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Letter to America about the Scottish independence referendum

Scottish_IndyRef_2014_12

The results of the Scottish Independence referendum are in: 55% No, 45% Yes.

Not the result I was hoping for.  As an adherent to Eugene Debs’ dictum of “I’d rather vote for what I want and not get it, than vote for what I don’t want and get that”, I’m used to failure.  But this loss has been hard to take, for a couple of reasons. First, I went from thinking that there was no way we could win to thinking we just might.  And all the people I spoke to, all the arguments I read, and the energy and creativity of the campaign made me realise we could do something really good.

On the eve of the vote I broke from my usual tradition of watching the pundits babbling on tv because I knew that the first count wasn’t due til about 1 and the result wouldn’t be announced until 6.30am.  And I had work the next day and I didn’t want to deal with tiredness and defeat.

For some reason that night I had a sudden feeling we weren’t going to win and so I wasn’t surprised when I woke to hear we’d lost. I was glad I hadn’t stayed up because if I’d watched in real time, I would have watched us losing every vote, until at 5am we won Glasgow and evened the score, until at ???? the return for ???? came in.

It was upsetting and demoralising and that was a tough day of work to get through, but I did it. It helped to know that there were so many other people who felt the same way about it. I spoke to two people at my work who were going to vote No, but everyone else I spoke to was for Yes, and I was surprised that some of them were.  And that so many of them wanted to talk politics. Usually I’m the only one who wants to talk about this kind of politics, a politics of ideas and aspirations that is informed by the world as it is and the understanding that it not only doesn’t have to be this way, it shouldn’t.

And that was the thing that made it so wonderful to be a part of. Since the 1980s people have gradually and increasingly become more and more detached from one another and ultimately from themselves.  But now so many people in one place felt a reason to not only discuss politics but to actually speak freely to one another. The neoliberal wall of silence had been breached.

Unfortunaltely half of the population weren’t having this conversation with us. While two No voters had no problem giving me their views, they both knew me and they knew I wouldn’t be an asshole about it.  But for those who didn’t know me, the Yes badges maybe made them think “I don’t want to have this conversation with you”.  There’s nothing worse than getting lectured at by people who feel evangelical when you don’t feel that way. The tragedy is that we could not connect with people who would have agreed with us on a lot  of the same things – ending austerity, getting rid of Trident and creating a world fit for humans and not just multinational corporate profits.

Of course there are some people who don’t want that and that’s the same the world over.  Some of them benefit from oppressive systems, and some of them are blinded by them but the point is they just don’t agree and they may never.  But I think a substantial proportion of the 55% agree with the aims of the 45%. Even among those who want to maintain the union, most don’t want to maintain the system and have the same lack of respect for Westminster politics as the rest of us. It follows for some people that independence is therefore divisive; after all, so many people in the UK agree we need a new type of politics so why separate?

For those of us who voted for Yes, we have seen something happening that we want to keep happening. And after the understandable despair, people are moving forward. The SNP has seen its membership inverse by 5000 since the vote, making it the largest party in Scotland at 30,000. The entire membership of Scottish Labour is 5000. And the Scottish Greens and the Scottish Socialist Party, also partners in the Yes campaign, have seen significant membership gains.

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Open source vDos. Run 16-bit DOS programs in any version of Windows

vdos

Software developers like me sometimes need to be able to run ancient 16-bit DOS programs in 64-bit Windows. vDos allows these old programs to be run by booting into an open source version of DOS. It is an improvement upon Dosbox, which was meant for gaming. vDos adds a live file system, record locking, Windows printing, scalable fonts, and more.

I have a niche business converting ancient Clipper and FoxPro database programs to modern Windows. I also support a few mission-critical Clipper apps (which were written in 1992.) I am now compiling and running 16-bit Clipper database apps on my Win 8.1 laptop, which sure beats vpning into a dinosaur Windows 2000 Server to get work done.

From the comments on SourceForge.

Incredibly easy to install and configure. Since most of the gaming-specific stuff has been removed, it’s MUCH faster and more stable for running business apps than standard DOSBox (for example, re-indexing a 225MB cTree data file went from taking approximately 3 hours to just over 20 minutes – on the same hardware). I had previously been struggling with another DOSBox customization (0.73MB with file/record locking); even with “cpu=max”, it was incredibly slow and not very stable. So far, vDOS is darn fast and appears to be rock-stable.

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Vermont city acts unlawfully, unconstitutionally, judge finds

justice

City of Montpelier deprives city employee of due process rights

One of the wonders of the American legal system is that you can win your case in court, only to have the court’s decision extend and magnify the underlying injustice.

This is a story about how easy it is for a city government to run roughshod over an employee’s constitutional rights, including free speech under the First Amendment and due process of law under the Fifth Amendment. And it’s a story of how hard it is, despite those rights, for that employee to get any kind of justice from the state’s judiciary.

This is a story about the Vermont judiciary failing a Vermont citizen who worked as Director of the Dept. of Planning and Community Development for the City of Montpelier, which is also the state capitol.

This is the story of how City officials first vilified City planner Gwen Hallsmith for exercising her First Amendment rights, then fired her for defending herself.

This is the story of how the City deprived Hallsmith of any semblance of reasonable due process of law in what was effectively a bureaucratic lynching, demanded by the mayor and carried out by the city manager and his assistant without out a trace of fair deliberation.

This is the story of how the Vermont Superior Court affirmed Hallsmith’s complaint of unlawful City behavior, finding that the City’s actions were blatantly unconstitutional and unfair – and then issued an order perpetuating the original injustice.

