Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year, B.S. Edition

President Obama's weekly internet/radio addresses have been fairly innocuous bits of dullness lately, and not really worth writing about.  For example, on Christmas Eve, he and Michelle admonished us to "Support the Troops" in a typical manipulative plea for patriotism.  How are you going to respond to that? You can't very well say "No! I refuse to support our troops!" because that would be heartless.  So you shut up, because it's the holidays.

But today's edition of presidential propaganda deserves a dissection.  It is chockful of doublespeak, and well... lies. It was titled "Moving America Forward", just like the slogan of that DNC mouthpiece known as MSNBC: "Lean Forward"  So here we go:

Hello, everybody.  As 2011 comes to an end and we look ahead to 2012, I want to wish everyone a happy and healthy New Year.

Okay, thanks, and same to you.

The last year has been a time of great challenge and great progress for our country.  We ended one war and began to wind down another.  We dealt a crippling blow to al-Qaeda and made America more secure.  We stood by our friends and allies around the world through natural disasters and revolutions.  And we began to see signs of economic recovery here at home, even as too many Americans are still struggling to get ahead.

(Um... we ended one war because Iraq kicked us out.  It's the merest beginning of a beginning of the end in Afghanistan. Oh, and Libya was a limited thing and no American boots were scuffed. I ordered at least two assassinations that we bothered to tell you about. I have ordered secret Drone strikes that have unfortunately killed some or a thousand innocent people, but I don't want to talk about that.  In the words of Donald Rumsfeld, whom I have vowed to protect from prosecution for war crimes, "stuff happens".  I also am not going to defend the lie that fighting maybe-terror with some real terror of our own will make America more secure.  "Blowback" is something Chalmers Johnson theorized about -- and by the time the children of my Drone victims grow up and really do attack us, I will be in my undisclosed very secure location someplace.

Standing by our friends and allies.... hmmm...  Well, we tried in vain to keep Mubarek in power but when that didn't work, we sent a diplomatic hack over with a bagful of cash, and finally we paid lip service to Egyptian democracy.  Now, I am more hated in Egypt than George Bush ever was.  They even call me the Black Bush! Those weapons the military are now using to assault and kill Egyptian citizens are American-made.  See, America still makes things like tear gas and pepper spray and assault weapons and fighter jets and we sell them to anybody with the cash.  Look at Bahrain, where the king is killing his own people.  He is our friend and ally, and Saudi Arabia's friend because they buy our crap.  But when they do bad stuff, I make sure that Hillary finds it deplorable!

We began to see signs of economic recovery at home, because we see what we want to see.  Too many Americans are struggling.... I actually spoke truth about that!  But getting ahead is just something I made up.  For the first time since they started keeping track of these things, today's adults do not expect their children to be better off than they were.  Most people are struggling not to "get ahead" but to literally keep body and soul together.  I do not dare mention the "P" word: poverty,  or that fully half of all Americans are either indigent or pretty close to it.

There’s no doubt that 2012 will bring even more change.  And as we head into the New Year, I’m hopeful that we have what it takes to face that change and come out even stronger – to grow our economy, create more jobs, and strengthen the middle class.
I’m hopeful because of what we saw right before Christmas, when Members of Congress came together to prevent a tax hike for 160 million Americans – saving a typical family about $40 in every paycheck.  They also made sure Americans looking for work won’t see their unemployment insurance cut off.  And I expect Congress to finish the job by extending these provisions through the end of 2012.
It was good to see Members of Congress do the right thing for millions of working Americans.  But it was only possible because you added your voices to the debate.  Through email and Twitter and over the phone, you let your representatives know what was at stake.  Your lives.  Your families.  Your well-being.  You had the courage to believe that your voices could make a difference.  And at the end of the day, they made all the difference.

This is quite a stretch, since the median income in the United States has plummeted down to about $25,000  and to get that extra $40 per pay period, you need to earn at least $50,000.  And I am totally making up the part about my two-day social media campaign being what forced the Republicans to cave.  They had to get home to face their constituents and most important, raise campaign cash.  I am of course deliberately failing to mention the courage of the Occupy protesters in forcing me to at least temporarily abstain from my deficit reduction fetish.  I will just pretend that the courage of twittering folks typing out their 100 characters made more difference than the thousands of Occupiers braving cold, rain, privation, and militarized police thugs.  Because otherwise I would be forced to admit they're occupying my Iowa caucus.

 More than anything else, you are the ones who make me hopeful about 2012.  Because we’ve got some difficult debates and some tough fights to come.  As I’ve said before, we are at a make-or-break moment for the middle class.  And in many ways, the actions we take in the months ahead will help determine what kind of country we want to be, and what kind of world we want our children and grandchildren to grow up in. 

What were you looking for, a Fireside Chat or something? This speech was never intended to uplift you, people. This is pure charm offensive persuasion. It is all about me.  You don't face the difficult debates or the tough fights.  Ponder once again this doublespeak of a mushy mess of a sentence:  The actions we take in the months ahead will help determine what kind of country we want to be, and what kind of world we want our children and grandchildren to grow up in. What the hell does that even mean?  Stuff that I do will help figure out what I want, because we don't know what we want?  My policies will determine a vision of some nebulous world for our progeny but not actually change things?  It really is hard to find a fresh translation for that "Win the Future" slogan that went so stale, so fast.

As President, I promise to do everything I can to make America a place where hard work and responsibility are rewarded – one where everyone has a fair shot and everyone does their fair share.  That’s the America I believe in.  That’s the America we’ve always known.  And I’m confident that if we work together, and if you keep reminding folks in Washington what’s at stake, then we will move this country forward and guarantee every American the opportunities they deserve.
Thanks for watching, and from Michelle, Malia, Sasha, Bo and myself, Happy New Year.

