Saturday, June 29, 2013

Racism Is Busting Out All Over

Paula Deen may finally be getting her just desserts over revelations of racism, but that doesn't mean other uber-wealthy bigots are getting theirs. To the contrary: the eighth wonder of the world richest billionaire in the Homeland, Michael Bloomberg, still reigns supreme one day after uttering these reptilian words on why he wants to continue New York City's infamous Stop and Frisk program aimed against minorities:
 One newspaper and one news service, they just keep saying, ‘Oh, it’s a disproportionate percentage of a particular ethnic group.’ That may be. But it’s not a disproportionate percentage of those who witnesses and victims describe as committing the murders....
In that case, incidentally, I think, we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little,” the mayor said. “It’s exactly the reverse of what they’re saying. I don’t know where they went to school, but they certainly didn’t take a math course, or a logic course.
How tres stupide of us not to have noticed all those Wall Street suits getting rousted by the cops as they strolled over to Club Cipriani for their flutes of post-predatory champagne.

Bloomberg was just erupting in yet another one of his fits of plutocratic pique last week when the City Council voted to rein in Stop & Frisk.  Hizzoner is vowing to veto the measures despite the fact that they passed by a large enough majority to be veto-proof. He and his enforcer, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, plan to strong-arm the civil rights advocates on the Council to change their minds and vote against the override of his overreach. One of the measures makes it easier for those stopped and groped for no other reason  than their race to sue the police department. The other calls for an Inspector General to oversee the entire department. As Council Member Letitia James put it, "Today, we are striking a blow against a practice which has become a perverse right of passage for all young men of color in the City of New York."

Michael Bloomberg disguises his own racism by going the centrist cult false equivalence route:
In Washington, some elected officials don't have the courage to stand up against special interest groups on the right and pass common-sense gun laws. And in New York City, some don't have the courage to stand up to special interests on the left and support common-sense policing tactics like stop-and-frisk. We don't need extremists on the left or the right running our police department, whether its the NRA or the NYCLU.
 The attacks most often come from people who play no constructive role in keeping our city safe, but rather view their jobs as pointing fingers from the steps of City Hall. Some of them scream that they know better than you how to run the department. Some have even sued the NYPD and demanded a federal monitor over NYPD operations. They've also drafted politically driven legislation that is a reaction to two NYPD practices: Stop, Question and Frisk; and counter-terrorism intelligence gathering.
The counter-terrorism intelligence gathering to which the Shrillionaire Mayor refers is the police spy operation against Muslims (with the cooperation of the CIA)  also subject to a lawsuit in federal court. The New York Times has quite an extensive archive on S&F here.  

It's all part and parcel of the demonization of those who dare criticize creeping state totalitarianism at all levels. Complain, demand your civil rights, and you're instantly labeled an anti-American anarchist. Bloomberg's words eerily echo what one of my New York Times comment board stalkers treated me to yesterday when I complained, in response to a Timothy Egan column, about President Obama's abysmal human rights record and the wimpy Democrats. Here's what "Jack - Illinois" told me:
Your kind offers nothing to middle class Americans whose survival depend on the demise of the tea party. Your kind's take down of President Obama does nothing for millions of Americans who look to the reforms of ACA as a start to a better future when they contemplate their medical futures.
If any politician would adopt these extremist views it would be a guaranteed loss for the middle class, as the political reality is that any extremist view dies in America.
 I am happy that President Obama stiff arms the extreme left wing. Because if he kowtowed to the extreme left wing it would only mean more suffering for the middle class. I can't remember any instance that the extreme left wing helped the middle class because I believe that there is no instance.
The extreme left wing has done nothing for healthcare reform. The extreme left wing has done nothing for banking and finance reform. The extreme left wing has done nothing for immigration reform. Don't think that someone like Cesar Chavez was some kind of wild eyed radical. He was a worker, farmer, who knew families that were depending on him to bring change into their lives. Chavez had to compromise to achieve his goals, as does Obama.
Normally I ignore Jack - Illinois (OFA Truth Squad?), whose sole assignment seems to be to search out all the anti-Obama remarks and go on the pre-approved talking point attack.  But I and a few others really got into it with him yesterday. In later remarks, he called me "You People," while ironically claiming ownership of such icons as Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez. The smell of centrist cult desperation and the stench of racism hidden under the perfumed miasma of liberalism is getting pretty foul out there.

And of course, no post about racism would be complete without noting an epidemic of concern troll commentary about the star witness in the ongoing George Zimmerman case, a young lady named Rachel Jeantel. I watched her testimony, which I found to be a refreshing marvel of passive-aggressive defiance. But here's a sampling of what the same people who decry the racism of George Zimmerman and the Sanford Police Department are saying about Rachel Jeantel:

She seems to have a cognitive disorder (frequent commenter on a "liberal" news aggregation site that shall not be named.)

Dark-skinned and plus-sized: Headline in Salon.com article that was actually quite supportive of the witness.

We never claimed this was about race.... It’s not about racial profiling. He (Trayvon) was profiled (criminally). George Zimmerman profiled him.” -- Martin family attorney Daryl Park. (reflecting Post-
racial denialism disorder.)

Nor would a post about race be complete without noting once again what a great big ugly piece of "sweeping" legislation the Senate Immigration Bill really is. Despite being almost universally lauded as a sunburst of feel-good bipartisanship because it marks yet another notch in President Obama's legacy belt, it is rife with de facto racism. It's all about the continued exploitation of undocumented workers, and a giant leap forward into neo-feudalism. Presente. Org., the country's largest immigration advocacy group, says that far from being welcoming, this legislation will actually cause people to die. (if the bill itself doesn't die first in the recalcitrant House.)

More than a third of the current population of "illegal" immigrants will not be included in reform. (echoes of ObamaCare!) Border security will cost $40 billion -- money that could be better spent for education, infrastructure and other safety net programs. Deportations (which have already reached record numbers under Obama) will continue, and the private prison system will expand to accommodate those swept up by the draconian "Secure Communities" dragnet. Those granted a path to citizenship will lose their status if they lose their jobs and remain unemployed for more than 60 days. U.S. citizens will no longer be able to petition for their siblings. Mandatory E-verify will eventually sweep everybody up in the security state dragnet.

