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Cops freak out over free speech in Vermont


Police Go Nuts Over Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Remote Speech in Vermont
How a non-event becomes an “event” that ends in anti-climax

When Mumia Abu-Jamal was the pre-recorded speaker at a Goddard College commencement in Plainfield, Vermont, in 2008, almost no one outside the Goddard community paid any attention. This year, when Goddard announced that students had chosen Mumia to do a return engagement at their graduation, Philadelphia police, politicians, media, and Fox News went crazy with angry rhetoric aimed at curbing free speech.

In the end, this breakdown in civil society resulted in nothing worse than hundreds of police-instigated threats of violence to the Goddard community. For the sake of security, Goddard moved the graduation up three hours, with no public announcement, and the full-house ceremony for 24 students went forward with private security and without incident.

In the week between the announcement and the event, “Mumia Abu-Jamal” the symbol served once again as a triggering Rorschach blot exposing aspects of American character in 2014, reflecting and denying realities decades and centuries past. In a sense what Goddard students provoked with their commencement speaker choice was a weeklong confrontation between the symbolic “Mumia Abu-Jamal” and the actual Mumia Abu-Jamal, without much success in joining them in there single, complex reality.

What does “Mumia Abu-Jamal” actually mean, or should he just be? 

Understanding “Mumia Abu Jamal” in full requires more time and space that is available here. The man and the symbol and those who pillory him all have significant complexity, both real and unreal. There are at least two contexts that are fundamental to understanding the Mumia phenomenon itself and the mini-drama it produced at Goddard:

First, whatever else he is, Mumia is a political prisoner and has been a political target at least since he was 15. Mumia was born in 1954 as Wesley Cook. As he became an articulate member of the Black Panther party (until he was 16) and a representative of black resistance generally, he was targeted for his political expression by police agencies that included the FBI and its illegal COINTELPRO program. On December 9, 1981, radio reporter Mumia was moonlighting as a cab driver. He was on the scene when officer Daniel Faulkner made a traffic stop of Mumia’s younger brother, William Cook. In the next few moments, Faulkner was shot and killed and Mumia was shot and disabled. Little else about the event is reliably clear. Anyone who takes the time to look disinterestedly into the record of the investigation and subsequent trials will soon understand that Mumia’s conviction for killing officer Faulkner may or may not be a miscarriage of justice in terms of Mumia’s actual guilt, which remains unproved. Mumia denied his guilt at trial and ever since. The investigation and judicial process are so fundamentally flawed in so many ways, they offer the best evidence that Mumia’s conviction is morally and factually insupportable.

Second, and probably more important for context, is the abiding corruption of the Philadelphia legal system, both police and courts. At the time of Mumia’s arrest, he had been talking on the radio about police corruption. At the same time, there was a federal investigation going on that would lead to the conviction of 31 Philadelphia police officers. In 1981, Officer Faulkner, 26, was working undercover inside the department, gathering evidence against his fellow officers. Another wave of Philadelphia police corruption and brutality in the 1990s came to be known as the 39th District scandal. In July 2014, federal prosecutors indicted six officers in “what Philadelphia’s police commissioner described as one of the worst cases of corruption,” according to CNN. CBS Philly has a special page for Philadelphia police corruption. Currently, after some 20 years of abusing civil forfeiture laws to pad city budgets (by an average $6 million a year), Philadelphia faces a class action lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice seeking to end the abuse, which includes an inherently corrupting conflict of interest.

When you’re under fire, it’s useful to have a distracting scapegoat

One of the epicenters of reflexive Mumia-bashing is the 325,000 member Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), whose website has no prominent (if any) expressed opposition to police corruption.  The Order was instrumental in unscrupulously attacking an Obama administration nominee for U.S. Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Dept. of Justice, who eventually withdrew his name from nomination. Attorney Debo Adegbile, 48, was fully qualified to serve, but the FOP opposed him because he had, as part of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, tangentially participated in Mumia Abu-Jamal’s appeals process. None of this was improper, but the FOP used inflammatory guilt-by-association in a McCarthyite campaign that effectively intimidated Democratic Senators into joining their prejudiced Republican colleagues in race-based opposition to a qualified candidate for the “sin” of representing the “wrong” client, an expectation of attorneys actually expressed in the U.S. Constitution. Given its Mumia-obsession, the FOP was quick to join the counter-constitutional attack on personal and institutional free speech at Goddard.

Founded in 1863 as a Universalist seminary in the Green Mountains, Goddard College has about 600 students, most of whom are not college-age and most whom are not on campus most of the time. Accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Goddard offers undergraduate degrees as well as Masters degrees in fields including Education, Health Sciences, Psychology, and Creative Writing. Mumia Abu-Jamal first came to Goddard in the 1970s, earning his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1996 from prison. In 2008, graduating students unanimously and “proudly” chose Mumia to give a pre-recorded commencement speech at Goddard. On August 10, 2008, he gave his speech, apparently without incident and without much media or other attention. Having had that experience, Goddard made a routine announcement on a Monday, setting off a chain of events, with these highlights:

September 29, 2014.