Okay, okay.... I found my new slogan!  "Fair Shot, Fair Share".  Notice how I carefully avoid all talk of the haves and the have-nots, because I need the money of the haves of the 1% and the votes of the have-nots of the 99%.  And since I am a conservative at heart, I cannot resist tossing in "hard work and responsibility" as prerequisites for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Like every mendacious politician before me, I will spin a fantasy version of an America that has no basis in reality. I will just appeal once again to the patriotism of the masses and yack about the United States of Disneyland. The "America we have always known" conveniently ignores the genocide of the aboriginal Americans, the good old days of slavery, the horror of man's inhumanity to man in the Civil War, the oppression of the working class and the Haymarket massacre and the abuses of the Robber Barons, the shame of McCarthyism and the unpunished war crimes of the Bush Cabal.  


One of the leading experts on American political propaganda is Noam Chomsky.  Today's speech from Obama is a perfect example of a politician saying something that sounds great, but means absolutely nothing. "Propaganda is to democracy," he wrote in Media Control, "as a bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.":
You want to create a slogan (in this instance "fair shot at a fair share") that nobody's going to be against, and everybody's going to be for. Nobody knows what it means, because it doesn't mean anything. Its crucial value is that it diverts your attention from a question that does mean something....(in this case, unpunished financial crimes that led to national impoverishment as financial chicanery continues unabated). We're all together, empty slogans, let's join in, let's make sure we don't have these bad people around to disrupt our harmony, with their talk about class struggle, rights and that sort of business.
The title of today's Obama speech might as well have been "How to Aspire to the Mythical Middle Class and Learn to Live in the Secure Homeland with a Little Hard Work while Supporting Me." More Chomsky on what our elected officials and the complicit corporate media want from us:
They (the propaganda victims) ought to be sitting alone in front of the TV and having drilled into their heads the message, which says, the only value in life is to have more commodities or live like that rich middle class family you're watching and to have nice values like harmony and Americanism. That's all there is in life. You may think in your own head that there's got to be something more in life than this, but since you're watching the tube alone, you assume, I must be crazy, because that's all that's going on over there.  And since there is no organization permitted -- that's absolutely crucial -- you never have a way of finding out whether you are crazy, and you just assume it, because it's the only natural thing to assume.
Chomsky wrote those words ten years ago.  The only thing that has changed since then is the birth of the Occupy movement.  The theft of an entire economy by a small group of unpunished oligarchs has spawned the massive, spontaneous, leaderless organization that has the power elites shaking in their shoes.  People have finally woken up to their own supreme sanity. So let's make this new year happy for reasons that have nothing to do with them, or their spectator sport presidential horse races.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Obama Doctrine: Killing Beyond the Horizon

The thousands of men, women and children who have been killed and maimed by the secretive and escalating Drone attacks overseas are finally getting some big-time attention from the mainstream press.  The Washington Post ran an excellent and disturbing article on its front page yesterday.  The gist is that lawmakers in Washington kind of know about the program, but are kind of not allowed to talk about it, because it's a big fat secret. Here's the part that sent chills up my spine:
Key members of Obama’s national security team came into office more inclined to endorse drone strikes than were their counterparts under Bush, current and former officials said.Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, former CIA director and current Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, and counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan seemed always ready to step on the accelerator . . . 
The only member of Obama’s team known to have formally raised objections to the expanding drone campaign is Dennis Blair, who served as director of national intelligence.
During a National Security Council meeting in November 2009, Blair sought to override the agenda and force a debate on the use of drones, according to two participants.
Blair has since articulated his concerns publicly, calling for a suspension of unilateral drone strikes in Pakistan, which he argues damage relations with that country and kill mainly mid-level militants. But he now speaks as a private citizen. His opinion contributed to his isolation from Obama’s inner circle, and he was fired last year. (bold mine).
  The New York Times, meanwhile, is hauling the Administration into court for its failure to be transparent about just how, who, what, where and why it kills civilians without so much as a press release, let alone due process.  Glenn Greenwald surmises that Democratic partisans are loath to accuse the nice guy in the White House of rogue terrorism because doing so might give aid and comfort to Mitt Romney. But human rights and civil liberties organizations are ever so politely asking Obama what the deal is with these long-distance murders.

The White House isn't talking, but its close think tank partner -- The Center for American Progress -- is.  In a stunning policy paper quietly published online just before Christmas,analyst Peter Juul writes that the drone attacks are indeed the new Obama Doctrine, the defacto foreign policy of the United States. Terror is being defined as leveraged diplomacy. Killing targets from afar is cheap, it's easy, it's fiscally responsible and it boosts the president's austerity bona fides during this second Great Depression. The public need not worry its pretty little head about what mayhem is being committed in our name.  Writes Juul: 
In 2011 President Obama crafted a new doctrine for the United States’ use of force, but this doctrine is more apparent in his administration’s actions than in his speeches. The new doctrine effectively removes counterinsurgency and nation-building as the main approaches to advancing American national interests and replaces them with partnering with allies and leveraging America’s unique, over-the-horizon military capabilities. This new approach reduces the burdens on the United States in terms of high military casualties and out-of-control military spending while playing to its diplomatic and military strengths.
Regardless of the more controversial aspects of this approach such as drone strikes, President Obama has crafted a more sustainable way for the United States to use its hard power to advance its interests in the world.
The war in Libya was the Obama Doctrine writ on a larger, "over-the-horizon" scale -- Qaddafi was taken out on the cheap, in less than a year! No American lives were lost either.

