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INTERMITTENT NOTESXML

April 23, 2014

April 17, 2014

Reconstruction of early humanOver 24 hours down. Wow!

When I set up this website I chose BlueHost as our hosting solution because, at that time, it offered the best balance of services, reliability, and cost. And for years it continued to do so. Indeed, our bandwidth allocation was always more than we needed, BlueHost was almost perfectly reliable, and the cost remained low. But then a few years ago BlueHost founder Matt Heaton sold the company and subsequently it has been sold and resold several times. Currently it's part of the huge ISP conglomerate Endurance International Group, owned by investment bankers Warburg Pincus and GS Capital Partners. Predictably, money that should have gone into infrastructure and IT personnel has, instead, gone into bankers' bonuses. Predictably, service has greatly suffered, with outages becoming both more frequent and more severe. (This latest has its own Wikipedia entry!) It's clear that service is not the bankers' top priority...

Continue reading "BlueHost's Latest Outage"...

April 13, 2014

April 8, 2014

Lion and gazelle playing chessJust a stray thought, perhaps obvious to some but, evidently, not to any reporters in the mainstream media. For the past couple of weeks I've been seeing an increasing number of accounts of shipments of very high-tech weaponry to the Syrian rebels. Anti-tank rockets, manpads, etc., etc. Since this weekend I've been seeing other accounts of increasing Russian activity vis-à-vis Ukraine. To my mind these two sets of circumstances are clearly related in a typical tit-for-tat sort of way. But I could be wrong...

One other unrelated thought: I've read a lot of commentary about the McCutcheon decision — probably the best being a piece in the New Yorker (which hasn't gotten much play and I wonder if that's because people don't like Jeffrey Toobin) — and it strikes me that for all the nattering outrage nobody is using the word "illegitimate." People accept, as a matter of course, that a bad decision by the Supreme Court of the United States is law, albeit bad law. That's quite remarkable. At what point, for the public at large, does the word "illegitimate" begin to not unreasonably apply to the U.S. government itself, in whole or in part?

March 26, 2014

MH370On the 14th of March I Tweeted "1) The Malaysian government is totally incompetent. 2) Either the pilot or co-pilot did it, probably..." At various times since then the pilots theory has been debunked and thrown out. Now, however, the Daily Mail reveals that the pilot had unresolvable marital problems. A motive for doing himself in. It's not quite absolute proof, not yet, but I'm reasonably certain it's the real explanation. Note that neither the BBC nor the New York Times have picked up this story, more than 12 hours after it was first reported. I guess for them the Daily Mail is too déclassé. Eventually, once they've triple checked their grammar, spelling, sources — and lawyers — they'll have the story too...

March 25, 2014

Yulia TymoshenkoAnother day, another intercept. This story is not from the shady interwebs but from the U.S. government's RFE/RL (Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty). In other words, legit news. Presumably again originating from the Russian Secret Service, posted on YouTube, this time the intercept is of Yulia Tymoshenko (on Twitter she's admitted the phone call is real). She's talking with the former deputy secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, Nestor Shufrych. In the conversation Yulia says, "Screw it, we should take up arms and kill the goddamned katsaps" — that would be derogatory Ukrainian slang for Russians — "along with their leader." Oh, OK... This is a nice group for the U.S. to back, I don't think...

March 16, 2014

Scorched earthAmericans against war should know that Washington's neoconservatives are busily fanning the flames of a confrontation with Russia over Ukraine. [1] But there's more than this to the story. A different, also somewhat behind-the-scenes group passionately believes that the breakup of the Soviet Union didn't go far enough, that Russia itself must be ripped to shreds. [2] Motivations for pursuing a scorched earth objective vary widely, from an inherited ethnocentric hatred to ideological fervor to plain old greed, but for descriptive purposes we may label such true believers the neoliberals. At the moment they are ascendant.

Continue reading "A Case for Neorealism"...

March 8, 2014

John KerryAs we ratchet up sanctions and further threats of sanctions against Russia it might be heuristically helpful to think about how the U.S. government's escalatory algorithm works. Most substantive content in U.S. demands will come from the Department of State. Within State, the European Bureau produces most of the grist for the mill, supervised by the Undersecretary for Political Affairs, the Deputy Secretary of State and, to some extent, the Office of Policy Planning. Other players at State could add to the mix, as could staff at the NSC, possibly Treasury, and possibly a few other agencies, but most actionable items first will run through the State Department's ordinary chain of command — in this case dominated by the European Bureau — up to John Kerry.

