Saturday, April 18, 2015

Hollywood's Trans-Obama Partnership

The latest Wikileaks dump of SONY emails reveals that, among many other things, SONY executives are royally freaked out about Wikileaks. The release over a year ago of the top-secret intellectual property clause of the Trans-Pacific Partnership was so upsetting to the studio bigwigs that they demanded -- and got --  a personal meeting between their industry lobbyist (Chris Dodd) and Barack Obama himself. They needn't have worried. Since they'd been dictating terms of the "trade" pact all along, all the president had to do was reassure them, once again, that he'd always have their well-padded backs.

He already announced that a threat to SONY is tantamount to a threat to our national security. What more could they possibly want? (Don't even ask. They live in La La Land.)

As Wikileaks founder Julian Assange notes, the newly released emails are a window into the cozy, corrupt relationship between Hollywood and the Democratic Party. Quid pro quo is broadcast loud and clear throughout the leaked emails, as is a virtual orgy of mutual star-struck masturbation. We see Obama "First Friend" Valerie Jarrett, esconced in the Beverly Hills Four Seasons early in the first term, busily emailing studio honchos and stars with offers of an intimate dinner with the Obamas, at the same time cadging invitations to A-list Hollywood parties for Obama hangers-on.

We see two-tiered pricing arrangements for celebrity photos with Michelle Obama. If a star wants to bring the whole family along for a FLOTUS meet-and-greet, it'll cost them extra. Every TV ratings bonanza following an Obama appearance on late night TV is followed by a flurry of congratulatory emails on the audience share and more demands for cash by the Democratic machine.

Assange writes,
"This archive shows the inner workings of an influential multinational corporation. It is newsworthy and at the centre of a geo-political conflict. It belongs in the public domain. WikiLeaks will ensure it stays there."
Sony is a member of the MPAA and a strong lobbyist on issues around internet policy, piracy, trade agreements and copyright issues. The emails show the back and forth on lobbying and political efforts, not only with the MPAA but with politicians directly. In November 2013 WikiLeaks published a secret draft of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) IP Chapter. The Sony Archives show SPE's internal reactions, including discussing the impact with Michael Froman, the US Trade Representative. It also references the case against Megaupload and the extradition of its founder Kim DotCom from New Zealand as part of SPE's war on piracy.

The connections and alignments between Sony Pictures Entertainment and the US Democratic Party are detailed through the archives, including SPE's CEO Lynton attending dinner with President Obama at Martha's Vineyard and Sony employees being part of fundraising dinners for the Democratic Party. There are emails setting up a collective within the corporation to get around the 5,000 USD limit on corporate campaign donations to give 50,000 USD to get the Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo elected as "Thanks to Governor Cuomo, we have a great production incentive environment in NY and a strong piracy advocate that’s actually done more than talk about our problems."
Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton is on the board of trustees of RAND Corporation, an organisation specialising in research and development for the United States military and intelligence sector. The Sony Archives show the flow of contacts and information between these two major US industries, whether it is RAND wanting to invite George Clooney and Kevin Spacey to events, or Lynton offering contact to Valerie Jarrett (a close advisor to Obama) or RAND desiring a partnership with IMAX for digital archiving. With this close tie to the military-industrial complex it is no surprise that Sony reached out to RAND for advice regarding its North Korea film The Interview. RAND provided an analyst specialised in North Korea and suggested Sony reach out to the State Department and the NSA regarding North Korea's complaints about the upcoming film. The Sony documents also show Sony being in possession of a brochure for an NSA-evaluated online cloud security set-up called INTEGRITY.
Integrity, huh? Nobody ever accused the media-political complex of not having a sense of humor.

Speaking of integrity, there is indeed some occasional verisimilitude of it in No Drama-Obama World. Obama pal Henry Louis Gates (of Harvard BeerGate fame) is seen bravely refusing to cover up Ben Affleck's slave-owning ancestry for a PBS "roots" special which also stars, surprisingly enough, Valerie Jarrett. According to Gates, Affleck's great-great-great grandpappy was one of the "good slaveowners," so therefore the Harvard prof found the attempted censorship weirdly misplaced.

 "And he wasn't even a bad guy," Gates writes of a man who declared ownership of human beings.  "We don't demonize him at all.  Now Anderson Cooper's ancestor was a real s.o.b.; one of his slaves actually murdered him.  Of course, the slave was promptly hanged.  And Anderson didn't miss a beat about that.  Once we open the door to censorship, we lose control of the brand." 

Welcome to the Madison Avenue "branding" of civil rights in the Age of Obama. Things have gotten so post-racial that even slave owners can be rehabilitated as  good guys. And props to multimillionaire Anderson Cooper for being so sanguine with how he came by at least some of his inherited wealth.

And then there's some back-and-forth emailing about which celebs to honor with a fake made-for-the-media/political complex civil rights award named after W.E.B. Dubois. It seems that accused sexual predator and Hollywood mogul/Dem donor Harvey Weinstein was a controversial choice for the honor because of his "personality." When Gates asked SONY/RAND honcho Michael Lynton to personally bestow the award on Weinstein, Lynton retorted, "I would do many things for you, Bro, almost anything, but not that."

So thank god that at least some war-mongering plutocrats still have their limits and the remnants of a moral compass.

Meanwhile, back to the Dubois Awards for the Rich and Famous. Among the other honorees at the ceremony was... surprise... the ubiquitous Valerie Jarrett! Also Maya Angelou, posthumously and pre-stamp scandal. Sidney Poitier apparently didn't even make the cut.