Goddard publicized Mumia’s October 5 speech in a matter-of-fact press release with this headline:

Mumia Abu-Jamal to Give Commencement Speech at Goddard College
Inmate Journalist and Goddard Graduate to Address Newest Class of Radical Thinkers

The release noted that Mumia was convicted for the 1981 murder of officer Faulkner and was serving a sentence of life in prison without parole. The release quoted interim college president Bob Kenny saying, almost prophetically: “Choosing Mumia as their commencement speaker, to me, shows how this newest group of Goddard graduates expresses their freedom to engage and think radically and critically in a world that often sets up barriers to do just that.”

The same day the Burlington Free Press picked up the news in a brief, bland item that began: “Goddard College students have chosen a famous alumnus as their fall commencement speaker, but his remarks have been pre-recorded and he won’t be at the ceremony on Sunday.” The Free Press was apparently alone in this reporting. So far, so calm.

September 30, 2014. 

Philadelphia’s CBS local station broke the calm with a story that began: “A small Vermont college is poking a lot of people in the eye by having convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal as its commencement speaker next Sunday.” Fox News also pushed the story: “A man serving life in prison for killing a Philadelphia police officer in 1981 has been selected as a commencement speaker at his Vermont alma mater.”

The spin on the story was inspired by the president of the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police, John Nesby, who is quoted saying: “We have somebody who’s a convicted murderer, who’s in prison, and they’re allowed to be able to have special privileges. It just seems the only one being penalized here is [officer Faulkner’s widow] Maureen Faulkner and she’s fed up with it.” The CBS headline read:

Convicted Cop-Killer Mumia Abu-Jamal Selected As Commencement Speaker For College In Vermont

CBS also reported Corrections Department spokeswoman Sue McNaughton trying to distance the department from controversy, saying that: Mumia is merely making use of his phone privileges. He’s done this before in the past. He’s made other commencement addresses. They’re not live, from what I understand. They’re recorded and then played…. the department does not endorse Mumia’s speech, but he has the right to talk.

Picking up on the cue from the Philadelphia FOP, the Vermont Troopers’ Association president, Michael O’Neil, wrote a public letterto the Goddard president, “on behalf of the 280 members of the Vermont Troopers’ Association and the families of slain police officers….” O’Neil asked the college to rescind the invitation, writing in part:

“Your invitation to this convicted murderer demonstrates an absolute disregard for the family of Danny Faulkner…. While our nation is searching for solutions to gun violence in our schools and communities, we are outraged that Goddard College is hosting a man who shot and killed a police officer. A college commencement ceremony should be conducted to honor the achievements of graduates, not provide a forum for recognition of a convicted killer.”

The Troopers Association did not respond to questions submitted in writing.

October 1, 2014. Using some language word-for-word from the Philadelphia FOP letter, the national office of the Fraternal Order of Police issuedwhat it titled:


Canterbury, like McNeil, urged “that Goddard College rescind its invitation to this repugnant murderer.” Despite the police pile-on, the story gained little traction nationally. The Washington Post played it fairly neutrally, first referring to Mumia as “an infamous American prisoner.”

October 2, 2014.  

The Vermont Police Chiefs Association joined the law enforcement chorus against Goddard and Mumia. The head of the association, Vergennes Police Chief George Merkel was quoted saying:

“It is beyond belief that an educational institution would even consider such an act of disrespect to the family of slain Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner and the law enforcement community of Vermont…. It obviously means nothing to the school administration and graduates that Mumia Abu-Jamal murdered Officer Faulkner in cold blood by shooting him five times.

While we support the protection of individual rights in Vermont, we find the choice of this convicted murderer as a commencement speaker offensive, and shows a lack of judgment on behalf of the college and its graduates, as well as a total disrespect for the family of the slain officer, who was sworn also to protect individual rights….”

The only member of Congress to take a public position, apparently, was Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who wrote an outraged letter to Goddard in which said, among other things:

“Is there any crime so heinous that Goddard would not reward the perpetrator with a spot as commencement speaker? I cannot fathom how anyone could think it appropriate to honor a cold-blooded murderer….”

Earlier in the year, Toomey led the effort to deny the appointment of Debo Adegbile to the Justice Dept., because Adegbile had had the temerity to give meaning to the Constitution’s promise that Mumia should have adequate counsel.

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections joined the official outcry against hearing the voice of “a convicted cop killer.” A spokesperson described a proper speaker. Ironically, that description also fits Mumia: “a commencement speaker worthy of their time such as a survivor of crime to impart things like resiliency, courage and strength.”

The National Review offered a smooth, cleverly argued critique of Goddard’s choice of Mumia, beginning with the G.K. Chesterton warning against being “so open-minded that your brains fall out.” At the end, the piece sarcastically suggests:

“Perhaps Goddard’s graduating class is not so intellectually atrophied and morally adrift as to actually think that entertaining a cop-killer as its commencement speaker was a bold, revolutionary decision. Perhaps they just invited Goddard’s most distinguished graduate.”