And last but not least, the outrage over the Supreme Court's gutting of the Voting Rights Act lasted all of 24 hours before being quickly cancelled out by a epidemic of cheers over the victories for gay marriage. New York Times columnist
Charles Blow wrote an excellent, albeit measured, piece about the disparity, calling for a joining of forces of the gay rights and civil rights activist communities:
One movement for equality had its spirits lifted and another had them crushed.
But the truth is that these movements are not wholly dissimilar. All combatants for justice are cousins. Jim Crow and Jim Queer are of a kind. So, given what happened on the racial civil rights front this week, the LGBT civil rights movement would be wise to take heed. 
I sincerely believe that in my lifetime, gay marriage will be legal in the whole of the country. But it is unlikely that the LGBT community will become more than a minority group. I also know that the changing of laws does not work in tandem with the changing of hearts, which means that minority groups are always vulnerable. When the laws change, some things simply become subterfuge. In striking down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote, “things have changed dramatically.” But I submit that so have certain tactics. 
Just ask black civil rights leaders still fighting a huge prison industrial complex, police policies like stop-and-frisk and predatory lending practices. Ask women’s rights leaders still fighting for equal pay, defending a woman’s right to sovereign authority of her own body — including full access to a wide range of reproductive options. Ask pro-immigration groups fighting a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment.
As I wrote in response to Charles Blow,
The Court simply delivered the coup de grace to voting rights, which have been under ever-increasing attack wherever growing minority populations are threatening GOP rule. Photo ID requirements, moving polling places without notice, closing them altogether.... the disenfranchisement bag of tricks is bottomless. The Ku Klux Kourt, as Greg Palast calls it, made it a bit easier for the festering right wing to spread its poison until the inevitable day when it succumbs to its own vile infection.
Gay rights, on the other hand, did stand half a chance and barely squeaked by the rabid Catholicism of Antonin Scalia. Marriage equality advocates simply have more political clout than do brown and black people, who have suffered disproportionately during the recession. The people hurt by the trashing of voting rights have no lobbyists, or cable TV political strategists, or fund-raising email lists with which to plead their own cases.
Even the Koch Brothers hopped aboard the marriage rights bandwagon. Gay marriage never would have passed in New York without the blessing of Wall Street, home to many a self-interested plutocrat with gay friends or relatives. When wealthy same-sex couples are allowed to marry, they get to take advantage of a whole slew of tax breaks.
The trashing of voting rights is all about the continued oppression of the poor and working people. The trashing of DOMA, on the other hand, is no skin off the raised elite noses of the people actually running the show.
In the end, it's really all about the money. The getting of it, the keeping of it, the making sure that it remains protected from the grasp of common hands. Money begets power begets more money begets more power. It's a Winner Take All world. And it's getting really ugly out there.




Thursday, June 27, 2013

Comical Plutocrat Blows Smoke At Greenwald

When it comes to the latest conspiracy theories, I usually back away out of pure rational instinct. But the smear campaign currently in full swing against Glenn Greenwald simply reeks of a conspiracy between the government and the corporate press.

The smears against Edward Snowden started predictably and immediately. But the campaign against the messenger of the messenger took awhile, mainly because Snowden is off the radar at the moment and Glenn Greenwald's public profile has been rising by the day. David Gregory got the ball rolling last Sunday, and landed in the gutter. (see this excellent Frank Rich smackdown.) Today, New York Daily News reporter Dareh Gregorian pitched a 90 mph spitball aimed straight at Greenwald's head. But rather than beaning Greenwald, he missed the mark by a mile. He has not yet learned the first lesson of the journalistic smear: always use subtle language and weasel words to make your nasty points. Judging from the outraged reader comments on the News site, Gregorian's ham-handed salvo has boomeranged big-time and come back to hit him in his own smirking face.

I won't bother to repeat what Gregorian wrote, which Greenwald has already discounted in a much calmer manner than I ever could, simply expressing bemusement that the Daily News and the New York Times both seemed to have mysteriously come up with his tax records at exactly the same time.

All you have to do is Google Dareh Gregorian and the dots start connecting all by themselves. He is the son of Vartan Gregorian, one of New York City's leading plutocrats. Daddy is president of the Carnegie Corporation, coming from a long line of previous stints in the academic-industrial complex.  He has served in, or been honored by, every recent presidential administration, beginning with George H.W. Bush. Since President Obama appointed Vartan to the White House Commission on Fellowships, did he also commission Junior to be just the fellow to smear Greenwald? Inquiring conspiracist minds want to know.

How Junior ended up on the staff of a New York City tabloid instead of on the august pages of the New York Times would be anybody's guess, until you actually read his drivel. And judging from a snarky piece in the New York Observer about his 2003 engagement (to the daughter of a New York Times socialite columnist) the younger Gregorian gives a whole new depth to elite shallowness:

 “I’m attracted to talented people, and she’s incredibly talented-crackerjack and on the ball,” Mr. Gregorian said. “Very enthusiastic, very dogged. She had a natural ability that came out very quickly.” And her big brown eyes didn’t hurt, either. “I spent a lot of time watching what he did, because he was really good,” Ms. Haberman said.
She told her father about the strapping coworker, and he praised Gregorian senior, whom he’d met on the Manhattan dinner-party circuit throughout the years (Ms. Haberman had never heard of him). Then, one night, it occurred to her that when it came to her feelings for her comely co-worker-well, as her Dad might’ve put it, she’d buried the lead. “I was just seized with the wind to call him,” she said. “I told him that I adored him.” Fortunately, young Mr. Gregorian reciprocated her feelings. “I knew I wanted to marry her even before we started going out,” he said.
They’re planning the wedding, at an as-yet-to-be-determined downtown location, from their east midtown one-bedroom, where his comic-book collection- Captain America is his favorite-takes up half the closet. When Ms. Haberman left the Post last fall, she brought with her a Wonder Woman desk figurine that Mr. Gregorian had given her. “It’s funny now, because she’ll come home and say: ‘This thing happened today! But I can’t tell you about it till tomorrow,’” he said. “We have a little Hepburn-Tracy thing going on.”
Indeed, they’re both still puffin’ away on cancer sticks as if it were the 1940′s. “The Mayor has given me repeated crap about it,” Ms. Haberman said with a sigh. “I smoke Marlboro Ultra Lights; he smokes Camel Ultra Lights. It’s so cute. We’ll die together.”
You really can't make this stuff up. A middle-aged hack with a comic book collection and a stinky smoking habit is handpicked by the Powers That Be to take a pile of thin dirt on a columnist who broke an embarrassing story about them and hurl it into the wind. You can almost smell the desperation. It reeks like a pack of unfiltered Camels.

