Monday, October 20, 2014

Learn To Grovel Gracefully

With wages flat and jobs scarce, what's a serf to do to get ahead while barely surviving? Where are all those ladders of opportunity that the politicians keep blathering about?

The bosses at Marriott Hotels have come up with a real nifty public relations gimmick to give the appearance of caring about their minimum wage employees while continuing to despise them with all the utter contempt at their disposal. It might be called the Neoliberal Two-Step. 

Step One: the Marriott suits are inveigling hotel customers to supplement the low wages of The Help through tasteful "tip envelopes" now being discreetly placed in all the rooms. They're partnering with Democratic celebrity multimillionaire and renowned poverty concern troll Maria Shriver, who is adding her liberal cachet to the "Envelope Please" murketing effort. She, unlike others of her class, has actually deigned on occasion to interact with the women cleaning her luxury suites:
“The Envelope Please was born from having conversations with women I’ve met who have taken care of my room during hotel stays. Their stories of hard work and perseverance inspired and informed me. They told me that room attendants, who are often the primary breadwinner for their families, are often forgotten when it comes to tipping, unlike other front-of-house employ­ees, since most travelers don't see them face-to-face. I hope this gratitude initiative will make these women feel seen and validated,” said Maria Shriver, founder of A Woman’s Nation.
Of course, Shriver would never dream of agitating for a living wage and benefits for these women, who suffer more than their share of back problems and other ailments through constant repetitive lifting and bending. And of course, the suggested tip is a mere $1 a day, with $5 being the absolute outer limit of gratitude if The Help has gone the extra distance.

 But wait! There is an even better solution to help The Help than tips, paid sick days off, and top-notch health care coverage:

Step Two: in order to make Maria Shriver feel even more self-satisfied by allowing women to be better seen and validated, a choreographer from the Joffrey Ballet is teaching The Marriott Help how to perform servile dance moves and postures -- the better to seduce their coddled clientele to keep coming back for more. And who knows, maybe even inspire them to be more generous tippers and thank-you note writers. If you're a housekeeper able to master the following stunts, Marriott guests might be more apt to put that extra buck in your envelope to supplement your meager paycheck:

We'll Bend Over Backward to Fulfill Your Every Whim....

Let Me Just Sweep Up Your Crumbs for My Breakfast....
Your Fresh Towels, Madame....

How Can I Die For You Today?
Unpaid No-Excuses Break Time: Pulling Ourselves Up By Our Ballet Straps

Of course, the New York Times is slanting this bizarre story as a positive for Marriott and for wealthy travelers everywhere, who apparently have been getting mighty sick and tired of clumsy, injury-prone chambermaids lumbering about like herds of heifers and hungry exhausted bellboys who have not yet learned the art of refined obsequiousness:
While pirouettes and grand jet├ęs may not get a porter to your room any faster, a little basic ballet training might improve their grace upon arrival. At least that’s what JW Marriott is hoping will come of a new employee training program it has developed in partnership with the Joffrey Ballet in New York. The hotel’s Poise and Grace Program is a series of video tutorials led by the Joffrey’s artistic director, Ashley Wheater. In them, Mr. Wheater demonstrates core movements and mind-sets practiced by professional dancers in order to achieve the seamless flow of a ballet sequence.
 The training focuses on four areas: warming up the body, proper breathing techniques, the flow of movement and a connection with the audience. In essence, to think and act as if they were on stage- or perhaps in a Wes Anderson film.
Or, you can make believe that you're the star of an especially dystopian remake of Cinderella. Disassociation from one's actual plantation-like surroundings works wonders for the psyche. If you embrace the mannerisms of a slave through proper breathing techniques and the like, then you seamlessly become the slave through no will of your own. Disgruntlement vanishes out the window as fast as the overworked ballerina heroine of The Red Shoes throwing herself off a balcony.

Poise & Grace Rejectee: No "Envelope Please" for You, Moira Shearer!

Friday, October 17, 2014

And the Lies Drone On

While President Obama ponders appointing appointed a Wall Street-connected political fixer Ebola Czar and considers imposing travel restrictions in a theatrical attempt to Keep Ebola Out, there will of course be no such travel restrictions on his bombs and drones. They will continue to fly with impunity, creating endless and widespread death, destruction and panic in places that the Ebolaphobes can't even identify on a map.

And since the majority of Americans don't care about drone casualties, the Obama administration can both fly with impunity and lie with impunity. So what if a plague of Predator missiles is causing the same kind of panic in middle Eastern countries that a virus is causing in west African countries? The only panic that counts is Homeland panic. Because, despite existing within a de facto oligarchy, Homelandians are still allowed to go to the polls every two or four years to cast votes for the least-evil apparatchiks, who vie within a closed system to keep the voters fearing and the missions creeping and the profits flowing to those wealthy few at the pinnacle of the real power.