Vermont Public Radio exaggeratedly reported that “Goddard College is facing a storm of criticism for inviting a man convicted of murdering a police officer to speak….” Vermont Public Radio did not mention that it used to broadcast Mumia’s radio programs when they were carried by National Public Radio (until another political attack drove them off the air).

As a Goddard spokesman pointed out, Mumia speaks from a unique perspective, an “an imprisoned African-American male,… an under-represented and almost invisible population.”  Goddard Community Radio, WGDR-WGDH FM, currently carries Mumia’s syndicated Prison Radio show, at 7 PM on Sunday.

“Murder is wrong. Free speech is right…. these exist together.”

Without responding formally to police demands to cancel Mumia, Goddard pushed back. Goddard communications manager Samantha Kolber sent out two tweets about an hour apart that evening:

10:28 PM – “Free people have a right to decide for themselves what they want to hear.” – @MumiaAbuJamal

11:43 PM – “Murder is wrong. Free speech is right. Sometimes these exist together. #Duality #truth #complexity

In an interview, Kolber had said that the graduating students “chose Mumia because to them, Mumia represents a struggle for freedom of the mind, body, and spirit. Those were values important to this graduating class.”

Late that same day, a North Carolina prison released an ex-police commander to a halfway house, after three and a half years behind bars. The former Chicago police officer was Jon Burge, 66, convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice relating to his participation in using torture to coerce false confessions from men in custody. Although a final count is uncertain, police commander Burge took part in torturing more than 100 black men, sometimes using electro-shock.

A Chicago police pension board has affirmed Burge’s $4000-a-month police pension. The capture and conviction of Burge, as well as settlements to victims, is estimated to have cost $120 million to Chicago taxpayers.

The police organizations attacking Goddard College have not objected to the public paying a convicted police torturer some $48,000 a year in retirement.

October 3, 2014. In great part because of the police protest, Goddard was receiving hundreds of threats of non-specific violence by phone and social media ( was busy, and there was also Mumia support). Goddard reported these to the Vermont State Police, who said through a spokesperson that they planned to investigate the source of the threats and would keep in touch with the college in case the college needed help.  According to VTDigger:

Goddard has received hundreds of phone calls, about one per minute Friday, and letting all of them go to voicemail, Goddard spokesperson Samantha Kolber said. College officials were responding to only the most urgent calls, she said. Some of the calls threatened violence and sexual assault.

To Police and Politicians: “Hands Off Goddard College!” 

That was the headline of a piece in Counterpunch, an appeal by two college professors, one from the City College of New York, the other from the Princeton Theological Seminary.  They note, in support of both Goddard and Mumi that: “His death sentence was ruled unconstitutional in 2001, and finally vacated in 2011.”

They characterize Mumia as “a political prisoner, who was framed in the courts for his political beliefs and affiliations,” whose supporters include Amnesty International and Bishop Desmond Tutu.

They characterize his current attackers as guardians of “a center that quashes the right to speak of needed voices from among the marginalized and politically repressed, they cease being a center worthy of public respect.

They conclude that:

‘The students occupy the moral and intellectual high ground. Let them proceed without intimidation by officials who command guns and prisons. The youth of today, those who must forge tomorrow’s freedom and real democracy, should be neither chained nor intimidated by guardians of the old center.

October 4, 2014.  The Fox News program FOX&friends continued attack on Goddard and Mumia. Officer Faulkner’s widow, Maureen, and Sen. Toomey were guests and the views of the guests and anchor were predictably one-sided and without nuance

Reinforcing the dominant narrative that requires Mumia to be a one-dimensional Black Panther cop-killer, pictures of Mumia typically show him as a much younger man, with long dreds, and sometimes a threatening appearance. The very pro-Mumia website of Rachel Wolkenstein, one of his attorneys, has a picture from 2012 showing Mumia with his wife and attorney Wolkenstein.

October 5, 2014. 

The graduation ceremony went off without reported incident.

The college hired private security to supplement college staff, since relying on Vermont police who had been attacking the college all week didn’t seem rational. As it turned out, some 20 police were busy peacefully protesting the graduation. Interesting work all around with the “serve and protect” thing.

There might have been a bigger protest, but Goddard had quietly and privately changed the time of the ceremony from 4 PM to 1 PM. Mumia’s pre-recorded speech (audio only, though often reported as video) was not his best work, but adequate to the occasion. One highlight, when he spoke more personally, first of the 1970s:

“Let me say something that I’ve never said before: when I came to Goddard, I was intimidated. Although teachers and adults told me that I could do the work, I rarely believed them. I felt woefully unprepared. But guess what? Goddard gave me confidence, and I never lost that feeling….”

And then he spoke of the 1990s:

“In one of the most repressive environments on earth (Death Row), Goddard allowed me to study and research human liberation and anti-colonial struggles on two continents: Africa and Latin/Central America. I think you for that grand opportunity….”

