Monday, June 27, 2011

In Case You Missed It....

The only Democratic senator still left standing took to the floor again today as the lone voice of sanity in DC.  His entire speech can be read here.

Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont

Tepid Immigration Policy Comes to a Boil

Stung by three states pulling out of its Secure Communities dragnet of a program to catch illegal immigrants and deport them, along with increasing political pressure from immigration reform activists and the Hispanic Congressional Caucus, the Obama Administration is now urging "prosecutorial discretion" in kicking undocumented people out of the country.

As is the case with so many of this administration's policies, this latest "compromise" in immigration enforcement is pleasing nobody.  Immigration agents are up in arms about a new directive sent out last week by IME chief John Morton, instructing them how to pick and choose who to arrest and deport, and who to let slide.  Their union claims they are being put in the untenable position of  breaking the law by arresting and charging some people but letting others go.  A unanimous no-confidence vote against Morton has been taken over the new guidelines.

And then Republican Senate Judiciary Chairman Lamar Alexander reacted  by announcing legislation to prevent the president from ever granting amnesty by executive order to DREAM Act candidates.  This is the same guy who was all for a humane path to citizenship last century when John McCain was for it too. 

Obama could sign that executive order today to give immediate protection to thousands of undocumented people who can demonstrate they have lived, worked or studied in the United States since childhood.  He has thus far refused to do so, again preferring that the problem be solved legislatively. (and now, through an under-the-radar internal IME memo). Not a chance of that happening congressionally, and he knows it. Now, if Alexander has his way and his preventive amnesty-freezing bill goes through, that decision will be conveniently wrested from the president's hands.  Another case of "I really wanted to, but the Republicans wouldn't let me."

Instead the IME guy is being thrown under the bus by both his boss and his employees, and the DREAM act candidates continue living their nightmare in legal limbo, counting on IME agents to become selectively humane if they feel like it on any given day.  More stasis we can all believe in.

The immigration debate took on new poignant meaning last week with the publication in The New York Times of two stories.  One was a first-person account by a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who has just "come out of the closet" about his illegal status, explaining he just can't stand the deception any more. His own newspaper, The Washington Post, had refused to publish it, probably out of consideration of its own legal position.  Another NYT article chronicled the arrest and imprisonment of an "illegal alien" who also happens to be a decorated Iraq War veteran.  His crime?  Failing to tell the military that a long time ago he applied for a passport but never completed the process.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) is holding a  hearing on the DREAM Act tomorrow, with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Education Secretary Arne Duncan expected to testify.  Can't wait to watch the uncomfortable wriggling by the Democrats and  hear the self-righteous xenophobic ranting of the Republicans in the next episode of Cancel Each Other Out Theater.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Doing the Right Thing

New York is still relatively liberal enough so that even some of its Republican politicians maintain a sense of human decency despite our well-earned reputation for graft and corruption.  Some people were surprised that a few Republicans tipped the scales to help pass the state's new marriage equality act, given the GOP's national reputation as a party of nihilistic homophobic right-wing nutjobs. One of them, a lawyer who lives just across the Hudson River from me in the Town of Poughkeepsie, changed his mind after being initially opposed to same sex marriage..  His about-face isn't really that much of a stretch, considering he has sponsored anti-domestic violence legislation in the past, as well as a recent bill requiring school employees to undergo background checks to weed out the pedophiles. He posted this statement to constituents explaining his position:

In 2009 when the marriage equality bill came before the Senate for a vote, I struggled with the decision.  This is an issue which a great many have a deep and passionate interest, both those for marriage quality and those who support the traditional view of marriage.  In part, the difficulty in arriving at my decision is that I respect and understand the views coming from both sides of the issue.
In fact, my decision today is rooted in my upbringing.  My parents taught us to be respectful, tolerant and accepting of others and to do the right thing. I’ve received thousands of calls, e-mails, post cards and letters.

Many of them, whether they were from proponents or opponents, concluded by calling upon me to do the right thing.  I want to do the right thing, but needless to say, that decision cannot be the “right thing” for both sides of the equation and, whatever my decision, there will be many who will be disappointed.

As a traditionalist, I have long viewed marriage as a union between a man and woman.  As one who believes in equal rights, I understood that the State was denying marriage to those in same sex relationships.  In 2009, I believed that civil unions for same sex couples would be a satisfactory conclusion.
Since that time, I have met with numerous groups and individuals on both sides of the issue, especially during the last few months. As I did, I anguished over the importance and significance of my vote.

Stephen Saland

Poughkeepsie is a pretty conservative place, and judging from the comments in the local rag, his vote may have cost him re-election. And some of the comments are downright threatening, with one reader promising "public humiliation in a restaurant."
But I like to think of my own little town of New Paltz as being one of the radical linchpins of the gay marriage movement.  It's a university town, so that explains why we actually elect Green Party candidates from time to time. It's also a stone's throw from Woodstock (actually Bethel) and a lot of aging hippies just never left.  A young man named Jason West, a recent graduate of SUNY here, was mayor in 2004 when he illegally performed the state's very first same-sex marriages in an act of civil disobedience. He was charged with nearly two dozen misdemeanors by the county district attorney, and served with a court injunction to cease and desist the ceremonial political street theater. The case was later thrown out of court, but Jason ultimately lost his re-election bid to a Democrat since he'd tried to force through a pay raise for himself to supplement the proceeds from his defense fund to pay his legal bills.  After a spell of homelessness and a stint as a grad student on the West Coast, a little older and wiser (but still poor), he was just re-elected mayor last month. (before the liberal students left for the summer!)  The mayoral gig still doesn't pay that much, so Jason is also a housepainter by trade.  To his credit, he has turned down an offer from DreamWorks for perpetual rights to his life story.