So thank goodness for the indispensable UK-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which has exposed another Big Lie and state-sponsored crime worthy of global condemnation at least and Hague prosecutions at most. Unfortunately, this journalistic blockbuster will be greeted with a huge "Meh" from people too busy working at crap jobs or fretting over the mid-terms and the Ebola cruise ship of death to care. But here it is anyway.... cross-posted in its entirety: 

Only 4% of drone victims in Pakistan identified as al Qaeda members

By Jack Serle

As the number of US drone strikes in Pakistan hits 400, research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism finds that fewer than 4% of the people killed have been identified by available records as members of al Qaeda. This calls in to question US Secretary of State John Kerry’s claim last year that only “confirmed terrorist targets at the highest level” were fired at.

The Bureau’s Naming the Dead project has gathered the names and, where possible, the details of people killed by CIA drones in Pakistan since June 2004. On October 11 an attack brought the total number of drone strikes in Pakistan up to 400.

The names of the dead have been collected over a year of research in and outside Pakistan, using a multitude of sources. These include both Pakistani government records leaked to the Bureau, and hundreds of open source reports in English, Pashtun and Urdu.

Naming the Dead has also drawn on field investigations conducted by the Bureau’s researchers in Pakistan and other organisations, including Amnesty International, Reprieve and the Centre for Civilians in Conflict.

Only 704 of the 2,379 dead have been identified, and only 295 of these were reported to be members of some kind of armed group. Few corroborating details were available for those who were just described as militants. More than a third of them were not designated a rank, and almost 30% are not even linked to a specific group. Only 84 are identified as members of al Qaeda – less than 4% of the total number of people killed.

These findings “demonstrate the continuing complete lack of transparency surrounding US drone operations,” said Mustafa Qadri, Pakistan researcher for Amnesty International.

Pakistan drone strike deaths in numbers
Total killed 2,379
Total identified as militants 295
Total identified as al Qaeda 84
Total named 704
When asked for a comment on the Bureau’s investigation, US National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said that strikes were only carried out when there was “near-certainty” that no civilians would be killed.

“The death of innocent civilians is something that the U.S. Government seeks to avoid if at all possible. In those rare instances in which it appears non-combatants may have been killed or injured, after-action reviews have been conducted to determine why, and to ensure that we are taking the most effective steps to minimise such risk to non-combatants in the future,” said Hayden.

“Associated forces”

The Obama administration’s stated legal justification for such strikes is based partly on the right to self-defence in response to an imminent threat. This has proved controversial as leaked documents show the US believes determining if a terrorist is an imminent threat “does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on US persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.”

The legal basis for the strikes also stems from the Authorisation for the Use of Military Force (Aumf) – a law signed by Congress three days after the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks. It gives the president the right to use “all necessary and appropriate force” against those behind the attacks on the US, wherever they are.The text of Aumf does not name any particular group. But the president, in a major foreign policy speech in May 2013, said this includes “al Qaeda, the Taliban and its associated forces”.

Nek Mohammed speaks at a Jirga three weeks before he died in a CIA drone strike (Reuters/Kamran Wazir)
Nek Mohammed speaks at a Jirga three weeks before he died in a CIA drone strike (Reuters/Kamran Wazir)
It is not clear who is deemed to be “associated” with the Taliban. Hayden told the Bureau that “an associated force is an organised armed group that has entered the fight alongside al Qaeda and is a co-belligerent with al Qaeda in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.”

The CIA itself does not seem to know the affiliation of everyone they kill. Secret CIA documents recording the identity, rank and affiliation of people targeted and killed in strikes between 2006 to 2008 and 2010 to 2011 were leaked to the McClatchy news agency in April 2013. They identified hundreds of those killed as simply Afghan or Pakistani fighters, or as “unknown”.

Determining the affiliation even of those deemed to be “Taliban” is problematic. The movement has two branches: one, the Afghan Taliban, is fighting US and allied forces, and trying to re-establish the ousted Taliban government of Mullah Omar in Kabul. The other, the Pakistani Taliban or the TTP, is mainly focused on toppling the Pakistani state, putting an end to democracy and establishing a theocracy based on extreme ideology. Although the US did not designate the TTP as a foreign terrorist organisation until September 2010, the group and its precursors are known to have worked with the Afghan Taliban.

According to media reports, the choice of targets has not always reflected the priorities of the US alone. In April last year the McClatchy news agency reported the US used its drones to kill militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas in exchange for Pakistani help in targeting al Qaeda members.

