Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Internet can be a creepy place

The blogger known as AKMuckraker (the proprietor of The Mudflats) was apparently outed by a legislator who couldn't take being criticized. In the process, the perp, Democrat Mike Doogan, exposes himself as a rather creepy, predatory individual. In AK Muckraker's own words:

But here’s where it gets interesting. After the initial opinion piece in Mudflats, I started hearing from fellow bloggers that Mike Doogan was trying to figure out who I was. It seemed strange to me, because really, all I’d done was take his own words and actions and comment on them. Anyone was perfectly free to disagree, or comment on the piece. “He’s rabid,” one blogger told me. Wow. Rabid? I guess I struck a nerve. Over the past few months, I’ve had other messages through the grapevine that he was trying to figure out who I am.

I have to confess, that while I understand the curiosity factor, the fact that an elected representative was this preoccupied with the identity of an anonymous blogger had me puzzled. He wrote a piece for the Alaska Dispatch talking about “accountability”. The thought was that if I was anonymous, I was not accountable. In what way, I wondered. I’m not a journalist. I’m just, as we established before, me. This is my opinion. If he were around, we could ask the “anonymous blogger” of his day, Benjamin Franklin what he thought about this. Using the “screen name” Mrs. Silence Dogood, Franklin was able to put out thoughts and ideas that were weighted on their own merits, not attached to a particular person. Sometimes it’s easier, if you don’t want to think, to attack the person, rather than the idea. I think Franklin would heartily approve of anonymous bloggers.

So, it seemed odd to me that Mr. Doogan was seemingly more focused on the messenger, than on defending his position, or even better, apologizing to people whom he had insulted. I didn’t think much more about it until yesterday, when I got this email:

From: “doogans@gci.net”
To: akmuckraker@yahoo.com
Sent: Thursday, March 26, 2009 2:55:14 PM
Subject: your identity

[Note: name deleted]:

I am reliably told that you are the anonymous blogger who writes Mudflats. I am planning to reveal this in the enews I send to my constituents tomorrow, and am writing to let you know this and offer the opportunity to comment.

Mike Doogan

I was a bit surprised to see my real name, as you can imagine. But after the initial surprise wore off, it really hit me. This is an elected State Representative, of my own political party, who has decided that it’s not OK for me to control the information about my identity; that it’s not OK to express my opinion on my own blog without shouting from the rooftops who I am.

If I were to appear, as many of you have, at a political rally and I were to hold up a sign that expressed my opinion, I don’t have to sign my name on the bottom. And if someone wants to come online and read my diary, they are free to do so. And if they want to disagree, that’s OK too.

It said in my “About” page that I choose to remain anonymous. I didn’t tell anyone why. I might be a state employee. I might not want my children to get grief at school. I might be fleeing from an ex-partner who was abusive and would rather he not know where I am. My family might not want to talk to me anymore. I might alienate my best friend. Maybe I don’t feel like having a brick thrown through my window. My spouse might work for the Palin administration. Maybe I’d just rather people not know where I live or where I work. Or none of those things may be true. None of my readers, nor Mike Doogan had any idea what my personal circumstances might be. But that didn’t seem to matter.

What appears to matter to Rep. Doogan is that either 1) he feels that if he “outs” me, he’ll change what I have to say, or keep me from saying anything. 2) he gets to play mystery detective (like in his books) and believes people will think he’s really cool for figuring it out, or 3) he feels like getting revenge. He knows I want to remain anonymous, so he’s going to take it away. In any of those three scenarios, he didn’t think it was important to get the bigger picture.

And in any of those three scenarios we should probably find it disturbing that an elected official is using his time and mental energy in this way, against an ordinary citizen. I don’t need to remind Mudflats readers that Alaska is in a time of turmoil. We are facing unknown consequences with an erupting volcano that threatens to wipe out a tank farm on Cook Inlet holding 6 million gallons of oil. We have critical issues in the legislature, including Alaska’s acceptance or rejection of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal stimulus money for education and other critical purposes. We have a governor who has just chosen an incredibly divisive and extreme right wing idealogue as our new Attorney General. And there are only three weeks left in the legislative session. It bothers me quite a bit that instead of focusing all his energy on doing his job, one of our elected representatives would rather spend his time stalking and harrassing a political blogger.

