Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Warmongers Without Borders

If General John Campbell thought he'd be raked over the coals by a Senate panel today for the weekend American military attack on Doctors Without Borders, he was in for a very pleasant surprise. What he got instead was a warm bubble bath followed by a massage.

Members of the Armed Services Committee did their due groveling diligence, politely requesting that he keep them apprised of the military's investigation into its own war crime. No big rush, they'll be happy with a rough draft by Halloween. Not one of them, either Republican or Democrat, ever once uttered the phrase "war crime," of course. The euphemisms they employed to describe the bombing,  resulting in critically sick patients being incinerated to death in their own hospital beds, ranged from "tragedy" to "accident" to "incident" to "mistake."

At best, the lawmakers politely asked the general if his feelings would be hurt in the event of an independent United Nations investigation of the atrocity. At worst, they apologized to the general for having to inconvenience him with their oh-so-delicate questions. Senator Tom Cotton  (R-Arkansas) even went so far as to reassure Campbell: "Do you think there's anybody here who regrets this incident more than the pilots of that airplane?"  

Campbell could barely contain his sigh of relief and the sanctimonious smirk on his face at that little doozy.  He confidently informed lawmakers that he was "not yet at liberty" to tell the truth of what really went down on Saturday. It would not be appropriate to comment while he is still getting his story straight. He's already had to change his story four times in four days. First, he said he didn't know anything about the attack. Then he wasn't sure who bombed the hospital and if the pilots knew about the hospital. Then the hospital was attacked because American soldiers were in harm's way. Then he said that Afghan troops had simply snapped their fingers, and the Americans complied by killing doctors and sick people, no questions asked.

The outlandish stories  seem not to matter, either to him or the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Now that he appears confident that his job is not on the line, he is magnanimously able to take "full responsibility" for the atrocity.

How unfair would it be, sympathized Dave Sullivan (R-Alaska) if the United Nations presumed to investigate Exceptional America! After all, this international body doesn't investigate every Taliban atrocity, so why should they be allowed to  investigate a beneficent American mistake? Did Campbell know of any such precedent?

"No Sir," Campbell obligingly replied.

To the extent that Campbell was grilled at all, it was over recent revelations of American military complicity with an epidemic of child sex abuse by Afghan security troops. When Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) pressed him about the scandal, he lamely responded that rampant pederasty hasn't been a problem on his own watch. He claimed he knows nothing about reports that American soldiers reporting the abuse up the chain of command have themselves been punished for being whistle-blowers. That was so 2010, or maybe 2011, he huffed.

But he vowed that if he ever does  find out that child sex abuse and cover-ups are still continuing, he'll take it all the way up to the President. Gillibrand foolishly thought that he meant President Obama, until Campbell quickly disabused her at of that notion. When Campbell says "the president" he means President Ghani, the current  Afghan puppet. Ghani will also be "investigating" the hospital bombing while continuing to give the American military full immunity from prosecution for it and all other war crimes, now and in the future. That friendly "status of forces agreement" he signed with the Obama administration was a condition of his elevation to official puppethood, after all.

Republican senators did their utmost to pressure Campbell into openly criticizing President Obama's current plan to start removing half the current troops by next year.The general was too smart to take that obvious partisan bait, but the text of his opening statement was already perfectly clear. He wants it to be a true Forever War.

"Based on conditions on the ground, I do believe we have to provide our senior leadership with options different from the current plan. As I take a look at conditions on the ground, when the president made that decision it did not take into account the changes over the past two years," he declared.

He did not add, nor was he asked, about one current condition on the ground being a burnt-out hospital which might elicit just the blowback situation that the War Machine needs to justify its own perpetual presence in the Graveyard of Empires.

Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), who sometimes poses as a conscientious objector,  rhetorically asked Campbell about this perpetual presence. A rough synopsis of the exchange, from my own notes:

Manchin: Should we stay? Why repeat the failure in Iraq?

Campbell: Afghanistan is not Iraq. The Afghans want us there!

Manchin: Do we continue pouring money in? Isn't our presence their entire economy? Is there even an Afghanistan economy?

Campbell: We had a recent meeting in Dubai. Investors are interested in coming in and purchasing all the airfields we're closing!

Manchin: What do you say about the C-130 that just crashed on take-off? (killing one of  Manchin's constituents.)

Campbell: Thoughts and Prayers.