In Philadelphia, uniformed police there held a 30-minute silent vigil at the site of a plaque commemorating Officer Faulkner, an event organized by the FOP to honor Maureen Faulkner and her husband and other fallen police officers.

In California, Maureen Faulkner issued an angry statement in which she said, in part:

“Once again, my family and I find ourselves being assaulted by the obscenity that is Mumia Abu-Jamal.

On Sunday October 5th, my husband’s killer will once again air his voice from what masquerades as a prison, and spew his thoughts and ideas at another college commencement. Mumia Abu-Jamal will be heard and honored as a victim and a hero by a pack of adolescent sycophants at Goddard College….

Shame on Goddard College and all associated with that school for choosing to honor an arrogant remorseless killer as their commencement speaker. Unfortunately, this is something that I am certain they will be proud of for the rest of their lives.”

She accuses Mumia of hating America, she blames Goddard for hiding behind the First Amendment, she calls that “a convenient way to dodge their responsibility to take a moral position on this situation.” Moments later, she contradicts this and describes the moral position she says they’ve already taken:

“Let’s be honest. The instructors, administrators and graduates at Goddard College embrace having this killer as their commencement speaker not despite the fact that he brutally murdered a cop, but because he brutally murdered a cop.”  [emphasis added]

If that paranoia is heartfelt and widespread in the FOP and other police associations, police might consider why anyone would believe such a thing, whether out of rage or guilt. And they might wonder what effect it has, on others and themselves, to demonize supposed cop-killers while giving killer cops a pass.  

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.

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Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, deranged lone-wolf killer, recent Islam convert


ISIS actively recruits mentally unbalanced zealots to be used as the equivalent of suicide bombers. The mentally ill find such causes because it helps quiet the voices in the heads. Wackos seek out Islamist websites where they are carefully cultivated, groomed, and exploited. Plant a few messages and wait for the explosion to happen. It can also happen with no overt contact. This has little to do with religion and quite a lot to do with politics. Religion is the cover.

Two Canadians have been killed in three days, seemingly at random, by loner lunatics who recently converted to Islam. The killings had no obvious political message. Professionals would have made sure the message was unmistakable and the body count was high. Only idiot amateurs with a tenuous grasp on reality kill randomly in hopes of sending a political message. Michael Zehaf-Bibeau killed a solider at a Canadian war memorial . Martin Rouleau-Couture ran over over two Canadians soldiers with his car. Both actions are as stupid, senseless, and deranged as the loser tweaker couple who in June shot two cops eating pizza in Las Vegas hoping it would start a revolution.

Zehaf-Bibeau and Rouleau-Couture were recent Muslim converts who had their passports recently seized because Canadian authorities deemed them “high-risk.” Both actions were so random and unpredictable it is difficult to see how they could have been stopped.

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Second Texas health-care worked has Ebola. CDC admits screwing up


The supposed best medical system in the world, the US, botched its response to Ebola. The Dallas hospital apparently had nonexistent procedures and let hazardous waste pile up. CDC has finally stopped blaming the victims and is admitting it it could have done way better.

Frieden outlined new steps this week designed to stop the spread of the disease, including the creation of an Ebola response team.

CDC is just now creating a response team? This should have been done weeks ago. Instead, what we got from CDC was arrogant statements about how they totally had everything under control. And now it’s clear, they didn’t. And still don’t.

“I wish we had put a team like this on the ground the day the patient — the first patient — was diagnosed. That might have prevented this infection,” Frieden said.

In a conference call late Tuesday, the nation’s largest nurses’ union described how the patient, Duncan, was left in an open area of the emergency room for hours. National Nurses United, citing unnamed nurses, said staff treated Duncan for days without the correct protective gear, that hazardous waste was allowed to pile up to the ceiling and safety protocols constantly changed.

A nurse’s union polled their members who said training in procedures on Ebola were vague and sloppy at hospitals across the country and many hospitals are not prepared for an outbreak. Conditions at the Dallas hospital seem, well, appalling.

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Sitting in a casino pool watching atomic bombs explode


Memes collide. Postcard for Benny Binion’s Horseshoe Club in Las Vegas circa 1950’s proudly features nearby open-air atomic bomb explosions. People would sit on casino roofs drinking cocktails, watching the a-bombs explode. The nice people from the government said there was no risk, no risk at all, and of course the government would never lie.

The government often waited for the winds to blow to the north before exploding the bombs so the radiation would fall, as some moral cripple in the government put it, on a “low-use segment of the population” in Utah. Victims of that fallout are called Downwinders. Some of them died. Others developed strange forms of cancer. Plenty of livestock died too. The government lied., evaded, and slimed the victims for decades. It was Dubya Bush who finally ruled that those affected deserved compensation.

No doubt some people went to Vegas to gamble and to watch the bombs detonate. Benny Binion was happy to have postcards advertising the bomb blasts and his casino. Give the people what they want.