If it's any consolation, the Wikileaks dump also shows that SONY executives get hit with political spam as often as we proles, aka Everyday Americans, do. The aspirational "level playing field" of the rich and the rest of us is real when it comes to an equal opportunity to get splattered with the same foul-smelling bullshit. For example, there was this July 2014 missive slugged "Boehner Should Be Ashamed!" from the DCCC addressed to (now demoted) multimillionaire SONY executive Amy Pascal:
Amy --
It’s been quite the week:
Speaker Boehner announced that Republicans were bringing back the Paul Ryan plan to destroy Medicare. But then you stepped up. In fact, you smashed our February grassroots fundraising record! And earlier this week -- thanks to supporters like you who stood up and spoke out -- Arizona's horrendous "No Gays Allowed" bill was vetoed!
We can’t thank you enough! By the way, want to hear something crazy?

Speaker Boehner hand-picked the man behind Arizona’s “No Gays Allowed” bill to be on his list of premier U.S. House candidates. Seriously. Arizona House Speaker Andy Tobin was one of the architects of the discriminatory bill and led the charge to pass it. And now, Republicans have named him one of their “Young Gun” candidates for Congress.

It's inexcusable. Boehner must denounce Tobin. If he doesn't, he might as well put discrimination into the Republican party platform.

So can we ask one more thing? Help us reach 50,000 strong calling on John Boehner to denounce Andy Tobin and drop him from his list of top House candidates.
Poor Amy Pascal -- just like poor you and me --  was absolutely inundated with midterm election spam. Just like regular folks, Obama counts on her "grassroots support." Of course -- unlike poor you and me -- she has "people" to filter her spam. Here's another one, panic-titled "Boehner Wins Again!"
We don’t mean to nag, but this is urgent:
President Obama is under attack and we are in desperate need of your grassroots support.
As of yesterday’s House GOP hearing, Boehner’s lawsuit against President Obama is going full speed ahead. It’s critical that we respond now with an outpouring of grassroots power. Otherwise, we might as well throw in the towel for the remainder of his presidency.
Look, we are only 4431 away from hitting 200,000 donations since Boehner announced his lawsuit. If we don’t have a massive flood of support today to get us there: BOEHNER WINS.
We have to hit this goal to show Boehner what a horrible mistake he made when he decided to waste YOUR tax payer money on suing the President. Will you chip in $5 or more right now to get us over the top?
Name: Amy Pascal
Suggested Support: $5.00
If you've saved your payment information with ActBlue Express, your donation will go through immediately:
ActBlue is an asshole,asking only $5 from a multimillionaire like Amy Pascal. I suppose her check was triple-matched by a $15 check from Angelina Jolie in exchange for Obama protecting all their pseudo-intellectual privileges into perpetuity and slapping Everyday People with automatic fines every time they illegally type the word "SONY" into their computers.

We also find out more about former Senator Christopher's Dodd's sleazy role in both HOP (the Hollywood-Obama partnership)  and the TPP. Never mind that the flaccid financial reform bill bearing his name potentially stands to get squashed like a bug by TPP's proposed investor state courts. Dodd also reveals that as a member in good standing of the Democratic Party, he is really not that into democracy itself.  And as president of the Motion Picture Association of America, he is also not into the so-called Fair Use doctrine, which allows content to be reproduced on the Internet as long as it isn't reproduced for someone else's profit.

As Tech Dirt lays out, one newly-leaked email by Dodd shows that he was royally upset over a speech given last year by Michael Froman, Obama's chief trade negotiator. Froman had paid some very bland and gratuitory lip service to Fair Use as a sneaky ploy to sell the TPP to a democracy-loving public. Dodd wrote,
As I know you are aware, the inclusion of “fair use” in free trade agreements is extremely controversial and divisive. The creative community has been, and remains, a strong and consistent supporter of free trade, but the potential export of fair use via these agreements raises serious concerns within the community I represent. Over the last 24 hours, I have received calls from my member companies questioning what they perceive as a significant shift in US trade policy and, as a consequence, the value of the TPP to their industry.

It may be that people are reacting to the subsequent press releases by private groups following your remarks. I am certain these concerns have been elevated by indications from the US government that the ISP liability provisions in the TPP are going to be weakened. Nonetheless, this issue is of enough significance that I felt I must reach out to you directly prior to your departure for Singapore to register our deep concerns.
Did you detect the plutocratic threat inherent in that email?  Hollywood movers and shakers are not mollified even when they're reassured that a certain level of bullshit must be first spread in order for democracy to be destroyed under cover of darkness. The export of Fair Use to the international entertainment marketplace might even be serious enough for them to seriously consider withholding their cash from Democratic politicians.

But not that $eriously.

Friday, April 17, 2015

#WealthyLive$Matter (one in a continuing series)

ESPN personality Britt McHenry has taken one for the team, graciously accepting a one-week suspension from her job as sideline eye candy and tweeting out an apology after she got caught in the act of poor-shaming a towing company employee. It seems that Britt, who makes her living playing for the cameras, failed to recognize that she was live on CCTV when she spewed her invective. Actually, she just kind of drawled out her invective in Not-Everyday AmericanSpeak. She sounds like a cross between Thurston Howell III and a character in Heathers:

Not only was she miffed at having to personally appear at a "scumbag" of towing office to bail out her car, she was incensed that the little people had failed to recognize her innate VIP-ness.