When I last checked, there was still no New York Times story on how the dastardly Mr. Greenwald once reneged on a student loan and still owes the IRS money. Gregorian, of course, never needed to take out a student loan in his life. And scion of the American Aristocracy that he is, he enjoys tax breaks the rest of us can only dream about.

This is just the latest indication that L'Affaire Snowden is, to the top .001%, simply an icky manifestation of the Class War of the proles against them, rather than the epic outing of the neo-fascist corporate spy state that is keeping them all in power.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Some Climates Never Change

The graphics couldn't have been better -- or worse, depending on your point of view. There was the normally unflappable, cool president sweating like a pig. When I first saw the photo below, I actually thought he was weeping in remorse over his fateful choice to preside over a spy state, with the resulting loss of all his international friends. No such luck. In the midst of the current climate of authoritarianism and racism and xenophobia, he was simply and belatedly waxing rhapsodic about the actual climate. Suffice it to say that he added volumes to the hot air surrounding him. For what he said and didn't say (in other words, an analysis of his gifted doubletalk), here's a good piece from Common Dreams.

Add caption

So much is going on this week that even the national media can't fall into their usual stenographic lockstep; they were running all over the place playing Musical Leads. CNN's Neocon maven Erin Burnett was still stuck on desperado fugitive (as opposed to heroic whistleblower) Edward Snowden -- adding nothing about why his own government is hunting him down like an animal. MSNBC pivoted to the Supreme Court's trashing of the Voting Rights Act, with only snippets of Trayvon Martin trial coverage. My local CBS affiliate highlighted the impending funeral of James Gandolfini, combined with a rogue tsunami that hit the Jersey shore.

Meanwhile, the impending security state tsunami known as Immigration Reform was pretty much buried beneath the detritus. Whenever you hear the word Reform, just remember that it is a synonym for creative destruction. So in case you were thinking that immigration reform was going to be some sort of humanitarian outpouring of good will to the tired, the poor, the huddled masses, you'd better think again. The actual title of the impending Senate bill should be "How Do We Hate Hispanics? Let Us Count the Ways."

We will likely be spending billions of our taxpayer dollars to construct a full-fledged militarized zone at the southern border, complete with a 700-mile long double fence, a fleet of drones, and one border patrol agent stationed every thousand yards. The drones and the cops will probably outnumber the population. And to further attract the rabid Tea Party xenophobes of the House, the  vast majority of senators also agreed that workers awaiting membership in the Exceptional American Citizens Club will have their FICA and Medicare contributions confiscated for at least a decade, and that everybody will now be subject to random search and seizure as far as 100 miles north of the border. Immigrants not fluent in English will be excluded from the long slog to citizenship. (An excellent piece by Chris Hayes provides the little-noticed grim details.) 

Erick Garcia (no relation) an undocumented immigrant active in the Presente.Org movement, sent me an email this week to voice his disgust at the punitive nature of the proposed immigration legislation:
Every time a cop car passes by me in Arizona, my heart races. I've seen too many of my friends and family living in fear, not knowing for certain if they'll come home to the people they love each day or face deportation. Nobody knows we need to fix our immigration system more than me. 
But as a DREAMer, I'm terrified about what's happening in Congress....  This is what would need to happen before immigrants are given any hope of legalization: we'd need far more agents at the border than troops in Afghanistan, we'd spend billions of dollars on radar surveillance similar to what's used in Iraq, and we'd double the cost of unnecessary border enforcement to $30 billion. This, even though border crossings are at or below zero and experts say our border is more secure than ever.
 So with bipartisan friends like the Senate, who needs racist enemies like the Ku Klux Kourt? (credit, Greg Palast) Remember, the Senate immigration vote is only an opening salvo. The rabid House no doubt will make it even more sadistically sweet. Private prisons that charge rent to the undocumented is probably on their agenda, if they do go so far as to allow a vote. The only question remaining is why anybody in their right mind would even want to sneak over into the Land of the Drones and the Home of the Craven. You can work, but you'll get no benefit from the taxes you pay. And thanks to the Supreme Beings in their depressing black robes, you may not be allowed to vote even when you do finally get certified as a genu-wine side of prime American beef.

The White House pronounces itself perfectly okay with the latest draconian immigration amendments. And why wouldn't it? Militarization creep has been creeping everywhere you look. New York City stops and frisks minority people so many times that the number of stops has actually outnumbered the entire minority male population of the Big Apple. Muslims, too, are currently suing the city in federal court over the NYPD surveillance program.

Most of us, for the time being, are "merely" having our phone records and internet searches swept up and stored. But how much longer before it gets physical and we, too, become too cowed to even walk on the streets? Of course, if you frequent airports, you already know all about the TSA grope and the body rape-scan. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-Wall Street), of the Seven or Eight Immigration Gangstas, did once suggest similar pat-downs at all subway stations, but his proposal went nowhere. Maybe next year.

 The only people not creeped out by the chipping away of our civil rights are the politicians and the pundits and the secrecy industrial complex which stands to get very, very rich in order to keep us "safe." And quiet. And afraid.

The planet is warming up, yet the hearts and minds of the political leadership couldn't possibly get any colder.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Obama's Enemies List

Richard Nixon was a paranoiac with a scowl and a stash of expletive-laden revenge porn audio tapes.

Barack Obama is a paranoiac with a charm-offensive grin and more whistleblower prosecutions under his belt than in all other previous administrations combined. Even a self-defensive meeting with civil libertarians on Friday afternoon about the recent uproar over the government spying upon its own citizens was held under an unnecessary veil of secrecy.

