Saturday, March 31, 2012

Political Fundraising Sampler

Full disclosure -- I am on many political mailing lists, most of them inadvertent on my part, probably stemming from one forgotten petition signed five years ago. Others are on purpose. For example, I have signed up to be on the lists of several Republican extremists, only because their stuff is so entertaining. Otherwise, I might have missed Herman Cain's skeet-shooting attack on a stuffed toy rabbit. Herman's mother never read him The Velveteen Rabbit at bedtime. I can guarantee it.

Today, all the politicians are desperately sending out their last-minute appeals for cash, to try and meet their monthly and quarterly quotas. You might be surprised by the variety in tone, content and yeah, basic politeness.

The first to arrive was simply titled "Hey" from Barack Obama. He is obviously a very busy man, and he wants you to be aware that when he does deign to write to you, it's always on the fly. He's got to court the weighted votes at the $37,500 big ticket "campaign events." He has moved far, far beyond the human niceties. Here's what he wrote:
Karen -- 
I need you with me on this one.
Tonight's deadline is our biggest yet, and I need everyone pitching in.
Give $15 or whatever you can:
Let's go, 
Normally I ignore Obama for America crap, but the bald arrogance and naked money grubbing of this one ticked me off mightily.... I need.... I need...give...let's go. So I wrote back in the little answer box at the bottom of the email, so somebody can either stuff it in the circular file where emails go to die, or more likely, become part of my permanent record:
What a rude email! No please, no thank you. Just "hey" and "let's go?" Earth to Barack -- it ain't all about you, Buddy.
Send me $15 or whatever you can, right this minute. My bills are coming due. I need you with me on this one.
Hey, let's go--
Then came this one from Rick Santorum. The guy may be a demented whackjob, but at least somebody taught him how to beg politely.
Please see the note from our finance director below. We are only $47,000 away from meeting the goal we set earlier this week.
If you haven't yet given this month please visit our webage and make a donation of $25 or whatever you can afford right now.
We need every penny we can raise to make our case in Wisconsin on Tuesday.
Sent from my mobile device
The third (and certainly not the last -- the day is still young) is from former Florida Congressman Alan Grayson. So far it is my favorite -- it offers substance and information and connects with the audience in a way the previous two don't even try to. It concentrates not on Alan, but on the voters. It even pokes gentle fun at fundraising. Alan writes:

Dear Karen:

A month ago, I wrote a note called "The Myths That Are Killing Us" – the hard myths that no Republicans, and very few Democrats, ever challenge. Here was my list:

  1. The Government can't create jobs. (Tell that to FDR, who created four million jobs in three months.)
  2. Tax cuts reduce the deficit. (Doesn't it bother them that a man named "Laffer" came up with this one?)
  3. A fetus is a baby.
  4. The poor have too much money.
  5. Cutting the federal deficit will end the recession.
  6. The rich are incentivized by tax cuts, while the poor are incentivized by lower wages, no benefits, an end to the minimum wage, and unemployment.
  7. An unwanted child is God's will.
  8. Everyone who wants health insurance has it.
  9. The problem with education is the teachers.
  10. The "free market" satisfies every human need.
  11. There is no discrimination in America anymore.
  12. The distribution of wealth and income are irrelevant.
Well, this list seems to have provoked a lot of thought among us. Since I regard what we do as a collective endeavor, I want to share with you some of the best of this crowdsourcing by our audience – 20 more destructive myths:.
  1. Ronald Reagan won the Cold War.
  2. The environment can protect itself.
  3. It is better for America to be feared than loved.
  4. Only the wealthy create jobs.
  5. America is a Christian nation.
  6. Human beings are not the cause of climate change.
  7. Minority women have children in order to qualify for welfare.
  8. President Obama wants to take away our guns.
  9. The more we spend on the military, the safer we are.
  10. Corporations use tax cuts to hire people.
  11. The unemployed are lazy and stupid.
  12. Rich people are smarter than everyone else.
  13. We will never run out of oil.
  14. Invading foreign countries wins hearts and minds.
  15. Science is a matter of opinion.
  16. Instigating unnecessary wars shows your support for the troops.
  17. Corporations are people.
  18. Money is speech.
  19. You can get any medical treatment you need, in any hospital emergency room.
  20. One gender is better than the other, one race is superior to all others, and there is only one true religion.
Every one of these myths is fascinating in its own right. You could write a whole book about each of them. So to the supporters who contributed to this list, thank you. I'm listening and learning. 
And if we could just get past all of these myths, then think about what a great place this would be. 
Alan Grayson 
P.S. I recognize that this is a hopeless cliché, but our campaign fundraising goal for the quarter was $500,000, and as I write this, we are only $11,510 short of that goal. Really. If you would like to help us reach our goal, or if you're simply fond of round numbers, then click here.
I'll add to the list as the day goes on. And if any of you readers have some memorable political iBeggary to share, please send it in. Remember, we are facing a make-or-break midnight deadline. 