Continue reading "L'Enfer Est Plein de Bonnes Volontés et Désirs"...

March 6, 2014

A hand x-rayedNormally, once the government of the United States embarks on a course of sanctions it's almost impossible to remove the sanctions short of complete capitulation by the target. Normally, however, the target is some small, relatively impotent state that the U.S. is happy to slap around until they see things our way. Given that Russia is not at all a typical specimen things just might work out differently. But make no mistake about it: the U.S. is taking an extremely serious step. A major escalation. Expect an unfriendly Russian response, possibly to include the recall of Russia's Ambassador to Washington, the forced deportation (declaring them persona non grata) of a group of U.S. diplomats from Moscow, and various Russian military mobilizations. Ukraine is quickly becoming, as Steve Cohen warned so presciently, the front line of a new Cold War.

March 5, 2014

Faraday cageRecently — indeed, for weeks — I'd been having trouble with distortion in my recordings. The signal from my microphone had developed issues and just wasn't clear enough. Since I'd had two preamplifiers go bad on me I was inclined to suspect my relatively new preamp had in turn gone bad but I thought that to be sure I should trouble-shoot my set-up before taking the drastic step of sending any gear back to the manufacturer for bench testing.

Continue reading "A Short Technical Note"...

Phone tappedAnother intercept. Perhaps because it's not of a U.S. official it hasn't yet gotten either the proper amount of attention from the public at large or any comment from western officials. So, allegedly at Maidan it was the same snipers, using the same bullets, who shot both police and activists at the same time. If true, a classic provocation. One wonders, would that have been a home-grown nationalist thug or a paid agent? Nice intercepts, again — I keenly look forward to further installments.

March 1, 2014

Clockwork Orange gangThe first, of course, was trying to pull a fast one with a "democracy movement" consisting of a mob that included a significant number of nationalist thugs. When things went south the second was not to have a defensive rhetorical position wherein diplomatically we agreed with Russian concerns about said mob and therefore about the problematic political legitimacy of the new Ukrainian government. (Agreeing that the new Ukrainian government should be more inclusive would have been relatively easy.) The third, making ever more strident claims while adding vague threats. Yet to occur but now reasonably predictable, further steps to actualize said threats, thus forcing a showdown with Russia, with Mr. Putin personally, and also, by the way, with many European allies. Unpredictable consequences abound. This is what you get when the chief qualification of those in office, from Mr. Obama through most of his senior national security staff, amounts to scarcely more than having the greatest ambition in the room... There's nobody adult enough in the White House to turn this thing around — they'll just have to learn about reality the hard way.

February 19, 2014

Kievan hooliganWords matter. So do actions. When U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes says, as he did Wednesday, that "[t]he fact of the matter is we have made very clear to the Ukrainian government that it is their responsibility to allow for people (to) protest," and that "[w]e consistently oppose any of the violence by all sides, but the responsibility is on the government to pull back its riot police, to call a truce and to engage in a meaningful discussion with the opposition about the way forward," then White House words lose all meaningful context except perhaps as a vector of what the administration wishes were reality. To understand just how far such words may ring hollow it is helpful to read (or reread) the CIA's internal history of its 1953 overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh.† Where such a complete mismatch exists between official rhetoric about peaceful, non-violent protests and actual, premeditated violence, as is true for Ukraine today, it's only natural to wonder whether American rhetoric may be a smokescreen for agents operating to instigate violence.

Continue reading "Violence and Non-violence"...

February 16, 2014

Out of body visionThe National Science Foundation undertakes regular surveys of American adults to assess the nation's general scientific level of knowledge. One result, quite consistent over the years, is that about one quarter of American adults think the sun orbits the earth. Which raises a vexing question: Is it reasonable to suppose that an individual who thinks the sun orbits the earth is capable of making their own political decisions? Or of participating meaningfully in elections? And one wonders, to what extent does this group, fully one quarter of our population, badly skew every other type of polling? Whenever we talk about what "Americans" really want we should keep the NSF results in mind...