And, as McClatchy Newspapers reveals, there is now even an Obamian version of Nixon's Enemies List, called the Insider Threat Program:
Even before a former U.S. intelligence contractor exposed the secret collection of Americans’ phone records, the Obama administration was pressing a government-wide crackdown on security threats that requires federal employees to keep closer tabs on their co-workers and exhorts managers to punish those who fail to report their suspicions.
This goes for all federal employees, not just those in the spy agencies. In the Social Security Administration. In the Department of Agriculture. In the Education Department. Each agency of the government is turning into its own little Stasi. I am trying to imagine what kind of spying might be going on in my local Social Security office, for example. Is one worker falling under suspicion for being too sympathetic to applicants, or maybe once forgot to demand that last unit of identification as proof of existence? Or, is Obama's Insider Threat manifesto just institutionalizing the usual petty backstabbing office politics?

Actually, it's a lot worse. Because if one of your co-workers with an ax to grind snitches on you, you can theoretically be prosecuted under the Espionage Act. It looks as though J. Edgar Obama wants to raise his record of whistleblowing prosecutions far, far above the current measly seven (counting Edward Snowden.):
Government documents reviewed by McClatchy illustrate how some agencies are using that latitude to pursue unauthorized disclosures of any information, not just classified material. They also show how millions of federal employees and contractors must watch for “high-risk persons or behaviors” among co-workers and could face penalties, including criminal charges, for failing to report them. Leaks to the media are equated with espionage.   
“Hammer this fact home . . . leaking is tantamount to aiding the enemies of the United States,” says a June 1, 2012, Defense Department strategy for the program that was obtained by McClatchy.
And that's the gist of it, folks. Our government considers all of us enemies of the state for even daring to ask what they're doing in all our names.

I can only imagine what it must be like to work for the federal government in the Age of Obama. If you snitch on a friend, do you get a bounty in the way of a raise and promotion, or will the cheapskates just toss you some comp time off and an extra half hour for lunch? If you fail to snitch on a friend and the boss later finds you knew all about something without reporting it, is that grounds for your dismissal or even prosecution? 

Working under conditions like this not only adversely affects the workers, it affects the whole working of government. Who can possibly function under such a system? Somebody will always be looking over your shoulder. Clerical mistakes, lost paperwork,  nervous breakdowns will no doubt skyrocket. Morale will plummet to zero. But maybe that's the whole plan.

And it's not only blatant stuff like talking to the media that the employees are being asked to report. Workers must also alert their bosses to the personal problems -- such as marital woes -- of their colleagues -- because such issues might lead to a troubled person spilling secrets for foreign governments, or worse! They're even supposed to keep tabs on one another's reading material. One red flag, according to the government, is if someone reads the Onion and Salon. I think the latter entry in the List of Forbidden Websites must be outdated, though. It was on the Government List because Glenn Greenwald used to work there.

So  I imagine that sneaking a peek at The Guardian during lunch hour at the Patent Office might land you in the slammer before quitting time.

The Obama Administration must be having conniption fits now that Hong Kong failed to cave to threats from the World's Policeman and allowed Edward Snowden to leave the country. I wonder if White House hacks are reporting on each other's mental health as they all collapse to the floor and start chewing on the rugs.


The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves
 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Irish Politician: Obama Is A War Criminal






Imagine if one of our American elected representatives stood up in the corporate-pandering 10%-approval-rating Congress and spoke truth to power like Irish T.D. (Teachta Dala) member Clare Daly did before her colleagues and her country.

She'd probably be shouted down and arrested by the Capitol Police as a heckler before she even got the first paragraph out.

This is what the real Left looks like, people. This is also how "transparent" political debate is supposed to work. In public, uncensored. Democracy is alive and well somewhere in the West.

Meanwhile, the Belfast Telegraph captured the reaction* of J. Edgar Obama's family:



*To a swarm of wonderful Irish midges and a boring tour guide. Lunch with Bono couldn't come soon enough. Now they're all safe and sound back in the Homeland, keeping us all safe as they listen to our sounds.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Anything You Don't Say Can Be Used Against You

You no longer have the absolute right to remain silent in Police State USA.

That is the unbelievable gist of a Supreme Court decision issued on Monday. If the cops don't Mirandize you prior to conducting an informal, friendly chat, and you clam up at some point in the voluntary interview, your very silence may now be legally construed as a prima facie indicator of your guilt. You must verbally self-invoke your right against self-incrimination, because passive-aggressive sullenness won't cut it. Even nervous tics can be used as evidence against you.

So as the chip, chip, chipping away at the Bill of Rights continues apace, we can now add the Fifth Amendment to the First and Fourth as optional suggestions no longer engraved in stone. It's all part of the brave new world of checks and balances of the Terror Triad formerly known as the three separate branches of government. The spy state not only has the right to vacuum up all your data, it has given itself the right to use your refusal to speak to them about it as a weapon against you. This, my friends, also applies to the "US Persons" whom the president insists are not spied upon by their own government.

