Julian Assange on Sweden, Persecution of WikiLeaks and Decay of Rule of Law

Screen shot of Julian Assange's interview for Telesur.

Ecuador granted diplomatic asylum to WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange around two weeks ago. He remains in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been living for over two months. He delivered a speech expressing gratitude to Ecuador, Latin America and his supporters days after the decision was announced by Ecuador. Assange also highlighted the United States’ war on whistleblowers and dissidents and urged the country to dissolve its investigation into WikiLeaks.

Now, in an interview by Jorge Gestoso for Telesur, a pan-Latin American news station based in Venezuela, Assange addresses the political persecution he faces from the United States, why Ecuador was right to grant asylum, the Swedish case against him and the efforts to marginalize the WikiLeaks organization by refusing to consider it a journalistic organization or by accusing it of having “blood on its hands” for releasing documents.

[View the full four-part interview in English here.]

“I am a person that it has been established is under a political persecution by the United States and its allies,” Assange declares. “That’s a fact. That fact was recognized, though we had to put a lot of work into giving the Ecuador government evidence about that fact.”

He goes on to express his belief that Ecuador “has been right to demonstrate its values in this case” and contends they went the “extra mile” in defending his rights because they correlate with Ecuador’s values. He knew Latin America supported WikiLeaks, but he was pleasantly surprised with the solidarity the region has shown recently.

In regards to the case in Sweden, Assange says he is going through the formal methods of cooperation. He noted the country’s prosecution authority had “refused to accept a written sworn statement.”

When Gestoso uses the words rape, sexual molestation, etc, to describe the allegations he faces, he dismisses the use of such language and told Gestoso it had been the police in Sweden that ultimately chose to bring this case, not any women. And, he expresses anxiety and frustration over trying to respond to allegations that are discussed in the media:

…It’s like to wrestle with a pig. You get mud all over yourself and it just suits the people who are throwing mud. If you respond, you bring yourself into the situation. You legitimize the scurrilous allegations that are being made against you. This sort of situation—People care about women. They care about children. And they don’t like to see bad things happen to them so when you make such an accusation against someone the instinct is to fight for the alleged victims. I have this instinct…

He acknowledges why people would be upset with the thought that he committed these allegations, but nonetheless, urges those viewing to read original police reports posted online that show what people involved in this have actually said. He recounted how he had stayed in Sweden five weeks then in the middle of the release of US diplomatic cables an Interpol red notice was put out, which was “not right” for someone who had been “completely cooperative in trying to assist an investigation.”

Prompted by Gestoso, he shares his view on Sweden’s neutrality or ability to act independent from the United States’ agenda: [cont’d.] (more…)

Julian Assange on Sweden, Persecution of WikiLeaks & Decay of Rule of Law

Screen shot of Julian Assange's interview for Telesur.

Ecuador granted diplomatic asylum to WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange around two weeks ago. He remains in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been living for over two months. He delivered a speech expressing gratitude to Ecuador, Latin America and his supporters days after the decision was announced by Ecuador. Assange also highlighted the United States’ war on whistleblowers and dissidents and urged the country to dissolve its investigation into WikiLeaks.

Now, in an interview by Jorge Gestoso for Telesur, a pan-Latin American news station based in Venezuela, Assange addresses the political persecution he faces from the United States, why Ecuador was right to grant asylum, the Swedish case against him and the efforts to marginalize the WikiLeaks organization by refusing to consider it a journalistic organization or by accusing it of having “blood on its hands” for releasing documents.

[View the full four-part interview in English here.]

“I am a person that it has been established is under a political persecution by the United States and its allies,” Assange declares. “That’s a fact. That fact was recognized, though we had to put a lot of work into giving the Ecuador government evidence about that fact.”

He goes on to express his belief that Ecuador “has been right to demonstrate its values in this case” and contends they went the “extra mile” in defending his rights because they correlate with Ecuador’s values. He knew Latin America supported WikiLeaks, but he was pleasantly surprised with the solidarity the region has shown recently.

In regards to the case in Sweden, Assange says he is going through the formal methods of cooperation. He noted the country’s prosecution authority had “refused to accept a written sworn statement.”

When Gestoso uses the words rape, sexual molestation, etc, to describe the allegations he faces, he dismisses the use of such language and told Gestoso it had been the police in Sweden that ultimately chose to bring this case, not any women. And, he expresses anxiety and frustration over trying to respond to allegations that are discussed in the media:

…It’s like to wrestle with a pig. You get mud all over yourself and it just suits the people who are throwing mud. If you respond, you bring yourself into the situation. You legitimize the scurrilous allegations that are being made against you. This sort of situation—People care about women. They care about children. And they don’t like to see bad things happen to them so when you make such an accusation against someone the instinct is to fight for the alleged victims. I have this instinct…

He acknowledges why people would be upset with the thought that he committed these allegations, but nonetheless, urges those viewing to read original police reports posted online that show what people involved in this have actually said. He recounted how he had stayed in Sweden five weeks then in the middle of the release of US diplomatic cables an Interpol red notice was put out, which was “not right” for someone who had been “completely cooperative in trying to assist an investigation.”