Three days before the McClatchy report, the New York Times revealed the first known US drone strike in Pakistan, on June 17 2004, was part of a secret deal with Pakistan to gain access to its airspace. The CIA agreed to kill the target, Nek Mohammed, in exchange for permission for its drones to go after the US’s enemies.

The “butcher of Swat”

Senior militants have been killed in the CIA’s 10-year drone campaign in Pakistan. But as the Bureau’s work indicates, it is far from clear that they constitute the only or even the majority of people killed in these strikes.
“Judging by the sheer volume of strikes and the reliable estimates of total casualties, it is very unlikely that the majority of victims are senior commanders,” says Amnesty’s Qadri.

The Bureau has only found 111 of those killed in Pakistan since 2004 described as a senior commander of any armed group – just 5% of the total. Research by the New America Foundation estimated the proportion of senior commanders to be even lower, at just 2%.

Waliur Rehman talks to the Associated Press less than two years before his death (AP Photo/Ishtiaq Mahsud)
Waliur Rehman talks to the Associated Press less than two years before his death (AP Photo/Ishtiaq Mahsud)
Among them are men linked to serious crimes. Men such as Ibne Amin, known as the “butcher of Swat” for the barbaric treatment he and his men meted out on the residents of the Swat valley in 2008 and 2009.

Others include Abu Khabab al Masri, an al Qaeda chemical weapons expert. Drones also killed Hakimullah and Baitullah Mehsud, and Wali Ur Rehman – all senior leaders of the TTP.

There are 73 more people recorded in Naming the Dead who are described as mid-ranking members of armed groups. However someone’s rank is not necessarily a reliable guide to their importance in the organisation.

“I think it really depends on what they are,” Rez Jan, a senior Pakistan analyst at the American Enterprise Institute think tank told the Bureau. “You can be a mid-level guy who is involved in [improvised explosive device] production or training in bomb making or planting, or combat techniques and have a fairly lethal impact in that manner.”

Rashid Rauf, a British citizen killed in a November 2008 drone strike in Pakistan, is one al Qaeda member who appears to have had an impact despite not rising to the organisation’s highest echelons.
He acted as a point of contact between the perpetrators of the July 7 2005 attacks on the London Underground and their al Qaeda controllers. He also filled a similar role linking al Qaeda central with the men planning to bring down several airliners flying from London to the US in the 2006 “liquid bomb plot”.

The Bureau has only been able to establish information about the alleged roles of just 21 of those killed. Even this mostly consists of basic descriptions such as “logistician” or “the equivalent of a colonel.

Follow Jack Serle on Twitter. Sign up for monthly updates from the Bureau’s Covert War project, subscribe to our podcast, Drone News from the Bureau, and follow Drone Reads on Twitter to see what the team is reading.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Diseased Politics

Only in the fevered little minds of the corporate media could a small but scary domestic outbreak of Ebola be trumpeted as an "October surprise."

It's not so much that this disease is killing thousands of people in Africa, or that stupid cuts in basic domestic public health programs have exposed the most expensive health care system in the entire world as a gigantic slab of Swiss cheese. It's how Ebola will affect the congressional mid-terms.

From The Hill:
The mounting anxiety has made politicians extra attentive to Ebola, with candidates  seizing on the spread of the virus to hammer their opponents.
The issue is particularly fraught for Democrats, given signs that President Obama’s dragging poll numbers could help Republicans take control of the Senate. Though Ebola is unlikely to move the needle in specific races, political strategists say it adds to the darkening public mood. 
While the usual suspects at Fox News and Clear Channel screech that Ebola is sneaking through the borders to kill us all as a result of a presidential terror plot, and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (himself a former public health official) is refusing to allow even the sterile ashes of medical waste to contaminate his state's precious toxic landfills, the Democrats blame Republicans for cuts in public health programs while whining, according to The Hill, that "Ebola is drowning out their main campaign messages, particularly on the improving economy."

Holy Eboley.

Meanwhile, after sending out a near-constant blast of fundraising email spam and raising a record amount of cash on such appealing appeals as "Doomsday!," and "Final Notice!!!!", the Democrats have already preemptively declared defeat on the front page of the paper of record. Makes you want to demand a refund, or sue for political malpractice. (Assuming, that is, that you gave. I still keep getting reminders, in the form of friendly threats, that my payment thus far to the Act Blue collection agency has been a big fat 0 dollars.)

Could you ask for a more diseased duopoly?  It makes you want to don your flimsy corporate-issue protective gear before running straight to the polls to cast your vote for your favorite pathogen. 