New Paltz Mayor Jason West

The  marriage equality law here in New York, as well as the repeal of DADT, were not things that politicians decided to hand out from the goodness of their venal little hearts.  They agreed to go along to get along.  It also didn't hurt that a few Wall Street millionaires who support Cuomo and the rest of the political machine have gay relatives.  It was the gay community and its supporters who got this law through the legislature.  Civil rights movements and small acts of civil disobedience are staging a comeback.  Next up:  the Poor People's Coalition, 99ers United, the Gray Panthers and ever-growing groups becoming too numerous to count. The politicians "evolve" only if the people resolve.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The House Democrat Revolt That Wasn't

The 70 Democrats who voted today against authorizing Obama's splendid little Libyan war that is not war at first gave me a faint smidgen of hope that the progressive wing of the party is branching off on its own.  They defied Nancy Pelosi for a change.  They didn't listen when Hillary Clinton fed them her guilt-trip spiel that if they weren't for bombing Libya, then it logically follows that they must love K-Daffy.  The "if you're not for us, you're against us" tripe used to sell the Iraq invasion didn't work this time.

 And one New York congressman actually stood up on the House floor and called his president a monarch in the making as far as his bombing adventure is concerned.  Gerry Nadler, whose district includes the 9/11 site, has been anti-war since Vietnam, when he worked on Gene McCarthy's 1968 campaign. (another one of those dreaded "spoilers").  He is also disgusted with Obama's bait and switch Afghanistan withdrawal plan, and wants the troops brought home -- now. He pointed out, rightly, that each executive administration has given more and more power to successive presidents.  Obama seems to believe that he is Commander in Chief of the entire country, when the Constitution merely makes him commander in chief of the armed forces. He actually does still work for "the people" -- if only in theory.

And then, inexplicably, the House voted to pay for the war it just said was illegal. Never mind.

Of course, the ruling class Democrats in the Senate want to bomb Libya for a whole year more, if necessary, so the House voting on the fact that they hated Obama going behind their backs was purely symbolic anyway.  You have to love the message it's sending Obama, though, as he campaigned at this week's factory.  How ironic that his latest factory makes robotics.  How refreshing that at least 70 House Democrats are not pure robots, but bona fide androids with just a touch of humanity still left in their carcasses.

This has nothing and everything to do with Republicans.  Of course the Republicans voted against authorizing Obama to bomb Libya for all the wrong reasons.  If it had been one of their own in the Oval Office, they would have been urging him to invade a dozen more countries and given him a blank check.  Of course it was the Republicans who cheer-led the Iraq War and bankrupted the country.

But they are the known lunatics and the Democrats are supposedly the sane ones -- although by compromising with the GOP on the budget, they're just enabling and colluding with the insanity.  The two parties we have now are the John Birch Society and the Reagan Republicans.  Either Democrats have to start acting like Democrats again after a 50-year hiatus, or the whole party should just implode and allow a new liberal/labor/progressive party to emerge from the ruins.  Right now there is only one Democrat in the Senate, and his name is Bernie Sanders.  And he calls himself a socialist.

Michele Bachmann and her ilk could never have risen to national prominence were it not for the big Democratic sellout.  The vacuum created by the inaction of the so-called liberal class on jobs, the continued bankrupting wars, the deregulation of Wall Street, the infusion of corporate money into national elections, the corporatization of the mass media and the killing of the Fairness Doctrine have left a citizenry so devoid of hope that it creates the perfect atmosphere for the rise of a theocratic demagogue like Bachmann.

Obama, from his waffling on Afghanistan, his capitulation in the name of bipartisanhip to Republicans, his dithering on immigration reform and DREAM Act amnesty, his failure to appoint Elizabeth Warren and protect consumers, his release of oil reserves for pure political expediency, his groveling to Wall Street --is about one thing: his own re-election. We have to stop looking to him, or the plutocratic millionaire-bloated Senate,  for any leadership. We should instead concentrate on voting for representation on the local and state and Congressional levels -- and continuing to organize as progressive groups and to speak out as individuals.

Holding Republican nutjobs up to the ridicule and blame they so richly deserve is fine, but it isn't enough. Not by a long shot.

**Update 6/25:  Some writers are pointing out that the vote against defunding the war was actually a vote against a sneaky provision in it, thus absolving the Congresspeople who voted against authorizing the war and then seemingly doing an about-face.  Glenn Greenwald writes in his Salon column today:  
That was the reason so many anti-war members of Congress -- including dozens of progressives -- rejected the "de-funding" bill despite opposition to the war in Libya: because it was a disguised authorization for a war they oppose, not because they cowardly failed to check executive power abuses.  As Rogin reports, "there were more than enough lawmakers to pass" a true de-funding bill, but GOP leaders -- who have been protecting Obama on Libya from the start -- did not bring that to the floor.
That's the whole trouble with so much of the legislation being voted on these days: the bills are riddles wrapped in secrecy surrounded by enigmas.  Half the Congresspeople probably didn't even realize what they were voting for. Some voted against both measures, some voted for, and some split the difference. Where was House Speaker Boehner in all this?  Probably canoodling with Obama. He was not present to vote on the Libya bills yesterday.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Happy Talk Keep Talkin Happy Talk

How's this for a White House public/private partnership strategy: blame the media for painting a too-gloomy picture of the economy, and keep insisting America is the greatest country on earth, the best of all possible worlds, and the glass is not only half full but almost overflowing.

Reuters Editor- at- Large Chrystia Freeland, who was invited to "moderate" a panel discussion of the White House Council on Jobs and Competitiveness in New York this past weekend, quoted a mega-banker as saying just that. According to her article,  Robert Wolf, chairman of UBS Americas, and one of  Obama’s earliest Wall Street supporters said: “Since I sat here a year ago, we have two million jobs that have been created. Exports have gone up by 10 percent and technology is booming, agriculture is booming. But when you look at the TV you hear what we are not doing well. I believe we have built a foundation and are on the right path.”