Update: An email labeled "I Tried" arrived from Rufus Gifford of Team Obama. He starts off saying he is sorry! He realized what a schmuck his boss is! Never mind... it's just a form letter:

    Karen --
Sorry to bug you on a Saturday. The FEC wouldn't let us push back their big March 31st deadline. (I tried.)
Just hours to go -- Can you chip in $15 or more?
Nice to know Rufus is no doofus, and unlike his boss, realizes even the lesser people appreciate a little common courtesy when they're hit up for their meager dollars by the One Percent.

I also had received an appeal from Michelle Obama the other day, but it was hiding in the spam file and I just now found it. Whenever she writes, she wants me to "have Barack's back", which I find mildly off-putting. It casts the most powerful man on earth in somewhat of a victim role, someone who needs my protection, rather than as a public official who was elected to do the will of the people. It's boiled down to voting for the guy out of guilt. Ask not what Barack can do for you, but what you can do for Barack. And not one policy position or accomplishment does she include. All the more glaring when juxtaposed with Alan Grayson's thoughtful missive.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Obama's Covert War

The UK-based Center for Investigative Journalism has just posted an outstanding and deeply disturbing piece on the escalation of Barack Obama's not-so-secret war in Yemen.  And it is not limited to those odious drone strikes. There was actually a naval assault on a port city earlier this month, but we are not being told if it was from our own United States Navy. One can only assume it was, since Yemen reportedly only maintains a small fleet of patrol boats. Of course, the US probably had no trouble doing some quick paint and flag-changing jobs to cover themselves and implausibly deny they had anything to do with it.   

The CIJ  estimates that between 50 and 100 civilians have been killed in the various recent attacks, and that Obama has taken a very hands-on approach to his lethal little war. The Bureau also obtained a copy of a report listing the names of all the victims of the 2009 cluster bomb attack that killed 14 militants and 44 civilians -- including a year-old baby and several pregnant women. The American government has steadfastly denied responsibility, despite photographic evidence to the contrary and email confirmation from WikiLeaks. 

One of the CIJ's main sources for its exposés has been Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye, now jailed on trumped up charges of being an al Qaeda sympathizer. Shaye, who has led media outlets to physical evidence of US-manufactured military hardware strewn around human "collateral damage",
had been set to be released from custody after a national outcry. But then Obama himself butted in and essentially ordered his Yemeni puppet government to keep the reporter chained and muzzled. You can watch a video on this travesty, featuring another great investigative reporter (Jeremy Scahill) here, and read Glenn Greenwald's equally invaluable reporting on the matter here.

This is the kind of stuff that should bother otherwise smart Obama supporters and journalists, but it rarely ever does. This is a country in the thrall of the kind of authoritarianism that has a unique photogenic appeal all its own. Obama has teflon on his teflon. Reagan would be envious.

Simply Irresistible

Composite of Drone Victims, Yemen, 2009 (Al Jazeera)

Let the Spin Begin

Just a few thoughts on the just-concluded Supreme Court hearings on Obamacare. I am no legal expert, so let the lawyers nitpick the merits of the arguments or lack thereof. What I find fascinating -- and frankly disgusting -- is the lackadaisical reaction from Democrats to the possibly imminent demise of their landmark bill. 

Instead of lamenting the fate of the tens of millions of Americans who will be forced to do without even half-assed medical care if five black-robed right wing political hacks strike down the law, the Democrats see defeat as actually being good for them politically. Should the Court rule against the mandate requiring everyone to purchase private health coverage, they have no Plan B waiting in the wings. There will be no attempt to "fix" the law, no stampede to introduce a Medicare for All bill. Why should there be? The fate of Obamacare will not affect the presidential election at all.

Tribalism will trump policy and the outcome of the Rombama contest will hinge on which candidate raises the most cash from the oligarchy. If you're already an Obama supporter, you're going to vote for him no matter what. You are not going to blame him and his fellow corporatists for not pushing for a public option when they had the chance and making the pay-for a tax instead of a controversial mandate. You are going to gleefully blame the nasty Supremes if Obamacare goes down in flames. You are going to point out that this was originally Romneycare, the product of a Republican think tank -- and  the doofuses from "the other side" voted against their own plan! The GOP will be destroying our gigantic giveway to the insurances leeches and Big Pharma.  Not our fault! Maybe the health care industry will donate the big bucks to our side now.