Without so much as a script, Britt effortlessly recited the same litany that right-wing taxophobes dish out on the public airwaves and in the halls of Congress every single day. Her big mistake was that she chose to forgo both the dog-whistle subtlety and the invocation of God that normally would have granted her immunity. Some highlights of her strangely flat-affect spiel:
  • "That’s why I have a degree and you don’t.”
  • “That’s all you care about is just taking people’s money. With no education, no skill-set. Just wanted to clarify that.”
  • "I'm on television and you're in a fucking trailer."
  • “Do you feel good about your job? So I could be a college dropout and do the same thing?”
  • “Maybe if I was missing some teeth, they would hire me here, huh?”
  • “Lose some weight, baby girl.”
Granted, nobody likes towing companies, and the outfit that towed Britt's car from a restaurant lot while she ate in the restaurant is notorious for stealing vehicles and then extorting drivers for money. But typical towing victims -- or in HillarySpeak, "Everyday Americans" --  are not rich and famous. When elites'  rides are towed, there are typically "people" to clean up the mess. The Help pays the fines and the restaurant tabs so the bosses can avoid breathing common air and noticing the tip jars. Poor slobs like you or I have to appear in person and part with our last few bucks to bail out ourselves or our rides as we sob and plead for mercy. Our pathetic everyday rants on CCTV don't make international headlines.

Therefore, it's quite a change of pace to see how a rich person berates a towing company --  not mainly for its unfairness and probable criminality, but for the physical appearance and educational bona fides of its staff. Britt McHenry has got the aggrieved, entitled post-preppie agenda down pat. Even in the throes of elite extremis, she thought to mention the debunked "skills gap" theory of why the rich are so rich and the poor are so downtrodden.

Judging from this selfie posted on USA Today's Big Lead site, Britt McHenry and her male bosses at Bloodsport, Inc. think very highly of her own skill-set:

Just wanted to clarify that.

    Thursday, April 16, 2015

    Open Thread

    I haven't had any free time for blogging this week, sorry to say.

    So please continue to use the comments feature to discuss whatever ails, frightens or excites you.... or just leaves you uttering a big fat Meh.

    I'll be back, eventually.

    Sunday, April 12, 2015

    Canned Pathology

    *Updated below.

    With a Congressional vote coming as early as this week to give President Obama fast track authority to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the racketeers of the ruling class are out in full force. They're trying to force a gigantic financial tapeworm down our collective gullet by hiding it in containers of frothy propaganda product.

    The actual taste sensation of financial parasitism depends upon what part of The Castle's right wing kitchen its political chefs work within.

    One popular bipartisan flavor resembles Neapolitan ice cream. But instead of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry, they tempt us with competitiveness, fear, and patriotism. If we don't allow the good rent-seekers over here the chance to destroy democracy, then the bad rent-seekers over there (China, Russia) will beat them to the punch of punching regular people in the face. Wouldn't you rather the predator brand you know than the predator brand you don't know? The Kochs and the Waltons are so much more palatable than Deng Jiagui and Liu Chunhang.

     Allowing billionaires to have their way is the very epitome of National Security, proclaims Defense Secretary Ashton Carter. In one recent typical New York Times article soft-pedaling the TPP proposals, Carter's brand of verbal pathology spreads the creamy message that at the same time they keep you safe by keeping the unwashed migrant children and ISIS out, they must open up our precious borders so that megatons of untaxed capital and weapons and filthy oil may flow with abandon all over the planet.
    If the United States does not go through with the pact, a 12-nation accord that administration officials view as a linchpin for the Obama administration’s strategic pivot to Asia, “we are going to take ourselves out of the game,” Mr. Carter said during a speech at the McCain Institute at Arizona State University.
    “Time is running out,” he said of the accord, which is still under negotiation but nearing completion. “We already see countries in the region trying to carve up these markets.”
    For the Defense Department, it was an odd foray into the world of trade politics, which involve shifting alliances of high tech industries and big businesses in California and the Northeast versus the more traditional skeptics of wide-ranging trade agreements, including some labor unions and manufacturing states. But Mr. Carter appeared to relish it, claiming that “passing TPP is as important to me as another aircraft carrier.”
    As well it should be, given his sweet role in procuring billions of dollars' worth of lethal weaponry during his public service stint at the State Department, seamlessly meshed with his work in the Wall Street sector. According to Wikipedia,
    In addition to his public service, Carter was a Senior Partner at Global Technology Partners, focused on advising investment firms in technology and defense. He has been a consultant to Goldman Sachs and Mitretek Systems on international affairs and technology matters, and speaks frequently to business and policy audiences.
    He was also a member of the Boards of Directors of the MITRE Corporation and Mitretek Systems and the Advisory Boards of MIT Lincoln Laboratory and Draper Laboratory. Carter was also a member of the Aspen Strategy Group, the Council on Foreign Relations, the American Physical Society, the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. Carter was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
    In other words, he is a member in good standing of Ruling Class Racketeers, Inc. The TPP is very important to him. It's personal. Yet the Times proclaims itself amaaaaaazed that the warmongering and financial industries are one and the same pathogenic behemoth, and that Ashton Carter can straddle it so amazingly. You might call him a Renaissance Man of the New Abnormal.

     The faux-liberal caucus of the Democratic Party, meanwhile, is slapping the safe plain vanilla label  "progressive" on a tub of arsenic. For the TPP is, for all intents and purposes, a corporate coup of epic, poisonous, regressive proportions.  Operatives from the White House and its campaign arm, Organizing for Action, are running astroturf propaganda campaigns to sway public opinion. If you love Obama, it just naturally follows that you'll love getting punched in the face by the TPP. Because Obama has the preternatural gift of making assault by a predator feel like a kiss from a suitor with an ice cream cone. Our president promises that the 30 cents-an-hour peasants in Vietnam will now enjoy the same wonderful worker protections as the underpaid no-benefit Uber drivers over here. (Pay no attention to CAFTA and Obama's feigned ignorance of Colombian trade unionists getting assassinated by drug cartels fronting for multinational corporations.)