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Benny Binion, two quotes

Benny Binion, daughter Becky, one million dollars

Benny Binion, daughter Becky, one million dollars

I just finished reading Blood Aces, a new biography about Benny Binion, the Texas gangster who created a gambling empire in Vegas as well as the World Series of Poker. He could barely read and write, was a shrewd judge of character, and was also quite, um, colorful. Those who opposed him often ended up dead. Even mob heavies mostly left him alone. And he outlasted all of them, dying respected and beloved by many. (More on the book soon, after I hear author Doug Swanson speak at The Mob Museum.)

Two Binion quotes made me laugh out loud.

Binion served time for tax evasion. A few years later he explained in court how him giving a local poltician $30,000 in cash was a loan with no interest or repayment schedule, and was asked if he kept financial records.

“I didn’t keep no records. The last time I kept records you assholes put me in Leavenworth,” said Binion.

Also, there weren’t no scantily-clad showgirls at the Horseshoe, “and never would be, because as Binion liked to say, he didn’t want his money blowing out the end of some guy’s trumpet.”

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Las Vegas surveillance is pervasive. Coming to your town?


The Las Vegas Sun details the extraordinary number of way Las Vegans are watched and monitored, both inside and outside of casinos. Player’s cards record everything you do. And then there are the cameras.

Cameras in Vegas casinos watch and monitor everything. Most casinos have at least 2,000 cameras. Some have upwards of 15,000. While all cameras can’t be watched at once, the watchers focus on things the rest of us might ignore, like what a person’s hands and feet are doing and if the quality of their shoes match the their clothing. If not, they could be hustlers looking to scam or steal.

“It’s easy with one camera to follow a person,” Whiting said. “But the hard thing is to stick 50 cameras together and do that throughout the whole casino floor. But that’s the future and that’s going to happen.”

Facial recognition is coming, although it’s more difficult in casinos because of difficulty in getting straight shots of faces.

Surveillance like this is coming everywhere. It can not be reversed. We can only hope to control it.

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Mob Museum: 28 yo female prosecutor takes down Cleveland Mafia boss

Angelo Lonardo

Angelo Lonardo

Donna Congeni Fitzsimmons spoke last night at The Mob Museum Wiseguy Series. At 28, in 1980, she was appointed special prosecutor for a mob case with seven murders and no bodies. No one thought she had a chance. She put many of them in prison, including Cleveland Mafia boss Angelo Lonardo. The break came when the daughter of a cop saw suspicious cars leaving a car bombing and noted the license plate numbers. This allowed them to start moving up the food chain. Mobsters informed. They eventually found all the bodies.

Special prosecutors were started by Robert Kennedy when he was Attorney General as a way to route around corrupt city law enforcement. They were appointed by the feds, not local officials. That and RICO are their most powerful tools. Sam Giancana delivered Chicago and thus Illinois to JFK in the election. Robert Kennedy went after the mob with a vengeance. More than a few think the mob was involved in JFK’s assassination. Just saying…

Lonardo was at the Appalachia meeting and knew everyone and everything. He turned informer after being sentenced to life plus 100 years at age 72. He lived under witness protection and died when he was 95. She was asked if he was penitent or felt guilt over his crimes. She said, not even slightly.

At one point, they asked a Vegas mobster what he knew about Cleveland and he told them he wouldn’t tell them anything because there was a mole in the FBI with access to informer’s names. He was right. (The mole was discovered and went to prison.)

Her takeaways:

Food is more important than conjugal visits to wise guys. Seriously!

Importance of family. Keep it in the family. We were a family not a gang

When the guys in the movies said don’t go into drugs, they were right. Dealers will roll over on anyone.

RICO works. As does the Continuing Criminal Enterprise, which says financiers with no direct participation can be prosecuted too.

A turning point came when judges became willing to hold mafiosi before trial with no bail. This was done because in this trial, there were contracts out for FBI agents and Fitzsimmons received death threats.

What happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas with organized crime. There is worldwide interest in what the mob did.

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Hysteric POTUS channels Bushist war shtick before UN

"Show me the way to the next little war,  oh don't ask why."

“We have always been at war with Eastasia”

The U.S. without a war is like an apple pie without apples

A Nobel Peace Prize recipient is among the loudest voices for war nowadays. Better, this Nobel Peace prize recipient has unchecked power to wage war and uses it willfully in a variety of nations. Perhaps best, this prize-winning peace president has set out a plan to make a desert and call it peace, for which a grateful power structure might well give him yet another prize.

Such absurdity dominates the world we live in now, because people in governments are committing us all to irrational choices based on no credible public explanation. Examples are myriad, but President Obama’s shrill war cries at the United Nations offer a paradigm of the present bloody moment that is, in part, a near-parody of grandiloquent George W. Bush doing his most preening strut as a feckless “war president.”

The following excerpts from President Obama’s long and specious 39-minute speech to the U.N. on September 24, 2014, are chosen to highlight the contradictions and deceits so carefully packaged with familiar, false pieties about imaginary realities. The pitch is fraudulent from the moment the president begins, with a pseudo-lofty, tripartite cliché untethered from the real world:

“We come together at a crossroads between war and peace; between disorder and integration; between fear and hope.”