At its nasty little heart, this is a story that reflects the power of big banks to get their way, starting with their well paid legislative lobbyist, John Hollar, who also happens to be mayor of Montpelier, where there’s no hue and cry about such blatant conflict of interest. The vested interests in the City have not objected even when the bank-drenched mayor set about in early 2013 to pressure the city manager to muzzle his planning director when she failed to follow his personal party line. Her “insubordination” amounted to exercising her free speech right to support public banking.

This seems to have made the banker-lobbyist mayor mad. By his own account, the mayor-lobbyist expressed his anger over and over to the city manager, with an apparent desire for the city manager to sack this troublesome planner. In his  email of March 13, 2013, more than eight months before the firing, lawyer John Hollar wrote the city manager:

“To repeat myself ad nauseum [sic], I still don’t see how our city’s chief economic development officer can hold and promote views that are fundamentally anti-capitalist in nature.”

There is no good way to view this coercive note to an employee about an underling. Mayor Hollar acknowledges that he has been fulminating about Hallsmith ad nauseam, which means, roughly, till he’s sick of hearing himself talk. The city manager had so far failed to silence Hallsmith, as the Mayor seems to demand. So what is the city manager to think the mayor wants him to do next?

Why was Mayor Holler so steamed in 2013, and why was he so covert? What was the City of Montpelier’s official policy on public banking at the time, one might wonder. The City had no official policy on public banking, then or since or ever. Two years after Mayor Hollar set out on his behind-the-scenes warpath against the enemy of his benefactors, the City of Montpelier still has no official policy on public banking. The mayor, with a huge and obvious conflict of interest, was objecting to a City employee exercising her First Amendment right to speak freely on an issue that the City had no position on, an issue that threatens to benefit the public at some cost to banks.

The voters of the City of Montpelier have expressed an opinion on public banking. In the local election of March 2014, an official referendum on pursuing public banking received a vote of 1634-697 in favor of exploring the idea. The ballot question for public banking got 109 more positive votes than commercial bank candidate Hollar, who was re-elected mayor at the same time (beating Hallsmith by 1525-782).

The real story was the court case, not the election

Conventional wisdom at the time gave Hallsmith little chance of beating the incumbent Hollar, whose public image was largely unscathed by his secretive knife-wielding behind Hallsmith’s back (her freedom of information requests exposed some of his behavior). Hallsmith entered the mayoral race late, with little more that a month to campaign and little money to spend. Local media had spent months treating her constitutional rights like just another pie in a food fight. Reader Supported News ran a story (by this writer) on December 29, 2013, titled “Do Bank of America and Wells Fargo Run Vermont’s Capitol City?” It describes in detail what amounts to the City’s successful lynching of Hallsmith. But that was before she went to court, and long before the court vindicated her position.

During the early fall of 2013, the skirmishing, in public and private, between city manager William Fraser and department head Hallsmith was spilling over into intense exchanges on the weekends as well as during the week, some of which got into the newspapers. Exactly when the City’s effort to control Hallsmith’s free speech became an effort to terminate her is not precisely clear, but here are some of the chronological highlights of a public psychodrama in which the City clearly had only one end in mind:

September 20, 2013.  In an email to city manager Fraser, Mayor Hollar complained somewhat bitterly about Hallsmith’s involvement in the public banking issue. The email included a complaint from some of his banking friends, including a state official with a clear conflict of interest on the issue. Reiterating the sentiment of his March 2013 email, Hollar also wrote, referring to Hallsmith:

“Between this [public banking advocacy] and the planning commission fiasco, this really can’t continue. I’m not sure I see the point in my meeting with her to outline these concerns. I’ve raised them before with you, I assume they’ve been communicated to her, and nothing has changed.” [emphasis added]

The “planning commission fiasco” referred to by Hollar involved at least three commission members, with clear conflicts of interest, who were writing zoning regulations that would affect those interests. Hallsmith called attention to this situation. The city manager indicated he couldn’t see a problem. A year later, the conflicts remain unresolved.

September 27, 2013. In a memo to Hallsmith, Fraser puts her under the direct supervision of his assistant, Jessie Baker.  He tells Hallsmith that he, the City Council, and the Planning Commission have all lost confidence in her. Fraser does not mention Mayor Hollar’s complaining email the previous week. But Fraser does issue a gag order: “You will refrain from involvement in external political issues such as public banking which may impact your effectiveness as a Montpelier City official.” Fraser later partially rescinded the gag order, after Hallsmith raised the free speech issue.

October 9, 2013. In response to an earlier memo from Hallsmith defending herself, Fraser wrote a long, rambling, combative, internally contradictory memo, the essence of which was, as it stated: “I am your boss. If you are not willing or able to work within guidelines that I set then we have a serious problem.” Fraser also noted approvingly that the planning commission chair had called Hallsmith a “jihadist.” Fraser did not mention that commission chair Kim Cheney has clear conflict of interest.

During the period October 10-20, Hallsmith was away for previously scheduled commitments during her vacation.

October 28, 2013. Hallsmith’s 8-page memo responds to and critiques Fraser’s assessments of the controversy. She affirms that he is her boss. She suggests that he has defamed her. She lays out specific details of the conflicts of interest on the planning commission. And she lists seven ways she sees that her “rights as an employee and a citizen have been violated,” including denial of due process of law by the City.

October 31, 2013.  Without making any formal inquiry and without holding any meeting, the Montpelier city council issues a statement of “unanimous and unequivocal support” for Fraser and Hollar in “this personnel matter.” The statement suggests that Hollar has been all but uninvolved.