    Then there are the hardcore Neocons who don't even bother pretending to care about you. They lie with abandon, and then get their lies published in the New York Times in order to fairly balance truth with the obligatory mendacity, and to counter Democratic masochism with Republican sadism. Still, Roger C. Altman, investment banker, and Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, did bury some unintentional truth deep within their Big Lie of an op-ed last week: (parentheses are mine)
    Free trade leads to greater overall prosperity. (for the top .01%) The gains from free trade need to be widely shared (among the 80 billionaires owning half the world's wealth), but defeating the TPP would not solve America’s problems with inequality. (because there are so many other many ways of forcing our plutocratic tapeworm down your throats) Instead, it would further rattle our allies. (because we're snakes)  “Further” is the key word here, as there already are rising doubts about American reliability — the result of the debt-ceiling crises, government shutdowns, the failure to follow through on threats in Syria and, most recently, the letter addressed to Iran from 47 senators. If the TPP fails, countries that, rightly or wrongly, see Washington as ineffective will pay America less heed.
    Translation: if the obscenely rich ruling class doesn't get its way on the TPP, then the facade of American exceptionalism will crumble and the coddled rich assholes will be seen as wimps by the rest of the global oligarchic clique. 

    The Status Quo losing status? Bring it on.

    If today's latest #WealthyLivesMatter manifesto in the New York Times is any indication,  the malefactors of great wealth are getting a little desperate, if not delusional. Conservative pundit Arthur C. Brooks informs us that pop culture icon Andy Warhol would have absolutely looooooooved the TPP. Sounding more like an off-key crooner of the old I'd Like to Give the World a Coke (Koch) commercial than an editorialist, Brooks strove to make the impending corporate coup sound like an artsy-fartsy religious experience.  Only instead of Coke cans, Brooks conjured up those iconic Campbells Soup cans.

    The TPP might seem arcane and boring to the untutored masses, but it is truly a work of art, just like Warhol's cans. If only we stupid people could see the same Buddha-like beauty in global trade that Brooks and his smart friends do. If it weren't for free trade, after all, Chinese peasants couldn't have been lifted from rural starvation on failing farms up into their new lives at polluted big-city FoxConn electronics suicide factories. Less-bad poverty is better than abject poverty, dontcha know. Especially when American plutocrats consumers can benefit. Writes Brooks,
     Interestingly, Warhol himself once remarked on the democratizing effect of global commerce with his characteristic ironic edge. “The President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too,” Warhol said. Fortunately, President Obama appreciates the benefits of trade and is currently fighting for the latest international trade pact, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (T.P.P.). It would knock down barriers between North American, South American and East Asian nations, benefiting rich and poor people and countries alike. Admirably, the president is standing up to critics in his own party (as well as some in the opposition) who oppose the deal. With luck, T.P.P. will make its way through the House and Senate this spring or summer, and receive the president’s signature.
    My published response:
     Why are the TPP's contents being kept secret from the public? Why can't members of Congress take notes, or bring their staffs along during their rare piecemeal glimpses of it under the watchful eye of the security state?

    Why does the newly-leaked clause calling for the replacement of sovereign courts with investor state tribunals come with the caveat that this de facto overthrow of democracy may not be revealed to the public for at least four years after the treaty is ratified?

    Because if the public knew about it, the president would never be granted fast track authority to seal a deal which, for all intents and purposes, is the death knell of what little still remains of both the American and global working and middle classes. The vote that would give him this right is coming this week.
    Contrary to what Arthur Brooks claims, "trade" deals have increased inequality, destroyed jobs, communities and ecosystems, depressed wages, and have actually worsened the US trade deficit. Public Citizen has more of the grisly details. They will hopefully inspire you to urge your congress critter to Just Say No to fast track authority for the president.
    The only people appreciating the "beauty" of the TPP are the very billionaires who stand to benefit from it most egregiously.

    What Brooks is selling as a plutocratic moment of Zen is as dented in its logic as a botulism-infested can of Coup Soup.
    Besides calling your congressional reps, you also might want to consider joining a conference call on anti-TPP strategy this Wednesday evening with Senator Bernie Sanders. Details are here. As Bernie wrote in his email, the mainstream media has done an absolutely crappy, abysmal job of bringing this story to public attention. Just witness the trio of propaganda pieces linked above in the Paper of Record. Just witness the way the editors quickly buried even these stories when readers had the audacity to express their shock and dismay at the onslaught of mendacity.

    Thanks but no thanks to both their warmed-over, tainted down-home soup and their parasite-laced frozen fake dairy product. 

    *Update 4/14. To its credit, the Times today published a guest op-ed by Margot Kaminski of Yale Law School's Information Society Project, decrying the  secrecy of the TPP negotiations. We'll see how long they let her piece reside on the prominent top right corner of the homepage.

    It seems that of all the partner countries negotiating the TPP and its European counterpart, the TTIP, only the United States is insisting on secrecy of paranoid proportions. And the Obama administration describes itself as the Most Transparent Administration Evah? As Kaminski writes:
     Secrecy also delegitimizes trade agreements: The process has been internationally criticized as undemocratic. The European Parliament, for example, rejected the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement in large part over legitimacy concerns. In some of our trading partner countries, citizens have objected to trade agreements by calling them undemocratic. And they rightly fear that the American commitment to these agreements is weak because the United States public might rebel once the texts are released.