Yes, every moment is a crossroads between war and peace in some place, a moment waiting for some commander somewhere to cross the line and start killing “enemies.” The president’s moment at the U.N. was NOT, for him or anyone else, a “crossroads” – he had long since proceeded straight across the intersection, extending the Iraq War of 2003 into its second decade; he had already escalated that war into Syria; he had long since carried on wars in Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and who knows where else. He has no legal authority to expand wage these wars, but he knows he has no Congress or court or any other opposition with both the will and the standing to challenge his decision for more killing in the blood zones of the Middle East.

There is no “crossroads between disorder and integration,” a meaningless construction about conditions that may exist independently or simultaneously. “Integration” is an especially absurd word to apply to the police states that stretch from Iran to Egypt. U.S. policy has failed for decades to promote even the most elementary, necessary integration of Israelis and Palestinians. U.S. policing now, as ever, only heightens the disintegration among Sunni and Shia. Disorder is the hallmark of the region, and the West has only made it worse for centuries. The present U.S.-sponsored war only increases the disorder, with no promise and little likelihood of a happy ending.

In the words of Chicago mayor Richard Daley circa 1968, commenting on his city’s police riot with unintentional accuracy: “The policeman is not here to create disorder. The policeman is here to preserve disorder.”

And so it has been with the American presence in the Middle East, where the world’s policeman helped to preserve disorder for decades before ratcheting up the intensity in 2003 by bringing fresh chaos to Iraq and the rest of the region. As the self-appointed policeman of the world, the U.S. has much to regret and atone for.

And there is no “crossroads between fear and hope.” These are emotions that often coexist, not artifacts from a Pentagon planning project. If truth were told, there are no crossroads at all in this moment of American “leadership.” There is only a headlong president whose hope now is that fear will lead to dead bodies strewn across several landscapes, and that those bodies will make him look good.

In his U.N. speech, President Obama moved from his imaginary crossroads into a couple of paragraphs of selective happy talk about progress, peace, poverty and prosperity. These remarks coming from an escalating commander-in-chief were not without irony as he cited the U.N. as “a unique achievement – the people of the world committing to resolve their differences peacefully, and solve their problems together.” Moments later, without explanation, this became “the failure of our international system.” Rhetoric requires no real basis in fact so long as choice emotive buttons get pushed effectively:

“The brutality of terrorists in Syria and Iraq forces us to look into the heart of darkness.”

If this line has meaning, it’s not likely a suggestion to review the brutality of others in the region, least of all our “allies.” And the line is surely not a humble recommendation to explore the dark heart of American methods of torture and killing over the past decade, and it’s not an expression of willingness to end the brutal penal colony at Guantanamo, where innocent and possibly guilty alike suffer without hope until they die. These horrors, like drones assassinating wedding parties, are brutalities that President Obama has failed to “look into,” much less tried to degrade and destroy.

There is little if anything the Islamic State has done to earn the hyperbolic fear-mongering it gets from this administration and the Fox network’s echo chamber. There is perhaps no grisly act the Islamic State has committed that has not been committed by the U.S. and/or its allies, with the possible exception of posting videos of beheadings on YouTube. Beheadings themselves are commonplace in countries like Saudi Arabia.

It’s not the beheadings that separate the brutality of the Islamic State from the brutality of others near and far, it’s the deployment of pictures of beheadings that has upset polite societies well-steeped in their denial. Posting such videos, censored as they are, has achieved a metaphorical beheading: leadership in the U.S. and elsewhere has lost its head over a theatrical provocation as effective emotionally as it is unimportant geopolitically. Some forty countries are now at war against a threat of minimal proportions, largely as a gut reaction to a disturbing movie. That’s not so much a heart of darkness as a head of darkness.

President Obama speaks from a darker heart when he refers to “Russian aggression” with nomeaningful context. Failing to acknowledge the civil war in Ukraine, the U.S. president promises to “support the people of Ukraine,” when he means only some of the people of Ukraine:

“We call upon others to join us on the right side of history – for while small gains can be won at the barrel of a gun, they will ultimately be turned back if enough voices support the freedom of nations and peoples to make their own decisions.”

In countries all over the world, from Iran and Cuba to Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as all of Latin America, the United States has consistently opposed and often crushed “the freedom of nations and peoples to make their own decisions.” Even when native movements adopted their own versions of American founding documents the U.S. was not assuaged, as the Vietnamese learned at horrendous cost in the face of American brutality that makes the Islamic State look like a bunch of Quakers.

President Obama does not acknowledge this imperial history any more than his government’s present imperial imperative. As far as Ukraine goes, the fault is all with Russia, according to the president, who even lies about MH-17 to reinforce his phony bill of particulars. He certainly omits reference to his favored Ukrainians burning opponents alive in Odessa. Nowhere does he acknowledge anything like a Western-supported coup in Kiev that established an illegitimate government with a neo-Nazi tinge, whose war crimes in the east are documented by U.N. observers. Nowhere does this Nobel peace laureate acknowledge twenty years of Western stealth aggression against Russia, in which his own administration remains active.