The Republicans are perfectly adept at constantly exposing themselves as big fat cynical idiots. But the Democrats need some extra help. About those drastic GOP cuts to the public health infrastructure complained about by the We Suck Less Party? Let the American Public Health Association explain:
President Barack Obama’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2015 makes a number of investments in public health, but also cuts millions of dollars from critical health agencies.
Under Obama’s proposal, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would see cuts to its program-level funding of about $243 million, or 3.5 percent, from fiscal year 2014. The agency’s budget would shrink from $6.85 billion to $6.61 billion. As part of that funding, CDC would receive $810 million from the Prevention and Public Health Fund, the landmark fund created by the Affordable Care Act to support prevention programs nationwide.

  In a March letter to members of the U.S. House and Senate appropriations committees, APHA noted that Obama’s proposed budget would cut CDC’s budget authority to fiscal year 2003 levels.(my bold)
“While we appreciate some of the targeted increases in the president’s budget, other important CDC programs would face level funding or significant reductions,” said the letter, which was signed by members of the CDC Coalition. “We believe that Congress should prioritize funding for all of the activities and programs supported by CDC that are essential to protect the health of the American people.”

The letter asks Congress to provide $7.8 billion to CDC in its final appropriations legislation.

“While we acknowledge the ongoing fiscal pressures on federal discretionary funding, we are deeply concerned that the administration is proposing deep cuts to CDC’s budget authority, particularly on the heels of the fiscal year 2014 omnibus spending bill that restored some of the prior reductions to CDC’s budget,” (the letter) said. “Ongoing cuts to public health programs continue to leave all of us at risk.”
And about that "darkening public mood?" New York Times columnist Frank Bruni suggests that we Americans (who "do panic really well") just stop with the hysteria, buckle our seat belts, drive off to get tested and treated for Hepatitis C while getting our annual flu shots as we lay off the sugary sodas and give up our gun fetish:
I’m not dismissing the horror of Ebola, a full-blown crisis in Africa that should command the whole world’s assistance. And Ebola in the United States certainly warrants concern. We’re still searching for definitive answers about transmission and prevention.
But Americans already have such answers about a host of other, greater perils to our health, and we’d be wiser to reacquaint ourselves with those, and recommit to heeding them, than to worry about our imminent exposure to Ebola.
Of course he's right about prioritizing. He just forgets to mention that relentless bipartisan fiscal austerity in service to plutocratic greed has put a real damper on American health and a severe dent into our individual economic ability to prioritize. My comment:
Maybe we panic really well because on any given day, 20% of us are in medical collections. Medical debt remains the leading cause of bankruptcy in America.
According to the health care consumer site NerdWallet, American households lost $2,300 in median income between 2010 and 2013, but our health care expenses increased by an average $1,814. Many of us are imprudently putting off that doctor's visit because we'd rather eat.
Have you researched the actual price of those curative Hep-C pills? Gilead, the drug-maker, charges $84,000 for each recommended 12-week course. That's $1,000 a day. Quite the pathological profit for them, given that their actual manufacturing cost for an individual regimen is only $136. To add insult to injury, Gilead avoids US taxes by locating its corporate HQ in Ireland. (They charge poor countries a little less, only because of the agreement the White House made with Big Pharma to forgo price negotiations in order to lower drug costs. It was a quid pro quo for the Affordable Care Act.)

Several states have severely cut back on their annual free flu shot clinics this year. And as cruel as the Republicans are, even the 2015 White House budget calls for a $1.3 billion cut in discretionary public health programs. This includes a $36 million cut in the CDC's immunization services and $54 million from its public response and preparedness programs.

The only things we have to fear are unregulated capitalism and corrupt politicians.
Austerity kills.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Money, Class and Ebola

An adult patient in extreme pain, spiking a 103-degree fever of unknown origin, gets discharged from a Texas hospital emergency room for one reason, and one reason only: no health insurance. It wasn't rank medical incompetence or missed communications among an overworked staff that sent a critically ill Thomas Eric Duncan out the door. It was, very likely, unwritten hospital policy. No card, no money, no extended service beyond the minimum legal requirements: I can almost guarantee it. A study by the Academy of Emergency Medicine, relying on data from over 80,000 patient visits to a large university medical center, reveals that insured patients are admitted to medical floors more often than the uninsured, for the same complaints and conditions.

This initial refusal of admission is likely what caused Duncan and his family to try to tough it out for days until, in desperation, they called an ambulance. By then, he was probably beyond help.

American politicians love to boast that "we" have the greatest health care system in the entire world, well-equipped to handle Ebola cases. This cavalier statement got a well-deserved jolt when a nurse treating Duncan came down with the virus herself over the weekend, despite the vaunted precautions. It is assumed that she has health insurance from the hospital employing her. In any case, she was immediately admitted. Why she wasn't flown to one of the centers with expertise in treating Ebola -- as was an NBC cameraman and others who contracted the disease in Africa -- isn't known.