February 14, 2014

February 9, 2014

Old photo, Fifth Avenue in snowVictoria Nuland's gaffe is not quite what it seems. NBC, for example, trotted out former Secretary of State Colin Powell to murmer some platitudes about how senior officials should be careful about who might be listening to their phone conversations. The State Department itself called the leaked recording a new low in Russian tradecraft. But all this is preposterous. Of course Victoria Nuland, who has occupied many senior positions at the State Department, knew who was listening to her. What she couldn't imagine was that the Russians might make her conversation public. And of course the Russians don't care whether or not Nuland gets egg on her face. They only want to nudge the State Department into more normal behavior. Let me explain.

Continue reading "A Lovely Intercept"...

February 4, 2014

Nose on parchmentHere's a reordering of our schedule. This Friday, so I can get it out of my system, my guest is Edward Lucas, a senior editor at The Economist, who last week published a most excellent ebook, The Snowden Operation (99¢ at Amazon). The week following, Friday, February 14th, my guest will be Dr. Nicolai Petro, currently on a Fulbright scholar grant in Odessa, talking about the Ukrainian crisis. The opinions he expresses are his own and not those of the U.S. State Department or the Fulbright Program. But he is right as rain. Then, the show I had previously planned for this week and well worth waiting for, on Friday, February 21st, my guest will be Dr. Bill Bengston, talking about his research on and experience with the energy cure. Another entry from the strange but true — and definitely useful — files. Enjoy!

January 22, 2014

Edward Hopper Stairway at 48 rue de Lille ParisThis morning my mom passed away. Yesterday I thought she was dying but she was still breathing through the night. When I checked on her at 3:30 a.m. (I had an intuition that something had happened) she was taking quick shallow breaths. When her health aide arrived at their regular 7:00 a.m. time she was gone. She looked very peaceful and I think she must have passed easily. This afternoon I went to see my dad in the hospital (he's got pneumonia) and he's taken this development well. Tomorrow I'll go to the funeral home to make arrangements for her remains. Then, in a couple months, I'll organize a memorial service. (Since her friends are all fairly elderly it wouldn't do for them to come to a service during a cold winter day and themselves fall ill!) It's the end of an era. At the moment I'm not sure what else I can say. I hope her being — wherever it is and whatever it is — is happy.

January 19, 2014

FlareSorry to disappoint by not putting enough time into EP. It's been difficult, recently, and having a respiratory illness has just about been catastrophic.

So some weeks ago I got sick. I wasn't taking enough time for myself — more below — and when I got sick I didn't slow down. Eventually, the week before last, Sharon took three days off work to help with shopping, errands, cooking, etc., etc. That was a huge help, but then she got sick with the same thing. And I haven't been able to take care of her.

Meanwhile, my dad, 90, for whom I run a lot of errands, also got sick. Two Saturdays ago I wanted him to go to the hospital but, no, he wanted his doctor to decide what to do. Last Monday he got a prescription for antibiotics from his doctor's office, by phone, but without talking directly to the doctor. My dad's lungs were wheezing away and he sounded really bad but still he didn't want to go to the hospital. By Wednesday morning he'd changed his mind, on account of not being able to breath. Once at the hospital they diagnosed him with an especially savage case of pneumonia, life-threatening. I think at this point he's probably out of the woods but I kick myself for not insisting he go to the hospital when I first thought he should. My excuse is I was sick and not thinking clearly.

Continue reading "A Rough Patch"...

December 18, 2013

A Lithuanian book smugglerOur new podcast season starts on Friday, January 3d — Yay! My first guest will be Dr. Patrice Mangin, one of the world's top forensic pathologists. He led the Swiss team that recently released an autopsy report [.pdf] on Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. Their results "moderately support the proposition" that Arafat was given a lethal dose of Polonium-210. So, a high profile political assassination for which there may never be conclusive proof. The Friday following, January 10th, my guest — his second appearance on the show — will be Dr. Jim B. Tucker, talking about his latest book, Return to Life: Extraordinary Cases of Children Who Remember Past Lives (St. Martin's, December 2013). Another case of strong evidence but no proof. And the Friday after that, January 17th, my guest will be Dr. Margaret Flowers, a progressive activist who explains why the Affordable Care Act is anything but, why it won't work, and why we must continue to move towards a sensible, single-payer health care system. After that, we'll see. I've got a few ideas bouncing around inside my head...