With no apparent shame or sense of irony, the president refers to reducing nuclear arsenals and destroying Syria’s chemical weapons as “the kind of cooperation we are prepared to pursue again—if Russia changes course.”

Actually, these are things worth pursuing for their own sake, and if anyone needs to change course, it’s the West, the U.S./NATO/EU/IMF and the rest. The way the president couches it is intellectual fraud and moral blackmail.

The president takes a similar, not-our-fault-and-not-really-our-responsibility approach to various other issues, including poverty and climate change, where the evidence is to the contrary. Long as it is, the speech at the U.N. does not gain in coherence. The president who recently said he doesn’t have a strategy apparently still has no strategy, unless casting blame is somehow strategic:

“But as we look to the future, one issue risks a cycle of conflict that could derail such progress: and that is the cancer of violent extremism that has ravaged so many parts of the Muslim world.”

In context, the president’s implication is that Muslim extremists prevent the rest of the world from dealing sensibly with climate change. Read the speech, these are in consecutive paragraphs. And these bad Muslims are fearfully powerful:

“… they have embraced a nightmarish vision that would divide the world into adherents and infidels…. And it is no exaggeration to say that humanity’s future depends on us uniting against those who would divide us along fault lines of tribe or sect; race or religion.”

Or as President Bush put it thirteen years ago: “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” The presidential rhetoric of 2001 lives on in the presidential rhetoric of 2014. Moments later, President Bush added, “This is the world’s fight. This is civilization’s fight. This is the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom.” Then he lied his country into war in Iraq.

In other words, it absolutely is an exaggeration to say that “humanity’s future” depends on fighting the Islamic State, a force numbering in the thousands, a force without nuclear weapons, and virtually defenseless against attack from the air. Like so many other governments and rebels, the Islamic State has committed atrocities, perhaps on the scale of Lidice, Wounded Knee, Suchow, My Lai, Dublin, or other mass killings. President Obama charges the Islamic State with committing “the most horrific crimes imaginable,” which is flatly untrue. Islamists have not perpetrated a Holocaust or the atomic vaporization of a city. These are accomplishments of Western civilization.

Bad as it was, Islamist treatment of Yazidis in Iraq came nowhere close to the Turkish genocide of Armenians in the early 20th century. Yet genocide-denying Turkey is a much-desired ally. And the president, citing “videos of the atrocity [of beheading],” says somewhat hysterically of the enemy du jour:

“No God condones this terror. No grievance justifies these actions. There can be no reasoning – no negotiation – with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force. So the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death.”

And the way the United States will do this is to bring more war, death, and suffering to a region already hostile to the West for its centuries of abuse. But the president presumably knows that some God condones that terror. For all his high-pitched condemnation of Islamic State beliefs, the president omits their nurturing safe haven in Saudi Arabia, where the state religion is a conservative Sunni belief system with much in common with the Sunnis of the Islamic State. Saudis have supported the Islamic State for years. Saudi Arabia is a police state that allows the open practice of no religion other than Islam.

For the United States, this is not division “into adherents and infidels,” this is just a quirk of a major oil producer. Besides, as the U.S. president told the U.N., the real problem is elsewhere:

“It is time for a new compact among the civilized peoples of this world to eradicate war at its most fundamental source: the corruption of young minds by violent ideology…. We must offer an alternative vision.”

The answer to the whole problem turns out to be marketing! And not just any marketing, marketing to the young!

So war is just marketing by other means? And marketing is way more persuasive than justice? And blaming victims, the young who have no effective power to change anything happening to them now, is an intellectually tenable position? And it’s a moral perspective? And God condones it?

The president’s “final point” is:

“… the countries of the Arab and Muslim world must focus on the extraordinary potential of their people – especially the youth.”

This may sound like patronizing nonsense, but perhaps the president means it as another example of “the freedom of nations and peoples to make their own decisions.” Or perhaps not:

“If young people live in places where the only option is between the dictates of a state, or the lure of an extremist underground – no counter-terrorism strategy can succeed…. No external power can bring about a transformation of hearts and minds. But America will be a respectful and constructive partner.”

We’re talking to you, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and Kuwait and other police states, the president seems to say, and we don’t really mean anything by it, we just have a home audience that needs gulling.

The Islamic State has few if any friends, so bombing its people has little or no immediate political cost. Better, they can be punished without disrupting much of the oil business, while at the same time boosting the arms business. Down the line there may be blowback – again – but that’s down the line.

And besides, America is exceptional, and that exceptionalism means that God condones whatever we do, or as the president puts it:

“… we welcome the scrutiny of the world…. we fight for our ideals, and are willing to criticize ourselves…. we hold our leaders accountable, and insist on a free press and independent judiciary…. we address our differences in the open space of democracy – with respect for the rule of law….”

That’s part of the ideal, to be sure.