Yeah, that TV sure is biased, all right.  I have to give Freeland credit for not being a media stenographer on the meeting that the Public Private Obama Administration so obviously co-opted her into attending as a discussion "moderator" rather than a reporter.  Just beneath the surface of her balanced piece is the wee-est bit of healthy snarky skepticism.  A close reading reveals just what lengths the White House is willing to go in its propaganda campaign of getting the masses to put on their rose-colored glasses and just how they attempt to manipulate public opinion by cultivating the press. I loved this bit about Obama BFF and Chief Cheerleader and Presidential Back-Watcher Valerie Jarrett:

That’s why her determined good cheer at the forum matters. “We have good reason to be optimistic,” she said. “We have great entrepreneurs and the capacity to reinvent ourselves. This is still the best country on earth.”

The other panelists, all members of the Jobs and Competitiveness Council, faithfully chimed in in the same key. Brian L. Roberts, chairman and chief executive of Comcast, the cable giant that recently acquired a majority stake in NBC, said a positive outlook was essential to “make America a great place to live and work. We all want that to be the outcome, so it’s critical to have a sense of optimism."
Jarrett now runs something called The White House Office of Public Engagement and even blogs about it. Her entry today touts the oxymoronic "Corporate Voices for Working Families", a consortium of megabanks (including Goldman Sachs), giant pharmaceuticals and multinationals that strives to make life better for the workers.  Who needs a union or on-site day care or paid maternity leave when the beneficent corporations are now making it okay for new moms to bring breast pumps to work!  And thanks to the miracle of Public/Private, breast pumps are now tax deductible

And Jarrett is certainly enthusiastic if not very original: "As we work to Win the Future by out-innovating, out-educating, and out-building the rest of the world, we must use every tool at our disposal, and workplace flexibility is one of those tools!"  (take an extra 10 minutes, Honey, and pump away and we won't even dock your pay!)

In the best of all possible results of this ham-handed White House propaganda campaign of feel-goodism, the American people will at long last arrive at their Candide moment in the face of this hideously happy Panglossian assault.

"...and private misfortunes make the public good, so that the more private misfortunes there are, the more everything is well."
- Voltaire, Candide, Chapter 4

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What Harry Told Barry

It's Academic and Far, Far Away

State Department head attorney Harold Koh has been universally lauded as a champion of human rights. He is widely reported to be on President Obama's short list of future Supreme Court nominees, precisely because of his stellar record as a trans-global, humanistic legal scholar and public servant in both Republican (Reagan) and Democratic administrations. The son of first-generation immigrants from South Korea, he would be the first Asian-American Supreme Court Justice and its only international law expert.  The former  dean of Yale Law School, he served as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor under President Clinton and is currently Legal Adviser to the State Department.  Thus, he has had both Clintons as bosses. 

So it came as a  surprise last week when Mr. Koh, an erstwhile staunch defender of the War Powers Act,  performed a prima facie flip-flop on his interpretation of it. This came after the President had already been advised by two other lawyers in the Departments of Defense and Justice that he needed congressional approval to keep bombing Libya.  But war is not war, according to Koh's conveniently convoluted thinking, when we destroy just a few buildings and people with remote control gizmos.

 He told the president exactly what he wanted to hear, much in the same way George Bush's lawyers told him what he wanted to hear about torture.  It's easy.  All you have to do is mangle the English language. Torture becomes an enhanced interrogation technique.  War becomes a limited kinetic military exercise when you perform surgical strikes with drones and minimal collateral damage.  If these weapons do happen to kill some innocent women and children along the way, it's because of system failure, not human aggression.  Or so the reasoning goes.  It's kind of like a video game, because from a distance, you don't have to deal with even looking at any blood or mangled bodies.  You are at so many degrees of separation.  You can physically be thousands of miles away. Plus, if no American is in imminent danger of bodily harm, the grudgingly acknowledged and always regrettable deaths of civilians simply don't count.  War is war only if someone on our side gets hurt. It has to be a mutual thing.

Since Koh had always been such a defender of the War Powers Act, why has he now seemingly gone out of his way to subvert it through semantics? 

"One possibility is that Koh has a client, the Secretary of State, who is committed to the Libya intervention, and he is serving his client faithfully" writes former  DOJ and DOD lawyer Jack Goldsmith of Harvard University. "Another possibility is that Koh’s commitments to humanitarian intervention and the 'responsibility to protect' outweigh his commitment to his academic vision of presidential war powers.  I certainly do not believe that Koh’s academic views should control his advice and judgment during his government service.  Nor do I think that his academic writings addressed the precise issue under the WPR that he is now advocating in the government.  But for a quarter century before heading up State-L, Koh was the leading and most vocal academic critic of presidential unilateralism in war, and a tireless advocate for institutional cooperation between the political branches in war decisions.  I am thus genuinely surprised, as many people are, by his current stance."

Goldsmith added that "it cannot be pleasant for the men and women involved in this 'kinetic military action' to know that the Defense Department General Counsel and the head of OLC think the intervention in Libya as currently executed is unlawful."

In his capacity as State Department legal advisor, Koh was also instrumental in  writing new international rules governing the behavior of private security contractors in the wake of the Blackwater (now XE) scandal involving the shooting of civilians in Iraq. Of course, the new code of behavior does not include sanctions for previous bad behavior.  It's another one of those aspirational things, apparently, with the purpose of placating the international human rights community.

And then there is that bane of the Administration and of the American Security State, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, subject of an ongoing DOJ investigation for possible violation of the Espionage Act.  Last December, Lawyers Rights Watch Canada, a advocacy group which has an advisory role at the U.N., accused the ubiquitous Mr. Koh of violating ethical standards and putting British barrister Jennifer Robinson in jeopardy by interfering with her representation of her client. Koh had posted a letter online conflating her legal work for Assange with criminality on her own part. (Shades of the Bush Administration's criticism of lawyers defending Gitmo detainees?)  Koh's actions, according to the Canadians, violated both international law and the ethical standards of the American Bar Association.  Details can be found here. LRWC filed a complaint about Koh with Attorney General Eric Holder and Sec. Clinton.  But since Koh not only still has his Foggy Bottom job, but is also now a go-to legal eagle for the White House, we can safely assume the letter was stuffed in a circular file somewhere, eh? 