And Rep. Doogan is not the only one who has fallen prey to this preoccupation. Our governor, too, seems to be more interested in bloggers than seems healthy. Just a thought, but perhaps if our politicians were doing their jobs better, there would be no need for political bloggers, and we could all write diaries about our dogs, or our kids, or knitting.

It turns out, that Rep. Doogan did make good on his threat to expose me in his legislative newsletter. It actually suprised me, because I thought that maybe he realized that blowing up a progressive political blogger wouldn’t earn him many brownie points with other Democrats. But nevertheless, here you go.

Anonymous Blogger Anonymous No More

The identity of the person who writes the liberal Democratic Mudflats blog has been secret since the blog began, protected by the Anchorage Daily News, among others. My own theory about the public process is you can say what you want, as long as you are willing to stand behind it using your real name. So I was interested to learn that the woman who writes the blog is [deleted to protect identity] _____.*

Best wishes,

[signed]

So, now, if you look on the About page, you’ll get to see my real name* (which Rep. Doogan almost got right). And you also get to learn that Apparently for Rep. Doogan, the rules of the game are whatever his “theory of public process” say they should be. How does everyone feel about that? And as a former journalist, why is Rep. Doogan criticizing the Anchorage Daily News for protecting my identity?

And here’s another irony. Rep. Doogan thinks he has exposed me, but in reality he has done nothing but expose himself.

And with that, Mudflatters, I need to take a little time off to assess things, and take stock of how life will be changing for me and my family.

My hope is that AKMuckraker continues onward - certainly that individual has plenty of goodwill and support on which to count, and that Doogan's apparent attempt to silence or intimidate a blogger (which is what this looks like to me) backfires. If nothing else, perhaps karma will bite him on the ass, and his short undistinguished political career will end with a resignation or defeat at the next election cycle. If nothing else, Doogan seems to be coming a bit unhinged, and if I were one of his constituents, I'd be wondering if he is capable of doing the job for which he was elected. In fact I'll go a little further and suggest that there is something eerily psychopathic about his actions. At least cyberstalking strikes me as something psychopathic.

Quick update: The email exchange between Philip Munger (of Progressive Alaska) and Mike Doogan merely confirms the impression that the dude was cyberstalking - and is a bit of an ass. Also, here's the link to Doogan's gloating about outing AKM in his newsletter. Apparently he really doesn't seem all that interested in showing up for legislative work.

Coincidence of the weekend - I started reading a book on psychopaths in the business world called Snakes in Suits. The authors of that book might want to consider a sequel on politicians. Just sayin'.

Former Bush Torture Lawyers Targeted in Criminal Probe

Interesting story picked up by Scott Horton:

One of America’s NATO allies—which supported the Bush Administration’s war on terror by committing its troops to the struggle–has now opened formal criminal inquiries looking into the Bush team’s legacy of torture. The action parallels a criminal probe into allegations of torture involving the American CIA that was opened this week in the United Kingdom.

Spain’s national newspapers, El País and Público reported that the Spanish national security court has opened a criminal probe focusing on Bush Administration lawyers who pioneered the descent into torture at the prison in Guantánamo. The criminal complaint can be examined here. Público identifies the targets as University of California law professor John Yoo, former Department of Defense general counsel William J. Haynes II (now a lawyer working for Chevron), former vice presidential chief-of-staff David Addington, former attorney general and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, former Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, now a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and former Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith.

[snip]

The Spanish criminal court now may seek the arrest of any of the targets if they travel to Spain or any of the 24 nations that participate in the European extraditions convention (it would have to follow a more formal extradition process in other countries beyond the 24). The Bush lawyers will therefore run a serious risk of being apprehended if they travel outside of the United States.