Perhaps the most Kafkaesque moment of the Senate testimony came toward the end of the session, as Campbell congratulated himself for the alleged improved living conditions of Afghan citizens thanks to the American military occupation. And then he bemoaned their mass exodus from the country because of horrific conditions on the ground engendered by the 14-year-old occupation. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the American military to stay in order to prevent even more people from fleeing all the horror.

The Senate has no immediate plans to hold a hearing for the victims or witnesses to the American bombing of the Doctors Without Borders hospital.

"Collateral Damage" (photo, Doctors Without Borders)

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Some Victims Are More Equal Than Others

A Tale of Two Presidential Condolences.

In the coming days, we’ll learn about the victims -- young men and women who were studying and learning and working hard, their eyes set on the future, their dreams on what they could make of their lives.  And America will wrap everyone who’s grieving with our prayers and our love. But as I said just a few months ago, and I said a few months before that, and I said each time we see one of these mass shootings, our thoughts and prayers are not enough.  It’s not enough.  It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel.  And it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America -- next week, or a couple of months from now.  -- Barack Obama, on the mass shooting that killed nine people in Oregon.

The Department of Defense has launched a full investigation, and we will await the results of that inquiry before making a definitive judgment as to the circumstances of this tragedy. ...Michelle and I offer our thoughts and prayers to all of the civilians affected by this incident, their families, and loved ones. We will continue to work closely with President Ghani, the Afghan government, and our international partners to support the Afghan National Defense and Security forces as they work to secure their country." -- Barack Obama, on the American bombing of a hospital that has killed at least 23 people in Afghanistan.

One condolence is eloquently maudlin and extended, the other is every bit as brief and clinical and detached as the series of "surgical strikes" that literally ripped apart an operating room, and incinerated critically ill people trapped in their beds.

If Obama is even dimly aware of his own cognitive dissonance and hypocrisy, he is doing his utmost to hide it. But as ever, when a mass shooting occurs on his turf, the sycophantic press makes him the center of the story. This time, as the New York Times mawkishly commiserated, he was "as visibly angry and frustrated as he has ever appeared in public during a brief televised statement from the White House."

And as George Orwell similarly commiserated in Animal Farm:
 “I trust that every animal here appreciates the sacrifice that Comrade Napoleon has made in taking this extra labour upon himself. Do not imagine, comrades, that leadership is a pleasure! On the contrary, it is a deep and heavy responsibility. No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?”
 I suppose that the people killed and injured in the Doctors Without Borders hospital made the wrong decision to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. As the deservedly despised Jeb Bush said about the Oregon shootings: "Stuff happens."

It must be hard out there for a Commander in Chief being expected to ask that Congress enact gun control laws, when he is simultaneously demanding that they allocate billions of dollars for guns, bombs and Predator Drones for his global adventures!  How hard it must be for him to castigate others for offering bland thoughts and prayers when he himself offers nothing but bland thoughts and prayers.

It seems that the only lives that count are American lives. Only American murder victims are looked upon as human beings who have been denied the chance to hope, dream, grow up, or grow old. When foreign people are killed, they are coldly downgraded to "the civilians affected by this incident." 

It could have been worse. Obama has at least bestowed upon them a bare minimum of humanity. His generals are still sticking to their own sanguine Collateral Damage depersonalization: Stuff happened.

Obama has long had a built-in auto-response to both types of murders. Domestic shooters are troubled young men who get hold of guns despite their mental health issues. Military shooters are patriots who often get accepted into the armed forces despite their mental health issues. And if they didn't have any mental health issues before they joined up, their chances of developing them skyrocket once the government issues them lethal weaponry and orders them to use it.

 A year before the Sandy Hook massacre that had Obama weeping on TV, an American soldier named Bobby Bales went on a shooting rampage in Afghanistan, young children among his 16 victims. Obama's response was boilerplate-similar to his reaction to the hospital bombing: “This incident is tragic and shocking, and does not represent the exceptional character of our military and the respect that the United States has for the people of Afghanistan."

 Many of the young male perpetrators of mass mayhem, both military and domestic, can't even remember a day when this country has not been at war. Obama himself has grotesquely dubbed them the "9/11 Generation."

He said last year,
America endures in the courage of the men and women who serve under our flag. Over more than a decade of war, this 9/11 Generation has answered our country’s call, and three months from now, our combat mission in Afghanistan will come to an end. Today, we honor all who have made the ultimate sacrifice these 13 years, more than 6,800 American patriots.  And we give thanks to those who serve in harm’s way to keep our country safe and meet the threats of our time.
I guess an American bomber killing children in a hospital yesterday was not part of any combat mission, seeing as how Obama announced that the war would be over by the end of 2014.