The reality is that each of the five most recent presidential administrations has committed war crimes (and other crimes), for which almost no one has been held accountable and some have received presidential pardons. Government secrecy continues to expand, police state tactics continue to spread, the “free press” is controlled by fewer and fewer people, and this president has responded to these trends by criminally charging more reporters than all his predecessors combined.

The president, who wages war without legal authority, concludes:

“The people of the world look to us, here [at the U.N.], to be as decent, as dignified, and as courageous as they are in their daily lives. And at this crossroads, I can promise you that the United States of America will not be distracted or deterred from what must be done…. Join us in this common mission, for today’s children and tomorrow’s.”

The candidate of hope and change in 2008 has somehow become the president of war and fear in 2014, channeling his predecessor’s rhetoric while pursuing similar policies somewhat less recklessly. How did this happen?

Somehow this U.S. president has reached the point of making an Orwellian argument that war is peace, that war is decent, dignified, and courageous, even (or especially) against an outnumbered, militarily helpless, hapless, non-state enemy (a “muscular new course,” the New York Times called it). And why, why should this one-sided war be waged?

Do it for the children – or at least for the ones who survive. That’s what it comes down to in President Obama’s crie de guerre.

William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and

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Silicon Valley startups too often exploit the defenseless


Whether it’s Homejoy or Alfred Club, well-funded Silicon Valley startups are seriously exploiting the impoverished and using dubious ploys not to pay employment taxes and insurance.

Homejoy cleaners gets $19 per house and at least some of them are homeless. Alfreds are servants that run errands for you and keep the house clean for $99 a month. Even though they are at the beck and call of the startup and the client, they are independent workers and thus the startup pays no employment tax and provides insurance. And the pay is a pittance.

Another favored ploy in Silicon Valley and elsewhere is to import foreign workers on temporary visas. Cringely has a fine rant on how this H-1B visa abuse hurts the country.

Both major political parties embrace the H-1B program with varying levels of enthusiasm. But Bill Gates is wrong. What he said to Congress may have been right for Microsoft but was wrong for America and can only lead to lower wages, lower employment, and a lower standard of living. This is a bigger deal than people understand: it’s the rebirth of industrial labor relations circa 1920. Our ignorance about the H-1B visa program is being used to unfairly limit wages and steal — yes, steal — jobs from U.S. citizens.

A longtime reader of this column speaks up:

“I have been a practicing immigration attorney for over 13 years. I have done many H-1B visas and like any other government program it was loaded and is still loaded with abuses… In my opinion, employers who need H-1B Visa workers should have to go through a screening process before they are allowed to submit the application and a bond should be posted if they violate the law.

Homejoy and Alfred Club seems especially odious, as they pay their serfs tiny amounts to tend to the needs of their social betters. Say hello to the new boss same as the old boss.

Silicon Valley has a contract-worker problem.

As the [Homejoy] cleaner laid out his tools, we made small talk, and I asked him where he lived. “Well, right now I’m staying in a shelter in Oakland,” he said. I paused, unsure if I’d heard him right. A shelter? Was my house cleaner — the one I’d hired through a company that has raised $40 million in venture-capital funding from well-respected firms like Google Ventures, the one who was about to perform arduous manual labor in my house using potentially hazardous cleaning chemicals — homeless?

He was, as it turned out.

And he was being paid $19 to clean a house. Not $19 per hour, $19 for the entire job.

Some Silicon Valley insiders are beginning to worry that start-ups’ overreliance on contract workers could come back to haunt them if they run afoul of longstanding labor rules. If that happens, these high-flying disruptors could be facing serious disruption themselves.

This isn’t disruption, this is vicious, nasty exploitation hidden under a cover of Silicon Valley buzzwords.

Silicon Valley has officially run out of ideas.

It’s a Boston-based venture called Alfred Club, and as far as I can tell the idea is basically “Uber for servants.”

Alfred, explains TechCrunch writer Sarah Perez, who must have drawn the short straw in the office pool, is “the first service layer on the shared economy that manages your routine across multiple on-demand and local services (like Handybook, Instacart, and the local dry cleaner).”

I was unable to find a precise English translation for that sentence

Heh. However, let me attempt a translation. Alfreds get $99 a month, which I’m guessing works out to something well below minimum wage.

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Obamacare Insurance Lite. No hospital benefits


The online federal calculator for certifying healthcare insurance plans lets large self-insured companies offer plans that have no hospital benefits. This does not appear to be accidental or a software glitch. Lots of companies are taking advantage of it. Health insurance with no hospital benefits is mostly useless, yet it appears to be allowable now under Obamacare..

The calculator appears to allow companies enrolling workers for 2015 to offer inexpensive, substandard medical insurance while avoiding the Affordable Care Act’s penalties, consumer advocates say.

At the same time, a kind of catch-22 bars workers at these companies from subsidies to buy more comprehensive coverage on their own through online marketplaces. No federal tax credits for health coverage are available to people with workplace plans approved by the calculator.

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Bob Morris


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