Prompted by Gestoso, he shares his view on Sweden’s neutrality or ability to act independent from the United States’ agenda:

Sweden’s a very interesting country. There’s historically a lot of good things about Sweden. There’s important advances of some kinds that were made in the ’70s, but it’s changed in a very sad way and most Swedes—Swedes who are old enough see what has happened and they see the change. And they see a state that has said it was proud of its neutrality. There’s been questions, even in the ’70s, about how neutral it was. [It’s] to a position now where Sweden is on over 100 NATO committees, where its forces under US command in Afghanistan, where it’s the fifth in to Libya with planes. It was the first to have its parliament to vote to send planes into Libya. It’s the number one per capita arms manufacturer in the world, nearly double that of Israel. It was number one supplier of arms to the United States during the Iraq War in absolute terms. And it is now currently the third largest arms supplier to the United States.

Assange references a cable from a US ambassador to Sweden sent in 2009 that was sent under the heading, “New Swedish Defense Priorities: Sweden Puts Neutrality In The Dustbin Of History.”

The founder takes on the notion that WikiLeaks is not engaged in investigative journalism. Particularly insightful is Assange’s explanation of how the word “journalist” has been turned against the organization by media and political elites:

This particular word, journalist, has never had such power as in relation to the assault on WikiLeaks—the concern as to the definition of this word. Now, when a cameraman goes to war and he photographs something and comes back, we all acknowledge he’s a war journalist, even though he is not writing an opinion piece.

He adds:

It is simply not physically possible to write individual news stories about one million documents. That is not possible. We work at a higher level, which is that we create the structure of analysis. So that is, after all verification and publication is done, to, for example, with the Afghan war logs, to show exactly where on maps people were killed, how many by the size of the circle on the map…

…US involvement in Afghanistan, State Department, Syria government—these are big organizations. These organizations have to be understood by understanding their many millions of pieces all at once and that’s what we do. I don’t care whether people call this journalism or not. That’s completely irrelevant. This is more important than that. It’s about adding to our shared intellectual record, documenting what is actually going on, producing just change as a result of our documentation.

To a key allegation against the WikiLeaks that the organization has “blood on its hands” after the release of US documents, he illuminates the “rhetorical trick” to shift attention from the bloodshed caused by the US to WikiLeaks. He notes there has been no claim by the US government that the organization has been directly responsible for any deaths but mentions how the Afghanistan War Logs showed several thousand people had been directly killed in Afghanistan by US forces. Twenty thousand people had been indirectly killed. They’re a “machine to put blood all over Afghanistan.” The US military was shown to be spreading blood all over—the blood of children, the blood of women, the blood of men and the blood of its own soldiers. But it turned the facts around and pointed at WikiLeaks and said, no, that organization has blood on its hands.

Media corruption only contributed to cementing this perception. There are more results on Google when one searches for “WikiLeaks” and “blood on hands” than when one searches for “Pentagon” and “blood on hands,” despite all the wars fought including the most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Gestoso asks Assange about the Internet, social media and social movements. He outlines how Western powers had the globe on a trajectory toward “pending transnational totalitarianism” because of the total surveillance that now exists.

This exchange occurs:

GESTOSO: So, it’s almost like something perverse if you want. The official line is we’re promoting or we are living in states that are democratic. We’re talking about some Western countries. When in reality….

ASSANGE: It’s completely perverse. It’s completely perverse. It’s in such runaway accelarating decay, the rule of law in the west. We saw this with Guantanamo Bay. That’s where it first—detention without trial in Guantanamo. You now have a case I worked on, the Omar Khadr case, young man, fifteen years-old, detained, from Afghanistan. He has been kept in Guantanamo for ten years now. He’s gone from being a boy to be a man in Guantanamo. The only life he knows now is Guantanamo. Over 80 people there, cleared for release. Even the US government says they were never terrorists. Still there after years. The most grievous offense against the rule of law to deliberately and intentionally order the murder of your own citizens outside of any judicial process, where there is no possibility to review…

Finally, as is being widely reported in the media, Assange says he thinks he could be in the embassy for six months to a year. What is likely to precipitate an end to the standoff, he hopes, is the dropping of the case in Sweden by the authorities. (He did not mention going before the International Court of Justice to argue for “safe passage” to Ecuador.)

“I must continue the fight. The fight is not just about me,” he concludes.