Monday's decision stems from a Texas (where else?) case in which a man named Genevevo Salinas appealed his murder conviction based on claims that his refusal to talk to police during informal questioning were later used against him at trial. Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSblog lays it out:
He (Salinas) had voluntarily gone to a police station with officers to talk about the murder of two brothers in 1992.  He was not under arrest, and was not in custody, so he had no right to “Miranda warnings” telling him that he had a right to silence.
He answered almost all of the officers’ questions, but simply sat silent when the officers asked him if shotgun casings found at the scene would match his gun.  He acted very nervous in response, but said nothing.  Prosecutors used the fact that he said nothing to help convince the jury that he was guilty.  He was convicted and is serving a twenty-year sentence.
The Court rejected the argument by Salinas’s attorney that, since he was not in custody at the time and had not been given warnings about his rights, that he did not have to explicitly claim the protection of the Fifth Amendment when he did not want to answer the police questions about the shotgun casings.   The Court had previously said, in a number of other contexts, that one had to invoke the right for it to take effect, but it had never done so in the setting of a voluntary encounter of an individual with officers at a police station.
The conservative majority of the Court ruled that if you voluntarily talk to police, the Miranda Rule does not apply. They only have to inform you of your right to remain silent if they're holding you against your will.
He answered most of the officers’ questions, but simply remained silent when they asked him whether shotgun casings found at the scene of the murders would match his gun.   He shifted his feet, and others acted nervously, but did not say anything.   Later, at his trial, prosecutors told jurors that his silence in the face of that question showed that he was guilty, that he knew that the shotgun used to kill the victims was his. 
 His lawyer wanted the Supreme Court to rule that the simple fact of silence during police questioning, when an individual was not under arrest, could not be used against that person at a criminal trial.   The Court did not rule on that issue.  Instead, it said that Salinas had no complaint about the use of his silence, because in order to claim the Fifth Amendment right to say nothing that might be damaging, he had to explicitly say something that showed his silence was a claim of that right.  Since he did not do so, the Amendment did not protect him, according to the decision.
As Slate's Brandon L. Garrett points out, this "terrible decision" will make false confessions a lot more likely:
 Salinas may very well have been guilty of the two murders. But in many cases, as in this one, there are no eyewitnesses and not much other evidence of guilt: That is why the police may desperately need a confession. And that makes it crucial for them to handle interrogations and confessions with the utmost care. The court appreciated none of the pressures police face, and how they can squeeze an innocent suspect. Alito and the other conservatives were not troubled that there was no video to confirm that Salinas was in fact uncomfortable as well as silent. If Salinas had answered the question by exclaiming that he was innocent, could police have reported that he sounded desperate and like a liar? The court’s new ruling puts the “defendant in an impossible predicament. He must either answer the question or remain silent,” Justice Stephen Breyer said in dissent (joined by the other three liberal-moderates). “If he answers the question, he may well reveal, for example, prejudicial facts, disreputable associates, or suspicious circumstances—even if he is innocent.” But if he doesn’t answer, at trial, police and prosecutors can now take advantage of his silence, or perhaps even of just pausing or fidgeting.
 We're sure to see an epidemic of those friendly, exhausting, totally voluntary all-night chats conducted by seasoned interrogators. Youthful suspects not well-versed in Constitutional law, along with immigrants not well-versed in the English language ,will be prime targets for the new Silence is Not Golden ruling. Belching, nodding off to sleep, grimaces, yawns.... all can be used against you now. The private prison profiteers must be salivating. The school-to-prison pipeline just widened by a mile. 

We already have the highest per capita incarceration rate in the world, and this new decision making criminal convictions as easy as pie can only make it grow. One in a hundred "US Persons" is behind bars not because our crime rate is so high, but because we punish poor people for non-violent offenses, such as drug use. Incarcerated people tend to lack a high school diploma. People lacking a high school diploma tend to not be able to tell you the meaning of the Fifth Amendment.

Slam, bam.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Don't Like Corporatized News? Get Wasted!

With any luck, the million or so denizens of the Spy State who enjoy top secret security clearance will take full advantage of this special offer from the Washington Post:



Anything to loosen up the spooks and make them spill as they swill. After all, according to the email come-on that just landed in my In-Box, Washington Post connoisseurs have vacuumed up elite wines from all over the world in order to placate the palate, numb the senses, and loosen the tongue:
The experts at The Washington Post Wine Club swirl, sip and sniff thousands of wines from around the globe to curate special collections for Wine Club members. In addition to delivering incredible national and international wines, they are also excited to introduce the best from bourgeoning Washington-area wine regions for a one-of-a-kind Wine Club experience.
Oh golly. And here I thought the Washington area was a burgeoning whine region composed of millionaires grousing about how their security has been compromised by upstarts who don't know their place in Secret Society.

 I believe I'll wait for the New York Times to send me a special offer on their Marijuana of the Month Club. We can inhale elite pot at the same time we inhale their pricy propaganda. Thomas Friedman will be much easier to take if accompanied by a Maui Wauwie brownie. David Brooks, the human Skunk Weed, will go down smooth as silk with frequent tokes of Purple Haze. And you definitely want to light up some God's Bud as you partake of Ross Douthat. Maureen Dowd is just the ticket for Strawberry Queen (or, for when she Chronically offends the Obamabots, Urban Poison.)

If it's only a cheap glue-sniffing effect you're after, just log on to Politico. There's no pay-wall, so the inside-the-Beltway toxicity is totally free and gratuitous.

Cheers!

Checks & Balances

Back in the primordial era, American schools used to teach that our three branches of government provide a system of checks and balances to ensure that no one entity can ever ride roughshod over the system. The courts can strike down unconstitutional laws, the legislature makes sure that the president doesn't glom onto too much power, and the president has the power of the veto pen. Round and round Democracy goes, like a happy little amusement park ride.

That was then. Today we have a unified Triad of Terror operating in a funhouse of smoke and mirrors, grotesque simulacra of what the beloved founders ever could have envisioned in their wildest plutocratic dreams.

The current carnival barker in our neo-fascist theme park is President Obama. I finally watched the clip of his pre-G8 interview with Checkpoint Charlie Rose, portions of which I posted in my previous entry. Flying in the face of all fact, he pretended that checks and balances still exist within the soft totalitarian state known as USA. In true Orwellian fashion, he insisted that the secret rubber-stamp Fisa court is transparent, that Congress has been fully briefed and is therefore compliantly looking after the interests of the people, and that he himself is just a trustworthy caring fellow, so just trust him. Because, Charlie, if you could be in the Situation Room and see what I see, you would understand. Now shut up. Or, as he dismissively said when confronted over his own hypocrisy at a Berlin press conference today, "People (me) don't also don't always do what you want. It's shocking."

Checks and balances actually are very much alive. The checks comprise billions of dollars flowing in a torrent from the national treasury straight into the coffers of Booz Allen Hamilton and the rest of what columnist David Rohde is calling the Secrecy-Industrial complex. The balances are the precarious high wire stunts of  the rising stars of Security Circus (Feinstein, Clapper, Alexander) sending propagandistic chills and thrills into America's living rooms. Can they keep us safe from terror and still protect our basic freedoms? It's a nail-biter.

Can they continue to juggle their own self-contradicting claims, saying that the outing of state secrets is both an egregious, egregious assault on national security and an opportunity to have a feel-good National Conversation on Civil Liberties? 'Tis an earthquake of cognitive dissonance.

Will they ever explain why they now assert that massive surveillance sweeps of billions of phone records helped avert a terror attack on the New York Stock Exchange, but somehow forgot to hold one of their self-serving press conferences where they brag about arrests which later are proved to be FBI agent provocateur plots? The Magic 8 Ball says: Don't Count on It. (This article in Wired tells you why: the alleged plotters themselves called it off.)