Judge Baltasar Garzón is involved in the investigation, according to the El País report. Garzón is Europe’s best known counterterrorism magistrate, responsible for hundreds of cases targeting the activities of ETA and related Basque terrorist organizations. He also spearheaded the successful investigation of Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist organizations operating in the Maghreb region, including Spanish enclaves in Morocco. But Garzón is best known for his prosecution of a criminal investigation against Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet that resulted in the issuance of an arrest warrant for Pinochet while he was visiting England.

You can also read New Pravda's coverage here. I'm not necessarily optimistic that these goons will get punished - the most convenient opportunity for that to happen would have come had the US Congress done its job during the previous session. However, as I noted in the fall of 2007:
...there at least is some hope that they will discover that it is now too "hot" outside of the confines of the US to travel freely. Folks like Rummy thrive on being "Big Important People". To find their opportunities to preen in front of fawning audiences and cameras severely limited will no doubt be an unpleasant experience. Their "pain" is and for the foreseeable future will be nothing compared to what is going on in the prisons run either directly by the US or by its puppet regime. The painful consequences of what was cooked up in the White House and aided and abetted by most of Congress (and of course the various flavor of the month propagandists euphemistically referred to as journalists and commentators) are being felt by even the youngest Iraqis to this day. That will certainly not be forgotten by those who have been our government's victims, nor will it be forgotten by people of conscience.

While we're on the topic of the holocaust in Gaza

The group Human Rights Watch is the latest organization to conclude that Israel was bombing Gaza's civilians with white phosphorus. The evidence against Israel with regard to usage of white phosphorus in heavily civilian-populated areas really shouldn't be "news" at this point, but it bears repeating. The phrase "powdered Mengele" seems quite apt given its devastating effects on those who have the misfortune to come into contact with it.

The stories of those suffering burns caused by white phosphorus are indeed painful to read. In fact my reaction to the stories of human suffering in Gaza as a consequence of the Israeli deployment of white phosphorus bombs is one that I wish more Americans would try on for size:
It bears repeating: any chemical that can burn or melt the flesh off of living human beings should not be used on those human beings. It equally bears repeating that leaders of any government who use such weapons or who support those governments who use such weapons have either lost their moral compass or never had a moral compass to begin with. When the Holocaust happened, those who perpetrated it came to be viewed as monsters; although I would not quite go that far (to cut to the chase, I'm just a bit too familiar with research that grew out of Milgram's infamous obedience experiments to easily make internal attributions of antisocial behaviors), it certainly seems noncontroversial to label their actions and their consequences as monstrous. What Israel is doing is monstrous. That our leaders in the US support the Israeli government and continue to provide the funding that enables its government to continue to perpetrate a war of genocide against the Palestinians is monstrous. Period.
The Israeli government's intentions have been quite transparent for some time. If one comes away with the impression that the Israeli government and its military (IDF) intend to exterminate the indigenous Palestinian population, then one is actually awake. Again, the stories of shooting at civilians, vandalizing Palestinian homes with messages such as "Death to the Arabs," "Long Live the Jewish People," and profanities aimed at Gaza and Hamas are again hardly new at this point. In an earlier era, vandalism of a victimized group's homes with messages such as "Death to the Jews," and "Long Live the German People" would have sparked outrage, and understandably so. Who will speak for the Palestinians? Where is the outrage?