It is not just about me. I have an organization of people and supporters and others who are close allies who have also been attacked and targeted. This is not just a persecution of an individual. This is a persecution of an organization. This is a persecution of a group. This is persecution of people, who believe in something, who believe in human rights, who actually believe in this, who are not just using it for propaganda purposes to bash the Soviet Union or to bash China or something but who actually believe that it is important because we want a civilization that is civilized…

When there’s arbitrary law, when the rule of law is in collapse, there’s no safe place you can go. You can’t decide that, well, if I pal up to this bit of the establishment here or there and if I keep my head down, I’ll be okay because it is arbitrary. It’s unpredictable. It doesn’t matter if you do something that is perceived to be wrong or perceived to be right because it is arbitrary. So, it is necessary for us, for me, for everyone to continue that fight because otherwise we are all moving toward an international system of arbitrary rule by complex groups that are connected to each other. It’s not about the electoral system. It’s non-democratic rule of these people for their own interests. I mean, they need to understand by supporting such actions they are moving their societies into a regime where even they won’t like the outcome.

Audit of Apple’s Chinese Factories Reveals Bandaid Reforms

Steve Jurvetson / Wikimedia / Creative Commons

Originally posted at In These Times

Apple wants you to know it’s working hard to fix the biggest bruise on its reputation: the treatment of workers in its vast production chain. So for the past several months, the company has partnered with the Fair Labor Association, a mainstream watchdog group, to audit factory conditions at Apple’s most notorious supplier company, Foxconn. FLA says in its “remediation verification” report that Foxconn has tightened oversight of its ultra-efficient machine.

But the changes have mostly aimed to clean up some of the excesses of Apple’s labor system without shifting its fundamental structure.

The FLA audited three of the Taiwan-based company’s facilities, Guanlan, Longhua and Chengdu, and called for 360 remedial actions, 284 of which had been officially completed by the factories as of the end of May. The remaining 76 actions are due by July 2013. The report highlighted progress on regulation of the company’s internship program and reforms on workplace health and safety (responding to longstanding controversy over stressful working conditions that activists blame for mental despair and several worker suicides).

Many physical changes to improve worker health and safety have been made since the investigation, including the enforcement of ergonomic breaks, changing the design of workers’ equipment to guard against repetitive stress injuries, updating of maintenance policies to ensure equipment is working properly, and testing of emergency protective equipment like eyewashes and sprinklers. Foxconn has also engaged consultants to provide health and safety training for all employees. (more…)

Portland is Like Algebra

Portland is Like Algebra
By David Glenn Cox

Portland is like Algebra, it is hard and it’s complicated and I just don’t get it. This has been a hard one for me, my luck had been changing, I’d got an ID and a cryptic letter from the state of Georgia which promised hope when out of the blue, I lost a dear friend. I lost a friend while trying to be one, by telling the truth when they didn’t want to hear it. When you leave out of Portland all is lush and green, by the time you reach The Dalles, the scenery is tan and golden brown covering over the volcanic basalt rock which pops through periodically.

It wasn’t until I reached Baker City, Oregon before I’d finally figured it out. The Cascade Range shields Portland; it is like a Shangri-La unto itself, separating its self, from the real West waiting, just on the other side of the mountains. By the time you reach Umatilla County, the land is sandy brown and dry on undulating hills frozen in time. They made it into an Indian Reservation, if that helps sharpen the image. But now, Baker City is famous from Oregon Trail fame. It conjures up images of covered wagons, pioneers and John Wayne movies.

I guess what upset me the most, was watching my friend dismantle her own life. Not through drugs or alcohol, that would be understandable, this isn’t. You can stop drinking and dry out, but this? I don’t know, maybe something snapped, maybe it was chemistry, or stress or paranoia or dark demons from the past come to call. Whatever it was, it hurt, because I don’t have much real family besides my son and I loved her like a sister.

Maybe it’s just the luck of the draw, but there is a full moon out tonight over the high desert, seems I always travel on the full moon, maybe its astrology, or maybe just dumb luck. We rumble along in this rattly Greyhound bus, which is far from the pride of the fleet. That’s a funny story in its self, I stood outside gate number eleven for about a dozen hours and right on the other side of that door sat this beautiful rich blue and grey shiny new bus. It proudly advertised WiFi and electrical plugs and I got all excited, then at the very last minute, I mean the absolute, very last minute, as we stood in line waiting to board they pulled it away from the gate and pulled in this bus. Which I suppose was the pride of the fleet a dozen or so years ago. The overhead lights don’t work, the air conditioner fan rattles and outside of the window passes some of the most extraordinary panoramas the human eye can ever experience.

We’re headed for Boise, Salt Lake and Denver now, funny thing, the last time I was in Denver I snuck up on it from the other side. It gets really dark when the mountains block the full moon; through the dusty windows it appears to shine two searchlight beams. When it hides, I can’t read the road signs like, Dead Man Pass or Old Emigrant Hill, the last one made me smile, conjuring up images of old Emigrants sitting up on a hill in rocking chairs. The roads are twisty and the turns are sharp, it feels as if we’re following the Chef Boyardee route. Foothills on both sides of us, as the moon pops over a hill once in a while, just long enough to wink.