Koh is a new breed of apparatchik, a tool of the neoliberals who wage war that is not war with a wink and a nod and a path to riches in an oil-rich state that is conveniently not too dedicated to human rights.

It's Collateral Damage and Far, Far Away

Update: Here's a list made by Rep. Dennis Kucinich of 10 reasons to oppose the war in Libya.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Jobs in America and the False Promises of Free Trade

(The following post was written by Valerie Long Tweedie, a regular contributor to the Comments Section of this blog.)

I am anti-Free Trade. Whenever I share this sentiment, I am treated like some stupid, backwater simpleton who doesn’t understand economics. People condescendingly tell me that “protectionism will stall the economy” and “Americans enjoy many benefits of Free Trade.” It reminds me of the period after 9/11 when I questioned the wisdom of attacking Iraq, a country that hadn’t attacked us. People acted like I was completely out of touch with reality to question the wisdom of my government to drag us into a war. Wasn’t it obvious to anyone who had watched FOX or CNN that there were WMDs? Why would our government lie to get us into a war? But here I go again, questioning the wisdom of my government and the policy of Free Trade.
In truth, I am not a total isolationist. However, I believe that a government’s number one job is to watch out for the overall good of its citizenry and in our case that means maintaining the conditions for a strong Middle Class. We all know it to be true, American manufacturing businesses cannot pay their factory workers a liveable wage with benefits and still compete against imported goods made by underpaid factory workers in Third World countries. If we are to revive our manufacturing base in the U.S., we need to level the playing field - and that means tariffs and protectionism.
The bill of goods we were sold by the Republicans and the Clinton Administration was a two part scheme to get the American people to go along with Free Trade.  Part One:  If we ship off our low skilled manufacturing jobs to third world countries, displaced American factory workers will be retrained to do highly-skilled, higher-paying jobs. The problem was not all the blue collar workers were intellectually inclined toward highly skilled technological work and were unable to make the leap. Even those who could make the leap and re-skilled, found that there weren’t enough of those promised higher paying jobs. The result is we now have a large number of factory and semi-skilled workers in our country who don’t have jobs that pay a liveable wage and provide reasonable benefits.  Part Two:  All those people working in the newly off-shored, Third World factories will create a huge market and demand for the more expensive, high tech American made goods. Sounds good in theory but we underestimated (and were kept in the dark about) the obscene amount of corporate greed involved. As it turns out, Third World factory workers are heavily exploited and paid a paltry wage for their work. They barely make enough money to meet their basic needs and certainly not enough money to buy goods made in America.  In both cases, we were conned into believing that Free Trade would be a win-win for the workers on both shores when in reality it has pretty much been a lose-lose.
Now I have nothing against Third World factory workers. If they were paid a decent wage and quality products were made under sustainable environmental conditions, I wouldn’t be barking up this particular tree. I have no problems with importing Western European or Japanese goods, for example, which are high quality products, made to last, and built under decent working and environmental conditions. I don’t deny the chance for third world countries to industrialise - but let’s be honest here, that is not what is really driving this issue. Corporations off-shoring their production are treating vulnerable, desperate, human beings like expendable beasts of burden; they have no rights, no benefits,  no protection against injury or illness and they are grossly underpaid.
It should be evident to everyone by now that the big winners in Free Trade are the corporations - especially the multi-national ones. They pay low to no taxes and are allowed to bring all their goods into our markets with minimal costs – disregarding both the human and environmental destruction they leave in their wake.  Most importantly, and more dangerous to our way of life, is the fact that these same corporations use their ill-gotten profits to lobby (bribe) our elected officials through (often anonymous) campaign donations and force through (or slip through undetected) legislation that makes their dirty dealings legal. As long as Free Trade goes on as it is, these companies will only grow richer, more powerful and more destructive.
Sadly, the one group that could have put the brakes on this descent into plutocratic rule was Organised Labour. Their demands on politicians in exchange for their block of voters - the right to organise and hold politicians accountable to those who elected them, a decent retirement, a fair wage for an eight hour day’s work, health care, safe working conditions - benefitted all of us. As those human rights are being eroded in our country and the corporations get stronger and stronger as a result of Free Trade, organised labour has been transformed from a lion into a mouse and the Middle Class has lost its champion.
I read a lot of articles and comments proposing that new technologies are the answer to our economic woes. President Obama campaigned on green jobs back in the days when he was inspiring a nation. But green technology will require A LOT of government investment for R &D as well as incentives to make products like solar panels affordable to average citizens.  I am ALL for it! We should have been on the green energy bandwagon in the seventies when Jimmy Carter first proposed it! But I worry that even if those green energy companies get the governmental support they need to be up and going, will their CEO’s find it cheaper to move their factories overseas?  Will they use the excuse of having to compete with Chinese green energy products as a reason for doing so? Will green jobs be yet another casualty of Free Trade?
Admittedly, the ramifications of import taxes are big – but I suggest not as bad as we are led to believe. If we put a tariff on foreign made goods, our goods will be taxed in return - no doubt about it.  But America is the world’s biggest consumer so we would be in the position of being able to buy our own products and sustain our markets. As citizens we would have to be willing to pay more for the products we buy – and that is a hard pill for a lot of people to swallow – but I argue that the secure economy engendered by strong employment would be worth it.
As a nation, we have to stop blindly accepting the belief, promoted by those who profit most from it, that factory jobs are gone forever from our shores. We need these jobs in order to have a strong Middle Class and a stable economy - and must find a way to bring them back.
We’ve tried Free Trade for almost twenty years and like deregulation and trickle-down economics, it doesn’t work – at least for most of us. When we discuss the terrible job situation in the U.S. and the decline of the Middle Class are we ignoring the elephant in the room? Is it time to examine another option?
This particular entry only addresses the consequences of Free Trade as it applies to the blue collar jobs issue in the U.S. There are huge environmental ramifications and social justice issues concerning the exploitation of indigenous people and poor citizens of Third World countries.  We are also starting to see the off-shoring of white collar jobs. I am not minimizing these grave consequences of Free Trade. They deserve specific attention and will be addressed in another entry.