One of the best kept secrets in the Occupied Territories

To read either the corporate media or the mainstream US bloggers of just about any political stripe, one would be led to believe that nonviolent Palestinian resistance against Israel's genocidal ambitions [1] is practically nonexistent. Matt Yglesias seems to be just one of many who have fallen for the myth. There's certainly some truth that nonviolent action can be quite effective, and Yglesias extolls some of the noteworthy nonviolent actions that have succeeded in the past century. That's all well and good. What's missing is actually not the current crop of nonviolent resisters in what remains of the Occupied Territories, but rather tangible media coverage of that nonviolent resistance. I've tried to highlight some coverage of Palestinian nonviolent resistance over the past several years. See Third Intifada: Nonviolent Resistance In Action, Palestine's Gandhi: Naim Ateek, and The struggle continues: Israeli genocide and Palestinian resistance in Gaza. Just this week, in Common Dreams, there was an article on Palestinian nonviolent resistance. The phenomenon is hardly novel (nor is it an artifact of the 1980s) and betrays the myth that of the indigenous Palestinian Arabs as inherently violent and uncivilized that typically is promoted by pro-Zionist pundits and apologists. I actually see some appeal to making the nonviolent actions occurring in Gaza and the West Bank as public, as visible as possible:
What makes someone like Ateek so threatening to the status quo is his steadfast refusal to play the role assigned to him, and in fact vocally exhorts his peers to do likewise. He neither meekly accepts his status as a "defeated" and "inferior" person, nor does he fight the organizational and structural violence perpetrated on him and his peers with violence - although doing so would be understandable given the circumstances. The potential for an organized nonviolent resistance would present the Israeli government and its apologists with a conundrum: violently crack down and risk whatever good will might still be extended to it by the US, or stand down and lose authority. It's damn difficult to frame a resistance movement as "savage" and "terroristic" if its members are refusing to fire a shot. I'm not exactly a pacifist (I do see nonviolence as the preferred route and violent resistance as strictly a last-resort), but see plenty of potential for what Ateek advocates to work. Nonviolent resistance gives its practitioners a moral high ground, in the process placing the practices and policies of their oppressors in sharp relief. One could argue that moral high ground doesn't buy much if you end up six feet under. Indeed, the main reason for shying away from such resistance would be fear of death. However, one could readily counter that oppression kills and that merely accepting oppression will not prevent death, but actually accelerate individual and social death. There is precious little to lose, and so much to be gained.
Or as I put it a year ago:
When dealing with a genocidal regime hellbent on destroying a people or peoples, one might ask if nonviolent resistance could work. I'll keep repeating that nonviolent resistance can and should be part of our arsenal, and that it is relevant wherever there is oppression. Check out the good folks at the Albert Einstein Institute. While you're at it, an acquaintance of mine completed a nice series of diaries back in 2006 that go into various facets of nonviolent resistance (see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), including a rather thorough debunking of the misconceptions that many have with regard to nonviolence (based primarily on the work of Gene Sharp). Naturally, it is worthwhile to check into the work of one of Sharp's protégés, Robert Helvey, while you're at it. I'm fond of referring to the Zapatistas from time to time, largely because their insurgency - although initially fought with guns - has relied primarily on nonviolent action (Subcomandante Marcos has stated from time to time that "our words are our weapons"). The neoliberal mindset that produced such catastrophes as NAFTA have been no less genocidal (especially in terms of social death) than what is going on in Gaza at the hands of the Israeli government. That the Zapatistas have had some success in attaining a level of autonomy - albeit fragile - lends some weight to the notion that one can fight with palabras (i.e. words), fight without so much as firing a rifle or rocket launcher, and still have a positive impact. Hopefully our friends in Gaza have been following the Zapatista movement and gained some ideas that can be tweaked to fit their specific situation. One thing about nonviolent approaches is that its practitioners have to prepare themselves for the long haul - this isn't an immediate gratification approach to fighting for social change. Then again, if one really thinks about it, there really aren't any immediate gratification friendly options available even for those who prefer more violent means. Either way, the bad guys are going to do what they do best - intimidate, coerce, kill. After all, they have a lot to lose.
Keep in mind that I tend to view nonviolence as one of numerous options to be considered and used by those who are oppressed. I would probably not recommend it as the one and only option, and I would be equally suspicious of calls for oppressed groups to utilize only nonviolent action when those calls are made by the oppressors (or the enablers of those oppressors). As I've said elsewhere, I am as a general rule opposed to holocausts, and believe it is best left up to the targets of holocausts to decide for themselves how to defend themselves against physical and social death - lecturing the victims regarding their "insufficient" nonviolence is something I find abhorrent. I tend to agree with one of Yglesias' commenters that both nonviolent and violent forms of resistance will succeed or fail for the same reasons, and another commenter who notes that nonviolence will require a great deal of tangible international support (one thing to keep in mind with the Zapatista movement, for example, is that their efforts have garnered a great deal of international publicity, and also that the Zapatistas always have their guns at the ready if necessary). One must also keep in mind the investment that the oppressors have in perpetrating their inhumane actions. In the case of Israel, there is a great deal of investment by the Israeli general public in perpetrating the current holocaust, coupled with minimal international pressure to stand down.