 It's called diplomacy, American-style. Speak softly and simply allow a grunt in a Nevada trailer to push a button.  Pay no attention to the blowback, the resentment being fomented in Muslim countries for generations to come.  
The overthrow of Qaddafi only cost the United States $1.1 billion, (Juul continues) with no American or NATO lives lost over the course of seven-and-a-half months. This compares with $1.38 trillion spent and 7,632 coalition lives lost in multiyear counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Juul's muted cheerleading propaganda piece fails to mention the thousands of Libyan corpses -- including children -- left behind on the killing ground that no shiny American jackboots ever needed to touch.  He also failed to mention the American journalists killed in the fighting.  The main thing is the glorious fiscal responsibility of War the Obama way.  Nothing to see on TV because as far as you're concerned, the Obama Doctrine does not exist. The Defense Dept and the CIA have been melded into one hypersecretive, coldly efficient hybrid agency. No guts, but plenty of glory for the White House Warrior.

The bellicosity of the mellow guy in the Oval is definitely becoming a political talking point.  In a piece in today's Hill, Obama operatives are gearing up for a campaign in which the president will be sold as the "Warrior of the Middle Class" as well as the warrior who protects us from the ephemeral threats from abroad.

Part of the reason, opines Glenn Greenwald, that the Republican Party is plummeting over the right wing lunatic cliff, is that's hard to fight against a defacto Republican warmonger already esconced in the White House.  In a Guardian op-ed piece, he writes:
A staple of GOP politics has long been to accuse Democratic presidents of coddling America's enemies (both real and imagined), being afraid to use violence, and subordinating US security to international bodies and leftwing conceptions of civil liberties.
But how can a GOP candidate invoke this time-tested caricature when Obama has embraced the vast bulk of George Bush's terrorism policies; waged a war against government whistleblowers as part of a campaign of obsessive secrecy; led efforts to overturn a global ban on cluster bombs; extinguished the lives not only of accused terrorists but of huge numbers of innocent civilians with cluster bombs and drones in Muslim countries; engineered a covert war against Iran; tried to extend the Iraq war; ignored Congress and the constitution to prosecute an unauthorised war in Libya; adopted the defining Bush/Cheney policy of indefinite detention without trial for accused terrorists; and even claimed and exercised the power to assassinate US citizens far from any battlefield and without due process?
Indeed.  Maybe this is what the Obama apologists had in mind when they theorized that he is the genius of all time and is simpling gaming the GOP in a marathon session of 11-dimensional chess.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Bye Bye Big Bird

Mitt Romney came not to kill Big Bird, but to pimp him out. At a campaign stop at Homer's Deli in Iowa today, the GOP android told a crowd of mainly old people that PBS should start running commercials aimed at the pre-school set, who are too lazy to pay taxes.  We just have to stop funding certain programs, he shrilled, even the ones we like. "Stop them! Close them! Turn them off!"

He went through some weird jerky up and down motions to counter his natural stiffness, like a lying Pinocchio trying to convince the audience he is an authentic real live boy. It was the Puppet vs the Muppet!
"You might say, I like the National Endowment for the Arts. I do!  I like PBS. We subsidize PBS. Look, I'm going to stop that. I'm going to say that PBS is going to have to have advertisement. We're not going to kill Big Bird, but Big Bird is going to have advertisements, alright?" 
(But just so you know, he is going kill ObamaCare dead. On Day One!  With no Congressional input and no ads and no borrowing money from China! Watch a blessedly shortened video clip of his hour-long harangue here.  Notice the Deli employees snickering in the background. Notice he lied by omission by not revealing that the federal government funds less than 5% of public broadcasting!)

This idea of defunding Sesame Street, by the way, is as stale and old and Scroogey as the Republicans who first suggested it last century. The Capitol Steps satire group even composed a song about the GOP wanting to privatize PBS, and put it on their "Whole Newt World" album. "This Big Bird can make you rich/In the right market niche" goes one verse to the tune of "Bye Bye Black Bird." The song suggests beer and cigarettes as some lucrative products for Marxist freeloader Big Bird to shill to the two-to-five-year-old demographic. (audio clip here). 

We all know, thanks to the fact that Gail Collins puts it in every one of her New York Times columns, that Mitt Romney is an animal abuser.  He once strapped the family Irish Setter, Seamus, to the top of his station wagon for a vacation to Canada. (Yeah, he was enclosed in a crate with his very own windshield, but the pooch became violently ill en route).  And now, it seems, Mitt doesn't care too much about the psyches of children, either.  According to the American Academy of Pediatrics,
Research has shown that young children—younger than 8 years—are cognitively and psychologically defenseless against advertising. They do not understand the notion of intent to sell and frequently accept advertising claims at face value. In fact, in the late 1970s, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) held hearings, reviewed the existing research, and came to the conclusion that it was unfair and deceptive to advertise to children younger than 6 years.What kept the FTC from banning such ads was that it was thought to be impractical to implement such a ban. However, some Western countries have done exactly that: Sweden and Norway forbid all advertising directed at children younger than 12 years, Greece bans toy advertising until after 10 pm, and Denmark and Belgium severely restrict advertising aimed at children.
You can take the man out of Bain Capital, but you can't take Bain Capital out of the man.

New York Times Hacked?*

I just got an email from the New York Times, telling me they were sorry I had cancelled my subscription.  That is pretty funny, because I don't even have a subscription.  I get my endless 20 free articles a month by simply cleaning out my browser cache every time my quota runs out.  So at first I thought they had outed me as a cookie cleaning kook and were demanding payment.  After all, the Gray Lady is in a big financial hole.  She just sold a bunch of regional papers out from under the poor slobs who worked for them, and froze the pensions of foreign correspondents at the same time the CEO is leaving with a multimillion-dollar buyout.  Reporters and other staffers are apparently getting ready to storm the office of Publisher Pinch Sulzberger. You can read their open letter here.