Meanwhile, there are millions of homegrown Thomas Eric Duncans out there, uninsured or underinsured, who each and every day are absolutely hesitating to seek medical help if they start feeling sick. One little trip to the emergency room is enough to bankrupt anyone -- whether they're covered under Obamacare or not. According to a new study by the personal finance site NerdWallet, more Americans are going broke from medical bills than ever before.

We can't afford to get treatment for our diseases.

The bean-counters at Texas Presbyterian likely knew that it would have been next to impossible to get Thomas Eric Duncan into collections once he was successfully treated and left the area or went back to Liberia. As a foreigner, he wouldn't have qualified for expanded Medicaid coverage even if Texas had accepted the coverage.

It's getting hard out there for for-profit health care systems to extract money from their strapped domestic customers:
  • NerdWallet Health has found that Americans pay three times more in third-party collections of medical debt each year than they pay for bank and credit card debt combined. In 2014, roughly one in five American adults will be contacted by a debt collection agency about medical bills, but they may be overpaying – NerdWallet found rampant hospital billing errors resulting in overcharges of up to 26%.
  • NerdWallet found 63% of American adults indicate they have received medical bills that cost more than they expected. At the same time, 73% of consumers agree they could make better health decisions if they knew the cost of medical care before receiving it.
  • Between 2010 and 2013, American households lost $2,300 in median income, but their health care expenses increased by $1,814.[1] Out-of-pocket spending is expected to accelerate to a 5.5% annual growth rate by 2023 – double the growth of real GDP.
(graphic: NerdWallet)
Because of its cruel social policies, America is a fertile breeding-ground for disease outbreaks. Since we don't have universal health care, we think twice about seeing a doctor. We don't have federal mandatory paid sick leave-- the 40 million American workers who don't enjoy even one single paid sick day are mainly employed in the low-wage food service and child care fields. We're taught to tough it out, to slog into work with our sniffles, low-grade fevers and hacking coughs. We spread our germs to our restaurant patrons, our supermarket customers, our classrooms full of kids. Too many sick days, too often spent staying home to care for sick kids, and we might be out of a job. There are too many unemployed people out there waiting in line, ready to take our jobs if we let a few symptoms get in the way of progress.

And despite their sanitized gated communities, security guards, private schools and concierge medical services, rich people are not immune. They interact with us whether they realize it or not. They sleep on sheets laundered by others, eat food prepared by others, breathe the same air as everybody else.

Conversely, the rich are also fully capable of transmitting disease to the poor. Celebrity NBC medical reporter Nancy Snyderman, M.D. was caught getting takeout at the ironically named Peasant Grill in Hopewell, New Jersey last week when she should have been in home quarantine, having been exposed to Ebola in Liberia with the rest of her news crew. Naughty Nancy, ironically named by Readers Digest as the 30th most trusted person in America, was busted by the health police and sent back into isolation. So it seems that the rules do occasionally apply to the elites too, especially when they threaten to sicken other elites. It's the affinity fraud, Bernie Madoff type of crime. When the wealthy become victims of the wealthy, justice prevails.

The plutocrats running this show had better get with the program: selfishness and greed are hazardous to their health, too. Social Darwinism is a pathology deadlier than any plague.

"I don’t know about you, but I like it here. Sure, life can get complicated, hard to get through, and it’s not always fun, but I don’t want to be shown the door anytime soon. If there are ways I can enhance my health and longevity with healthy habits, if there are appropriate screening measures for my age group, if there are new lifesaving treatments I can access, then I want to know about them so that I can stay around and be kicking up my heels when I’m ninety." -- Nancy Snyderman, on Why It's All About Nancy.

Healthy, Wealthy and Snyde(rman)


Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Impact of Incestuous Ironies

This is rich: 
President Obama blasted Republicans as the party of “billionaires” on Tuesday while mingling with high-rollers at the $26 million estate of Rich Richman — yes, that’s his real name — in Greenwich, Conn. Richman, who built his $10 billion company developing rental housing, lives in the Conyers Farm area, where the minimum lot size is 10 acres. Twenty-five donors paid $32,400 each to get their photo taken with the president. Others paid $10,000 for dinner.
Obama arrived from New York City — where he had attended a fundraiser with hedge-fund billionaires George Soros and Paul Tudor Jones — in a convoy of four helicopters that landed at the Greenwich Polo Club.
And the irony just keeps on coming. The Washington Post has all the rich dirt:
... New details drawn from government documents and interviews show that senior White House aides were given information at the time suggesting that a prostitute was an overnight guest in the hotel room of a presidential advance-team member — yet that information was never thoroughly investigated or publicly acknowledged.
The team member was a well-heeled young Yalie named Jonathan Dach. So not only did the Obama administration cover it all up, it rewarded the young stud muffin with -- get this -- a job at the State Department's Office of Global Women's Issues. One night in Cartagena with an exploited sex worker is apparently more than enough to qualify a male as an expert in "women's issues" in the Obama administration. According to the State Department website, Dach's role is to foster "participation of women and girls in the political, economic, and social realms of their countries (as) a key goal of U.S. foreign policy. When women and girls are empowered, educated, and equipped to contribute to their societies, their families and countries are more likely to prosper, and be more stable and secure."