We are out in the high desert headed for Boise, a haze now covers the moon, and it’s a spatial filament letting off a warm and comforting glow, like a night light, which watches over us but doesn’t listen. Boise appears to be a city of consequence with a five lane Interstate highway, sound barriers and billboards advertising gambling casinos. It’s really too dark to tell much more or perhaps is it too light? The Interstate has homogenized our cities with the usual assortment of fast food joints and only occasionally something odd. As we pulled out of B town, there was a neon lit marquee sign for a funeral home and it just struck me as less than somber or subdued. Out of the dark, off to the left, ghostly mountains appeared, at least the way the light played on the shadows they looked like mountains to me. The lights of civilization stopped right where the shadows began, so I have named them the Phantom Mountains, at least until the sun comes up. As I look out the other side of the bus I see my other dear friend the moon, is also slipping away, I will miss her, hell, I’ll miss them both.

As the new sun rose in the morning, we were headed for the land of Mormons and murder. It appears some of them Mormons beat me to naming those mountains. You get a little loopy after hours on a bus, but you know what? You only live once, and it’s a fair trade for a full immersion in America. They’s real folks on a bus, ain’t no sissified dandies here. They’s folks going home or moving on, going to a job or leaving one or leaving someone. You start as strangers and in a couple hundred miles, your pals. We hit all the high spots in the Mormon holy land with their nice bus station with a lousy intercom. The station was filled with last nights overflow and so, I began to worry.

Two lines divide the station from front to back, with some folks who’d been waiting since I began my relationship with the moon the night before, but it all ended well. They brought us out a shiny bus with WiFi, enabling me to catch up with my E-mails. Before long, we were into the lunar landscapes of Wyoming, shining with glass shards from broken beer bottles. Kind of like sticking a wad of gum on the Mona Lisa, nothing but scrub, greasewood and sagebrush as far as the eye can see, and still, man finds a way to fuck it up.

They’ve got snow fences put up and signs which read, “Interstate 80 Closed when flashing.” Way off in the distance I can see downpours, cloudbursts maybe twenty or thirty miles away. It’s the closest I’ve been to rain in months, as even soggy Portland has dried out for the driest August on record.

Perfect silhouettes of ancient nature made pyramids arise, as the blue grey down burst shimmer off in the distance like flowing curtains. The color of the land cannot be described; it is sand and tan, brown and black, tinged in pale illusive greens. It is all so humbling and awesome and magnificent in its own special splendor that it makes you weep for the blind. Ancient palisades capped with cell phone towers as the pallet plays out in colors Crayolla never dreamed of. It’s is so beautiful, I’d ride on top of the bus just to see it. The down pour has been here, but we’ve missed the show as it appears to be going the other way.

I’ve heard too many conversations about people late on the rent and folks looking for a couch, small world, ain’t it? Fence posts, telephone poles and open land, that’s it, but I can’t seem to get enough of it. It’s ten in the morning but it feels like ten at night and it is overcast and around every turn is a new vista and a new pallet of color. Strange sights peculiar names, Green River, Rock Creek and Covered Wagon Road, Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter, in the land where old cars go to kill time.

We just crossed the Continental Divide at 7000 feet, while above me, white whale clouds swim by in a deep blue sky. The railroad has on its sidings hundreds of grain cars which won’t be used this year. It is a strange dichotomy, an ocean above a desert below. The high water mark of a continent, being crossed by a bus carrying the bottom 10% of the 99%. We are all lost here, lost in a continent, lost in a government and lost as a people.

Then, just as suddenly, a cloud burst gets us, ten maybe fifteen seconds of spitting rain which appeared out of nowhere and disappeared just as quick, just a reminder, if you close your eyes here, you might miss something. Isn’t that just the way of things, how much we miss while looking at nothing in particular? How many roses we might pluck when not worried about the thorns.

The sun rose slowly over Minden Nebraska, a beautiful fiery orange sphere burning off the night’s gathered haze. Exposing the lush green rolling hills and the specter of dwarfed and dead corn plants, all stunted between three and five feet tall. I’ve never seen a total crop failure before so, now I have and there is something almost apocalyptic about it. Maybe I use that word too much and perhaps, I must learn a new word. Because yesterday, before this sun fell, we rolled into Denver and amidst the glass and steel towers, amidst the beer drinkers on the warm Café patios there was this rescue mission and directly across the street, a small concrete plaza.

The plaza was filled with several hundreds of people of all ages and descriptions. They were poor, so poor that they were ragged. They weren’t just down on their luck, they were down to their last, and it reminded me for all the world of a scene out Mad Max, Beyond Thunder Dome. I’ve never seen a total crop failure before so, now I have and there is something almost apocalyptic about it. Maybe I use that word too much and perhaps, I must learn a new word.