Well, it seems that The Times email database of commenters and subscribers has been hacked, and that the emails about subscriptions are pure bogus spam. Or maybe even an inside job from a disgruntled past or present Times worker bee. No word yet if the hacktivist group Anonymous is behind the spoof, although this is the week they had vowed to hack websites of various and sundry oligarchs.  Here's the "Times" email:

Dear Home Delivery Subscriber, Our records indicate that you recently requested to cancel your home delivery subscription. Please keep in mind when your delivery service ends, you will no longer have unlimited access to and our NYTimes apps.
We do hope you’ll reconsider.
As a valued Times reader we invite you to continue your current subscription at an exclusive rate of 50% off for 16 weeks. This is a limited-time offer and will no longer be valid once your current subscription ends.*
Continue your subscription and you’ll keep your free, unlimited digital access, a benefit available only for our home delivery subscribers. You’ll receive unlimited access to on any device, full access to our smartphone and iPad® apps, plus you can now share your unlimited access with a family member.†
To continue your subscription call 1-877-698-0025 and mention code 38H9H (Monday–Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. E.D.T.).
Here's more.  The frantic Tweets of panic-stricken Times people are hilarious. And the Times Media Decoder section is running a front-page item online. It's a slow news week matched by a slow response from the newspaper. Here is my favorite reader comment, from Dawn of Princeton:
As a home delivery subscriber who received that e-mail I would like the Times to promptly let me and others know how this happened and most important if our personal information, such as credit card information on file for automated monthly payments, has been compromised. The fact that the Times has responded so slowly to this makes me want to actually cancel my subscription.

* Update, 4:30 pm: The Times now says a disgruntled worker sent out the mass email to 8 million people.  No spam, no hack, no credit card info stolen, no problem.  Martin Weiss of Mexico, MO ain't buying it: 
Keep moving. There's nothing to see here. Fatherland Security was just checking addresses of intellectuals and leftists. (Don't mention the news blackout on Obama signing the NDAA which eliminates the need for jury trials, allows the Army to hold Americans suspected of supporting insurgencies incommunicado indefinitely, and funds internment camps with a capacity of two million.) After all, NY Times staff are above the law and needn't worry about the hoi polloi. Just because the Argentine Junta disappeared over twenty thousand professors, journalists and labor leaders doesn't mean a right-wing fascist coup is in progress here. We don't need the Posse Comitatus or the Bill of Rights anymore, anyway, as government has become an impediment to profits. Are your papers in order?

Bravo, Martin!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Boxing Day Blogging

The USA has finally caught up with the UK and made Boxing Day a legal holiday!  Well, no: since Christmas fell on a Sunday this year, Monday is a day off for most government and higher wage, non-Walmart employees. No mail delivery means no more holiday cards, no packages, no bills. Sob.

Thanks to everyone for your contributions to the Christmas threads. Meanwhile, what other fun holiday stuff did we miss?  Here are a few inspiring yuletide snippets to wreak havoc with your joy bubbles:

It Don't Mean a Thing If You Got Too Much Bling:  Pope Benedict, his snowy pate snuggled inside his jewel-encrusted papal mitre, and his feet toasty warm in their red Prada loafers, announced to the world that there is too much commercialism in Christmas.  Ya think?  I don't know if he actually used the word "bling" in his global address to the globe; the AP translation had it as "glitter."

The King of Bling
I have tried in vain to find a monetary value for the Pope's couture.  When I Googled "Papal Bling" I came up with nada.  Except, of course, from Nextag, which promises to give us the lowest prices on the web for papal finery.  EBay is selling a papal crown replica for a starting bid of just three bucks. 
I did find out that the Catholic Church donated the real deal, the original priceless papal tiara, to the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, where it's on display.  This is the same mega-church where Tiffany Princess Callista Gingrich sings in the choir and where, presumably, the crown jewels of Il Papa are within her view and give her inspiration between shopping trips.  She and Newt. a Catholic convert, are huge fans of the pope, and their production company even made a DVD of the recently beatified John Paul.  Copies of their books are on sale in the Basilica gift shop, along with pope soap on a rope and other trinkets. 

The Papal Tiara

The hat is not for sale, not even to Callista. But here is some glittery glitz that you can buy in the Basilica of Bling Gift Shop.

Jewels for the Ladies

Gold Crucifix Money Clip for the Gents
  Which brings us to....

Yes Virginia, There Is a Virginia:  Santa Claus came early to the Old Dominion, which sensibly dumped both Newt and Rick Perry from its Republican "Super Tuesday" primary ballot, because face it, they just don't have enough fans. The response from Perry, who may have been in a Vicodin haze, was muted. He still respects Virginia, because of its "economic and military strength". But Newt is livid.  He has compared himself to the United States being bombed at Pearl Harbor.  Election rules blindsided him the same way the Japanese blindsided FDR.  Silly old rules, they should not apply to Newt.

Campaign Manager Michael Kroll took to Facebook:
“Newt and I agreed that the analogy is December 1941.We have experienced an unexpected set-back, but we will re-group and re-focus with increased determination, commitment and positive action. Throughout the next months there will be ups and downs; there will be successes and failures; there will be easy victories and difficult days - but in the end we will stand victorious.”
Kroll said he and Newt feel the whole process is just "too cumbersome".  But guess what -- Newt was not bombed.  He did bomb.  And he fell right into the Cumberland Gap. But maybe he will take root in his ditch with the help of his grassroots.  Don't forget that his entire campaign staff dumped him earlier this year when he and Callista dumped them for a Greek vacation.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Feel free to share songs and links and stories.  Cheerfulness not required, humbug welcome.

I want to thank my readers for your kind thoughts and pithy commentary over the past year.  Here's hoping 2012 is good to all of you. 