Meanwhile, I'd be remiss in my duties if I didn't point to a controversial new theory being proffered by columnist Naomi Wolf.  According to her, the very effortless articulate ease (so admired by me) with which Edward Snowden has explained NSA spying may indicate he is not who he says he is -- that he may, in fact, still be working for an intelligence agency which is using him to instill some cowed obedience into the populace. He could, paradoxically, be a manufactured distraction.

“But do consider that in Eastern Germany, for instance," writes Wolf, "it was the fear of a machine of surveillance that people believed watched them at all times—rather than the machine itself—that drove compliance and passivity. From the standpoint of the police state and its interests—why have a giant Big Brother apparatus spying on us at all times—unless we know about it?”

While my first impulse is to scoff at Wolf, as does Dave Lindorff, there is a tiny part of me that can't totally discount her theory out of hand. (Blame it on devouring John Le Carre's plot-twisting novels since adolescence). Wolf is in a whole different league from the growing new coalition of Obamabots and Right Wingers, with all their silly shoot-the-messenger treachery and narcissistic personality disorder hysterics. But even if she's right, and Edward Snowden is a government plant being used to distract us and cow us, it's a stupid gambit. It will probably boomerang right back on them anyway. (It already is -- a local criminal court is now demanding NSA records as evidence in an armed robbery case. Yay!) Also, I think Glenn Greenwald is way too savvy to be taken in by a double agent.

And the Germans, meanwhile, are not na├»ve enough to be taken in by the charmingly offensive Barack Obama as he visits Berlin and speechifies to an invitation-only crowd of thousands at the Brandenburg Gate. According to Der Spiegel, ticket-holders were bailing out (officially because of an 85-degree "heat wave") and officials were scrambling at the last minute to fill all the empty seats. Protesters, kept far away from the latest circus stunt, were massed at the Berlin Wall, bearing signs containing the motto now going viral in Deutschland:

Stasi.2.... All Your Data Is Belong to Us

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Professor and the Mad Man

Edward Snowden is now more popular than Barack Obama. Young people, especially, are abandoning the president in droves. What was once considered hot shit has collapsed into a puddle of cold diarrhea in the wake of massive unemployment and recent revelations of abusive domestic surveillance. And as much as it pains me to say this, the high school refugee that the pundits love to hate actually sounds more intelligent than the Harvard Law grad Prez. Compare and contrast what they said during their two interviews today. First, here's a snippet from Snowden's spirited online press conference:
US Persons do enjoy limited policy protections (and again, it's important to understand that policy protection is no protection - policy is a one-way ratchet that only loosens) and one very weak technical protection - a near-the-front-end filter at our ingestion points. The filter is constantly out of date, is set at what is euphemistically referred to as the "widest allowable aperture," and can be stripped out at any time. Even with the filter, US comms get ingested, and even more so as soon as they leave the border. Your protected communications shouldn't stop being protected communications just because of the IP they're tagged with.
More fundamentally, the "US Persons" protection in general is a distraction from the power and danger of this system. Suspicionless surveillance does not become okay simply because it's only victimizing 95% of the world instead of 100%. Our founders did not write that "We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all US Persons are created equal."

And now, here's Obama stammering out a defense of his spying apparatus to his own personal human pillow: (to be aired on PBS and CBS)
Charlie Rose: Should this be transparent in some way?
Barack Obama: It is transparent. That’s why we set up the FISA court…. The whole point of my concern, before I was president — because some people say, “Well, you know, Obama was this raving liberal before. Now he’s, you know, Dick Cheney.” Dick Cheney sometimes says, “Yeah, you know? He took it all lock, stock, and barrel.” My concern has always been not that we shouldn’t do intelligence gathering to prevent terrorism, but rather are we setting up a system of checks and balances? So, on this telephone program, you’ve got a federal court with independent federal judges overseeing the entire program. And you’ve got Congress overseeing the program, not just the intelligence committee and not just the judiciary committee — but all of Congress had available to it before the last reauthorization exactly how this program works.
And then there was this weird comparison between drunk driving checkpoints and going through TSA airport security:
Barack Obama: Well, in the end, and what I’ve said, and I continue to believe, is that we don’t have to sacrifice our freedom in order to achieve security. That’s a false choice. That doesn’t mean that there are not tradeoffs involved in any given program, in any given action that we take. So all of us make a decision that we go through a whole bunch of security at airports, which when we were growing up that wasn’t the case…. And so that’s a tradeoff we make, the same way we make a tradeoff about drunk driving. We say, “Occasionally there are going to be checkpoints. They may be intrusive.” To say there’s a tradeoff doesn’t mean somehow that we’ve abandoned freedom. I don’t think anybody says we’re no longer free because we have checkpoints at airports.
(Motor vehicle operation is to drunk checkpoints as passive airplane travel is to total body gropes and rapi-scans? I am not even going to try wrapping my head around that twisted logic. For one thing, police highway checkpoints actually do save us from the thousands of impaired drivers menacing our lives every single day. I'll have more to say about this in a later post. The TSA, on the other hand, is pure security theater, designed for intimidation of the populace.)

I also won't bother repeating all the hackneyed anti-Snowden talking points currently making the rounds in Pundit Land. But, as I wrote in response to one typical example in the New York Times,
I haven't seen this much vitriol leveled against defiant youth since the Vietnam War era, when denigrating anti-war demonstrators and draft dodgers became de rigueur for every self-respecting conservative, authoritarian and old fogey. And of course, for young Mitt Romney in his white shirt and tie, pranking the Stanford hippies for not mindlessly kowtowing to Old Glory.