Safely Enduring
When a mass shooting occurs in America, Obama calls it carnage. When a mass shooting or bombing at the hands of Americans occurs elsewhere in the world, Obama calls it "an incident." Or, if the circumstances are especially egregious, as the attack on Doctors Without Borders surely was, he magnanimously upgrades it to a Tragedy. 

If Barack Obama worked as strenuously to arm-twist and bribe and threaten members of Congress over gun control as he arm-twisted, bribed and threatened them into giving him fast-track authority to negotiate the corporate coups known as free trade deals, then the domestic weapons reform he purports to crave might have a smidgen of a chance.

The truth is that Obama didn't make a peep about gun control until after the Sandy Hook shootings. And even those noises were tepid and belated. Instead of immediately sending a bill to Congress, he named a blue ribbon panel to leisurely discuss and debate gun violence. By the time lawmakers got around to voting on an actual bill, the NRA had attacked with its own threats and bribes, and the national grief and shock and outrage had been safely diluted.

The time to act is in the immediate aftermath of an atrocity.

But on the December 2012 day of the Sandy Hook shootings that killed 27 people, mostly children,  Press Secretary Jay Carney stopped the impetus right in its tracks. "This is not the day," he sanctimoniously told the nation, "to discuss gun laws."

And it's never a good day for them to discuss stopping their wars. International carnage is the only thing still inflating their puffed-up economy. Domestic carnage by way of more than 200 mass shootings this year alone is only a symptom of the larger American disease.

The real epidemic is suicide. One hundred Americans kill themselves every single day. But universal mental health care is not in our future, because the wealthy don't want to pay the taxes necessary to fund such preventive programs.

Economist John Komlos writes:
 This must be the moment to come to our senses and set entirely new priorities for our society in vigorously confronting the mass murder epidemic head on. We will never be able to lead decent lives unless we are capable of reigning in the terror at home, because we will continue to live with constant anxiety.
Instead of vacuous slogans of growing the economy and ineffective lamentations about the vicious murders, which will do absolutely nothing to lower the murder rate, we should set ourselves the explicit goal of reducing mass murders in the same way President John F. Kennedy declared the goal of reaching the moon within a decade. Ask the parents of the Sandy Hook Elementary School disaster if they’d agree with such a national mobilization at any price. We cannot do that on borrowed money. The only way to accomplish such a goal is by paying for it through additional taxes and a reduction in the conspicuous consumption of the super-rich. There is no getting around that.
Wealth inequality and the replacement of democracy with an oligarchy is hazardous to our health. The super-rich are a clear and present danger to all of us. 

 The lives of American citizens, Afghan citizens, all citizens, depend upon stopping the pathological rich. Eighty multi-billionaires now own half the wealth of the entire planet.

We can't afford them. It's time for a global wealth tax. It's the only way to cure them and their political operatives of their violent addiction to money and power and death.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Bless Me, Father

By Jay - Ottawa

The following chapter is from a story (fiction) with 9/11 as its backdrop.  A group of priests from the New York City diocese is holding its monthly breakfast meeting at "Ribbons," a fancy restaurant located on the top two floors of the North Tower.

A few dozen priests from the archdiocese had reserved a windowless private dining room on the lower level for a prayer breakfast.  They were the canon lawyers of the diocese who had assembled to learn more about the sins of liberation theology.  By now the Eggs Benedict had been disappeared, the whiskey sours drained away, and the speaker’s talk run out of words.  The priests in their dark suits and Roman collars pushed back their chairs to stand mess hall style on both sides of the long linen-covered table.  With heads bowed, they waited for the most senior among them to trigger the recitation of ‘Grace after Meals.’

That would have been Monsignor Reilly:  “We give Thee thanks––”

Everybody chimed in “––for all Thy benefits, O Lord, and may the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace, amen.”

That was the moment the plane struck.  Smoke began to filter into their little dining room.  They waited for a waiter to return to show them the way to safety, but no one came.  The men of God were on their own.  As the smoke thickened, quick thinkers got busy placing wet tablecloths over vents and at the base of doors.  Smoke filtered in less rapidly, and that was good.

