he replied: “Yes, absolutely. If the offenses are such that demand that.”

——

Oh, at least he wants them prosecuted. So what is doing to make sure that happens?