It is all the same, isn’t it? One, ten, a hundred, a thousand, a million, ten million, twenty million on and on. Come spring we shall replant our corn, but what of the people, what of their lives? I travel across thousands of miles of this amazingly beautiful land with a beneficent sun by day and reassuring moon by night. I see something which cannot be described nor quantified, something like a cancer, something like a feeling in your bones, something you can’t describe, but you know it when you see it.

Mitt accepted the nomination for President of the Suicide Party last night and now he and his evil little co-conspirator must go out and convince the populace to elect him and to commit societal Hara-kiri. What Mitt doesn’t know and what his grubby little brown noser can’t see, you can see from a bus window, in America, the ponds have dried up. After the show is over, because that’s all that this is really, is a show, the comedy team of Romney and Lewis will return to their fine homes, they will eat their sumptuous food and live their sumptuous lives. Maybe they will look back and reminisce, saying, “gee whiz, where did we go wrong?”

Never, have so few, been so wrong about so much. Never has a nation’s leadership been so blind as to have not ended up with their brain trust riding on a pike. The sand flows through the hourglass and tells a tale of time, the bough breaks and the limb falls and down will come baby, cradle and all. The mobs will grow in number and intensity, legions of the hungry and dispossessed and today they call for food, but if left unmitigated, will someday call for blood.

Senate Democrats Tie Romney Gulf Coast Visit to Ryan’s Proposed Cuts to Disaster Relief

Sgt. Lee Savoy, a soldier with the 256th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, evacuates a child, Aug. 30, 2012, from the flood waters caused by Hurricane Isaac. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Rashawn D. Price, 241st Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, Louisiana Army National Guard/RELEASED

The only real notable element of Mitt Romney’s post-convention performance today was that he accidentally referred to the United States as a company, i.e. a person. But in anticipation of his visit to the Gulf Coast for some photo-ops with victims of Hurricane Isaac, Senate Democrats are using unusual vigor to hold House Republicans, mainly Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan, accountable for the near-denial of disaster relief funds that will be put to use in the aftermath of the storm.

The story goes back to the debt limit deal. That set a spending cap for future budgets with a hard-dollar number. However, it allowed for some flexibility for disaster relief, where the federal government could go above the cap. But even after agreeing to the deal, House Republicans, led by Ryan, wanted to block that, which would have forced unpredictable disaster relief funding to get offsets in the federal budget. This really came to a head last fall, when the Federal Emergency Management Agency nearly depleted its budget before the year was out, which would have forced a supplemental funding bill. The Office of Management and Budget somehow found enough funds to carry through the end of the year, and Republicans reluctantly went along with the flexible cap for disaster relief. But some, including Ryan, did not:

It had been a different story earlier in the year as the government’s chief disaster fund almost ran dry, thanks to foot-dragging by the White House and demands by tea party House Republicans that disaster aid be partly “paid for” with cuts to programs that Obama favored. The administration instead let the political pressure build as disaster accounts dwindled, sparking the ire of both his GOP rivals and allies like Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., but turning the tables in its favor.

Months after agreeing to the new regime, Republican leaders still had to turn to procedural maneuvers to orchestrate passage of $8.8 billion in disaster money in keeping with the agreement. Ryan, the House Budget Committee’s chairman, was among 66 Republicans opposing the measure […]

Many House Republicans, however, are unhappy with the new approach. Ryan earlier this year tried to gut it and eliminate $10 billion a year in disaster costs when putting together the House GOP budget.

But in doing so Ryan sideswiped a still-powerful Appropriations Committee that was still stinging from $19 billion in Budget Committee-induced cuts to last year’s deal. Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., protested to GOP leaders and won a gentleman’s agreement that the new system would stay in place, at least for this year.

Essentially, Ryan’s view is that the federal government should find offsets every single time they have to appropriate disaster funding. The shock of a natural disaster would be put to use for more spending cuts. That’s on top of what Ryan would do to the base FEMA budget, which would have to drop along with everything else in the discretionary spending basket by 70-80%.

The Senate Democratic leadership, which has opposed this consistently, came out very hard against Ryan today, roping in Romney on his visit to the Gulf Coast. Chuck Schumer’s office released a statement challenging Romney to make his position on this issue clear: “Mitt Romney needs to say whether or not he supports his running mate’s plan to keep emergency disaster aid out of the federal budget. If House Republicans like Paul Ryan had had their way, the Gulf Coast might not have federal funds available to respond to Hurricane Isaac right away. It is an affront for Mitt Romney to go to Louisiana given what the Ryan budget would have meant for our emergency preparedness.”