“Down on the floor; the air is better,” said one, and these mostly middle-aged and out-of-shape men went down clumsily on their knees and then down on their bellies.  The smoke grew thicker and more poisonous.  Mother of God, it stings!  The floor became uncomfortably warm.  Lord in heaven, this heat!  A few priests pushed themselves back up on their knees but found the smoke worse than the heat.  God help us!  Dry hacking coughs multiplied and grew louder.  O Christ!  The coughing and choking reached a crescendo.  This was the end and they knew it.  As if it were written in the program they began to pair off for last confessions.  Jesu!  The smoke did not hold back until everyone had finished with his last confession.  Several penitents lost consciousness before they came to the end of their declarations.  The loud coughing began to taper off as, one by one, priests lay their heads down on the carpet and quietly expired.

As luck would have it, Monsignor Reilly’s most likely confessor, who had sat at his right hand through the breakfast, happened to be the oldest man in the room.  Father Eusebius Weber’s tired heart gave out before Reilly even finished reciting the sacrament’s opening formula.  Reilly, alas, was very much not in the state of grace.  He had to get clean of something before he stumbled into eternity.  A great fear took hold of him; adrenalin flooded his veins and kept him going.  He began to crawl around on his elbows looking for another priest who was still conscious.  “Hey, Hey! … C’mon!”  He poked one still form after another without success and kept moving.  How many seconds were left to him before he was in eternity looking at the whole of it forever?  And with his record, still unconfessed and unforgiven.

Providentially, he bumped into Father DiSimone.  Anthony DeSimone was the captain of the diocesan golf team and a natural athlete.  That summer, through a careful selection of opponents in the rich suburbs, the diocesan team had won thousands of dollars for the chancery, which was the bishop’s headquarters where Reilly served as chancellor.  DiSimone was now holding a wet napkin over his nose and mouth, but Reilly recognized those eyes, such remarkable pale blue eyes, from the time Reilly had been director of the diocesan seminary and DiSimone a young seminarian.

“Tony, good lad, thank God you’re here,” Reilly rasped in a high-pitched chipmunk voice.  “Quick, hear my confession.”  He put his face down to cough into the carpet only to suck in more smoke.

Father DiSimone’s pale blue eyes looked back over the napkin.  He lowered the napkin when Monsignor Reilly raised his head.  “I can imagine what you want to confess, Monsignor.  I was one of your toy boys at the seminary, remember?  Every day now I wipe the muck off my soul.”

Reilly’s throat burned, his lungs begged for oxygen.  “For the love of Christ, Tony, forgive!”  DiSimone stared back with the flat affect of an athlete, loose and relaxed before the next play.  Reilly, on the other hand, grew more frantic.  “Absolution, Tony, please.  Sign of the cross.  Just say the words.”

 Father DiSimone took a breath to say something but was interrupted by his own fit of coughing.  When it stopped he looked back at the monsignor to whisper in a hoarse but unhurried voice, “Fuck you, Reilly.  And I’m sure I speak for others."

Friday, October 2, 2015

Bernie Rising

One of the media and Democratic establishments' favorite reasons for why Bernie Sanders cannot possibly win the party's nomination is because he lacks African-American support. 

Ever since there has been a Clintonland, there has been the ironclad conventional wisdom that Black voters just l-o-o-o-ve Bill and Hill. It was only the emergence of Barack Obama that temporarily redirected the love away from them.

That this has largely been a myth of their own making is evidenced by a brand new poll showing Hillary's support among Black voters in a virtual free-fall, while Bernie's numbers are soaring. They are rising far more precipitously than the Establishment could ever have dreamed, predicted -- or, to be honest, dreaded:

Suffolk/USA Today Poll
Bernie's favorability rating among black Democrats is 31 points up, while Hillary's numbers are 31 points down. This is triple the increase in her negatives among white Democrats. Bernie's drastically improved numbers also mesh nicely with the fact that a lot more voters know about him now than they did three months ago. (thanks in large part to the obvious corporate news blackout of his campaign.)

As Philip Bump of the Washington Post notes, this is only one poll and the numbers might also be reflective of that netherworld where voters are still trying to make up their minds. But this poll has got to be making the Clintonites nervous and Sanders supporters elated.

And now that Sanders' fundraising has outpaced even that of Obama's 2008 race during the same pre-primary quarter, the mighty New York Times has been forced to begin taking him seriously. Because money talks, even if the corporate media still religiously avoid talking about his actual platform and policy ideas in anything close to a detailed, positive and respectful manner.

Their backtracking/feigned innocence is pretty hilarious. For example, the Times' Patrick Healy disingenuously wrote yesterday
Mr. Sanders was initially dismissed by political insiders as a fringe candidate running only to push Hillary Rodham Clinton to the left. But he has now demonstrated that he has the resources and the supporters, whom he has only begun to tap financially, to compete for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Notice the self-serving passive voice. Notice the lack of the Times' ownership of its own complicity in the orchestrated denigration of Bernie Sanders. That they are now according him a modicum of respect based solely on the money he has in the bank is a testament to their own corruption and shallowness.