[1] Note that you would be equally hard-pressed to find a mainstream US blogger or media pundit refer to Israel's actions in Gaza and the West Bank as genocidal. There are several reasons for this omission, including ignorance, ideological myopia, and/or dishonesty.

Friday, March 27, 2009

On the topic of BofA and the bailout

This is just stupid - not surprising given the adherence to neoliberal orthodoxy on the part of our "esteemed" political leaders from both parties - but stupid nonetheless:

Looks like that meeting with Obama was very productive!

Bank of America May Raise Investment Banker Salaries
Bank of America Corp. plans to increase some investment bankers’ salaries by as much as 70 percent following the takeover earlier this year of Merrill Lynch & Co., people familiar with the proposal said.

Bank of America, which has received $45 billion of taxpayers’ money, may raise the annual base pay for some managing directors to about $300,000 from $180,000, said the people, who declined to be identified because the final numbers are still under discussion. Salaries for less-senior directors would climb to about $250,000 from $150,000, and vice presidents would get $200,000, up from about $125,000, the people said.

“The concepts we are considering would not increase total compensation,” [oh, good] Brian Moynihan, Bank of America’s president of investment banking and wealth management, wrote in a memo to employees today, obtained by Bloomberg News. “Rather, we believe it is responsible, and consistent with the emerging public consensus, that a greater percentage of overall compensation come from fixed base salary.”

Bonuses will become a “smaller” portion of total compensation, Moynihan wrote in the memo.

No, no, no, no, no, no, no. You're not getting it. Here's the "emerging public consensus":

What we want is for banksters to be paid less money.

Paid.

Less.

Money.

PAID LESS MONEY.

We don't want to decrease the bonuses, and then make up for it on the backside by increasing salaries (and, doubtless, other perks that we don't know about, like company hookers and blow).

Granted the ruling class doesn't give a flying fuck about what the rabble think. Still, at this point, these folks aren't even trying to keep up the appearance of anything than baldfaced looting.

Making the banks run in the direction we want

Remember my comments on Dave Lindorff's column on the big banking conglomerates a few days ago? At the time I said:
How about try something that my household has been doing since the start of the decade - transfer your accounts (checking, savings, CDs, etc.) from the large banking conglomerates, such as BofA, Citi, etc., to local or regional banks. These large behemoths which are being propped up on taxpayer funds deserve to be slain once and for all. A critical mass of customers voting with their feet would make the point better than angry blog posts, fake tomatoes thrown at banking execs on some partisan organization's website, or just doing nothing but knocking back a few beers.

In our case the initial decision to go local was merely a practical one - the nearest branch of any of the big conglomerates to my town is about 60 miles away, and there are plenty of times in which one wants to be able to consult with a real live human being about financial matters rather than merely do everything via the internet. The service we receive is better than anything that I've ever experienced, whatever fees the local bank has are well-below what the big banks charge, and the bank's been thriving even in these tough times. So yes, I'm seconding Lindorff's proposal of a bank run of sorts - a run from the conglomerates that have been gambling with their customers' savings like a bunch of drunken vacationers in Vegas and to banks that are more in touch with their localities. That's precisely the sort of bank run that would - while doing in the conglomerates once and for all - set the stage for a healthier economy. That's some hope I'll take to the bank.
Well, it turns out that Aaron Datesman at A Tiny Revolution has a similar - and probably more effective idea:

Bank of America is the world’s largest financial services firm. It has more than 6100 retail branches and has received about $50 bn in TARP funds, along with an additional $118 bn in loan guarantees. This is outrageous, of course, but it’s also interesting. The firm’s market capitalization is only $19 bn.
Now, I’m not an economist, but looking at those numbers I get the sense that the firm is not really, uh, solvent. In fact, I think it’s a brain-eating zombie bank. So, it’s an interesting thing about how awful everything is, but I think in the current situation we have a lot more power than we used to have. Do you have an envelope to write on the back of?
I’m guessing it takes at least 500 customers to support a branch. $1000 works for me as an average account balance. This totals up to $3 bn. What do you say we all send this letter to our Congresspersons?