N0vember 6, 2013.  City manager Fraser places Hallsmith on “immediate paid administrative leave.” He says “there is just cause to support your dismissal.” He denies that his action has anything to do with public banking. In the course of four angry pages, Fraser makes many rambling accusations about events and motives, but he does not make a coherent case for “justifiable cause” for her dismissal. “You have made it impossible to perform your work effectively for the City,” Fraser writes, then offers to meet with her before making “a final decision based on the information I currently possess.” Then he directs her to turn in her keys. Later that day Hollar issues a statement saying, “I have had very little to do with this matter.”  The next day Fraser publishes a misleading and dishonest op ed in the local paper defending the mayor and attacking Hallsmith.

Hallsmith accepted the invitation for a meeting, which turned out to be what the City made clear would be a “Loudermill hearing,” a designation that is most useful when an employer has already decided to fire an employee. “Loudermill” refers to a 1985 U.S. Supreme Court case (470 U.S. 532) in which the court held that a public employee deserves the minimal protection of an informal, non-evidentiary hearing where she could respond to whatever the employer was calling just cause for firing her. The Loudermill hearing is not a due process hearing, it’s a temporary, legal preliminary alternative to a constitutionally valid hearing. “Loudermill” is one of those legal niceties that sounds like protection but is easily abused, usuaally without serious consequence to the employer.

The City says the law is satisfied by the performance of a charade

On November 25, 2013, the City of Montpelier provided Gwen Hallsmith with her Loudermill hearing. It lasted an hour and listening to the tape is a dismal experience. City attorney Bernie Lambek calls it a “due process hearing,” which is false. It’s not a constitutional, due process hearing in any meaningful sense, as he later makes clear. He says it’s a chance for Hallsmith to tell Fraser whatever she wants. Hallsmith and her attorney John Franco make reasonable representations that none of what Fraser has alleged amounts to just cause for termination. They also try to engage Fraser with explanations and suggestions. Fraser does not engage, he does not argue, he quibbles over a few trivial details. Assistant city manager Jessie Baker is there but never speaks, except to identify herself. Several times Hallsmith explains how she sought guidance and help with the City’s problems, but never got help. No one contradicts her. There is no smoking gun for “justifiable cause.” At the end, attorney Lambek says he doesn’t know when Fraser will make a decision. Lambek advises Hallsmith and Franco that if they want to make a proposal for going forward constructively, they should do so soon. Franco says they want to do something collaborative, something that will help people work together. Lambek talks about the weather. Fraser says nothing. He does not invite, or make, any conciliatory offering, he does not say he will fire Hallsmith the next day.

The Loudermill hearing was an empty legal fraud, not a meaningful opportunity to assess any of the mostly non-specific allegations against Hallsmith. For most of  the final 15 minutes of the meeting, she alone spoke in a quiet, conciliatory manner. The three City officials present responded with silence, except for a couple of quibbles by the city manager. They offered total silence on conciliation. The next day, November 26, without further consideration, Fraser fired his director of planning.

After Thanksgiving, Hallsmith, believing it was her right, asked for a formal, public “grievance hearing,” in which the parties could present evidence and question witnesses before a neutral presiding officer. Attorney Franco had made all this clear to the City in a five-page legal memo before November 25, when he reminded the City of Hallsmith’s right to due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Franco put the City on notice that, among other things, in his legal opinion, “Ms. Hallsmith cannot under any circumstances be removed, without more, following today’s ‘hearing’ [as per Loudermill].”

The City apparently ignored the attorney’s arguments, responding only by firing his client without further ado. But Hallsmith’s request for an evidentiary hearing before a neutral fact finder provided the City with an opportunity to meet the legal expectations of both the Loudermill decision and the Constitution. There is no indication that the City considered careful adherence to the law, nor even an effort to create the appearance of fairness. The City has yet, almost a year later, to present a clearly articulated bill of particulars that meets any reasonable standard as a “justifiable cause” for firing Hallsmith (“justifiable cause” is required, but not well-defined, by the City Charter).

The City blew off the Constitution, with no serious effort to be lawful

The City rejected Hallsmith’s request for a credible due process hearing and instead held a star chamber (camera constellata) style proceeding on December 20, 2013. Hallsmith called it a kangaroo court. Almost a year later, in less colorful language, Superior Court Judge Helen Toor would wholeheartedly agree in her August 20, 2014, decision inHallsmith v. City of Montpelier, et al. [Docket No. 32-1-14 Wncv]. Allowing the validity of the City’s “Loudermill” hearing, Toor notes emphatically: “That informal hearing, however, must be followed by a post-termination hearing that fully complies with due process” [emphasis added]. 

In concluding, Judge Toor writes in part:

“Hallsmith has established that the City violated her right to due process at the post-termination grievance hearing [December 20, 2013]…. She challenged and proved the violation of her due process rights at her post-termination hearing. Under Rule 75 [the basis for the suit], her relief is a new post-termination grievance hearing that fully complies with due process.”

This is a very odd decision in many respects, such as:

  • Judge Toor finds, as a matter of fact, that; “The record shows that by early November 2013 the City Manager had decided to fire Hallsmith.” Since that’s a fact, then the City’s “Loudermill” hearing was an exercise in bad faith, which might be enough to invalidate any subsequent decision. The judge omits any consideration of the implications of her own fact-finding on this.
  • Judge Toor finds that the Montpelier City Charter, which controls the termination process, says inter alia:  “The employee, while appearing before the City Manager [or designee], has the right to be represented by counsel and to present any material, witnesses or evidence helpful to the employee’s case. However, the administration has similar rights.” While the judge notes many of the violations the City committed in the grievance hearing, the judge does not note that the hearing itself violates the clear intent of the charter.
  • Judge Toor notes that “Hallsmith seeks lost wages and reinstatement,” then drops those claims iunto limbo with little discussion beyond a legalistic evasion. She does not discuss the ramifications of Hallsmith’s claims, nor does the judge deny them – she just leaves them unaddressed, after observing that: “Proving the due process violation does not demonstrate that the City lacked justifiable cause for termination.”