EP PODCASTXML iTunes

April 18, 2014

Blue feather pen with Constitution parchmentAmerica is the only country in the world with a constitution that forbids democracy. What's most remarkable, however, is not that a cabal of slave-drivers in the eighteenth century would try to impose themselves on future generations but that two hundred years later those future generations would worship their anti-democratic political system on the grounds that it provides "freedom." To be honest, it's a greater political horror — and it had already happened — than even George Orwell could have imagined. If there's a silver lining it may be that although nobody seriously talks about changing the constitution or, better yet, adopting an entirely new, democratic constitution, that's because nobody ever thinks — really thinks — about the possibilities. Eric Black is one of the few journalists who gets what's happening. And I encourage listeners to regularly read his outstanding columns. Total runtime thirty five minutes. Exēgī monumentum aere perennius.

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April 11, 2014

America's Forgotten Constitutions coverMeta-discussions about the U.S. Constitution can be problematic. It seems to me that the rhetorical values we use in talking about the Constitution are almost perfectly contradicted by the rules laid out in the document itself, or rules we have subsequently dreamt up and improperly ascribe to it. Most complicated! But meta-discussions, I think, always deserve the benefit of the doubt. Besides, how else would we analyze the Constitution as a quasi-religious text? But that would take us past the limits of this show. Here, I talk with gifted rhetorician and constitutional law scholar Robert L. Tsai, author most recently of America's Forgotten Constitutions: Defiant Visions of Power and Community (Harvard University Press, just published this Monday). Thanks, Robert, for your historical insight! Total runtime forty four minutes. Cōnsēnsus facit lēgem.

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April 4, 2014

Sketch of Staughton LyndThe scholar activist travels a rough, winding road — or sometimes no road at all, blazing ways into the unknown. I find great inspiration in the work of Dr. Staughton Lynd — in, for example, his book Class Conflict, Slavery, and the United States Constitution (Cambridge University Press, 2009, the second edition with a new, brilliant forward by Robin Einhorn) and in all his selfless work on behalf of the dispossessed and powerless. Yet I face a paradox: I want more because I believe in more, despite my profound ignorance regarding whether more can be achieved. Here, we talk about society and social change. Thanks, Staughton! Total runtime forty two minutes. At spēs nōn frācta.

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March 28, 2014

Old Crimea mapRealists have insufficient say in this administration's foreign policy. Take, for example, Crimea. It's of no intrinsic importance to the United States, our full-throated protests smack of hypocrisy, and we're in the process of giving up a great many substantive benefits from a working relationship with Russia for... what? Nostalgia for frontier justice? In fact, Washington is putting on a very scary display of delusional behavior... Even worse, those delusions are widely shared: swept along by groupthink and propaganda most Americans can't assess the Crimean crisis objectively. Thus it was refreshing — indeed, congenial — to talk with Dr. John Tirman, who puts foreign policy problems in a human perspective. But there's no silver lining. We will just have to cope with the less than peaceful consequences of our poor political judgment. Total runtime forty three minutes. Grātis anhēlāns, multa agendō nihil agēns.

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March 21, 2014

Profiting Without Producing coverMoney, it seems, has invaded our lives down to the molecular level. Which begs the question: do we control money or does it control us? How much of a paradigm shift is necessary if we are, indeed, to reassert control? Dr. Costas Lapavitsas, using a sophisticated Marxist approach and meticulous empirical analysis, offers some answers in Profiting Without Producing: How Finance Exploits Us All (Verso, 2014). He's extremely well informed, working the cutting edge of money theory. Thanks, Costas! Total runtime thirty seven minutes. (Blame me for iffy audio — this is why mostly I avoid cell phones.) Volentī nōn fit iniūria.