-- Valerie Long Tweedie

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Betty White Method of Raising the Retirement Age

Think raising the retirement age to 68 or 70 is unfair?  Well, just get over it.  After all, Betty White is 89 years young and still working, so what the hell is wrong with you, ya buncha wusses!  She wants all those working 50-somethings out there to join the American Association of Retired Persons because you're still eligible even though you are not yet retired. And look at Betty. She is starring in a new AARP commercial proving that 89 is the new 62, She will never retire, and neither should you. The AARP's name has been rendered absolutely meaningless.  Retirement is so yesterday, after all.

The Wall Street Journal (sorry, no link -- they have a paywall) ran a story today claiming that AARP is now open to the idea of raising the retirement age in order to "save" Social Security -- something it had vowed to fight against.  But this lobby, which has become more of a broker for Medicare supplement insurance plans than a real public interest advocate for seniors, is walking back this report in a hurry.  It looks like it may have been one of those coordinated trial balloon leaks to gauge wind direction. AARP is acting very confused about exactly what its position is, and seems to want to have it both ways.

While telling CNN today that that there was some "miscommunication" with the Wall Street Journal, AARP legislative policy director David Certner  acknowledged that AARP believes that Social Security needs to be changed.

"Everybody knows we need to look at a package of different changes to Social Security to make it strong for the long term," he said. "The reality is, we have more people older and who are living longer, so we need to make changes. Everybody recognizes that. And we're certainly willing to talk about a package of changes that will keep Social Security strong."

Even though raising the retirement age does constitute a benefits cut, the 37 million-member lobbying powerhouse launched a national ad campaign Thursday warning members of Congress not to reduce benefits for recipients of Social Security and Medicare.  Raise the retirement age without raising the retirement age -- Paul Ryan must be loving this. It's doubletalking doublethink after his own heart. I betcha he'll apply for a special waiver to join AARP before he's 50.  I betcha AARP will also rope in the Millennials with a special introductory offer to give them a headstart on shopping for voucher plans of the future.  Medicare Part F for Failure, they might call it.

Meanwhile, a grassroots campaign is taking shape urging people to just cut up their AARP cards and demand a refund of their membership fees. Eric Kingson, a former advisor to President Obama on Social Security, is going to burn his.  From his Firedoglake post today:

And so, sadly and with respect for many good people associated with AARP, I have decided to make the supreme sacrifice and “burn my AARP card” and recommend that others consider doing so as well. No more AARP discounts, free Magazines with Katie Couric, Sally Field, Michael Fox, Goldie Hawn, Condoleezza Rice, Robin Williams, Robert Redford, Harrison Ford and others emblazoned each month on its cover– all fine people but hardly typical of the nation’s very diverse population of boomers and elders. Oh well.
Fortunately, there are a couple of organizations out there — the Alliance for Retired Americans and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare — which maintain an advocacy focus more supportive of the protections provided by Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. For those also inclined to “tune out and drop out” of AARP, maybe its time for us through our various networks, blogs and organizational involvements to encourage others to do so as well. And, with AARP being so wavering in its support of elders, hopefully, two outstanding organizations — the Alliance for Retired Americans ( and the National Committee for the Preservation of Social Security and Medicare ( ) — will find opportunity to further build their already substantial memberships and with it to become even stronger advocates for today’s and tomorrow’s older Americans.

And don't forget Betty White, the new face of the AARP. If you want to figure out what will truly happen to older people once Social Security and Medicare get "fixed," here's the real picture:

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Pay to Enter to Win the Future

Just when I thought it couldn't get any better.....  (the crossed-out bits are from the original draft of the email, which I fished out of a dumpster.  It was hard going, because there were a dozen FBI agents with me, ploughing through all kinds of stuff thrown out by regular, innocent citizens):
Karen -- 

My campaign operatives have forced me to pretend to sacrifice I've set aside my precious valuable time for four supporters like you to join me for dinner.

My campaign always   Most campaigns fill their dinner guest lists primarily with Washington lobbyists and special interests.

We did absolutely didn't get here doing that, and we're not going to stop start now. We're running a schizophrenic different kind of campaign.  We have got one campaign for the big Wall Street and corporation folks and a pretend grass-roots one for the little people. We don't take money from Washington lobbyists or special-interest PACs -- we never have, and we never will.  Pay no attention to the New York Times article the other day about the big dinner I have planned with The Wall Street banksters.  Pay no attention to reports that we have a special program in the DNC enabling us to take anonymous donations from lobbyists, special-interest PACs, even foreign governments.  We have to out-innovate and out-compete Karl Rove.  We have to beat him by joining him.  We have to deal with conditions on the ground as we find them. 
We rely on everyday Americans to keep drinking my Kool-Aid giving whatever they can afford -- and I want to spend as little time as possible with a as few of you. as I decently can.
So if you make a donation today, you'll be automatically entered for a chance to be one of the four supporters to sit down with me for dinner. Odds of winning will be about one in 1,000,000,000.  Odds of me having to cancel dinner and replace me with a White House intern due to a trumped up national security issue will be 99 out of 100.  Please donate $15 or more today:
We'll pay for your taxable to you flight and the dinner excluding tip -- all you need to bring is your story and your ideas and the names and email addresses and phone numbers of a hundred close friends and relatives about how we can continue to make this a better country for me Americans.

This won't be a formal affair. I know there's 9.1 percent unemployment and it costs plenty for regular folks to buy new clothes at Walmart. It's the kind of casual meal among friends that I don't debase myself get to have as often as I'd like anymore, so I hope you'll consider joining me and hundreds of press people for a one-minute photo op before I have to head to my real dinner with the bankers at the Four Seasons.
I'm not asking you to donate today just so you'll be entered for a chance to meet me. I'm asking you to say you believe unquestioningly in my personality cult in the kind of politics that gives marginal people like you a seat at the table -- whether it's the dinner table with me or the table where decisions are made about what kind of country we want to be or whether it's the table where your Social Security or Medicare will be cut and my tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires and corporations will be extended through eternity.
It starts with a gift of whatever you can afford.