Harry Reid was even more blunt. “Under a Romney-Ryan administration, we would not have been prepared to respond to Hurricane Isaac,” Reid said in a statement. “It is the height of hypocrisy for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to make a pretense of showing sympathy for the victims of Hurricane Isaac when their policies would leave those affected by this disaster stranded and on their own.”

So far, the Obama campaign hasn’t taken up this rhetoric. But the President plans to visit Louisiana on Monday. So this will stick around in the news for a few days.

Demonstration Turns Ugly at the RNC

“USA!!! USA!!!” they chanted at us to drown out our own chants of “DREAM ACT AND FULL EQUALITY!”  The gay priest was at the front of our little group, and a balding man with a red face and sunglasses got within a few inches of his face to scream.  Balding Guy, a member of Gay Priest’s former congregation, grabbed the priest and pushed him back violently.  The next thing I knew, a man in a cowboy hat and large, crooked, cigarette-stained teeth that he was baring bulled his way into our priest.  Erika was behind him, and took a misfired punch in the face as Cigarette Teeth barreled forward, cursing, swinging and pushing.  A few people were sent back into me, and for a minute there he stood in front of me in the open.  I wasn’t sure if I should take a swing or not to slow the guy down for my friends.  Erika was stumbling backwards into Felipe and Mayra.  Mayra was tiny, so Felipe grabbed her as the crowd was isolating her from the group.  Both Balding Guy and Cigarette Teeth ultimately ignored the neatly dressed redhead with the camera while he and a few other self-appointed redneck peacekeepers pushed them past me while I trailed behind.

“You see, Obama was an organizer, and organizers have no experience creating jobs.  They’re just agitators, looking to force a few corporations to make concessions, which a few of the weak ones do” she told me.  She was a 52-year-old woman standing next to me in a blue Romney shirt.  Sweating alongside her while someone 20 feet to our left hit the ground from heat exhaustion was a white haired friend.  They both wore blue Romney shirts and a rhinestone elephant pin.  I told them that I was an undecided Independent just here to cover the RNC, and they instantly became hardcore evangelists, asking me if I liked taxation and big government, clapping their hands and then saying “then you know who to vote for” after I answered.  Traveling across the country, you learn that EVERYONE lives in some sort of bubble, though for these Floridians it seemed far stronger than normal.

“Of course corporations are supposed to be greedy, every decision maker has a fiduciary obligation to their shareholders.  I want someone who can navigate the laws and get the most they can without breaking the rules like that” I offered the group, tasting bile rise up in my throat as I did.  With their rants about big government and regulations, it seemed that they wanted neither community organizers, nor government, to protect them from corporations and industry when they found it profitable to crush them.  They’re living in denial that the only reason we don’t still have children working in factories, like many other countries still do, is because of the progressive movement they hate so much.  I wondered if they realized the implications of their own argument, but decided to only nod along since I didn’t want to bring unwanted attention before the big show.

My new companions told me about the recent polling that put Romney ahead of Obama in Florida, encouraged me to watch a documentary on Obama called “2016” and that they were confident he’d win.  Talking around with the crowd, it was more of the same: Liberals and the media are misinformed scum, we’re the only ones who understand the facts and Romney is going to crush Obama.

The opening speakers on the stage were the usual variety, that is, local politicians.  Aside from a joke about everyone’s personal sphere of influence being more powerful than Clint Eastwood, they went through the usual routine that anyone who goes to these events is familiar with: Obamacare sucks, Romney will create jobs and lower taxes and Obama, nice guy that he is, tried BUT failed.  The biggest difference now was that they were talking about Paul Ryan’s mother instead of how Obama robbed Medicare.  The man behind me, who would engage in some of the shoving later, agreed loudly with every assertion made, giving a “YEA!” or “AMEN!”  When Romney came out, they cheered as fervently as I’d seen them at least a dozen other times before at any Romney rally, despite the fact that the delegates were putting up a fight for Santorum and Ron Paul right up ‘til the bitter end.  Romney dropped a few of the same lines we’re all used to, like a Broadway actor faking his own death and kissing the same girl for the first time twice every night, before passing the microphone to his wife.

It always strikes me how friendly everyone is until they figure us out, usually when we start chanting.  Once the chants started and I began filming, the women took a step back in shock and offense.  This quickly led to the mild beating and berating.  After the chaos in the cowboy hat, the crowd parted nicely when the group was shoved through and quickly closed behind them, strongly encouraging us towards the exit that the police hurried us through. On the way out, some horrible woman with shriveled skin that looked like drooping, scorched earth, sort of a browner Jan Brewer, leaned over the barricade as far as she could with her equally horrible husband, screaming at us accusingly in tongues as she stuck a finger in my face.  She was nearly completely hysterical in her fit of blind rage and, as I flipped them off over my shoulder while I walked away, I vaguely heard someone scream “nice.”

All in all, other than Erika and our priest’s bruises, not a bad demonstration.