“Proving the due process violation” is hardly proof that the City had justifiable cause either. Lack of due process proves nothing else. If anything, taken with the pattern the City has established, it casts reasonable doubt on the likelihood that the City got “justifiable cause” right when it got so much else so wrong. Judge Toor omits anything along that obvious line of argument.  She simply holds that the City’s termination procedure is unlawful and orders the grievance decision (affirming Hallsmith’s firing) vacated. She creates a new reality in which the relevant decision in force becomes the city manager’s termination letter of November 26, 2013, even though the termination process in its entirety is clearly unconstitutional and steeped in bad faith.

Official, bad decisions push the case into a second year

As a practical matter, Hallsmith remains fired (and has a new job). As a legal matter, Hallsmith’s firing remains in force despite being found unconstitutional by the Vermont Superior Court. As a judicial matter, the judge’s evasion has created a mess that perpetuates the very injustice the judge so clearly and forcefully described. Judge Toor makes no effort to explain the justice of her decision, even though it perpetuates and probably worsens a situation she has clearly found to be unjust. With no proven justifiable cause for firing Hallsmith and with no constitutional procedure to support that firing, it baffles common sense to understand why Judge Toor didn’t reinstate Hallsmith and award lost wages. Instead the judge ruled that the city manager had the authority to fire Hallsmith, that he exercised that authority unconstitutionally, but that’s no reason to vacate his decision.  Really.

Almost surely, had Judge Toor rendered something like a just verdict, the City would have appealed. As matters nowstand, the City has decided to appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court. When Judge Toor’s decision was first announced, the City issued a statement quoting the city manager as saying, ”I am disappointed that we will have to spend additional city time and resources on the process aspect of this case. We prefer to have the just cause reasons for termination considered.”

Nothing prevented the City from doing exactly that the first time around, except the City’s own decision to ignore constitutional due process. In its statement announcing the appeal, the City did not indicate what grounds the appeal would argue. The statement said in part: “The city is concerned that the due process ruling will have negative future impact for Montpelier and, potentially, for other Vermont communities. The city wishes to hold the independent hearing on the merits of the case as soon as possible and is reviewing the legal issues involved with conducting the hearing while the Supreme Court appeal is pending.”

What the City’s argument comes down to is the assertion that a government should be allowed to ignore the Constitution if abiding by it costs money.

Montpelier is unusual among Vermont communities in having a charter that gives the city manager authoritarian powers in many areas. Whether following constitutional due process will prove a burden on other Vermont communities has not yet been demonstrated. Nor has it been demonstrated that the City’s providing constitutional due process to Gwen Hallsmith, which has always been within its power, would have been more burdensome than the relatively lawless route the City chose.

At this point Hallsmith has not had a fair trial. She hasn’t had any meaningful trial at all. Anywhere.

You might think the highest government interest from the court’s perspective would be to see that government follows the law. In this instance, you would be wrong.  

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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Scottish independence referendum update

Flicker. User: Martainn

Flicker. User: Martainn

With the Scottish independence referendum almost upon us, the Westminster government and its Better Together campaign continue to conjure up fearful stories of a grim future for an independent Scotland. After PM David Cameron met with supermarket bosses to spin stories of potential rising prices (with Walmart-owned Asda doing an about-face days later), the UK Treasury contacted journalists to tell them Royal Bank of Scotland was planning on moving if Scotland went independent.

But as has been the case in these last days of campaigning, the Better Together story began to unravel, as it turned out that the Treasury contacted journalists before the RBS board met, which is legally questionable (one Yes supporting board member has contacted the Police).  Alex Salmond was asked about RBS during a press conference for international journalists by Nick Robinson of the BBC, who then spun Salmond’s comprehensive answer into a tiny, heavily edited segment on the News at Ten. Unfortunately for the BBC and Nick, there’s the internet, and people were able to compare the BBC version with what actually happened. (After receiving a large volume of complaints regarding the segment, the BBC dutifully investigated itself and declared “the overall report balanced and impartial.”)

This disconnect between the mainstream and reality has become a theme of late. A huge Yes rally in Glasgow was made virtually invisible by the Beeb. A well attended, lively protest of about 2000 people against BBC bias was spun as a “bullying mob“.

And the collapse in confidence continues. A recent BBC debate has created two popular Vines, as Better Together’s Ruth Davidson (head of the Scottish Tories) was caught out by the chair, journalist James Cook, when she attempted to spin the RBS story again. She claimed that journalists had asked for the information about RBS, but Cook stated that he received the email but “did not request it.” And Cook dropped another bombshell in answer to the question of whether the media had been fair, stating that “maybe…the BBC’s coverage hasn’t been that good.”

The reality of the Yes campaign has been one of a vibrant, positive and creative popular movement. It’s hard to find one example to sum up the grassroots spirit, but perhaps the image of what met 100 Labour MPs who were ordered up from Westminster will do for now.

 

 

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Washington’s ISIS war drums: Do stupid stuff, do it now! 

endless-war

“Hopefully we get it more right than wrong” – organizing principle?