Please make a donation of $15 today, and we'll throw your name in the garbage hat for the upcoming dinner:
I've said before that I want people like you to shape this campaign from the very beginning -- and this is a chance for only four people ever to share their ideas directly with me. I will do my usual best to pretend to care.
Hope to see your pathetic paltry check you soon,

Barack (when I ask for money we're on a folksy first name basis)

Bloombergville Begins: Union Members Camp Outside City Hall in Protest

About 100 New York City union members and supporters have "occupied"  a space around City Hall to protest budget cuts instituted by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  Doug Singsen, City College professor and one of the founders of New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts, writes:

The first night of Bloombergville was great! After it stopped raining (and the cops started harassing us), we moved across the street and set up camp on Centre Street east of City Hall. There are around 100 of us here, the weather is perfect and it's been an exciting, inspiring night.
But we're not done! Some of us will be staying here during the day to maintain the encampment and we will be re-assembling in full force at 7 pm to have a speakout rally and another night of sleeping out and protesting the budget cuts. We need your help to make it even bigger and better! The Rude Mechanical Orchestra will be here and will provide some musical entertainment for us. Even if you can't sleep over, come down for the rally, tell your friends and help us build the struggle against budget cuts.
More background on the protests and occupation can be found here. 

Like other unions , District 37 members are facing massive layoffs and wage and benefit cuts under the austerity craze sweeping the nation.  Bloomberg's plans include firing 4100 city workers and closing a quarter of the city's fire houses. Protesters cite a union research report that claims the city could soften the blow by tapping more than $800 million in newly-identified potential revenue sources, including uncollected taxes.

New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts also point to the elimination of the state's so-called Millionaires' Tax on Wall Street as another main reason for the manufactured budget shortfall.  New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, recently polled as being more popular with Republicans than among members of his own party.  Even Carl Palladino, his GOP opponent, has praised the governor as being a true friend to fiscal conservatives and the Tea Party.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Cute Animal Websites Must Be Destroyed, Says Sheriff Joe Biden

The Democrats sure had a point when they complained that the shenanigans of Anthony Weiner were just a distraction from more important stuff.  What with Weinergate, and President Obama's campaign swing through the South, and his delegating the domestic jobs crisis to the CEO of a multinational corporation that pays no taxes, nobody is noticing the important work that Vice President Joe Biden is doing.
Everybody seemed to miss the vice president's big announcement yesterday that he is The New Sheriff in Town! He has his fiscal six shooters out to blast away all the terrible horrible government waste and fraud and abuse to balance the budget and save our country.  Because fiscal weapons of mass destruction and tightening our belts are the only ways we can navigate those bumps in the road and forge ahead through the headwinds and make multinational corporations feel confident enough to provide all those new jobs they are just itching to create if only they didn't feel so taxed and nervous!
In an email sent out Monday called, aptly, "There's a New Sheriff in Town" Biden announced his new gig as Anti-Waste Czar:

Did you know that the government spends millions to maintain buildings that have sat vacant for years? Or that your tax dollars pay to needlessly ship copies of the Federal Register to thousands of government offices across the country even though the same information is available online?
And I bet you didn't know that your tax dollars pay for a website dedicated to the Desert Tortoise. I'm sure it's a wonderful species, but we can't afford to have a standalone site devoted to every member of the animal kingdom. It's just one of hundreds of government websites that should be consolidated or eliminated.
This kind of waste is just unacceptable. Particularly at a time when we’re facing tough decisions about reducing our deficit, it's a no-brainer to stop spending taxpayer dollars on things that benefit nobody.
That’s why President Obama asked me to head up the Campaign to Cut Waste—a new effort to root out wasteful spending at every agency and department in The Federal Government.

No Joe, I sure didn't know there was a website devoted to the Desert Tortoise, so I decided to check it out before it disappears from cyberspace forever.  It is a wonderful website, but I agree that it must cost at least several dollars a year to maintain. It's got full-color graphics, a FAQ feature, and links to other nature sites.  What a disgusting waste.  Plus this turtle is kind of boring.  The only thing it apparently does besides breathing and taking up valuable geographical and cyber space is to pee copiously all over your hand if you pick one up.  Ecch.
Now let's see.... wherever could the idea of a money-hogging desert tortoise destroying our budget have come from?  It's a known fact that governors in western states have been mounting a big campaign to do away with the federal Endangered Species Act altogether.  Just this year, the Gray Wolf was removed from the list thanks to lobbying by Montana ranchers who want to shoot the wolves because they kill a sick old cow once in awhile.  But since the Desert Tortoise lives mainly in the harsh environment of the Mojave Desert, what's the beef there?
I mean, the Tortoise is a perfect metaphor for the slow pace of our economic recovery, so it should be protected forever and ever and its website preserved. "Slow and Steady Wins the Race to the Top" should really replace Winning the Future as the Obama campaign slogan.
Joe Biden says we can't afford to have a stand-alone website devoted to every member of the animal kingdom. But since he's so concerned about austerity (or pretends to be to appease the Republicans) why not take a look at all those Department of Defense websites while we're at it?  Take a look at the $1 million a year it takes to keep one soldier in Afghanistan, take a look at all the billions going to feed the Karzai drug cartel, to build roads and schools and maintain bases overseas -- and then talk to the American people about the deficit and our own crumbling infrastructure and exactly what it is that constitutes waste, fraud and abuse.

And how wasteful is it to have a vice president wasting his time writing harebrained emails that trash-talk tortoises? Maybe we should just trim the waste and get rid of the vice presidency altogether. And leave turtles and the Desert Tortoise website alone!
Say It Ain't So, Joe! (Can I Call You Joe?)