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March 14, 2014

Digital moneyIf you think about it, money is a public good, albeit of a somewhat unique sort. By nature benign, when it falls under the control of a tiny minority to be used mainly for their own benefit it becomes toxic. Our recurring and increasingly severe financial crises, then, are only superficially about money: in fact, we're having a deep, epochal crisis of democracy. To talk about all of this I turned to the brilliant documentary filmmaker (formerly of the BBC) and blogger, David Malone. Another real revolutionary, in the best sense. Total runtime fifty five minutes. Alia tentanda via est.

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March 7, 2014

Creditocracy coverDebt slavery: just a scary metaphor, or something real that's gradually capturing us? Can a political system so highly leveraged through personal debt really function? What's the long term narrative arc here? To talk about debt and what kinds of things people might do — and are doing — to refuse payment on unfair debt I turned to Dr. Andrew Ross, author most recently of Creditocracy (OR Books, 2014). These are broadly cross-cutting, critical issues. Andrew's one of the good guys. Total runtime forty four minutes. Male parta, male dīlābuntur.

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February 28, 2014

Hokusai view of Mt. Fuji, croppedBelief is not really an option. You're going to believe there's some higher power, some greater spiritual meaning to existence, some kind of being in transcendence, or you're going to believe there's not. (Agnostics believe that a person is able to not believe, which is slightly embarrassing.) Whichever path you take, however, you won't be able to prove how reality works. The difference is that having Faith with a capital "F" moves mountains. Unfortunately for us, people often have Faith in extremely harmful inspirations... So here's a short, impressionist meditation on the need for a new, modern Faith — or at least a Faith in Faith — among those preponderantly attached to a liberal, humanistic philosophy. Total runtime eight minutes. Rēligiō locī.

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February 24, 2014

Kiev burningOne feels frighteningly disoriented, hearing an American president support deadly mob violence for what is, essentially, counter-revolutionary change (in the form of IMF austerity). The president's message may be directed at unknown people far away but the effects are certain to be felt here, possibly for generations, as the bindings of what relative peace we have come undone. I was extremely fortunate to be able to talk with Dr. Stephen F. Cohen about the crisis in Ukraine. He's in a tiny minority willing to discuss what's really happening. This is an unscheduled podcast on breaking news. [Audio file reposted at The Nation, here.] Total runtime forty eight minutes. Vae victīs.

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February 21, 2014

The Energy Cure coverIt's difficult to say which is more astonishing: that it's possible to cure a fatal illness by opening energy gates with mental concentration, or that mainstream medical science has so blinkered itself that it refuses to examine the data. But data there is, in abundance, from an academic who in every other way is entirely reputable. Dr. William F. Bengston, author of The Energy Cure, has been doing anomalous scientific research for decades and has produced revolutionary, consistently replicable results. He's also very honest in saying that he can't explain why his methods work. It's something of a mystery, and a challenge. Thanks, Bill! Total runtime forty minutes. Dulce est dēsipere in locō.

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February 14, 2014

Ukraine mapUkraine is split culturally and politically between East and West, but not in such a way that either side clearly could dominate the other. Forcing choices on Ukraine (as the EU and the U.S. sporadically seem to want to do) only exacerbates the tension. But given recent events, tensions breaking out into a civil war is not at all unthinkable. To me this is vaguely reminiscent of the circumstances surrounding the former Yugoslavia before its unhappy dismemberment. To talk about Ukraine I turned to Dr. Nicolai Petro, currently on a Fulbright grant in Odessa. Thanks, Nicolai, for your professional judgment! Total runtime fifty one minutes. Vōx clāmantis in dēserto.

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February 7, 2014

The Snowden Operation coverAt the moment I'm odd man out on the left. I see Snowden not as a hero but as a criminal. I agree with Edward Lucas, senior editor at The Economist, who says Snowden may well be an unwitting agent of Russian intelligence, and that that would be the most favorable possible interpretation of his actions. Snowden, indeed, has been laying his doubletalk not only on the U.S. government but on the public. His story, to be blunt, does not add up. For details you really should read — with an open mind — Edward Lucas' just published ebook, The Snowden Operation: Inside the West's Greatest Intelligence Disaster (99¢ at Amazon). With thirty years journalistic experience, including coverage of espionage, cyber-security, and Russian foreign and security policy, Edward Lucas is a sensible soul. Total runtime thirty minutes. Satis ēloquentiae, sapientiae parum.

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