As Hillary Clinton was widely quoted as saying recently, “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”

Maybe others have pointed out that this is a pretty stupid statement, but that’s far from the conventional wisdom. Think about the levels of stupidity here. Only “Great nations”? What, small nations don’t need to get their acts together? And who says the United States is a “great” nation and in what sense is it great and isn’t spouting a version of the American exceptionalism cliché just another way of doing stupid stuff? As organizing principles go, “Don’t do stupid stuff” is a great place to start. Then all you need to do is figure out what’s stupid and don’t do it: like not voting for war in Iraq in 2002.

What does the aspiring President Clinton offer for her own organizing principle? In her book Hard Choices, she writes: “Making policy is a balancing act. Hopefully we get it more right than wrong.” That means even less than “Don’t do stupid stuff.” That pretty much means: “we’re bound to do stupid stuff but we hope we won’t do too much stupid stuff.”

Of course that makes good political sense coming from the woman who, as Senator Clinton, voted to go to war in Iraq. As if that wasn’t totally knowable, in advance, as doing stupid stuff, really stupid stuff. That vote was a clever trap for intimidated Democrats, afraid to stand up to stupid stuff. Senator Clinton was not alone in that rush to war. She, along with Senators Kerry, McCain, Biden, Hagel, McConnell, Reid, and 70 other Senators, voted to support the administration lying us into that war on transparently dishonest evidence. It’s kind of cute, in a darkly disastrous way, that these same wrong-headed people are again among those braying most loudly for more war now. It makes a sort of amoral sense, since today’s mess is a continuation of the war they voted for because they presumably didn’t think it was stupid stuff that would last more than a decade.

“Hopefully we get it more right than wrong” unsupported by the stats

Senator Obama voted against the Iraq war in 2002, as did 22 other Senators. He campaigned in 2008 against getting into stupid wars. He demonstrated how little he understood his own principle by defending (and later enlarging) the war in Afghanistan as a smart war.  As Hillary says: “Hopefully we get it more right than wrong.” The scoreboard does not offer encouragement.

With all that in mind, here are some vagrant thoughts about what “Don’t do stupid stuff” might mean in some parts of the world these days, where smart options are few and far between:

IRAQ. Backing the unreliable, probably unstable Baghdad government is moderately stupid, but probably necessary in current circumstance. Baghdad is in a bind that will only get worse if we just leave it alone: to fight ISIS, Baghdad might need to rely on Iran, which would not only annoy the U.S., but might make the Sunni part of Iraq determinedly independent-minded. This box is the one Baghdad built for itself (with U.S. help, to be sure), but consequences belong to them. The Baghdad third of Iraq is not vital to American interests, it’s hardly vital to Kuwaiti interests, so don’t do something more stupid than the present tenuous balancing act. Keep an eye on the exit.

NORTHERN IRAQ. Bombing ISIS in the vicinity of the Mosul Dam is not so stupid, but only in the short term. Losing control of the huge dam would endanger everything downstream even more than now. Killing some ISIS fighters at a distance isn’t likely to annoy much of anyone except the ISIS fighters. Also it helps with defending the Kurds and it helped the Yazidis, all plus marks.

KURDISTAN. Supporting Kurdistan is not so stupid now, but could turn out to be stupid in the long run, not that anyone can know from here (can they?). The current Kurdish state gives the impression of actually being a functioning, non-sectarian, tolerant, quasi-democratic state with its more primitive cultural id reasonably under control for the moment, especially compared to its neighbors. And Kurdistan has some oil. And Kurdish independence is annoying to Turkey and Iran.

TURKEY. Annoying Turkey is probably stupid, but also inevitable if we follow any sort of sensible course in the region. Turkey has been annoying others for years now, so it deserves to be annoyed in turn. Just the wide-open Turkish-Syrian border is annoying enough to deserve response, since that open border has been critical to the growing strength of ISIS, which some Turkish fundamentalists (like the prime minister?) see as a good thing when it’s going against Damascus and Baghdad, but pretty much not such a good thing if ISIS comes after Ankara (and why wouldn’t it, if it could, which it can’t?). Turkey, like Baghdad, has been playing an ugly, deadly game, and bailing Turkey out of its own mess would be really, really stupid unless it came with serious changes, in advance. Not gonna happen any time soon.

EASTERN SYRIA. Bombing ISIS in Syria is clearly stupid from the perspective of international law, but maybe not so stupid militarily if managed carefully (surgical strikes and all that other imaginary stuff). Something one might call “incursive bombing” on either side of the largely meaningless Syria-Iraq border could be helpful in buying time for whatever alternative forces may remain deserving of support (including the Kurds). “Incursive bombing” would need sensible targets (OK, name one!) and would have to be designed not to prop up President Assad any more than would be inevitable. The U.S. has already bombed the region 145 times, by its own count (all supposedly on the Iraq side of the border). The U.S. plans to go right on bombing indefinitely. Syria is bombing ISIS on the Syrian side of the border, so if the U.S. incursive bombing spreads, U.S. bombers will have to avoid running into Syrian bombers. Is there any evidence this isn’t really stupid stuff in the making?

SAUDI ARABIA AND QATAR. Giving the Saudis and Qataris a free pass is truly, truly stupid. But it’s been American policy for decades, not just when mostly Saudis attacked the World Trade Center on 9/11 only to have President Bush let all the Saudis in the U.S. get a free pass home without even a chat with the FBI. The Saudis and Qataris, officially and unofficially, helped nurture ISIS into its present ugly self. ISIS is their neighbor now. Let them take the lead in policing their own neighborhood. After all, they’re already police states.