Friday, June 10, 2011

The Trashing of Debbie Wasserman Schultz

People complain that Democrats aren't forceful enough.  They accuse the party of being a bunch of capitulating, mealy-mouthed wusses and a lot of the time they would be right. But the new Chair of the DNC is taking hits from all sides for the very outspokenness which makes her such a refreshing change from the Democratic timidity we have to come to know and expect.

Politico has a particularly snide little attempt at a hit job running today, characterizing the blunt rhetoric of Debbie Wasserman Schultz as an outbreak of gaffe-itis and pettily dissecting each of her passionate remarks. The Republican War on Women?  No such thing, says Politico's Molly Ball -- everybody knows the GOP has not literally declared a war on women!  No metaphors allowed, apparently.  Particularly odious was Ball's false equivalence between the provocative weapon metaphors of Sarah Palin -- urging her followers to put Democrats in the crosshairs -- with Wasserman Schultz's withering critiques of the Social Darwinism of Republicans:

"Wasserman Schultz’s sharpest rhetoric — such as insisting that Republicans’ move to defund Planned Parenthood and restrict abortion constitutes a “war on women” or that the Ryan plan would be a “death trap for some seniors” — may please her party’s base. But it doesn’t square with her role as a leading voice decrying that kind of over-the-top language in the wake of the January shooting in Tucson that injured her good friend, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords".

Over-the-top language, blunders, gaffes?  No way, Jose!  Wasserman Schultz is not only a breath of fresh air, she is a  tornado descending on the Democratic doldrums and blowing everybody else out of the water. She did walk back her characterization of states requiring voters to show ID at the polls as a return to the days of Jim Crow, but she really didn't have to. She was right about that.  She's also totally right about Paul Ryan's Medikill Plan being nothing more than a Medikill Plan. 

The only thing "rocky" about Wasserman Schultz's start is that she's not only throwing stones at the whining, mendacious conservative Social Darwinists -- she is heaving boulders at them and pulverizing them in the process. Bravissima!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Selling the Endless Wars: Michelle Goes to Hollywood

First Lady Michelle Obama is bringing her "Joining Forces" campaign to Hollywood next week, with the goal of pursuading the movers and shakers of the entertainment industry to make more feel-good, heartstring-pulling movies and TV shows about the military families of America.  After more than a decade of endless war on at least three fronts (Afghanistan-Pakistan, Iraq and now Libya), the American public is losing its appetite for the terrible human and monetary costs of war.  What better way for the government to numb our minds than joining forces with the corporate entertainment industry to churn out some of that good old wartime propaganda?  Nothing will make us stop bitching about war and stun us into a shamed silence like a movie about how, for example, an Iraq War amputee runs in a marathon.  Watching stuff like this will make the masses forget about their own paltry domestic problems back here in the Homeland.

Lost a job lately?  Hey, it could be worse.  At least you're not losing a leg.  Lost your home to foreclosure, getting evicted, and being forced to move?  Stop the kvetching -- military families have to move all the time and live in horrible, overcrowded barracks!  Military children are having to grow up fatherless and motherless, not necessarily because of the death of a parent, but because the wars and the deployments are forever.

Part of the appeal of Michelle Obama's propaganda campaign rests in parading the most heart-rending military families before the cameras and giving them a big famous Michelle hug and maybe a plaque.  There was one  recent event showcasing a military child battling cancer.  Now, that would make a great made-for-TV movie and it would also make big bucks for the advertisers, the cable companies and -- maybe best of all -- inspire thousands more unemployed 20-somethings to join up and be all that they can be.

According to The White House,  the First Lady will be sharing these stories with the writers and directors and producers, who presumably will also be donating big-time to her husband's re-election campaign during her foray into Tinseltown.

As I wrote in an earlier post, the Joining Forces initiative is largely funded by a neoliberal think tank called Center for a New American Security, with a staff composed of  titans of the Military-Industrial Complex - including executives from Lockheed Martin, retired military brass and the most recent addition, Citigroup Chairman Richard D. Parsons, who also serves on the White House Council on Jobs and Competitiveness (this Administration's sole answer to our unemployment crisis).  The inclusion of deposed Afghanistan War General Stanley McChrystal in the PR  effort has sparked outrage, mainly due to his coverup of the friendly fire death of Pat Tillman. 

Michelle Obama last month became the first-ever president's wife to speak to the graduating class of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, right before she and her husband departed for Europe. Parts of the speech I found kind of creepy, but maybe I've watched one too many History Channel documentaries of 1930s Germany and I am overreacting. You can read the transcript and see the video here.  From her speech:

As I look around at the cadets in this room, it is very clear to me that you all reflect everything we hope to see in ourselves and our country – firmness of character and strength of heart, a strong body and a ferocious mind, a devotion to country and to family. (that patriotic firmness of body and ferociousness of mind in that brand spanking- new uniform is quite titillating).

  For all of you, I know this has been a magnificent journey, a journey full of academic and athletic victories, a journey that has taken you across the country and around the world.
You’ve learned new skills and immersed yourself in new cultures, which will serve you well on today’s battlefields. (learn about new cultures the better to kill people on those global battlefields -- why else study how people live?  Also helps with those Psy-Ops propaganda campaigns to win the hearts and minds of the countries you plunder!).

  You’ve also created a Bionic Foot, an Exoskeleton, and other robotics and cyber defense projects that will help troops in the field.  (for sheer awesomeness, check out the bionic foot.  What an inspiration when a group of college students invents a prosthetic foot because they know the chances are very good they will lose at least one of their own feet.  But as President George Bush told some amputees at Walter Reed one time, "we'll just get you some new legs."  The Exoskeleton, also known as the "Hulc" sounds neat too.  It's some kind of gizmo invented by Lockheed Martin that lets you become a virtual robot and carry upwards of 200 pounds for ten miles.  Hollywood definitely can make a movie out of this concept.  The Incredible Hulc.  Terminator meets Rambo.)