 Meanwhile, according to the Post, government investigators looking into the Secret Service prostitution scandal were fired when they started asking too many questions about young Dach. The White House was afraid the truth might hurt Obama's re-election chances.

Could it get even richer? Yes, it could.  It turns out that the wealthy father (Leslie Dach) of the aforementioned Ivy League Lothario was one of those generous high-roller Obama campaign donors while also working as the top lobbyist for Walmart. Dach and first lady Michelle Obama later became partners in a short-lived Let's Move publicity campaign, in which Walmart promised to someday day stock its shelves with healthier foods -- thus helping divert public attention from a class action lawsuit then being brought by the retail chain's underpaid women employees. (The Supreme Court ultimately dismissed the case, on grounds that women wage slaves don't constitute a class.)

Leslie Dach (the chin-stroker at the left) with Michelle Obama
And guess what Leslie Dach is doing now? He's spun through the revolving doors right into the very heart of the Obama administration in order to help his former Walmart colleague, HHS  Secretary Sylvia Mathews-Burwell, to implement the next phase of Obamacare!
In 2011, Mr. Dach recruited Ms. Burwell to become president of the Walmart Foundation, where she worked for just over a year before heading back to Washington. As we noted earlier, Mr. Dach has spoken well of the work she did there.
 HHS announced Wednesday that Mr. Dach would be coming to the department for a newly-created job that will include working on the next sign-up period for coverage under the health law. “Leslie’s experience, which spans the business, government, and civil society sectors, will further enhance our ability to deliver impact for the American people,” said Ms. Burwell, in a statement.
The impact is already being delivered good and hard, with all the intensity of a sledge hammer. Just this week, only one day after Walmart announced that it is getting into the lucrative for-profit Obamacare marketplace itself, it cut off tens of thousands of its own part-time employees from their company-subsidized health insurance plans. It was just getting way too expensive for the Walton family, who own more wealth than the poorest 40-plus percent of all American families combined. From Common Dreams:
For the fiscal year of 2014, Walmart "increased net sales by 1.6% to $473.1 billion and returned $12.8 billion to shareholders through dividends and share repurchases," the company states on its website. Furthermore, in 2014, Walmart was ranked number one on the Fortune 500 list for its large revenues. The Walton family is one of the most wealthy on earth and has consistently been in the Forbes 400 top ten wealthiest list since 2001.
Now, let's ironically take a stroll back through the revolving doors, from Burwell to Wellborn --  the ironically-named Sally Wellborn that is, head of Walmart's ironically named Benefits Division. She said the policy axing employee medical benefits for part-timers (legally defined as workers putting in slightly less than 40 hours per week) was one of those "tough decisions," made by tough bosses not afraid to say "tough shit" to minimum wage workers.  This begs the question: will Sally Wellborn's own job be discontinued? Will Wellborn be hired by Burwell?  Or is Wellborn, like young Jonathan Dach, well-born enough to not have a care in the world?

Always the high public cost of low prices, low wages, low moral corporate standards, outsourced manufacturing.  Always.

The trouble is, while the Cartagena tawdriness is getting all the headlines, the political prostitution is not. It's just the way business gets done in an oligarchy. And it's by no means a victimless crime. Tens of thousands of low-wage Walmart victims, tens of millions of victims of the predatory health insurance industry, seven billion victims of unfettered capitalism the wide world over.

Delivering impact? Quite the understatement.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Torturing Obama

Poor Barack. Everybody's piling on.

First, Leon Panetta, and now even mild-mannered fellow Nobelist Jimmy Carter is chiming in while still constructing Habitat houses at age 90. The drone president of peace is being portrayed as a paranoid bumbler and anathema to his own party. Pretty much all he's good for these days is acting as the main bag-man for all that campaign cash. The Dems don't want to be seen with him, but they're only too happy to accept the bribery money of plutocrats and entertainers just as eager to shell it out for a quick bite and photo-op schmooze with their president and fellow performance artist.