And the hit jobs will still keep coming, of course. The most egregious piece has got to be the one this week by the Washington Post's David Farenthold, who claims that not only would a President Sanders be a runaway big spender: He would be an authoritarian control freak aiming to shove universal health care and free college tuition down our throats. Did I mention that Farenthold is employed as a putative reporter, not as a columnist? (I wrote about this right-wing slimeball hack a year ago, after his hit job on Job Corps led to the closure of one of its training sites by the Obama Labor Department.)

Maybe we won't even need to repeal Citizens United if Bernie Sanders is elected president. Maybe Money-Speech will just crawl into a dusty corner somewhere and die of its own loathsome, misbegotten accord. Maybe the plutocrats will realize that their cash can't buy everything and everybody after all.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Pope and the Predators

My Pope balloon had already begun to deflate days before the news burst that Pope Francis (or his Vatican minions, or his Vatican enemies) sneaked homophobia poster girl Kim Davis across a phalanx of armed militia guarding his Washington embassy digs for a private, top-secret embrace with him.

At first it looked as though the story of the Pope's meeting with the Kentucky clerk who went to jail rather than issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples was either made up out of holy cloth, or wildly exaggerated by her own handlers. But then the Vatican grudgingly admitted that not only had a private meeting indeed taken place, but that the Pope himself had reached out to Kim Davis. And that everybody was sworn to secrecy until Francis was safely back home in Rome.

Holy Hypocrisy!

But what had really precipitated my own descent from the national Papal High was his meeting on Thursday with Stephen Schwarzman in a Harlem parochial school. This multibillionaire vulture capitalist -- whose own personal dogma is More Money, More Power, More-ality -- had awarded millions of dollars (chump change for him) in scholarships to students, and thus bought himself a post-modern plenary indulgence in the form of a greedwashing photo-op of himself being personally blessed by the People's Pope.

If Kim Davis is the poster girl for homophobes, Shwarzman is the poster boy for plutocratic supremacists. He's as much a self-dealing martyr as she is, whining regularly that billionaires like him are the real victims of the class war. He is infamous for having once compared tycoons too-mildly taxed by the government to Jews persecuted by the Nazis.

" Back in 2010," wrote Paul Krugman last year in a column called Paranoia of the Plutocrats, "Stephen Schwarzman, the chairman and chief executive of the Blackstone Group, declared that proposals to eliminate tax loopholes for hedge fund and private-equity managers were 'like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939'".

And from a profile of Schwarzman in New York magazine:
Steve Schwarzman is a perfect poster boy for this age of greed, sharklike, perpetually grinning, a tiny Gordon Gekko without the hair product. In Palm Beach (where he bought a historic landmark house for $20.5 million and tore it down), he eats his three-course lunches (including $400 stone crabs) in less than fifteen minutes and complains about the squeaky rubber soles of a servant’s shoes. Once, in the presence of a Times reporter, he buzzed a man to bring coffee, then stalked off to dress down the servant—“I called you six times.”

The Pope and the Plute (Instagram Photo by #scentfully sue)

  As if pandering to and blessing a financial predator was not enough of a slap in the face of decency, Pope Francis then proceeded to inform the students that the biggest threat to their happiness is not the wealth inequality engendered by robber barons like Schwarzman -- but an invisible demon.

Mephistopheles Flying over Wittenberg (Delacroix)

From the translated transcript of his talk to the assembled poor students, parents, politicians, potentates and plutocrats:
 “Who is the one who sows sadness, who sows distrust, who sows envy, who sows evil desires? What is his name? The devil, the devil! The devil always sows sadness because he doesn't want us happy, he doesn't want us to dream."
Holy Hell!  It brings a whole new meaning to Feeling the Bern. Schwarzman must feel so happy to have been absolved, his guilt deflected to a make-believe boogeyman.

From my feeling of euphoria that this new Pope was someone refreshing and different, it was a jolting downer of a deja vu trip back to my days in Catholic school when Sister Mary Mean would regularly warn us that chewing the communion wafer instead of gagging it down whole was a mortal sin punishable by eternal damnation and third degree burns. Listening to the Pope's spiel at Our Lady Queen of Angels suddenly revived memories of all the hellish episodes that had caused me to become a born-again Lapsed Catholic in the first place.