Catch the video for the demonstration at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HpMYQgNn1bo&feature=player_embedded

Doing Just Enough: Why Ben Bernanke and Company Irk Me

Just enough is not good enough. (image: SS&SS / flickr)

For half a second I felt like I was being too hard on Ben Bernanke and his Jackson Hole speech. Mr. Market certainly thinks it presages another round of quantitative easing, with stocks up big today. And it’s considerate Fed-speak to merely hint and nod at a policy change before embarking on it, probably at the September 13 meeting.

But all of that went away when Joe Weisenthal got to the heart of his disappointment in the speech, and really in Bernanke’s tenure as well as the whole of the economic policy apparatus. To the extent that something will get done, it will be at the margins, and really the same exact margins that has led to unresponsive and inadequate monetary policy for years now. They’ve missed their inflation and employment targets, and blaming the lack of fiscal accommodation from the federal government, while true, only gets you so far when assessing Ben Bernanke’s jobs.

Indeed there are other “unconventional unconventional” monetary policies that Bernanke could be pursuing, but none of those ideas made an appearance in his remarks today. Morgan Stanley’s Vincent Reinhart gives just one example:

The main possibility for surprise is if he addresses the ongoing work within the Fed on conditional policy rules. The last set of minutes referred several times to discussions of rules and more open-end policy commitments. Up to now, the Fed has been using its policy instruments in an unconditional way, in that it announces a program of fixed duration and fixed amount. Most academic work, as will be discussed in the formal program at Jackson Hole, suggests that a rule linking the policy instrument to economic outcomes or the outlook performs better. The idea is that the Fed could agree, for instance, to keep the funds rate target at zero as long as they have an economic forecast that is short of their mission.

And there are other ideas in this space as well. But crucially, it appears from Bernanke’s actions that going out on a limb with some operation beyond QE would necessitate him essentially acknowledging that past actions failed. And he spent an entire speech today defending past actions.

Weisenthal puts it best here:

But from a bigger picture, the general tendency of political and financial leaders has been to: Do what it takes to stave off economic tail risk (collapse) but not take the steps that would actually accommodate robust growth or end the crisis.

In Europe especially, there’s a lot of going 90% of the way there, but not doing the actual difficult thing that would turn the corner, which is why the crisis goes on and on and on. There’s no total collapse. Just ongoing misery.

In the US, we haven’t had a double dip, but very few folks are thrilled with the economy.

So that’s basically Bernanke’s speech. Yes, he does enough. He provides a ‘put’ that makes markets feel good the bottom won’t foll out. But there’s nothing very exciting.

Just enough is not good enough. Especially because the status quo ante has seen a shrinking of the Fed’s balance sheet, mainly through attrition. So a QE program of asset purchases would recapture some of that, but would not even reach the full potential it will claim.

The problem is that pretty much every economic policymaker sees it as their job to avoid total collapse, while ignoring the massive waste of human capital that comes with a slow-growth status quo. This ship sailed a long time ago, but it doesn’t get any less frustrating.

Another bucket-list item checked off: Circumnavigating the globe!

Mt Fuji (photo: alaindelapena / flickr)

One thing that I’d always really wanted to do was to travel around the world, preferably at the equator, by walking, biking, hot-air ballooning or even by covered wagon or swimming if necessary — I didn’t care how. “What about doing it in an airplane?” Sure. Definitely easier on the knees.

So I did it.

First I lived on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for two years to save up, and then borrowed or begged as many frequent flyer miles as I could. And then just did it! Another big item to check off of my bucket list.

“So how’d it go?” you might ask. About as well as you can expect — considering that in 21 days I spent 55.5 hours actually sitting in an airline chair, eating airline food and watching airline movies, and another 75 hours getting to airports, sitting around airports, sleeping at airports and getting back from airports. Plus going through 30 different security checks in nine different airports as well.

When I tell people that I actually did all of that, they just look at me and think that I made the whole thing up. So that’s why I always take photos. Nobody believes me otherwise. And even then, still nobody believes me. “Nah, those pictures were PhotoShopped.” No, really. I actually did do it!

“So. What did you learn?” Nothing much — except that everywhere that I went, people were always very friendly and kind to me. And NOBODY I met ever deserved to be killed.

Of all the hundreds of people I met on my travels — perhaps even thousands — not one of them deserved to be blown up by a drone or irradiated by depleted uranium or run down by tanks or attacked by militarized police with tear gas or occupied “for their own good” or bombed by “peacekeeping” forces or any of that other stuff that America has now become famous for.

And what I have discovered after circumnavigating the entire globe, mostly at the equator, and going to or flying over so many different countries is this: That America used to be famous for our democracy and our “can do” attitude and our inventiveness. But not any more. Now America is just famous for developing its whole new advanced unique and expensive technology for killing people. Sigh.