Oh, but here comes Paul Krugman to the rescue. In a new Rolling Stone O-pologium at least partially inspired by Cornel West's recent scathing Salon piece, the erstwhile New York Times columnist takes a wee break from dissing Paul Ryan and the Republicans, and takes direct aim at the left: 
They (Cornel West and unnamed "others") are outraged that Wall Street hasn't been punished, that income inequality remains so high, that ''neoliberal'' economic policies are still in place. All of this seems to rest on the belief that if only Obama had put his eloquence behind a radical economic agenda, he could somehow have gotten that agenda past all the political barriers that have con- strained (sic) even his much more modest efforts. It's hard to take such claims seriously.
Criticizing the Obama administration for its failure to prosecute a single big banker in the worst financial fraud in American history is just going too far, continues Krugman, who essentially defends the Obama/Holder/Geithner Too Big to Fail/Jail policy, while carefully weasel-wording that yes, we might have another crisis, but it might not be quite as bad. He's right: it won't be at all bad, for him. The ingrained corruption of the political system and the outsized influence of the fabulously wealthy go unmentioned.

 Even creepier, in my view, is that Krugman specifically singles out a piece by a black public intellectual. West discusses all the ways that people of color are actually doing worse (job loss, home loss) under a black president. He calls out the collusion of the erstwhile progressive Black Congressional Caucus with Obama's centrist, corporatist agenda as part of the "the death of the black prophetic tradition," which has historically advocated for social and economic justice.

So Krugman, like Jonathan Chait, now also falls into the cringe-worthy category of "whitesplainer." (a centrist caucasian pundit who instructs a leftist black pundit that his or her criticism of Obama is way out in left field and "hard to take seriously.") That Krugman singles out only Cornel West as a "trash-talker" from the left is actually pretty stunning. That Krugman indirectly bashes the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. is also testament to the right-wing drift of the "conscience of a liberal" in the Age of Obama.

  Regarding the surveillance state, Krugman lamely blames his own lack of expertise for his refusal to give a strong opinion, except to say that Romney and McCain would probably have been a lot worse. Obama's ramping up of Perpetual War, his drone assassinations, his abysmal domestic civil liberties record, his abuses of press freedoms, record deportations, the war on whistle-blowers and his secrecy fetish (see: Trans-Pacific Partnership) go unmentioned. If you still had any doubt that the good professor is quickly achieving parity with his pseudo-nemesis David Brooks in the intellectual laziness department, read the whole article, and weep. Or yawn, or throw up, as your fancy takes you.

Meanwhile, everybody else who's a Somebody is all obsessively abuzz over Panetta, who's had the effrontery to write a book about the Obama administration while Obama is still out there collecting cash and giving jingoistic speeches about American exceptionalism. It is apparently a breach of loyalty and a violation of the unwritten rule (described by Elizabeth Warren in her book) that insiders don't criticize other insiders. I haven't read the book, but the juicy bit getting the most attention is yet another F-bomb tirade by former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel -- this one about that still-suppressed CIA torture report. Reading between the lines of the various synopses of "Worthy Fights," it appears that Barack has been striving mightily to protect his CIA careerist pal John Brennan from exposure. Brennan, Panetta's eventual replacement, remains at his post as agency director, despite calls for his ouster after he admitted spying on Senate investigators.

According to Panetta, he'd made a deal with Senator/CIA Moll Dianne Feinstein to release findings of torture abuses by the agency during the Bush administration. But then, he writes,
 “I was summoned down to a meeting in the Situation Room, where I was told I would have to ‘explain’ this deal to Rahm… It did not take long to get ugly....
’The president wants to know who the f**k authorized this release to the committees,’” Rahm said, slamming his hand down on the table. ‘I have a president with his hair on fire, and I want to know what the f**k you did to f**k this up so bad!’”
Then-director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair asked in vain who'd set Obama's hair on fire. Blair was later fired and replaced by admitted perjurer and now-NSA director James Clapper. Feinstein is still withholding the torture report because it's been redacted into near-meaninglessness by Obama, Brennan, and other CIA functionaries named within its pages.

Jimmy Carter, in an interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, again slammed Obama over his drone assassination program and other human rights violations, as well as for ignoring the rise of ISIS:
“I really object to the killing of people, particularly Americans overseas who haven’t been brought to justice and put on trial,” he said. “We’ve killed four Americans overseas with American drones. To me that violates our Constitution and human rights.”
(And then he proceeded to cancel himself out by vowing to support war-hawk Hillary Clinton, should she win the Democratic nomination. Oh well.) 