So regardless of whether the Pope's meeting with Kim Davis turns out to have been a vast right wing media conspiracy, or a set-up job by conservative clerics designed to deliberately harsh his mellow among liberals, I am still sticking with secular humanism. Pope Francis knew full well that the well-dressed oligarchs sitting in the front rows at all his gigs were not ordinary folk.

I've since learned that besides rightly calling capitalism "the dung of the devil," Pope Francis is a die-hard believer in Satan as an actual, living being capable of physically possessing actual, living beings. (Right up there with the belief of the majority of the American people, I might add.) Even some Catholic scholars think that he goes a bit too far with the hell fetish, as he blames everything from the Mexican drug wars to the Middle East conflagrations on Old Nick instead of on Wall Street, the pharmaceutical industry and the military-industrial complex. His ascension to the throne of Saint Peter has also sparked a steep rise during the past few years in the number of people seeking exorcisms.

The next thing you know, we'll hear that he had a secret meeting with Linda Blair while he was in town.

Meanwhile, the  establishment has seized upon the Pope's meeting with Kim Davis as the latest political chapter in the Culture Wars saga. New York Times editorialist Francis X. Clines writes,
 In his address to Congress, the pope was diplomatic in alluding to the church’s firm and well known opposition to same-sex marriage, maintaining, “fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family.” But in his decision to seek out Ms. Davis, Pope Francis seemed to suggest the Vatican was willing to get more involved in the politics of the issue. The papal invitation will hardly diminish Ms. Davis’s standing as a national celebrity and rallying figure for those opposed to the legalization of same-sex marriage, including some Republican candidates for president who sought to share her spotlight. While in Washington, she confirmed that she had left the Democratic party and become a Republican. Her attorney said they eagerly awaited a photographic record of the papal meeting from the Vatican.
My published response:
 Not only did the Pope meet with Kim Davis, the Vatican decreed that the visit be kept secret until he was safely gone. The cover-up is just as bad as the meeting itself. It makes the Pope look like just another self-interested politician with a hidden agenda. It makes the Church look like just another corporation more concerned about forging a new public image than in rooting out its own greed and corruption and entrenched hypocrisy.

My Pope balloon had already begun to deflate when Francis visited a Harlem school and warned little children about "the devil" instead of warning them about the vulture capitalists and politicians standing right next to them in the room. Too many rich and influential people were able to buy themselves their own P.R. camera time and co-opt the same poor people they regularly ignore or blame in their capacity as power brokers. The Pope should have chased those money changers right out of that school and performed an exorcism of the real-life demon of Wall Street while he was in town. Instead, he sold medieval superstition to little kids. It was cringe-worthy, and anti-Enlightenment.
That being said, I do champion Kim Davis's right to stay strong and believe in whatever she wants. But instead of complaining and making a martyr out of herself, she should resign her public post and find a job where she doesn't have to be in contact with the good people she seems to find so distasteful. A cloister and a vow of silence might be just the ticket.
Thanks to the Pope, the miscreants of politics and finance and war can exorcise themselves of those tired old minima culpas known as "mistakes were made" and "nobody could ever have predicted."  

Now they can just shrug their shoulders, claim that the Devil made them do it, and condemn the rest of us to a living hell while they bribe and stampede their own way into Paradise.

Blessed Steve Schwarzman's $42 million estate (Mephistopheles-eye view)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Down and Out in the Homeland

Morale has gotten so bad over at DHS, they should probably make the initials stand for Depressed Hacky-Sacks.

Jeh Johnson, chief of the Department of Homeland Security, says he is very dejected about the low happiness scores of his minions, who scored the lowest of the low in job satisfaction among all federal government agencies. He has therefore announced a brand new initiative designed to instill some gladness into his airport gropers as well as putting all that lost disaster fun back into FEMA.

Only half the DHS workers surveyed scored well in the "engagement" category, with about the same percentage proclaiming themselves less than "globally satisfied." This is 10 percent lower than 2010's globally satisfied engagement scores. 

Do you suspect that the low scores might have as much to do with respondents not knowing what the hell these questions even mean as with how happy they are making $10 an hour patting down passengers in Airport Security Theater?  Do you ever even have the time to stop and ponder about how engaged and globally satisfied you are as you schlep through your own crappy job?