    Congress is soon likely to consider whether to authorize an up-or-down vote on a trade deal, with what’s known as “fast track” legislation. Free trade now involves dozens of areas with complex subject matter, and the agency responsible for negotiating it often fails to tap key expertise. The discussion over the trade negotiating authority is not a question of which is better: the executive branch or the legislative branch. It’s a question of whose input we’re getting on decisions that reach far beyond trade — into questions on the price of generic drugs or whether websites will have to monitor users online.
    As it considers fast track here, Congress must address the secrecy, and the views of the privileged advisers, that shaped the agreement. Otherwise, “fast” will be little more than a euphemism for “avoid the public, and benefit the fortunate few.”
    To give you a clue about how successfully the government has been keeping the TPP contents a big fat secret from the public, there were only 14 reader comments on Kaminski's piece published as of 9 a.m. today. (Maybe there are hundreds more awaiting moderation. Let's hope.) Here is mine, to which I appended a link to my recent post about the White House propaganda campaign:
    The only aspect of the TPP more disgusting than its secrecy and the democracy-destroying contents is the propaganda campaign to sell it to the public. The White House strategy is to put the magical "progressive" label on it. It has even set up an astroturf group called "270 Solutions" to spread the message that supporting this corporate coup of a deal would be a way for Obama's fans to show their loyalty and appreciation.

    The shameless usage of the cult of personality is another clue that we no longer live in a functioning democracy.

    In a conference call a couple of weeks ago with members of the Obama campaign arm, Organizing for Action, White House communications staffer David Simas had the gall to tell the president's supporters that the TPP is really nothing but a renegotiation of NAFTA. He instructed the troops to go out there and spread the message that if you were against that job-destroying travesty, then you're going to absolutely love the TPP! Also, he advised, spread the fear and the patriotism. Our plutocrats are more palatable than Chinese plutocrats. If not "us", then who? The propaganda is all about Obama's "legacy" and America's superior standing in the world. It actually borders on the xenophobic.

     This mental manipulation and the ginning up of xenophobia by the ruling class at the expense of the working class is also a hallmark of a society degrading into fascism and feudalism.

    Thursday, April 9, 2015

    Midnight in the Garden of Fleecery and Evil

     ** Updated Below.

    The Ready for Hillary SuperPac is holding a humungous going out of business sale in anticipation of Hillary herself formally announcing her candidacy as early as this week. You can get your Hillary fleece jacket, your Hillary fleece scarf, your Hillary fleece hat, your Hillary fleece headband. Each and every item of apparel is guaranteed Made In USA and bears the exclusive "Formidable" label, just in case you thought you were getting something cheap made in a Bangladesh Walmart sweatshop.

    And just in case you were worried about the jobs of the Hillary retailers, don't be. They will be painlessly subsumed into the official campaign itself, simply moving their store to a new, shinier location. Only the logos will be changed. There will always be fleece.

    The fleecing of America has been going very strong for a long while now, regardless of the political party or the president. We are just getting the shocking word that New York City municipal workers have been getting royally fleeced  by Wall Street! An analysis by the city comptroller reveals that over the past 10 years alone, at least $2 billion in "fees" have been paid to wealthy money managers by teachers, sanitation workers, cops, firefighters and other workers who thought they'd been saving for their retirements and earning interest on their payroll deductions.

    As New York Times reporter Patrick McGeehan puts it in his lede (h/t Robert S.), "The Lenape tribe got a better deal on the sale of Manhattan island than New York City’s pension funds have been getting from Wall Street."
    “When you do the math on what we pay Wall Street to actively manage our funds, it’s shocking to realize that fees have not only wiped out any benefit to the funds, but have in fact cost taxpayers billions of dollars in lost returns,” Mr. (City Comptroller Scott) Stringer said.
    Why the trustees of the funds — Mr. Stringer included — would not have performed those calculations in the past is not clear.
    Mr. Stringer, who was a trustee of one of the funds when he was Manhattan borough president before being elected comptroller, said the returns on investments in publicly traded assets, mostly stocks and bonds, have traditionally been reported without taking fees into account. The fees have been disclosed only in footnotes to the funds’ quarterly statements, he said.
    The stakes in this arena are huge. The city’s pension system is the fourth largest in the country, with total assets of nearly $160 billion. It holds retirement funds for about 715,000 city employees, including teachers, police officers and firefighters.
    Most of the funds’ money — more than 80 percent — is invested in plain vanilla assets like domestic and foreign stocks and bonds. The managers of those “public asset classes” are usually paid based on the amount of money they manage, not the returns they achieve.
    Except that somebody changed the rules without telling the workers. Now, all Wall Street has to do is merely touch other people's money before turning it into gold... for themselves.  And it sure smells like Stringer is doing some ass-covering here himself. He knew what he knew when he knew it, and maybe figured it was better to expose himself rather than have some reporter or watchdog group do it for him.

    This scandal will not stop Wall Street from its continual fleecing of the workers of America, however. If you thought that self-interested plutocrats had given up on the idea of cutting Social Security to augment their robbing of public pension funds, think again. They have a wealth of think tank surrogates to do the dirty for them. Just because their latest tactic of scapegoating Elizabeth Warren as an anti-capitalist witch is already getting stale doesn't mean they're actually going to stop. They won't stop until they succeed in burning every retiree and disabled person, every widow and orphan and low wage worker at the stake and then sweeping up their ashes as a commodity ripe for investment and future profit.

    Reactionary pundit Ramesh Ponnuru did the honors in this week's Bloomberg View while his godzillionaire boss was getting knighted, blessing the Bush-Clinton dynasty, munching canapes with Joe Biden, not-running for mayor of London, and building a new bronze palace over the ruins of a Roman temple.