All this public dissing comes right on the heels of a judge ordering Obama to release video of the force-feeding of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, as well as deny his anti-democratic request that the ongoing trial be closed to the public. The judge, Gladys Kessler, astutely noted (in so many words) that the administration's national security excuse is simply their fear of being exposed as barbarians on the world stage -- at the very same time they're trying to foment public outrage at the video barbarism of ISIS as the latest casus belli.

There is plenty of inhumanity to go around, even from -- and especially from -- exceptional America, homeland central of the centrist elites.

Read more here:

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Zombie Democracy Shuffle

Paul Krugman's latest column takes issue with Paul Ryan's proposal to have the Congressional Budget Office use something called "dynamic scoring" (Alice in Wonderland math)  to justify more tax cuts for the rich. Despite the sound debunking of "voodoo economics," it's an idea that refuses to die a good death. As a result, Krugman fears, the very credibility of the CBO (not to mention that of the august 15% approval rating Congress) might be in jeopardy if Ryan's dream bill squeaks through a GOP senate! What a shock.

The CBO has already taken quite a few hits for being politicized, most notably from Roosevelt Institute economist Jeff Madrick, who points to that august body's prediction earlier this year that a $10.10 minimum wage "might" be a job killer. These government budget analysts have to thrive on projecting economic forecasts based on such variables of war and peace. And although the CBO hedges its bets through the practice of listing a variety of different scenarios for every eventuality, politicians from both parties have a habit of pouncing on only the choice bits, tastiest to their own agendas. So the addition of dynamic scoring would add one more flaw to an already flawed body.

  Krugman, meanwhile, seems to automatically assume that even if the GOP wins the Senate, President Obama will use his veto option against CBO manipulation and other horrible stuff.  Krugman also manages to use his column space to sneak in the current risible Democratic campaign talking points touting the Recovery under Obama, with its unprecedented part-time/temp job growth since the 2008 meltdown. But the column's main accomplishment is to ignore the de facto jobless and point fingers at perhaps the most valuable Useful Idiot that the "lesser-evil" Wall Street Democrats have ever propped up. Krugman writes,
For years people like Mr. Ryan have posed as champions of fiscal discipline even while advocating huge tax cuts for wealthy individuals and corporations. They have also called for savage cuts in aid to the poor, but these have never been big enough to offset the revenue loss. So how can they make things add up?
Well, for years they have relied on magic asterisks — claims that they will make up for lost revenue by closing loopholes and slashing spending, details to follow. But this dodge has been losing effectiveness as the years go by and the specifics keep not coming. Inevitably, then, they’re feeling the pull of that old black magic — and if they take the Senate, they’ll be able to infuse voodoo into supposedly neutral analysis.
Would they actually do it? It would destroy the credibility of a very important institution, one that has served the country well. But have you seen any evidence that the modern conservative movement cares about such things?
The Times did not see fit to publish this response from me: (I'll give them the benefit of the doubt, though, and chalk it up to a techno-glitch rather than outright censorship):
The credibility of the Senate is already shot, so why would the GOP spoil a good losing streak? If we've learned anything, it's that power has nothing to do with intelligence, that rules don't apply to wealthy crooks, and that fomenting fear and hatred for your neighbor is a sure-fire way for sociopaths to win elections in a gerrymandered system.
 Yes, Obama will be able to veto any vile stuff a GOP senate passes. But will he? Or, like President "end welfare as we know it" Clinton before him, will he bargain away the rights of the working class and poor? Will a GOP majority finally give him fast track authority to ram through the corporate coup known as the Trans Pacific Partnership? Will he try to reanimate his "grand bargain" of Social Security cuts?
Here's one clue: the Obama administration is actually siding with the temp agency being sued by Amazon warehouse workers. They're fighting to get paid for the daily half hour they're held after work, forcibly searched to prevent theft of all those cheap goods manufactured by other oppressed wage slaves in other parts of the globalized economy.
 Voodoo and greed also survive because the media let them. The same oligarchs who bankroll the parties control the 6 major outlets broadcasting 90% of all we see and hear.
 Why else is the DCCC  not supporting Ron Zerban, Paul Ryan's progressive challenger in Wisconsin?  Because it takes a village of Ayn Rand heartthrobs from hell to keep our sham democracy shuffling along.
Where would Krugman and the Democrats be without Paul Ryan to provide the impetus for all their op-eds, their relentless fundraising appeals, their free floating pseudo-outrage? Who could they possibly huddle with behind closed doors to split the difference on food stamp cuts and other austere measures to make themselves appear halfway human? Without Paul Ryan and his fuzzy math to softly kick around, we might even begin to notice that the Dems are nothing but a bunch of corporate shills instead of the party of the working stiff. Oh, wait -- that would only remind people how shamefully they've ignored the crisis of unemployment and underemployment during the mid-term elections. So-o-o-....