CENTRAL SYRIA. President Obama came close to doing stupid stuff when he floated the idea of bombing Syria after the gas attack in Damascus, but the Congress and most Americans had no stomach for that, and then Russia came to the rescue and now Syria’s chemical weapons have been removed. Moral: if you threaten to do stupid stuff, maybe it will scare people enough so you end up accidentally doing something smart instead. Just don’t count on it.

IRAN AND ISRAEL. The U.S. policy of doing exceedingly stupid stuff in the bookends of the region is more than half a century old and intractable to the point of near-permanence. U.S. policy and behavior reinforces the maddest factions on both countries. And this stupid stuff fosters the other stupid stuff we do in between, although that’s stupid stuff we might minimize if not avoid.

There’s a pattern here: doing nothing is frequently the least stupid option. And there’s a smart part to doing nothing: accountability. Too many elements from Tel Aviv to Teheran count on the U.S. to be there in time of need, as either the Great Savior or the Great Satan. That’s what makes the U.S. the “indispensible nation,” which is also stupid stuff in which too many take false pride. Our role, as inconsistent and ineffective as it is historically, has the unfortunate consequence of allowing both friends and enemies to evade responsibility for their own circumstances.

Maybe the stupid stuff has a smart lining of sorts

And now President Obama is doing it again, with this new coalition of European participants and Middle Eastern camp followers. This is stupid stuff, when you find yourself having to coerce the people you’re supposedly saving to join in together in support of their own salvation.

This is stupid stuff, pretending ISIS is a threat to much of anyone but those next door. ISIS comprises some 10,000 fighters, not much more. Their strength comes mostly from present alliances with Iraqi Sunnis embittered by Baghdad and quite ready to have a state of their own with no ISIS involvement, should the opportunity arise.

This is stupid stuff, starting a new long war for the next President to manage. (It’s also smart, sweet, ironic, and cold-blooded payback that once again victimizes innocent, irrelevant parties.)

This is stupid stuff, but maybe not as stupid as the stuff the previous President pulled off, with bi-partisan support. On the other hand, taking the war deeper into the heart of the Middle East has apocalyptic potential.

This is stupid stuff, but maybe not as stupid as the stuff the war drum bangers charging toward the gates of hell would have the country do. But we might expect more from leadership than managing to do less stupid stuff that the hopefully-we-get-it-right crowd.

According to most reports, ISIS is widely hated in the Arab world. Assuming that’s true, the smart thing would be to offer to help them if they ever get around to wanting to fight ISIS rather than playing ISIS off against other enemies. We could wait a long time for that. And that’s a good thing.

The president’s plan to fight ISIS is stupid stuff in another way: it’s hardly adequate to the over-stated task. But that’s a smart thing about the stupid stuff. The hyper-rhetoric revives what’s left of patriotic flag-rallying around a White House whose party faces an election potentially more devastating than any proposed attack on ISIS. So the ISIS-fever, to the extent the president and his surrogates can generate it, seems likely to help Democratic candidates, at least to the extent that “fighting terror” drives other issues out of the news. Since those Muslims are going to be killing each other anyway, why shouldn’t they die to preserve a Democratic majority in the Senate?

And there’s another possibly smart move inherent in this stupid stuff over ISIS. The bloody bone of bombing and expanded killing in Iraq distracts the warrior class from its frothing over Ukraine, where they’ve been pushing for doing stuff that risks being existentially stupid.   

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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Why I’m saying Yes to Scottish independence

yes-scotland

“1% of the world has 90% of the wealth
And the system says to step on folk

why helping yourself
I hope you’re hearing these thoughts
with amazement
And inequity is consigned to the
history pages
I don’t want to see another lost generation”
-Stanley Odd, Son I Voted Yes

I was always going to vote Yes. Ever since my Scottish wife explained the situation of Scotland within the UK to me some twenty years ago, I’ve supported the principle of Scottish independence. And when we moved to Scotland from the USA in 1996, I saw the practical realities of the “United Kingdom” and realised independence was less of a pipedream and more a matter of necessity.

Now, I fully recognise the faults of the country I was born in. The United States is dominated by a powerful, distant elite that maintains its power through a system of reckless, brutal violence. The wealth which is created socially is held in very few hands, and those hands have been extremely successful in using that wealth to construct a world that suffocates alternatives.

However, while the political system has always served the interests of the powerful, at least it can be understood and that’s because there is a written Constitution. And if it can be understood, it can be changed.

In the UK, on the other hand, there is an “unwritten Constitution” – basically all the laws that have accumulated over time. Apparently, once upon a time, British legal scholars found the USA”s constitution a joke – “they need to write it down, they can’t remember it!” But any “unwritten” agreement suffers from the problem that you will inevitably end up making it up as you go along and that is the strikingly odd thing about how Britain “works”.

The Scotland I came to in 1996 seemed like a bleak, beaten down place. Fashions seemed subdued, and while people were more openly progressive in their views than most Americans I had ever encountered, no one seemed particularly hopeful.

One of the strangest experiences I had as a new immigrant was hearing the Prime Minister of the time, John Major, making a statement on the tv imploring the population to spend money on stuff they didn’t necessarily need, in order to create a “feelgood factor.” And then I learned that some people were making £1 an hour in Glasgow, because there was no minimum wage.

I could see the logic in Scottish independence – the way the Westminster government was set up served the interests of the people who owned it, while most people in Scotland expressed progressive political views and voted that way.

So, like I say, if the opportunity had ever come up to vote for Scottish independence, I would have done it.