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve

By Jay - Ottawa

After a big, satisfying dinner exactly 100 years ago the publisher of the New York Times encountered a hungry man in the street. On that occasion the disparity between the two was recognized not just by the poor man but by the rich man as well, and thus was born the Times’ Neediest Fund. For all my irritation with the Times, I salute them for the Neediest Fund and hope that once great paper can bring such needs to the front page for another hundred years.

No philanthropist or charity can possibly meet all the needs of the poor in a nation of our size. However, the government of a big, rich country can come close to that goal -- when it makes the right choices. Today the richest people and their courtiers who run America have no intention of letting the government help its most needy. While neighbors starve in cold alleyways the elites continue to wear a warm smile and spend money, conspicuously, on their pets. (See Reuters photo, previous post.)

For Christians the Christmas story revolves – or should revolve -- around a child born in poor housing to parents barely scraping by. The growing discipleship of Ayn Rand will tell you that Mary and Joseph, like other irresponsible people of today, brought hardship down upon themselves by making poor life choices along the road to Bethlehem and Nazareth and Golgotha.

But why invest in biblical stories of dubious provenance? Moderns should trust in facts that are up-to-date and verifiable. Check reality with measures that stand up to scrutiny. Then chose to respond, somehow. Or not respond.

Thanks to a foreign newspaper I learned that the National Center for Homeless Families (NCHF) just published a report about homeless children in America. Here’s a Twitter-size executive summary: During the course of a calendar year a total of 1.6 million American children experience homelessness. That’s 1 in 45.

The NCHF has an interactive map that allows you to see the homeless child statistics for your state. Just possibly, in light of recent wheeling and dealing in Washington, the numbers will increase dramatically before next Christmas.

The number of homeless kids in my native New York is an embarrassment, despite all the efforts, public and private, to address the needs of poor children. Where does your state stand in the rankings?

There are many reasons to vote for or against certain candidates. I’m not a single-issue voter, but I, like others of you, will hold it hard against certain parties and candidates who have allowed that 1.6 million to suffer in the first place. Just about everything those same powers-that-be do lately tells us that the number of homeless children is sure to increase.

The end-of-year season puts us in mind to ask ourselves and each other, peaceably, how we are to conduct ourselves in the year ahead. By assenting once again to the lesser of two evils will we become increasingly bigger collaborators, despite what we say on the sidelines? To what measurable degree, if any, has the party of lesser evils slowed -- or hastened -- the progress of injustice, compared to the party "In opposition"? Is there a responsible Third Option?

(Ed. Note: In case you missed it, you can watch the excellent 60 Minutes report on homeless children here.)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Don't Spend It All in One Place

The only thing more annoying than media pundits shrilling about Republican intransigence over the payroll tax cut extension is media pundits shrilling about how great this kabuki disaster has been for the president's approval numbers.  It is so easy to round up the usual annoyances right around Christmas time, but this year we have a brand new one:  The White House, that most savvy of social media bastions, has rolled out its own new Twitter propaganda campaign even as it is trying to squelch the tweets of alleged Somali militants.

Since a failure to approve the can-kicking tax holiday will result in an average and immediate $40 deduction from the "typical" ($50,000/year) paycheck, the Obama people are asking "folks" just how they would spend those two missing twenties.  Actually, it is former campaign director turned G.E. millionaire lobbyist turned White House adviser David Plouffe who did the asking. The thing that ticks me off is how they are glossing over the fact that you have to be solidly middle class in the first place in order to "lose" the much-touted $1000 a year.

Thousands of folks have dutifully responded thus far, and the White House has published a few of the stories on its website.  Unfortunately, the stories they have chosen to share are from people who probably don't even come close to earning the $50,000 a year it takes to qualify to lose $40 the first pay period. The stories they have chosen to publish are from people who sound like they could easily qualify for food stamps, Medicaid, and home heating assistance. (They also sound like people who can stretch a dollar to magical proportions: a week of groceries for only $40?) People on the brink of poverty are being fooled into believing Tax Holiday Grinch Theater applies to them.  A few examples the Obama people are using to make their political points:
 After everything that comes out, including my mortgage my take home pay is $150.00 every two weeks. So minus forty would be $110.00. I can barely get by now, that forty bucks is my gas for my car to get to work. Taking forty away from my pay would, just about put me under.

A single mother of two, with no financial support from my children's father, 40 dollars means lunch money for my children at school. It means a tank of gas, and it means covering my weekly visit copays to the doctor.

That is almost 1 weeks of groceries for me or how much it costs to fill my gas tank for 1 1/2 weeks or medical copay at the specialist office. Which one am I to go without? This is going to hurt. Please don't let this happen.

Meanwhile, in what was meant to be a feel-good holiday photo-op, President Obama preemptively blew his own $40 on toys for Bo the Dog in PetSmart yesterday.  What a man of the common people.


Also lost in the gimmickry is the fact that the payroll tax holiday would only be for one more year, and that we will go through this whole fake rigmarole again next Christmas, when the economy will still suck. Does anybody really believe we can make this thing temporary, and that the so-called holiday is not an underhanded plan to turn Social Security into a means-tested welfare program? The Beltway bubbleheads are already fond of calling it an entitlement, rather than an insurance, program -- and pretty soon they will get their wish. Bernie Sanders voted against this "holiday" in the Senate for just that reason. You don't get what you don't pay for. Garbage in, garbage out.

Conventional wisdom, however, is that one more year of tax holiday will do nothing to affect the solvency of the trust fund. And the Bush tax cuts were supposed to pay for themselves too, and they were supposed to expire, and the moon is made of green cheese.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Human Rights Watch Challenges Obama on Drone War

Nobel Peace Prize Winner #1: Mr. President, kindly justify your rationale for using an intelligence agency to wage war instead of the military. Why are you hiding behind the secrecy inherent in the CIA and not providing a full explanation for your targeted Drone strike assassinations in Pakistan and elsewhere? Where's the accountability?  What about international human rights law?  Defend yourself against the accusation that the USA is just another lawless rogue state.