Snowden correctly points out that the USA is spying on civilians everywhere -- who through no fault of their own, exist in the World is a Battlefield as declared by our creepy American exceptionalists. In the minds of the spymasters, we're all potential terrorists. We are all enemies of the state until proven otherwise -- not that they're bothering with such niceties as actual evidence. Just Google "Disposition Matrix" and "signature strikes".
Who cares about the inner workings of Snowden's psyche besides those who tremble at the upsetting of the status quo? What should be getting people upset is President Obama going on TV and oxymoronically telling Charlie Rose, that spying is ok as long as it's transparent.
Mendacity is fine as long as it's honest. Secrecy is great as long as we're open about it. Whistleblowing is noble as long as we don't embarrass the ruling elites in the process.
Incidentally -- did you know you can now stream the movie versions of 1984 from such government-friendly sites as Amazon? Just think. Big Brother will be watching you as you watch Big Brother watching you.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Daddy-O Speaks

It's time once again for that annual Fathers Day dose of paternalistic presidential pablum.
Hi, everybody. This Sunday is Father’s Day, and so I wanted to take a moment to talk about the most important job many of us will ever have – and that’s being a dad.
Today we’re blessed to live in a world where technology allows us to connect instantly with just about anyone on the planet.  But no matter how advanced we get, there will never be a substitute for the love and support and, most importantly, the presence of a parent in a child’s life.  And in many ways, that’s uniquely true for fathers.

I am blessed to rule a country where I can tap at will into the private communications of anyone on the planet with a phone or an internet connection. Of course, it might be better to have a parental authority figure -- like the Constitution -- looking over my shoulder when I order an execution or sweep up your phone records -- but unfortunately, I do not possess that inner parent known as a moral compass.
I never really knew my own father.  I was raised by a single mom and two wonderful grandparents who made incredible sacrifices for me.  And there are single parents all across the country who do a heroic job raising terrific kids.  But I still wish I had a dad who was not only around, but involved; another role model to teach me what my mom did her best to instill – values like hard work and integrity; responsibility and delayed gratification – all the things that give a child the foundation to envision a brighter future for themselves.
I am 51 years old, leader of the free world,  and I still crave a role model. Heaven help you. Now, where did I put that Kill List? My mom, whom I again damn with faint praise, "did her best to instill" those important values. But let's face it, she failed utterly. Single parents (i.e., mothers) may do a heroic job, but they just don't cut the mustard. Of all the countries in the civilized world, the United States treats its single mothers the most abysmally.
That’s why I try every day to be for Michelle and my girls what my father was not for my mother and me.  And I’ve met plenty of other people – dads and uncles and men without a family connection – who are trying to break the cycle and give more of our young people a strong male role model.
"Break the cycle" is my dog-whistle translation for the mythical absentee black father and the vicious cycle of the (largely fictional) trans-generational abandonment of families by black men. Due to some recent well-deserved criticism of how I treat the black community as a whole, I am only obliquely "going there" in this particular sermon.
Being a good parent – whether you’re gay or straight; a foster parent or a grandparent – isn’t easy.  It demands your constant attention, frequent sacrifice, and a healthy dose of patience.  And nobody’s perfect.  To this day, I’m still figuring out how to be a better husband to my wife and father to my kids. 
Aw, shucks. I'm still figuring out domestic bliss the same way I'm still figuring out how to be the father of my country. Like, here I thought I was being a protective dad when I banned the morning-after pill for young girls. And then the courts told me I was acting too political. But hey -- I'm just the dad for whom the thought of his daughters having sex was worse than the thought of them becoming single moms. You see, not every child is lucky enough to have such caring enlightened parents as Michelle and me. Even though I have no experience, no role models -- I only have a self-sacrificing gaggle of advisers cocooning me the same way people have coddled me all my life. What a disaster for all concerned.
And I want to do what I can as President to encourage marriage and strong families.  We should reform our child support laws to get more men working and engaged with their children.  And my Administration will continue to work with the faith and other community organizations, as well as businesses, on a campaign to encourage strong parenting and fatherhood.
Holy crap. David Brooks and Ross Douthat and the whole nihilistic conservative establishment just snuck into my brain. Polls show that people tend to demonize single mothers. Therefore, in keeping with the Ronald Reagan welfare queen mythos, I will just encourage those young hussies to get married instead of strengthening the government social safety net. Then, we can force the hordes of deadbeat dads to get jobs that either don't pay a living wage, or don't exist and won't exist because I and my Washington insider cohort are doing nothing to combat joblessness.

We are doing nothing, meanwhile, to rein in the big banks that have destroyed families and evicted them from their homes. We are doing nothing to prevent the mass closings of public schools in poor neighborhoods. Our War on Drugs is sweeping up young fathers and imprisoning them in record numbers. We keep sending young fathers off to war so that they cannot engage with their children.

 I do not now, nor do I ever intend to, suggest that government should be the solution to our national crisis of unemployment, underemployment and wage stagnation. No -- I will just feebly "encourage" profit-hoarding, tax-evading corporations and churches to embark on a national propaganda campaign to instill guilt into all those lazy, no-good schmucks who don't feel like working and supporting their children. I am a right wing extremist to my very core. Austerity runs in my veins.
Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned along the way, it’s that all our personal successes shine a little less brightly if we fail at family.  That’s what matters most.  When I look back on my life, I won’t be thinking about any particular legislation I passed or policy I promoted.  I’ll be thinking about Michelle, and the journey we’ve been on together.  I’ll be thinking about Sasha’s dance recitals and Malia’s tennis matches – about the conversations we’ve had and the quiet moments we’ve shared.  I’ll be thinking about whether I did right by them, and whether they knew, every day, just how much they were loved.
Without a picture postcard family, what good is it being a millionaire? As I embark on my lucrative post-presidential career, it will be all about me and mine. I don't want to look back upon eight years of half-measures, disasters and disappointments; I prefer to fondly recall the elitist pursuits of my own spawn. I choose to be blissfully unaware that the vast majority of struggling Americans cannot afford tennis and dance lessons for their children. As a matter of fact, one in four American children lives in poverty. Congress, through massive cuts to SNAP funding, is about to snatch the very food they eat right out of their mouths.
That’s what I think being a father is all about.  And if we can do our best to be a source of comfort and encouragement to our kids; if we can show them unconditional love and help them grow into the people they were meant to be; then we will have succeeded.
Holy Crap. Thomas Hobbes just snuck into my brain. Give the kiddies cold comfort, because that's all you got, proles! Record wealth inequity will continue, because....  "Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of Warre, where every man is Enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withall. In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short."
Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there, and have a great weekend.
I know I will. I'll be thinking of Michelle and the girls and all of you brutes as I hit the links this weekend with my all-male entourage of role models.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Unbearable Rightness of Being Certain

Giving lie to the conventional wisdom that bipartisanship is dead, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi today heaved her well-maintained self upon an increasingly crowded luxury bandwagon of Washington insiders, bull-horning to anyone who would listen: Bring Me the Head of Edward Snowden!