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Michelle Obama urged us to elect her husband "because our souls are broken in this nation."and that "dreams and inspiration are everything." Now that the luster of that promise has worn off, and we are still one big collection of soul holes, her new shtick is uniting us all as a country through the double mantra of Family Values and Militarism.  Here's an excerpt from a Parade magazine interview with Michelle and her JF partner, Second Lady Jill Biden this past April (designated Month of the Military Child) --
PARADE: If Americans rally around our military families, what do you think this new connectiveness could do for us as a country?
JILL BIDEN: It would create a lot of patriotism, you know, that feeling I had as a child. We just need to say to America, “Wake up. You need to support these families and we need to lift them up and really value them.”
MICHELLE OBAMA: And the truth is, I think that’s how most Americans feel.
Yes indeed, use the suffering military families to form a  power movement to give the concept of Empire a much-needed boost in the minds and holey souls of the public,  and instill in us a sense of that lost patriotism for The Homeland.  That is just what we need to make us forget about the Second Great Depression.  It worked in 1930s Europe, so why not in neofascist USA?

Meanwhile.... while I am sure many military families are appreciative of the Joining Forces initiative, some are not.  One group called Military Families Speak Out is demanding that Michelle Obama use her influence to end the wars entirely rather than simply call for more people to support the troops. According to their policy statement: "Mrs. Obama is telling Americans to volunteer to support military families, but what we really need is policy change.... The burdens affecting military families, veterans, and service members are the results of government policies and practices, and need to be addressed by those responsible, rather than placing the burden on schools, non-profits, churches and local communities who are struggling themselves with funding cuts and affects of the ongoing recession.  Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Biden need to use their influence to change the policies that are hurting us."

Elmo Say Me Want Troops Come Home!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The 16 Democratic Senators Who Sided with the Banks Today

A move to delay implementation of the part of the Dodd Frank Act which would have capped the amount the big banks can charge merchants for debit card transactions was narrowly defeated today, but no thanks to the Democratic majority.  A surprising 16 Democrats sided with the banking lobby, which cried to Congress that it should be able to charge whatever fees it wants, because that's how the free market is supposed to work.  The unlimited fees charged to merchants would have inevitably raised the prices charged to us, the consumers.  The final tally, crossing party lines, went like this: (60 votes required for passage).

Grouped By Vote PositionYEAs ---54  ---  For the Banks:
Akaka (D-HI)
Alexander (R-TN)
Ayotte (R-NH)
Baucus (D-MT)
Begich (D-AK)
Bennet (D-CO)
Blunt (R-MO)
Boozman (R-AR)
Carper (D-DE)
Coats (R-IN)
Coburn (R-OK)
Cochran (R-MS)
Coons (D-DE)
Corker (R-TN)
Cornyn (R-TX)
Crapo (R-ID)
DeMint (R-SC)
Gillibrand (D-NY)
 Hagan (D-NC)
Hatch (R-UT)
Heller (R-NV)
Hoeven (R-ND)
Hutchison (R-TX)
Inhofe (R-OK)
Johanns (R-NE)
Johnson (D-SD)
Johnson (R-WI)
Kirk (R-IL)
Kyl (R-AZ)
Lee (R-UT)
Manchin (D-WV)
McCain (R-AZ)
McCaskill (D-MO)
McConnell (R-KY)
Mikulski (D-MD)
Moran (R-KS)
 Murkowski (R-AK)
Nelson (D-FL)
Nelson (D-NE)
Paul (R-KY)
Portman (R-OH)
Risch (R-ID)
Roberts (R-KS)
Rubio (R-FL)
Schumer (D-NY)
Sessions (R-AL)
Shelby (R-AL)
Stabenow (D-MI)
Tester (D-MT)
Thune (R-SD)
Toomey (R-PA)
Warner (D-VA)
Webb (D-VA)
Wicker (R-MS)

NAYs ---45  --  For the Consumer:
Barrasso (R-WY)
Bingaman (D-NM)
Blumenthal (D-CT)
Boxer (D-CA)
Brown (D-OH)
Brown (R-MA)
Burr (R-NC)
Cantwell (D-WA)
Cardin (D-MD)
Casey (D-PA)
Chambliss (R-GA)
Collins (R-ME)
Conrad (D-ND)
Durbin (D-IL)
Enzi (R-WY)
 Feinstein (D-CA)
Franken (D-MN)
Graham (R-SC)
Grassley (R-IA)
Harkin (D-IA)
Inouye (D-HI)
Isakson (R-GA)
Kerry (D-MA)
Klobuchar (D-MN)
Kohl (D-WI)
Landrieu (D-LA)
Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Leahy (D-VT)
Levin (D-MI)
Lugar (R-IN)
 Menendez (D-NJ)
Merkley (D-OR)
Murray (D-WA)
Pryor (D-AR)
Reed (D-RI)
Reid (D-NV)
Rockefeller (D-WV)
Sanders (I-VT)
Shaheen (D-NH)
Snowe (R-ME)
Udall (D-CO)
Udall (D-NM)
Vitter (R-LA)
Whitehouse (D-RI)
Wyden (D-OR)

Not Voting - 1  (Lieberman)

It wasn't surprising that my own two Senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, essentially thumbed their noses at their constituents.  They are from New York and in the thrall of Wall Street.  Gillibrand, who often pays lip service to a progressive agenda and manages to get herself on TV a lot to promote the latest liberal cause, was the biggest single recipient of campaign contributions from the mega-banks during her first election campaign. (She had been appointed by Gov. David Paterson to replace Hillary Clinton in 2009.)  Were your senators on the list you didn't want them to be on? Were you shocked that your senator voted in your interests for a change?

The Republicans siding against the banks were the biggest surprise, and a pleasant one at that.  Did you ever think Saxby Chambliss would be pro-consumer? 

Hey -- here's an idea.  President Obama can now appoint Elizabeth Warren head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and she can go through a Senate confirmation after all!  The Senate is just a great big happy family, with some Republicans having values and some Democrats having none.  Who would not love to see Chuck the Two-Faced squirm as he has to pretend to be nice to Warren and pro-middle class while stuffing his pockets with Wall Street largesse?

From ProPublica, here is a really detailed explanation of what today's vote was all about.