     Ponnuru's logic is nothing if not ponerological*:
    Social Security is becoming a worse deal for each generation. Those now joining the workforce are expected to pay more into the system than they get out of it. Warren's plan is to shower more money on the current generation of retirees, but without increasing the deficit over the next 10 years. That means, in all likelihood, raising taxes on current workers while also increasing the program's long-run fiscal deficit.
    The strongest argument in favor of expanding benefits is that Social Security should keep all senior citizens out of poverty, and doesn't. That fact, though, is really a remarkable indictment of the way the program is currently structured. As my American Enterprise Institute colleague Andrew Biggs has pointed out, the program substantially reduces work, saving and even birth rates without accomplishing this key social goal.
    Translation: give Wall Street your tired, your poor and whatever pennies remain. Tax not what your wealthy elites hoard for themselves, but what you can bestow on the wealthy elites. And by the way, the only surefire way to keep people out of poverty is to get rid of poor people altogether. It's 21st Century Eugenics 101.

    It's the same fleecing song that reactionaries have been singing since time immemorial. Karl Marx wrote about the selfishness of the elites in the mid-19th century in one of his New York Tribune newspaper columns, slugged Pauperism and Free Trade: The Approaching Commercial Crisis.

    Karl knew that the term "free trade" was a neoliberal buzzword for enforced immiseration of the masses. How he  would have loved skewering NAFTA and the TPP. Back then, the elites were celebrating the Irish potato famine and "transportation" of the marginalized to the penal colony of Australia as the greatest cures for poverty the world had ever seen. Disasters culled the welfare rolls magnificently. "Never let a crisis go to waste" was not a slogan invented by right wing Democrat Rahm Emanuel, who recently bought himself a second term as herd-culler extraordinaire.

    As a matter of fact, I'm going to play a little game and tweak some of the names and places in Marx's op-ed:
    In a (mansion) malt-house in (Chicago) Banbury, Mr. (Emanuel) Henley, (mayor of Chicago and NAFTA architect) President of the Board of Trade, lately explained to his assembled (godzillionaire donors) farming friends that Pauperism had decreased but by circumstances which had nothing to do with (his own policies) free trade; and above all, by the (irresponsible mortgagors, poorly performing schools)  famine of Ireland, the discovery of gold abroad, the exodus of Ireland, the great demand consequent thereon for (Wall Street/ free market solutions) British shipping, &c., &c. We must confess that  (globalization and privatization) "the famine" is quite as radical a remedy against Pauperism as arsenic is against rats. "At least," observes (corporate media pundits) The London Economist, "the (hippies) Tories must admit the existing prosperity and its natural result, the emptied workhouses."
    By the way, Marx's gig at the Trib didn't last too long. When he complained about not getting paid enough or on time, they told him not to bother sending them any more articles. Plus ca change, etc. Even socialists and hippies have to eat, which in Neoliberal World makes them greedy little bastards who need to donate more skin to the game.

    * Political Ponerology: a term coined by Polish psychologist Andrew Lobaczewski to scientifically explain how evil can take over entire countries and political systems. His book by the same name, recommended by contributor Denis Neville, is well worth delving into, despite it not being an "easy read." The gist is that all it takes are a few psychopaths to infect a society and its government. A preview is available here.

    ** Update, 4/10. You heard it here last. Hillary Clinton is making the Big Announcement Sunday on Facebook. For somebody who claims to want to run a down-to-earth campaign, though, she sure is picking a funny way to show it. Because as her candidacy is revealed in cyberspace, she will actually be way up there in outer space, soaring high above it (and us) all on her way to Iowa for chit-chats with the carefully vetted just plain folks. The courtier press will find their instructions swearing them to secrecy and script-adherence under every kitchen chair. In exchange, they will be granted occasional access to a high level staffer for those all important news-crumbs.

    Meanwhile, we get a preview of the preview, in which Hillary plays doting Granny harboring a tender desire for a whole nation full of entitled little Charlottes. This was juxtaposed with Elizabeth Warren kvetching hilariously last night about tender little fannies. No connection at all, I am sure.

    Here is my New York Times comment on this subject:

    “'I’m more convinced than ever that our future in the 21st century depends on our ability to ensure that a child born in the hills of Appalachia or the Mississippi Delta or the Rio Grande Valley grows up with the same shot at success that Charlotte will,” Mrs. Clinton wrote, referring to her new granddaughter."

    Let's be clear. Charlotte has an absolute guarantee of success, not a mere shot at it. "Shots" are for the little people and their bootstraps, as are those reassuring dog whistles to Wall Street known as Ladders of Opportunity and Level Playing Fields.

    It's not careerist success or the desire to be as rich as a Clinton that we're after, Hillary. It's sheer survival in a world gone mad with hyperactive capitalistic greed.

    If these are the kind of bromides that Mrs. Clinton will present in lieu of actual policies -- like taxing the rich, coming out against the corporate coup known as the TPP, expanding Social Security, reining in and prosecuting Wall Street criminals, leading the fight to overturn Citizens United -- then she is going to need every penny of that two billion dollar donation stash to buy her way into the White House.

    We no longer have a functioning democracy. So thank goodness that Elizabeth Warren is out there, putting the pressure on and speaking truth to power.

     She's giving voice to the real theme of Dynastic Horse-race 2016: "It's the Corruption, Stupid."

    Wednesday, April 8, 2015

    Shit Happens

    A letter doesn't get mailed because it has a stamp on it. A letter gets mailed because you wrote it. Or maybe somebody else wrote it and you accidentally on purpose signed your name to it. And since millions of postage stamps, especially the forever ones, don't get recalled or retracted just because of a little plagiarism issue, let's just call it a day and put a stamp on it. Let's not relitigate the past. We must look forward, not backward.  We must progress to the next chapter of our long national nightmare narrative. As we have recently learned so sadly and so painfully, a Rolling Stone gathers no moss.