The more that the Democratic and Republican elites are joining hands in public to celebrate the death of the Constitution via massive domestic spying by the United States military, the more obvious it becomes that not only is the pseudoleft completely dead, it has been utterly replaced by the Big Righty Right.  If only we'd had PRISM before Nine Eleven, gushed Pelosi, we might have prevented Nine Eleven! This is what she burbled at a press con today:
"Certainly it would have improved the chances of doing that. I can't say with certainty that it would have, but it certainly would have improved the chance," she said. "It did give more opportunity to surveil."
Pelosi joins John Boehner, Dianne Feinstein, Harry Reid and practically the whole Washington establishment in demanding that Edward Snowden be arrested and prosecuted for basically embarrassing the whole Washington establishment. They are, once again, blatantly acting in direct counterpoint to the mere citizens who elected them. The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll shows that at least a third of Americans consider Snowden a patriot, not a traitor, with another half unsure, and only a small minority believing he should be prosecuted. (this, despite the fact that a Gallup poll just a few days ago showed that half of us are not too bothered by being "surveilled" by the government. Maybe this will change as more people start paying attention.)

Meanwhile, yet another military poobah appeared before Congress yesterday to glibly claim that the National Security Agency spying apparatus has thwarted "dozens" of terrorist attacks. Naturally, he was not pressed for details or actual evidence. Names are being withheld to protect the nonexistent.

Meanwhile, not satisfied with calls for Snowden's arrest, resident Congressional xenophobe Peter King is also demanding the head of the Guardian's Glenn Greenwald,  When he made the outrageous McCarthyesque accusation that Greenwald intends to blow the cover of  CIA operatives, King was not pressed for details or actual evidence.

You can sometimes tell when generals and politicians are lying by their body language. The NSA's James Clapper, for example, nervously rubbed at his bald pate the entire time he lied to Congress. Other liars betray themselves by failure to make eye contact, rapid blinking and sweaty brows. But then there is that subset of psychopaths who are able to lie calmly and coolly because they lack a moral compass. They are the scariest of all.

And Peter King is in a class all by himself. His lies are debunkable because they're stupid. He only has to make his lips move to betray his mendacity. Here's Greenwald's takedown.

And here's John Oliver's takedown of the media coverage of Bring Me the Head of Edward Snowden.

With so many powerful movers and shakers trying to take us for a ride in their effort to declare the Constitution unconstitutional, we need all the takedowns we can get.

 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Play Misty Watercolored Memories For Me

No wonder half the American people are just fine with their government stalking them. The same number now hold a favorable view of George W. Bush.

If you look at the data (not mined, but gathered politely over the telephone with the consent of the questioned), you'll notice that almost a quarter of the Democrats polled now like Bush. His approval ratings have been creeping up at about the same pace at which Obama has been revealing himself to be more like Bush than not. It could just be a melding of personas.

Then again, as Gallup notes, Americans have always treated ex-presidents kindly. We are a polite bunch. If you're confronted by a stranger out of the blue, who brings up a guy back in high school named Joe Smith, and you have only a dim hazy memory of his being an obnoxious fellow, you're not going to blurt out "Yeah, he was a real S.O.B. I hate his guts!"

Since Joe Smith has not done you any actual harm in the past several years, you're more likely to be noncommittal and circumspect in your remarks,  and you might even say what a great guy he was, much the same way you reply "fine" when people ask how you're doing.  People tend to forgive, as well as forget, with the passage of time. No atrocity can be so bad as to linger in our minds forever. It behooves us to protect our mental health, not to dwell upon the past, and thus protect those least deserving of protection.

And the half of the population which approves of domestic spying? Same theory. What we never knew about never hurt us in any palpable sense. It's easier to trust leaders and experts than to educate ourselves on metadata and algorithms. It's easier, and safer, to say we approve of something when that something might be listening in on the phone call.

Breaking down  the Pew/Washington Post poll results, while half the respondents don't want the government eavesdropping on their private communications,  only a fourth of them take issue with the secret laws and secret courts that allow the practice. And as is usual in all repressive, authoritarian regimes, the fear factor is the cudgel that keeps the cowed populace in line. More than two-thirds of those polled point to fear of a terrorist attack as justification for the destruction of their privacy rights.

While the numbers are similar to polls conducted during the Bush years, there's been a near-total flip flop on the views of Republicans and Democrats on domestic spying programs. Back in 2006, only 37% of Democrats approved and 61% disapproved of the NSA surveillance program. The most recent results show that 67% of Democrats are fine with being spied on, since President Obama is the one doing it.

Three out of four Republicans loved it when Bush peeped on them. And while they say they hate it that Obama is doing them now, they don't hate it as much as the Dems hated being hounded by the odious George. Almost half the Republicans report tolerating abuse under Barack. They are just not as principled and choosy as Democrats, it seems.

We are a nation of short attention-spanned hypocrites.

So, thank God for the Germans, who do have long memories. Just before President Obama is set to perform at the Brandenburg Gate, the Germans are accusing him of Stasi tactics. The NSA sweep is sweeping them up, too. NSA, when you actually try to pronounce it, is almost a homophone of Nazi. From Reuters:

Government surveillance is an extremely sensitive topic in Germany, where memories of the dreaded Stasi secret police and its extensive network of informants are still fresh in the minds of many citizens.
In a guest editorial for Spiegel Online on Tuesday, Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said reports that the United States could access and track virtually all forms of Internet communication were "deeply disconcerting" and potentially dangerous.
"The more a society monitors, controls and observes its citizens, the less free it is," she said.
"The suspicion of excessive surveillance of communication is so alarming that it cannot be ignored. For that reason, openness and clarification by the U.S. administration itself is paramount at this point. All facts must be put on the table."
Markus Ferber, a member of Merkel's Bavarian sister party who sits in the European Parliament, went further, accusing Washington of using "American-style Stasi methods".
I am looking forward to watching Obama's speech, to be appropriately delivered adjacent to the Tiergarten (Garden of Beasts) and the old Reichstag.