Dear Congressperson,
If it’s too big to fail, it’s too big to exist. The nation’s largest banks and Wall Street firms have created a tremendous crisis with no accountability for their disgraceful behavior. Unless the Congress takes immediate action to nationalize and break up the nation’s largest financial firms, including Bank of America, I will withdraw my consent from the financial system. On May 5, 2009, I plan to close my accounts and withdraw my $xxxx balance in cash from Bank of America. This is my right as a citizen and as a depositor. I encourage the millions of my fellow citizens who also have accounts with BoA to do the same on this date.
Sincerely, etc.
cc: Kenneth D Lewis, CEO, Bank of America
Credit to Dave Lindorff (who is absolutely correct), but throwing a fit at the counter of the local branch of an enormous bank is not a stick. An activist-organized bank run, on the other hand, would be a very powerful weapon. Could BoA possibly withstand a billion-dollar bank run? If anybody thinks that the answer to this question is yes, I would love to know why you think this.
We have the internet to use. How could we get this done?
So, here's a tangible plan - a large number of people writing to their congresscritters threatening to withdraw their support of the current financial system by withdrawing their funds from BofA unless the government takes action to nationalize and break up these behemoth banks that aren't exactly solvent to begin with, along with a tangible date for when the mass action would take place (May 5). This is potentially doable.

Repetition seems a necessity

Richard at American Leftist notes that there is one set of rules for the elites and another set of rules for the rest of us. Favorite quote:
Raises and bonuses for them, austerity for us.
By the way, that is precisely how neoliberalism works - we get to be on the receiving end of "structural readjustments" as the representatives of the ruling class crack jokes.

We won't go starving without a fight of course, as events in Europe demonstrate. Heck, we're even finding revivals of workers' strikes in places across the globe where such activity had been largely dormant. There is plenty of opportunity for a new left to emerge - although I can imagine the uphill climb ahead of us here in the US, given the national Zeitgeist.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

There may not be that much we can do about The Great American Swindle

but perhaps there are some steps that as individuals we can take. Let's face it - there wasn't going to be much difference between an Obama-led regime or a McCain-led regime with regard to the present economic straits. It really wouldn't have mattered a great deal if the make up of Congress were Democratic or Republican majorities. The players inside the Beltway are attached at the hip with this generation's Wall Street robber barons. The transfer of wealth to Wall Street at the expense of the rest of us was bound to be attempted one way or another - the amounts might have been a bit different, the rhetoric might have varied a bit, but at the end of the day the rest of us are supposed to be screwed. So, what to do? How about try something that my household has been doing since the start of the decade - transfer your accounts (checking, savings, CDs, etc.) from the large banking conglomerates, such as BofA, Citi, etc., to local or regional banks. These large behemoths which are being propped up on taxpayer funds deserve to be slain once and for all. A critical mass of customers voting with their feet would make the point better than angry blog posts, fake tomatoes thrown at banking execs on some partisan organization's website, or just doing nothing but knocking back a few beers.

In our case the initial decision to go local was merely a practical one - the nearest branch of any of the big conglomerates to my town is about 60 miles away, and there are plenty of times in which one wants to be able to consult with a real live human being about financial matters rather than merely do everything via the internet. The service we receive is better than anything that I've ever experienced, whatever fees the local bank has are well-below what the big banks charge, and the bank's been thriving even in these tough times. So yes, I'm seconding Lindorff's proposal of a bank run of sorts - a run from the conglomerates that have been gambling with their customers' savings like a bunch of drunken vacationers in Vegas and to banks that are more in touch with their localities. That's precisely the sort of bank run that would - while doing in the conglomerates once and for all - set the stage for a healthier economy. That's some hope I'll take to the bank.