Nobel Peace Prize Winner #2:  Silence.

Okay, so maybe Barack Obama hasn't had time to personally reply to the Dec. 19 letter from the Nobel-winning Human Rights Watch, demanding that he explain the legality of his targeted attack and assassination programs. He didn't reply to a similar letter he received from HRW last year, either. But his minions have repeatedly said such explanations must be kept secret because the CIA is conducting the operations.  And the CIA is a secret agency, you see, now conveniently headed by Iraq/Afghanistan War Gen. David Petraeus, and thus not publicly accountable as is the regular military.

In a statement released yesterday, the same day as the letter, Human Rights Watch said:
In the decade since the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Bush and Obama administrations have engaged in a campaign of “targeted killings” – deliberate, lethal attacks aimed at specific individuals under the color of law. Estimates of the number of deaths of alleged al Qaeda members, other armed group members, and civilians from US targeted killings range from several hundred to more than two thousand.  Most of these attacks are believed to have occurred in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Yemen using unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, armed with missiles and laser-guided bombs.
The lawfulness of a targeted killing hinges in part on the applicable international law, which is determined by the context in which the attack takes place, Human Rights Watch said. The laws of war permit attacks during situations of armed conflict only against valid military targets. Attacks causing disproportionate loss of civilian life or property are prohibited. During law enforcement situations, international human rights law permits the use of lethal force only when absolutely necessary to save human life. Individuals cannot be targeted with lethal force merely because of past unlawful behavior, but only for imminent or other grave threats to life when arrest is not reasonably possible.
Human Rights Watch Director Kenneth Roth, a former U.S. prosecutor, wrote to the president:
The US government should clarify fully and publicly its legal rationale for conducting targeted killings and the legal limits on such strikes. Your administration has yet to explain clearly where it draws the line between lawful and unlawful targeted killings.  The government should also explain why it believes that its attacks are in conformity with international law and make public information, including video footage, on how particular attacks comply with that standard. To ensure compliance with international law, the United States should conduct investigations of targeted killings where there is credible evidence of wrongdoing, provide compensation to all victims of illegal strikes, and discipline or prosecute as appropriate those responsible for conducting or ordering unlawful attacks.
We are particularly concerned about the expanded involvement of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the targeted killings program. International humanitarian law does not prohibit intelligence agencies from participating in combat operations during armed conflicts. However, parties to an armed conflict have obligations to investigate credible allegations of war crimes and provide redress for victims. Because the US government routinely neither confirms nor denies the CIA’s well-known participation in targeted killings in northern Pakistan and elsewhere, there is no transparency in its operations.
Now that Congress has officially declared the entire globe, including the United States, to be an international battlefield in an open-ended war on terror, the lack of transparency about what we are doing, who we are killing, is downright scary.  Concluded Roth :

The CIA, like all US government agencies, is bound by international human rights and humanitarian law.  Unlike the US armed forces, the CIA has provided little or no information regarding the training and composition of its drone teams, or the procedures and rules it follows in conducting targeted killings.  Nor has the government provided information as to whether the CIA has conducted any investigations into possible international law violations and their outcomes.  As a result there is no basis for determining whether the US government is actually meeting its international legal obligations with respect to CIA targeting operations or providing redress for victims of unlawful attacks.  Repeated assertions by senior US officials that all US agencies are operating in compliance with international law – without providing information that would corroborate such claims – is wholly inadequate.
Human Rights Watch might as well be crying in the desert.  The mainstream media and the Democrats have not only given Obama a huge pass on his apparent flouting of international law: they have cheered the assassinations and drone strikes as "foreign policy successes."  Obama himself rankles at criticism that he is soft on terror. “Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22 other out of 30 top al Qaeda leaders who have been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement, or, whoever is left out there," he bragged at a news conference earlier this month.

It takes a tough man to listen to legal advice to tell a drone operator in a Nevada trailer to joystick his way into Pakistan and take out some human flotsam and jetsam in a surgical strike.

Collateral Damage

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Why of Wyden

Ron Wyden, the allegedly progressive Joe Sixpack senator from Oregon, has yet to explain why he has seemingly gone off the deep end to give deep cover to Paul Ryan and his plan to privatize Medicare. Since we have not yet heard a reasonable explanation from Wyden, let me just throw out a few theories.

1. Wyden is a renegade in need of an attention fix.

2. He is being Obama, so Obama doesn't have to be. Max Baucus already got his shot at being the Obama henchman on health care in the Senate. Wyden is simply the latest reincarnation of the failed Catfood Commission, the latest convert to the Cult of Centrism. Wyden is being a Useful Idiot. He's not up for re-election until 2016. He recently married into East Coast money, and doesn't even spend a lot of time in Oregon any more.  

3. Wyden is just another bought politician.  His second largest contributor, after Nike, is FoxKiser, a Washington lobbying firm doing work for the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries.  Blue Cross/Blue Shield has also contributed to his campaign coffers. Wyden may be needing those Nikes to run away from his fellow Democrats, reportedly furious that he has robbed them of a campaign talking point.  Mind you, they are not furious because of the harm he may cause to older people who would be forced to choose between health care and food under his plan. He is just making them look bad in front of their constituents.

4. This is the latest act of Congressional Kabuki Theater, in which the two factions of the Uniparty pretend to battle it out while really working toward the same goal.  We saw it today with the payroll tax stopgap bandaid, in which every working family gets about a hundred whole bucks for groceries, repairs, heat, dinner out, Christmas, rent and college while the wretches pat themselves on the back and go on vacation for a month. Congress and the president dance their political tango, juxtaposing fiery machismo with abject submission, and proclaim it a work of art. We, the mere audience, are exhausted just watching their gyrations. They're counting on us to be grateful when the suspenseful torture ends.