So now that I’ve actually circumnavigated the entire globe, do you want to know what the latest, most exciting, most fabulous, most creative item on my recently-updated bucket list is gonna be now? WORLD PEACE! And I’m not the only one who has this item on their bucket list either.

Do you?

PS: Once back home in the good old U.S.A., what was one of the first things that I saw TV? Paul Ryan — channeling GWB. During his recent speech at Tampa, Ryan obviously looked and sounded just like George Bush’s clone — the exact same insincere smile, pseudo-populist bad acting, use of emotional tear-jerking “patriotic” sucker-punches and shameless making of empty promises that Ryan, like Bush, has NO intention of keeping.

Dubya himself may have been banned from the Republican convention, but his spirit — and his disastrous policies too — obviously still live on in the body of Paul Davis Ryan.

And apparently Tea Party members have been going around saying that Ann Romney looks like a REAL First Lady. What’s that supposed to mean? That Michelle Obama doesn’t have blonde hair? Maybe not. But Michelle does have courage, integrity, good taste and class — along the lines of Jackie O and Dolly Madison. Can you even begin to imagine Michelle allowing Mitt to “offshore” thousands of American jobs or strap a dog to the top of a car for 12 hours?

PPS: There was hardly any snow on Mt. Fuji as we flew by it.

PPPS: At all the duty-free shops around the planet, I got to sample Chanel #5 perfume, which used to be my mother’s favorite.

Al Gore Joins Call for a National Popular Vote

(photo: simone.brunozzi / flickr)

Former Vice President Al Gore has very publicly joined the call for the United States to eliminate the Electoral College and instead have our President directly elected by a national popular vote like a sane democracy. From the Huffington Post:

In a discussion during Current TV’s coverage of the Republican National Convention, Gore and his co-panelists argued that Electoral College system had a corrosive effect on the power of votes and presidential leadership. For voters, casting ballots in a state that is predictably red or blue feels pointless in determining presidential elections. For leaders, visiting a state that is already in the bag for Republicans or Democrats seems unnecessary.

“I really do now think that it’s time to change that,” Gore said. “It’s always tough to amend the Constitution and risky to do so, but there is a very interesting movement under way that takes it state by state, that may really have a chance of succeeding. I hope it does.”

Obviously there are few people who personally better understand the stupidity of the Electoral College than Al Gore who won the popular vote in 2000 but lost the election since he did not carry enough states to get to 270 electoral votes.

The 2000 election, though, wasn’t an isolated incident, it has happened three other times in American history. Given that there has only been 56 Presidential elections, that means in over seven percent of elections the candidate most Americans voted for did not become President.

To truly eliminate the Electoral College would be take a constitutional amendment, but it can essentially be replaced with a national popular vote rather easily using only an interstate compact. That is what the National Popular Vote campaign has been rather successfully working towards. Once states with 270 electoral college votes sign on to the compact, all the signatures agree to give all their electoral college votes to the winner of the national popular vote. The Electoral College would technically still exist but be a non-factor. It would be merely a vestigial entity only to rubber stamp the popular vote winner.

Currently the National Popular Vote is halfway towards their goal. They already have eight states, plus DC, with 132 electoral votes signed on.

Al Gore Joins Call for a National Popular Vote

Former Vice President Al Gore has very publicly joined the call for the United States to eliminate the Electoral College and instead have our President directly elected by a national popular vote like a sane democracy. From the Huffington Post:

In a discussion during Current TV’s coverage of the Republican National Convention, Gore and his co-panelists argued that Electoral College system had a corrosive effect on the power of votes and presidential leadership. For voters, casting ballots in a state that is predictably red or blue feels pointless in determining presidential elections. For leaders, visiting a state that is already in the bag for Republicans or Democrats seems unnecessary.

“I really do now think that it’s time to change that,” Gore said. “It’s always tough to amend the Constitution and risky to do so, but there is a very interesting movement under way that takes it state by state, that may really have a chance of succeeding. I hope it does.”

Obviously there are few people who personally better understand the stupidity of the Electoral College than Al Gore who won the popular vote in 2000 but lost the election since he did not carry enough states to get to 270 electoral votes.

The 2000 election, though, wasn’t an isolated incident, it has happened three other times in American history. Given that there has only been 56 Presidential elections, that means in over seven percent of elections the candidate most Americans voted for did not become President.

To truly eliminate the Electoral College would be take a constitutional amendment, but it can essentially be replaced with a national popular vote rather easily using only an interstate compact. That is what the National Popular Vote campaign has been rather successfully working towards. Once states with 270 electoral college votes sign on to the compact, all the signatures agree to give all their electoral college votes to the winner of the national popular vote. The Electoral College would technically still exist but be a non-factor. It would be merely a vestigial entity only to rubber stamp the popular vote winner.

Currently the National Popular Vote is halfway towards their goal. They already have eight states, plus DC, with 132 electoral votes signed on.