I didn’t become a UK citizen until 2005, so I wasn’t able to vote for the Scottish Parliament in 1997 but I was pleasantly surprised when a majority not only voted for it, but also the tax varying powers on offer.

And while it has been no revolution, the Scottish Parliament has been a improvement and a different set of values to those dominant in neoliberal governments has become established here: free prescriptions, free personal care for the elderly as well as free public transport for over 60s, no tuition fees for higher education. And all limited by the “make it up as you go along” Barnett formula in which “regions” like Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland receive funding from the Westminster kitty.

I was as critical of the SNP governments as I was of the Labour-Liberal Democrat governments before them, though I had to admit that once the SNP got a majority, they were generally competent, which is a rare thing to see in governments. They only tinkered around the edges of neoliberalism, they did not take it head on; but to be fair had they attempted to do so, the “make it up as you go along” system would probably have been there to stop them.

Anyway, even though I would always have voted Yes, I never thought it was a possibility. And I definitely never thought I would come to see it as something exciting and inspiring.

When it was announced two years ago that Scotland would have a referendum I was surprised that the Scottish Government had actually gotten it agreed with Westminster. I figured it would go nowhere, result in a No vote and a period of smugness from elites – “see, we told you no one was interested.”

But gradually, I became aware that something new happening. Groups like the Radical Independence Convention were making articulate arguments for a progressive case for independence, and a multitude of organisers were making this case in working class constituencies that have been ignored by mainstream politics for decades. People were able to bypass the mainstream media and get information from alternative news sources like Bella Caledonia and Newsnet Scotland.

The countering arguments from the anti-independence “Better Together” campaign ran the spectrum of fear mongering and duplicity – you won’t be able to use the pound, you will be a poor country and nothing will work. Instead of focusing on why it is better to stay in the Union, the focus has been on Scotland not being able to survive without help from Westminster, help which most people in the UK are less than enthusiastic about. Austerity, following on from bank bailouts, does not seem like much help in a country with foodbanks. Being told that Trident nuclear missiles can’t leave Faslane military base (which is 40 miles from Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city) because the only other possible base, in Plymouth, England, is near a “densely populated area” does not inspire the feeling that we are “Better Together”.

In 2012, after David Cameron announced the Scottish Parliament would be allowed to hold a referendum, Scottish Labour MP Alistair Darling made a rambling speech in which he warned:

“British music will no longer be our music. British art, dance and drama will no longer be ours. British sporting success will be someone else’s to celebrate.”

This statement sums up the level of thinking that has dominated the Better Together campaign. It speaks for itself.

There have been last minute attempts by elites in London, such as historian Tom Holland who organised the celebrity “Let’s Stay Together” letter (signed by the likes of Mick Jagger and journalist Rod Liddle who has said “The only reason any people remain in Scotland is on account of the extremely cheap alcohol…plus a ready supply of heroin for when the alcohol runs out”). Tom has stated that he “enjoys the tension and the sense of irony of being British” and adds, with no sense of irony, that the role of Scots is to “re-energise and revitalise the UK”, which presumably was what happened when oil was discovered, its value hidden from the people of the UK, and used during the 80s to fund Thatcher’s de-industrialisation, which broke the back of organised labour (as Alan Budd, Thatcher adviser recalled “what was engineered…in Marxist terms was a crisis of capitalism which re-created a reserve army of labour and has allowed the capitalists to make high profits ever since.”)

Another approach was that of right-winger Niall Ferguson who explained to eminent Scottish historian Tom Devine (and recent Yes supporter) that an independent Scotland would be like Belarus and “should be wound up, its assets offloaded and re-named North Britain”.  And after a poll emerged showing Yes in the lead, the “love bombing” was quickly ditched in favour of good old fashioned threats, which may now have “jumped the shark” with DeutscheBank forecasting that Scottish Independence  would bring about another Great Depression. Amazingly, Scotland – this “minor entity on the North of Britain” could somehow wreak  economic havoc, all the while being in possession of 60% of Europe’s oil reserves. Perhaps DeutscheBank’s analysts are merely finding it hard to make sense of things, due to their recent slump, as well as all the fines and threats of litigation. Maybe they still haven’t gotten over losing €4 billion in 2008 (they had forecasted “a record profit” of more than €8 billion).

While the Better Together campaign continued to push their “Project Fear” (according the Sunday Herald this was what BT was privately referring to itself as) and their “Love Bombs”, something different was happening among Yes supporters. While BT is a top down organisation with little grassroots support, the Yes campaign has energised people who would not normally be involved in politics. Groups like RIC saw the potential for organising amongst previously ignored working class communities, getting people to register to vote who had never voted before. Women for Independence was formed because, in the words of former MSP Carolyn Leckiethere was no other way I could see how my voice, as a woman, would be heard. And I was fed up watching ‘independence’ being debated by men in grey suits, through a very narrow lens of party rhetoric.” And as in the popular rebellions in Tunisia and Egypt, social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook became organising and educating tools that were accessible to many people not usually involved in political activism (though it is important to remember that about 40% of Glaswegians do not have regular access to the internet).