 5. None of them actually gives a shit any more. Their approval level is down to seven percent and will probably be at two by the time they come back next year.  They are no longer even trying to pretend they work for the people who elected them.

Don't Blame Me, Folks -- I'm Only Following Orders

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The United States of Gitmo

In the service of the never-ending and totally contrived War on Terror, the Writ of Habeas Corpus has been officially sacrificed on the altar of the New Security States of America. Congress has finally codified the defacto policy of indefinite detention of suspected terrorists without so much as a show trial.  What Bush the Younger started, Barack Obama has continued. Congress is simply carving it into stone for posterity.... for whatever right-wing presidential nutjobs come along in the not too distant future.

Here's what the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) boils down to: while ostensibly designed to fight Al Qaeda terrorists, it means the government can arrest you, accuse you of being a terrorist, and disappear you forever.  No evidence will be required, and you will not be allowed to plead your case before a judge.  

The initially-threatened presidential veto of NDA had nothing to do with Obama being a champion of civil liberties. He has never been a champion of civil liberties. He simply did not like the original language of the act, which would have stripped down his executive power as judge, jury and executioner.  Senator Carl Levin (who is being blamed by Obamapologists for this debacle) made it clear that the bill was being tweaked at the request of the White House.  Moreover, said Levin, it was Obama who insisted that American citizens not be exempted from the indefinite detainment clause. So according to the New York Times, the White House is now satisfied that the bill
"does not challenge or constrain the president’s ability to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists, and protect the American people, and the president’s senior advisors will not recommend a veto."

Glenn Greenwald has been saying for a long time that Obama, and Bush/Cheney before him, have always had the self-bestowed judicial powers now officially granted to presidents. He was not at all surprised that the president has suddenly dropped his veto threat. From his blog: 
Both groups pointed (ACLU and Human Rights Watch) out that this is the first time indefinite detention has been enshrined in law since the McCarthy era of the 1950s, when — as the ACLU put it — “President Truman had the courage to veto” the Internal Security Act of 1950 on the ground that it “would make a mockery of our Bill of Rights” and then watched Congress override the veto. That Act authorized the imprisonment of Communists and other “subversives” without the necessity of full trials or due process (many of the most egregious provisions of that bill were repealed by the 1971 Non-Detention Act, and are now being rejuvenated by these War on Terror policies of indefinite detention). President Obama, needless to say, is not Harry Truman. He’s not even the Candidate Obama of 2008 who repeatedly insisted that due process and security were not mutually exclusive and who condemned indefinite detention as ”black hole” injustice.
Under the new law, even your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent will be tossed out the window.  Law Professor Patricia J.Williams of Columbia University writes:
During the Congressional debate over the NDAA, proponents like Senators Saxby Chambliss and Lindsey Graham argued that when we capture someone who is deemed an enemy, we must start with the presumption that “the goal is to gather intelligence” and “prosecution is a secondary concern.” In numbingly infantile terms, they declared that “the meanest, nastiest killers in the world” should be questioned for “as long as it takes,” without them “lawyering up.” This need to make “them” talk was cited repeatedly, endlessly, as the main justification for military detention, with references to “surprise” technologies to get prisoners to speak. As though Abu Ghraib had never happened, there was exuberant embrace of methods Senator Graham promised would not be publicized by the Army Field Manual.
Look for the government getting hauled into court once Obama signs this bill into law.  It's not only blatantly unconstitutional, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. It's un-American:

 While the government has the right, under the laws of war, to detain prisoners captured on the battlefield until the end of hostilities, no president should have the power to declare the entire globe a war zone and then seize and detain civilian terrorism suspects anywhere in the world — including within the United States — and to hold them forever without charge or trial. But the Bush and Obama administrations have done just that, defining their powers too broadly, and claiming the authority to pick up and detain without charge or trial prisoners from around the globe who they deem engaged in the "war on terror."

Dec. 15, 2011: Happy 220th Anniversary to the Bill of Rights

Not that he ever heeds petitions from unmonied mortals, but here's where to sign to voice your displeasure to President Obama. I wrote in the little message box that theoretically, once Barack is out of office, the next president -- say, Newt --can declare him an enemy of the state and send him to one of those Halliburton detention camps that are rumored to exist.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Congressional Buzzwords

A revamped version of CapitolWords, a truly ingenious program for finding out what congressperson said what, and how often, has been rolled out by the Sunlight Foundation, a government transparency advocacy group. Says spokesperson Nikki Margolies:
To folks who never had a chance to play with our previous version, Capitol Words scrapes the bulk data of the Congressional Record from the Government Printing Office, does some computer magic to clean-up and organize the data, then presents an easy-to-use front-end website where you can quickly search the favorite keywords of legislators, states or dates.
The new version now allows users to search, index and graph up to five-word phrases that give greater context and meaning to the turns-of-phrase zinging across the aisle. Where we once could only track individual terms like 'health' or 'energy,' now we can break down the issue further into 'health care reform,' 'renewable energy,' 'high energy prices' or however you wish.
I have given CapitalWords a test run, and here are some results. (If you want to find out how many senators have used the "F" word, though, don't bother.  It's the first word I tried and I came up with Zero. But "shit" was uttered about three times more frequently by Democrats than Republicans, with Rep. John Conyers the most frequent practitioner.)

Here's more:

God: invoked much more by Republicans from the states of Texas, California and North Carolina. The winners are Walter Jones of North Carolina, Joe "YOU LIE" Wilson of South Carolina, and Robert (nearer his God than thee now) Byrd of West Virginia.