The Washington Post has the whole sorry scoop:
Even worse, DHS fell 1 percent in both categories this year, despite a frenzy of morale-boosting efforts including an employee steering committee dedicated to fairness in hiring and promotions, enhanced employee training programs and Johnson’s department-wide “Unity of Effort” initiative, designed to tackle the department’s management challenges. DHS’s struggles with employee morale date back to its creation during the George W. Bush administration, when 22 autonomous agencies were plucked from across the government and welded into one department.
That pretty much explains the morale issues. Who wouldn't be disgruntled after being plucked like a free-range chicken and then welded into one hot stinking cage on a factory farm? The CIA is not the only agency that knows how to "torture some folks." I suppose that we, the public, can at least gain some satisfaction knowing that the fine folks spying on our Occupy protests from their DHS fusion centers feel as miserable and down and out as the rest of us. Maybe they should just join us after they finish beating us. 

Maybe their global satisfaction scores will improve if Jeh Johnson gives them cuddly global hacky-sacks to kick around during breaks from operating their Rapiscan machines at the airport.

Better yet, Congress might disband Homeland Security, declare the War on Terror over, take its multi-billion dollar budget and reallocate it for health care, education and infrastructure. Sad DHS workers would get retrained for other jobs -- say, as teachers and nurses and architects and construction workers.

But Jeh Johnson apparently likes his own job title, and is not giving up. The Boss is going to shove the morale down their throats whether they like it or not:
Johnson, who took over the sprawling domestic security agency in December 2013, pronounced himself “disappointed that our efforts to improve employee satisfaction at DHS were not reflected Department-wide in this year’s results of the Federal Employee Viewpoint survey. ”But the former Pentagon General Counsel said he was “not discouraged.” In a public statement and a department-wide email, he told employees that he and Deputy DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas “will not give up.  We know that improving employee satisfaction across a 22-component, 240,000-person department takes time. ”
He proudly noted, moreover, that the people working in his own office are 85 percent globally satisfied with their jobs. Their jobs depend upon their satisfaction. Jeh Johnson is not about to allow any sad-sack hacks within an inch of his own joyful presence.

Monday, September 28, 2015

CBS vs. Social Security

Scott Pelley of CBS seemed just as flabbergasted at Donald Trump's vow to protect Social Security as he was at the candidate's vow to deport 11 million people and build a cheap but gorgeous border wall the likes of which you've never seen.

Here's the snippet of last night's 60 Minutes interview with Trump that you might have missed in all the frenzied back-and-forth between one billionaire and one media representative of many billionaires:
Scott Pelley: In your book, "The America We Deserve" you proposed raising the social security retirement age to 70. Is that still your plan?
Donald Trump: Yeah, not anymore because now what I want to do is take money back from other countries that are killing us and I want to save social security. And we're going to save it without increases. We're not going to raise the age and it will be just fine.
Scott Pelley: How are you going to do that? It is a basket case.
Donald Trump: Through capability. We will set it set it up by making our country rich again.
This is not the first time CBS has gone after Social Security. Although Pelley never bothered to back up his specious claim that our national retirement program is "a basket case," his network (and to be fair, the other five media conglomerates that control 90 percent of all publicly broadcast information in this country) have long hawked the same line that not only is the Social Security trust fund going broke, but the whole system is riddled with incompetence, fraud, and abuse.

Just last March, Pelley and CBS aired a hit job accusing the Social Security Administration of being so inept and evil that its flawed master list is composed of zombie hordes of dead people still collecting benefits, as well as living people who have falsely been declared dead. To bolster his case, Pelley dug up four fine, upstanding (and white ) taxpayers who had inadvertently made the Dead List. These fine people became subject to credit checks, Homeland Security terror watch lists and false arrests all because of some stupid New Deal entitlement program that Wall Street has a mean hankering to become entitled to.

Pelley implied that the clerical errors popping up every now and then within a database of about half a billion citizens were more than simple, rectifiable clerical errors. He implied that his "news" program came up with the mistakes based upon its own relentless digging and muckraking -- even though the occasional individual horror story about a Social Security mistake has been about as common as the inevitable clerical error. Moreover, one of the undead victims he showcased had already been slated to testify before a congressional Homeland Security panel made up of some of the same right-wing politicians who look for any excuse to cut benefits and raise the retirement age.

As Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times wrote about that segment, Pelley's reactionary political agenda became all too clear when he never bothered to tell viewers how to rectify things should they ever find themselves wrongfully plunked on the Death List: 
The tax policy and regulatory expert David Cay Johnston further suggests that any institution using the DMF to make consumer decisions be automatically informed if a customer files a protest with Social Security and be made responsible for updating the information once Social Security makes its ruling, with stiff fines for delay or inaction. Any consumers who run into problems with banks or card issuers should have an absolute right to inspect the institution's DMF file on them, at no cost.
That should solve the problem for the relatively small percentage of people caught in this net. "60 Minutes" could have performed a real service by asking its sources in the Senate why Congress hasn't taken these steps in the six or seven years since news organizations started reporting on it.
Two years ago, 60 Minutes' Steve Kroft (with the help of another right-wing zombie politician, Republican Tom Coburn) broadcast a particularly loathsome hit job on the alleged fraud and abuse within the Social Security disability benefits program. The gist of it was that a huge cabal of malingerers and corrupt doctors and lawyers are all in cahoots to bilk the taxpayers who actually contribute to society.  As a result, the whole disability system is a "basket case."

Although this 60 Minutes report was widely debunked and castigated at the time that it aired, it served its purpose. It planted the seed in the public's mind that sick and disabled people are a confederacy of fakers. It divides and conquers, setting up yet another front in the battle of the Makers vs. the Takers.

The contrived division between the Deserving Poor and the Undeserving Poor is as old as plutocracy itself. This deflects attention away from the undeserving rich, who derive most of their incomes from rents, interest, investments, the labor of the poor... and government welfare and deferred prosecution agreements.

Only four months before the disability hit job aired, Scott Pelley and CBS gave the unindicted Wall Street billionaire and "thought leader" Lloyd Blankfein a free platform from which to inform the masses that their "entitlements must be contained."

The smarmy Pelley was suitably awed and humbled as he was allowed into the man-cave of Goldman Sachs, gushing during the segment: "An interview with Lloyd Blankfein is as rare as a look inside the Goldman Sachs money machine. He showed us one of seven trading floors at his Manhattan headquarters. Goldman is one of America's most successful investment banks. It had net earnings of $4.4 billion dollars last year. When we asked Blankfein how to reduce the federal budget deficit, he went straight for the subject politicians don't want to talk about."
BLANKFEIN: You're going to have to undoubtedly do something to lower people's expectations -- the entitlements and what people think that they're going to get, because it's not going to -- they're not going to get it.
PELLEY: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid?
BLANKFEIN: You can look at history of these things, and Social Security wasn't devised to be a system that supported you for a 30-year retirement after a 25-year career. ... So there will be things that, you know, the retirement age has to be changed, maybe some of the benefits have to be affected, maybe some of the inflation adjustments have to be revised. But in general, entitlements have to be slowed down and contained.
PELLEY: Because we can't afford them going forward?
BLANKFEIN: Because we can't afford them.
Notice the stark difference in tone between Pelley's interview with Trump (scolding, confrontational) and Blankfein (admiring, obsequious).

Actually, what we really can't afford are super-rich people like Lloyd Blankfein and groveling propagandists like Scott Pelley who swallow whole the specious claim that the undeserving hordes are retiring in their forties and living large on the Social Security dime.

Of course, Pelley operates neither independently nor in a vacuum. His continued employment as publicist for the elites hinges upon sucking up to the rich and powerful.

His own boss, CBS chief Les Moonves (net worth a mere $300 million) recently found himself in the awkward position of refusing to tip a parking valet at the birthday bash of his boss (billionaire Sumner Redstone) because all he had in his wallet were $100 bills. And guess who was forced to apologize for the awkwardness? The valet, of course. Because his continued employment as a servant paying into the Social Security trust fund depends upon how well he has mastered the fine art of groveling.

The racketeers of the ruling class ignore the reality that over the course of a lifetime, most people do become physically vulnerable. It's nature. It's called being human. It is called being a child. It is called getting sick or injured in early adulthood or middle age. It is called getting old. Yet CBS hacks and flacks and the oligarchs they serve  all selfishly ignore the reality that Social Security is a program that ordinary people have contributed to all their working lives. 

Contrary to all the Randian propaganda, the government safety net is not a handout or an entitlement. It is a basic human right. 

And Social Security is not broke. What the plutocrats are trying to break into pieces is the social contract itself. Social Security could be rendered solvent into perpetuity and benefits could be expanded if  wealth is taxed at the same rate as work. If Lloyd Blankfein and the Forbes 400 were required to pay FICA taxes on their entire incomes instead of just the first $100,000 or so, any minor shortfall problem could be solved within a New York minute.

"What thoughtful rich people call the problem of poverty, thoughtful poor people call with equal justice a problem of riches." -- R.H. Tawney.