A new cultural confidence emerged, much of it disseminated through the internet. The group National Collective brought together artists and creatives to argue the case for Yes. The satirical news programme Dateline Scotland captured not just the superior tone of tv journalists but the ridiculous content. The Twitter account @AngrySalmond, with over 13,000 followers, has popularised the hashtag “SexySocialism”. Lady Alba’s parody of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance, in which she outlines her case for voting No (“I want your weapons, I want student fees. I want a country run by Tory MPs, I’m voting no”) has had over 100,000 views. Stanley Odd’s raps have also gone viral and he has outlined the situation of Scotland within the UK and the reasons for a Yes vote more articulately than most politicians on either side of the debate. In his rap “Marriage Counselling“, “Caledonia” argues its case to a dismissive “Britannia”:

“This is hardly blissful matrimony.
I’ve got resources so I shouldn’t have to ask for money.
I support ma self so don’t even mention alimony.
And I don’t need you to fight ma battles for me.
So tell yir mates in Faslane they need a new address
I see the truth with my new clear head.
Ma pal Alex says that you’re blind to the facts
And that it’s time for me to stand and draw a line in the sand
Everybody’s got an opinion and I’m sick of it
I’m getting pulled in all directions with this constant bickering
It’s like a smokescreen I’m struggling to see through
PS. Half of me doesn’t want to leave you”

This is not a vote for “nationalism”. Despite the decades of lies of Scotland being a land of subsidy junkies (a slur used by the press from the Times of London to the tabloid papers), this isn’t even a vote for Scotland to get rich from its North Sea oil reserves (which help cover up the rest of the UK’s massive deficit). This is a vote against austerity, against Trident nuclear missiles and for a fairer society. This is a vote to make use of a massive resource – instead of creating another “lost generation” of young people, instead of the traditional Scottish export of people, we can create a country where they will want to stay. We will need them to, in order to build a better society.

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Los Angeles is in danger of becoming a failed city

Los_Angeles_Skyline_at_Night

San Francisco and Silicon Valley may be booming. L.A. is not. Unemployment is high, 8.7%. The city has massive unfunded pension liabilities. Big business is increasingly leaving L.A. And then there’s the continual, insane amounts of traffic. Sue and I lived in L.A. for years and everytime we go back are astonished that yes, the traffic has indeed continued to get worse. Increasingly, the thrill is gone from L.A.

The bad news is that both the city’s short-term and long-term prospects are grim as its core 20th-century industries struggle or vanish. Aviation and manufacturing, both of which used to be huge within city limits, are all but gone. And the film/TV industry has never done more of its shooting outside of L.A., leading to panicked state lawmakers passing an emergency increase in Hollywood subsidies in recent weeks after being begged to do so by city lawmakers.

Is it really that bad? Yes.

Cleveland and Detroit – cities that have become shorthand for widespread urban failure – have nothing on Los Angeles when it comes to long-term decline in payroll jobs. Dead last among major U.S. cities, Los Angeles has lost a painful 3.1 percent of its payroll jobs since 1990, even as the population grew nearly 11 percent. By contrast, payroll jobs in the United States overall grew by 26 percent during the same period.

 

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Flash flood damage on I-15 in Moapa north of Vegas

I-15 flood damage near Moapa

I-15 flood damage near Moapa

I-15 is a major north-south corridor. The recent unprecedented flash flood completely destroyed parts of this crucial interstate for about two miles. We’re not talking damaged, we’re talking obliterated. There are few alternate routes between Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. Crews are working 24 hours a day to at least open one lane each way on I-15 by Friday for passenger cars. Truckers are faced with alternate routes at least 100 miles longer. The interstate was designed to handle a 100 year flood. This was worse than that, over 4 inches of rain fell in two hours.

Watch the video for more (It doesn’t embed correctly).

flood

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Nova Deko. Prefab modular homes built to fit in a shipping container

nova-deko

Homes built from shipping containers are expensive and not green. Nova Deko homes, by contrast are modular and built to fit in a shipping container so they can be sent anywhere. This is true disruptive technology. The modules comes with complete plumbing and wiring. Just plug them together at the site. Current versions are upscale, however perhaps modules could be made for use in disaster relief to provide quick, usable housing.

Nova Deko is an Australian company. The modules are assembled in China.

The real issue here is that it costs a lot less to build in a factory in China than it does in a field in Arizona. There is a massive infrastructure of finishes, plumbing and electrical manufacturers right there, who are making all the things that go into a home. Put them altogether and put them on a truck and ship them anywhere; then just stack them up like the proverbial Lego.

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Debra Bowen should have revealed incapacitating depression earlier

Debra_Bowen

Dan Walters, probably the preeminent reporter on California state politics, says Secretary of State Debra Bowen should have gone public about her crippling depression years ago. Instead, the Secretary of State’s office is a shamble. Nothing of substance has gotten done during her tenure. Bowen is now living in a dingy trailer park and not showing up for work much, saying she can conduct business just fine by phone, which is nonsensical. The head of an important California agency needs to be at work, going to meetings, overseeing projects, etc. Work like this cannot effectively be done by phone.

One can sympathize with Bowen’s illness, certainly, but if it was as debilitating as depicted, she should have owned up to it much earlier.

She won the office on a promise to improve its performance, but by many measures it has regressed. If she was incapable of doing her job, as the article implies, she should have done the honorable thing and resigned in favor of someone who could do it.

I agree. Bowen should have resigned long ago. If she worked for a corporation not the government, she would have been quickly replaced after it was clear there was a problem. Instead various lackeys and functionaries have been running interference and covering for her.

Bowen is currently making perky noises about how she has matters well in hand and actually managed to make it to work Monday. Yet progress on major projects has long been stalled.

In recent years, Bowen’s office has come under criticism for lackluster performance in various areas. Its aging campaign-finance disclosure system, Cal-Access, periodically grinds to a halt. Businesses have complained about filing delays. And an April report by The Pew Charitable Trusts ranked California 49th in election administration, citing its high rate of unreturned mail ballots and other factors.

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