    The phrase on the stamp honoring the late Maya Angelou was actually written by Joan Walsh Anglund and originally appeared in her poetry collection called "A Cup of Sun." The quote has been wrongly attributed to Angelou for many years, not least because she often quoted it herself without attribution, and thus was the plagiarism perpetuated, even recently by the great man himself. Barack Obama requoted the quote during a 2013 award ceremony for Angelou, who is said to have stood mutely by without bothering to correct either the record or the president. I know not why the caged tongue. I can only assume that she didn't want to embarrass the president, whom she had endorsed for reelection. However, as Angelou herself wrote, "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you."

    The Postal Service is not going postal over the malattribution, so why should you? Spokesman Mark Saunders shrugged it off, telling the Washington Post that attribution doesn't  matter if it's been part of the False Narrative since forever. Why else would they call it a forever stamp?
    “Had we known about this issue beforehand, we would have used one of [Angelous's-sic] many other works,” USPS spokesman Mark Saunders said in an e-mail on Monday. “The sentence held great meaning for her and she is publicly identified with its popularity.”
    “The Postal Service puts a great deal of time and energy into vetting the stamps it releases each year,” Saunders added in a follow-up email. “This stamp was similarly vetted. We found that the phrase was widely attributed to Angelou in many mediums and by some dignitaries and we were not aware of Ms. Anglund’s 1967 book.”
    Even the official unveiling of the Stamp was fraught. Just as Oprah Winfrey got up to speak at the event, the lights went out. Because electricity doesn't happen because Oprah wrote a speech. It happens because the infrastructure is properly maintained and chunks of metal don't fall onto power lines for no apparent reason.

    Maybe the Postal Service can make good on its error by issuing a forever stamp for Joan Walsh Anglund. One of her iconic children's illustrations can be matched with an original saying by Maya Angelou. 

    'Life's a bitch. You've got to go out and kick ass'

    Tuesday, April 7, 2015

    Like a Teflon Rolling Stone

    Nobody who perpetrated the fraudulent and now-retracted Rolling Stone article about a University of Virginia gang-rape is getting fired. When propaganda in the interest of the ruling class replaces muckraking journalism in the public interest,  the facts become secondary. Stephen Colbert even coined a new word -- "truthiness" -- to describe the phenomenon of using story-telling to advance a particular agenda.

    And that is just what the story of "Jackie" did. It jibed perfectly with the Democratic Party campaign strategy of fetishizing rape on college campuses, framing a felonious crime and its prevention into an identity-politics female empowerment movement. It deflected our attention from the inconvenient truth that the party of the New Deal and the Great Society has become the party of Wall Street and Permawar.

    At the exact same time (last summer and fall) that Rolling Stone contributing editor Sabrina Rubin Erdely began issuing what amounted to a casting call for the ideal college rape victim to star in her blockbuster article, the White House was rolling out an anti-rape branding campaign called "It's On Us." The Democrats desperately needed a narrative to differentiate themselves from the Republicans for the upcoming midterms. They desperately needed a new wedge issue variant to counter the GOP's "war on women." The perceived epidemic of sexual assaults on college campuses fit the bill perfectly. Rather than talking about the rape of a nation by a gang of unprosecuted financial predators of Wall Street, we could talk about the rapes of young women by their unprosecuted predatory male peers on elite college campuses.

    Mass post-meltdown public angst and outrage could be safely channeled by liberal leaders of the media-political complex. Nobody is a fan of rape, after all. We all have daughters, granddaughters, sisters and nieces. We can all relate.

    Rolling Stone, an establishment magazine of "popular culture," knew a trending topic when it saw one. Sabrina Rubin Erdely found the ideal victim, and went on a sensationalistic rampage. Since the magazine was on a mission -- the cultural  equivalent of William Randolph Hearst's fraudulent but splendid little warmongering, sparked by the explosion of The Maine -- no corroborating evidence, witnesses or basic fact-checking were required. "Jackie" was the co-invention of both Jackie and Sabrina. Facts would only have gotten in the way of the yellow journalism. It is a conspiracy by any other name.

    Columbia University, in its "scathing" report of the fraud, called it a failure of journalism. It should be called a botched, failed, criminally dishonest marketing campaign. The magazine officials themselves are in "mistakes were made" mode. Nobody is admitting to perpetrating a fraud. Nobody will lose his or her job over the unfortunate little episode. The worst tragedy that could come out of the whole thing is if we stopped believing that campus rape is a real problem, if we automatically assume that every rape victim is lying. And that is why Rolling Stone "reached out" to a panel of independent investigators in order to discover "where they went wrong."

    Editor Will Dana practically brays out the noblesse oblige as he humblebrags about his own innate decency:
    This report was painful reading, to me personally and to all of us at Rolling Stone. It is also, in its own way, a fascinating document ­— a piece of journalism, as Coll describes it, about a failure of journalism. With its publication, we are officially retracting 'A Rape on Campus.' We are also committing ourselves to a series of recommendations about journalistic practices that are spelled out in the report. We would like to apologize to our readers and to all of those who were damaged by our story and the ensuing fallout, including members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and UVA administrators and students. Sexual assault is a serious problem on college campuses, and it is important that rape victims feel comfortable stepping forward. It saddens us to think that their willingness to do so might be diminished by our failings. 
    Painful and sad.... but oh so fascinating, too!  From now on, they will police themselves, just like a Wall Street bank. We apologize if you were offended. Your comfort is our deepest concern. If you are now afraid to report your rape, that makes us sad. But not sad enough to fire ourselves. Because even though the story was retracted, it got an amazing number of clicks when it was published. It attracted more than 2.7 million views, the most ever for an article "not about a celebrity."