Satan: again, more popular with Republicans from the states of Texas, Arizona and California. Champion Satan speaker is Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas (I think he's the same shill who apologized to BP for the oil spill)*, then comes former Rep. James Tancredo, right-wing hatemonger of Colorado.  Coming in third, again, is Robert (in a worser place?) Byrd.

The phrase "job creator" was basically flatlining up until 2009, and suddenly took on new life in 2010 when Republicans changed the meaning to "millionaire who should not pay taxes."  This year, it has gone over the top of the chart as probably being the most desperately mouthed catch-phrase in Washington.

Play the game and share your results. It is good clean free fun.

* Thanks to reader Kat for the correction. I got my Texas congressmen mixed up. Gohmert is the one who claimed there was a "terror baby" plot in the works to infiltrate the USA with pregnant Al Qaeda women. The movie title might be "Rosemary's Baby Meets the Boys from Brazil."  This nonsense is probably where he vomited up the Satan. 

Louie "Terror Baby Hunter" Gohmert

Sunday, December 11, 2011

TSA Abuse Whitewashers Sought

Have you been groped, strip-searched, inappropriately fondled, or otherwise abused at the airport by a TSA goon? Senator Chuck Schumer has a solution! In an effort to prevent the victims of state-sanctioned assault from running to the newspapers every time they're forced to remove their clothing to prove that their colostomy bag isn't a bomb, or their breast prosthesis isn't hiding a gram of pot, he is calling for "passenger advocate" TSA employees in every airport.

Their real purpose will be to nip the complaints in the bud, whitewash them, and above all, prevent adverse publicity for the Security State. The new staffers can be at the side of travelers at a moment's notice to assure them that they were not assaulted at all, that they are simply being terrorized to prevent terror, and that the $15-an-hour gropers are trained professionals, after all. 

Rather than have the TSA be put in the embarrassing position of claiming that all the accusers are either psychotic, drunk or pathological liars, the new hires will likely receive a crash course in psychological testing. Hysterical victims will be asked to name the president, what medications they are taking, the year, and to count backward from 100 . Once they flunk their mental competency tests, the TSA propaganda department will be able to give instant analyses and plausible denials about every new allegation the media inquire about.

And, just as soon as the holiday rush is over and the TSA has finished ripping open everybody's Christmas presents in a hunt for weapons and drugs, it will institute a toll-free complaint hotline for manhandled fliers. If you are abused, who you gonna call? Not the police! Not the ACLU! Not the Times! Not CNN!  Call the same people who assaulted you in the first place! The same way the family of any rapist deserves that first courtesy call.

According to Schumer and another New York Democrat, State Senator Michael Gianaris, the proposed in-house airport advocates would be summoned immediately by a passenger feeling he/she had been "inappropriately searched" (as opposed to the vast majority of the ovine public who are just fine with the grope).

When the horrific experiences of three Kennedy Airport passengers were publicized last week, Schumer did what he does best. He inserted his corpus in front of the TV cameras. My first reaction was: "At last! The TSA has gone too far this time and he'll announce an overhaul to the whole sadistic system!"

Well, I was wrong of course. Schumer is the same politician who thinks the NYPD should be searching subway passengers before they're allowed to board trains... in rush hour. As far as the latest TSA outrage is concerned, he had this to say: “While the safety and security of our flights must be a top priority, we need to make sure that flying does not become a fear-inducing, degrading, and potentially humiliating experience."

Schumer and all members of Congress are exempt from the TSA screening, so he has not had the pleasure of degradation and humiliation. The only thing he has to fear is fear itself of losing his own cushy seat. Because we all know that no federal lawmaker, no matter how right-wing lunatic fringe Teapublican, would ever, ever bring a weapon or bomb aboard an airliner.  They take an oath to act in the interests of the American people, you see.

Homeland Security Homeboy.... Chuckie Cheese Schumer

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Us vs the Plutocracy

In case you missed it, here is where to sign Bernie Sanders' petition to support a stronger Constitutional Amendment to overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court decision giving personhood to corporations. The Sanders measure is identical to the proposal filed by Rep.Ted Deutsch (D-FL) last month.

A different proposal introduced by Democratic Senators Tom Udall and Michael Bennett gives the federal government explicit power to regulate election-related spending by candidates, unaffiliated individuals and corporations. According to In These Times, the Sanders-Deutsch measure goes much further, declaring that the Constitution only protects the rights of “natural persons,” and not “private entities established for business purposes"--
That kind of language is likely to be supported by many liberals and the Occupy movement, whose general assemblies often feature signs calling for an end to “corporate personhood.” Yet because Sanders’ proposal could be interpreted to deny all organizations—including not-for-profit advocacy groups, religious establishments and unions—any protection under the First Amendment, or the rest of the Constitution, even in nonelectoral circumstances, it will also probably raise vigorous objections from civil libertarians on the right and the left. The ACLU, for example, officially supported the Citizens United decision because it opposed the original (and much less restrictive) limits on speech in the McCain-Feingold (campaign financing) law.
Here's Bernie on Countdown with Keith Olbermann last night. He admits a constitutional amendment will be a long hard slog, but we have to start someplace.

Also, be sure to read the Gail Collins column in today's Times for a sobering account of just how seditious some of our bought-and-paid-for lawmakers are.  And then read "Pauline NYC's" comment in response. (first in reader recommendations)  With chilling brevity, she warns of the fascist internal coup taking place right before the complicit eyes of the mass media and Democrats.  Her final paragraph: 
"It is time to start calling this out for what it is and to wrench back control of the narrative from the Koch brothers and Faux News. Do the neo-conservative Democrats, led by their placater-in-chief, have the insight to see what is occurring, or the backbone any longer to face it down, or the courage for such a stand?"