    To its credit, the Columbia investigating team didn't buy Rolling Stone's self-protective altruism as an excuse. From the report:
    Yet the explanation that Rolling Stone failed because it deferred to a victim cannot adequately account for what went wrong. Erdely's reporting records and interviews with participants make clear that the magazine did not pursue important reporting paths even when Jackie had made no request that they refrain. The editors made judgments about attribution, fact-checking and verification that greatly increased their risks of error but had little or nothing to do with protecting Jackie's position.
    It would be unfortunate if Rolling Stone's failure were to deter journalists from taking on high-risk investigations of rape in which powerful individuals or institutions may wish to avoid scrutiny but where the facts may be underdeveloped. There is clearly a need for a more considered understanding and debate among journalists and others about the best practices for reporting on rape survivors, as well as on sexual assault allegations that have not been adjudicated. This report will suggest ways forward. It will also seek to clarify, however, why Rolling Stone's failure with "A Rape on Campus" need not have happened, even accounting for the magazine's sensitivity to Jackie's position. That is mainly a story about reporting and editing.
    By the time Rolling Stone's editors assigned an article on campus sexual assault to Erdely in the spring of 2014, high-profile rape cases at Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Vanderbilt and Florida State had been in the headlines for months. The Office of Civil Rights at the federal Department of Education was leaning on colleges to reassess and improve their policies. Across the country, college administrators had to adjust to stricter federal oversight as well as to a new generation of student activists, including women who declared openly that they had been raped at school and had not received justice.
    There were numerous reports of campus assault that had been mishandled by universities. At Columbia, an aggrieved student dragged a mattress around campus to call attention to her account of assault and injustice. The facts in these cases were sometimes disputed, but they had generated a wave of campus activism. "My original idea," Dana said, was "to look at one of these cases and have the story be more about the process of what happens when an assault is reported and the sort of issues it brings up."
    Jackie's story seemed a powerful candidate for such a narrative.
    Erdely, ironically enough, boasts on her own website that she specializes in writing about fakes and frauds and weirdos:  "She has written about con artists, murder investigations, vicious divorces, power brokers, lovable eccentrics, bioweapons, cults, sexual violence, medical ethics, hackers, LGBT issues, and teachers who have affairs with students—among other subjects."

    She is a graduate of the Hearst School of Yellow Journalism. No, she isn't. I just made that up. She truthily dropped out of the Hearst School of Yellow Journalism before ever getting her degree. I didn't need a fact-checker for that fact, because there is, in fact, no such school. But it enhances my narrative.

    The celebrity mattress-toting student was, in actual documented fact, a special guest at the narrative that was President Obama's State of the Union Address. (I am not making that up.) During February's televised Grammy Awards show, Obama himself in fact made a special cameo appearance to announce that "Rape is Not O.K." (although permawar and drone assassinations and financial crimes and deep-sea drilling and job-destroying secret corporate trade deals are still good to go.)

    The Obama White House's campus rape fetish of a marketing campaign went into full swing last September, relying heavily on the same click-baiting culture of celebrity that Rolling Stone does.

    Wired --another edgy culture-tech magazine -- called it "a smart branding campaign against sexual assault." (even though Obama's claim that one out of every five college women is sexually assaulted turned out to be wildly non-factual.)

    The pre-midterm elections stunt was pure Madison Avenue, a direct creation of an advertising agency. It used celebrities (including, ironically, Jon Hamm, who plays an alcohol-soaked sexual predator on Mad Men)  and a slogan -- "It's On Us" -- to deliver the heretofore unknown message that sex crimes are not cool. The subliminal message? Vote Democrat. GOP fetus-detecting vaginal wands, rapists' penises, they're all the same in the grand electoral scheme of things. From the Wired article:
     After the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault compiled a report on sexual assault in April, the White House and Generation Progress (an arm of the nonprofit Center for American Progress) decided to launch a campaign promoting “bystander intervention.”
    This is a new tack for these kinds of public service announcements: Rather than telling men ‘no means no,’ and instead of imploring women to report attacks when they happen, a bystander campaign calls on everyone to keep their eyes peeled and to create a culture that won’t tolerate sexual misconduct.
    From there, Mekanism (the ad agency) essentially had free rein to whittle down the message. They pitched five ideas, almost went with “Get in the way,” and then settled on “It’s on us.” “The way most sexual assault messaging in the past has been, there’s a perpetrator and the victim and those are the two parties involved,” says David Horowitz, Mekanism’s creative director.
    It's only a cynical hop skip and jump to the Tee shirts and testimonials and corporate sponsorships and interactive video games. You can even log on to take the It’s On Us pledge, and the website will generate a profile with your mug shot framed in the shape of the logo. (with the ultimate destination being the NSA Utah storage facility? It's an Obama two-fer!)

     You can then scroll through a rainbow land of Tips Against Rape, and educate yourself about "The Cause." In It's On Us World, all the men become predators, all the women are urged to become cartoonified Joans of Arc. No Means No! If you see something, say something.

    The Rolling Stone rape story has been lambasted as a travesty of journalism. But it's not journalism. It's political marketing. It never would have been made possible without a tacit grant from the big money-driven media-political complex. The article is not part of any problem. It's simply a part of the neoliberal solution: keeping the masses alternately ignorant, sedated, entertained, and terrorized.

    That is a fact.