Democratic strategist James Carville thinks that millions of people being deprived of medical care would be absolutely dandy:
 “I honestly believe this — this is not spin,” Carville said. “I think that this will be the best thing to ever happen to the Democratic Party because health care costs will escalate unbelievably. It’s 2012. Twenty out of 100 people are over 65. By 2020 it will be 26. And you know what the Democrats are going to say and it’s completely justified, ‘We tried. We did something and go see a 5-4 Supreme Court majority.”
(Translation: We were perceived to be caught trying, although our hearts have never really been in it.  Oh well. If millions of people have to sicken and die just to make us look good, so be it.)

Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times theorizes Obama will run against the Supreme Court in the good old progressive spirit of FDR, and fight against Congress as a Give Em Hell Harry copycat. One of Zeleny's unnamed Democratic sources confided they'll be unashamedly casting themselves as victims and playing the martyr card. The Dems will be drowning in the bathos as the GOP drowns government in the bathtub. The rest of us will be drowning in our own tears.

The lack of political urgency in what is essentially a humanitarian crisis is mind-boggling. Instead of meeting in emergency session to craft legislation to ensure that the 50 million and counting uninsured Americans get medical care, Congress is throwing out members who wear hoodies. It's passing a bipartisan act to make it easier for financial crooks to bilk investors and then having the chutzpah to call it a JOBS Act.

The White House remains "confident" that Obamacare will stand, and thinks the bumbling solicitor general did a heckuva job in his lackadaisical Supreme Court appearance.
Despite the solicitor general’s shaky performance before the court, (WH Deputy Press Sec. Josh) Earnest called Donald Verrilli Jr., the government’s lawyer in the case, a “very skilled advocate” and “one of the brightest legal minds in Washington, D.C.”
Verrilli “delivered a solid performance before the Supreme Court. That's a fact. We feel good about his performance,” he said.
Methinks Josh was joshing. And his claiming not to know whether Obama had been paying much attention to the court case beggars belief. But he was probably right when he warned against placing bets on Obamacare, calling it a "risky business."

Maybe he was listening to CNBC Mad Money guy Jim Cramer (the same guru who told everybody to buy Lehman Brothers stock right before it crashed.) Cramer was on TV yesterday talking about the futility of reading too much into the lines of questioning by the Supremes. (So far, at least as far as we know, there exists no hedge fund betting on Obamacare futures. But give the geniuses of Wall Street a day or so.)

 The judges were probably just  funnin' with us anyway because, you know, people getting sick and dying for lack of health insurance is so damned hysterical. The word "broccoli" had everyone rolling in the aisles. Still, predicts Cramer, if Obamacare goes down, stocks will go up! If it stands, he advises investing in temporary employment agencies -- in order to avoid mandated coverage, "job creators" will simply hire people and fire them six months later to game the law. The profits of Manpower and other temp agencies will skyrocket as a result, he enthuses. Clip here.

That just about wraps it up. American-style health care policy doesn't have much to do with health. It has everything to do with pretend legislation, pretend bickering between the two sides of the Money Party, and ensuring that each side benefits both politically and financially whether it passes judicial muster or not.  Heads they win, tails we lose.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Budget for All Gets Attention from None

Even though deficit weasel Paul Ryan has been exposed as a serial charlatan, he is still being taken seriously by the punditocracy. David Brooks, for example, sneakily incorporates some of Ryan's ideas for the gentle genocide of the lesser people his column today. Predictions of the Ryan Budget's imminent demise have proven false. His Ayn Randian plan of annihilation may pass the House despite its chicanery. Numbers not adding up don't matter. Only ideology matters, and that ideology is for the rich to get richer and the poor to just die already. 


You'd think there would be an alternative to Ryanism and austerity -- and, as it turns out, there is! But you wouldn't know it from reading/watching the mainstream media. The "Budget for All" has just been introduced by the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), and I can count on the fingers of one hand how many articles have been written about it. (on my left hand, because they're all from lefty blogs, of course). The New York Times, with the exception of Paul Krugman, has always faithfully ignored all things CPC.  According to my Google search, the only print outlet to cover it has been the San Jose Mercury News . And that is only because local Congressman Mike Honda happens to be the author of the CPC budget proposal. Said Honda to his hometown paper: 
"Ryan's bill sort of grips everybody around the neck -- he's going for the jugular," Honda said. "Only the upper 1 or 2 percent and oil companies, those who've enjoyed the benefits of Republican leadership, will continue to do so. "We, on the other hand, are trying to keep our finger on the pulse."
You can read the progressive budget proposal in its entirety here. Meanwhile, the CPC has released a summary:

Our Budget Puts Americans Back to Work
Our budget attacks America’s persistently high unemployment levels with more than $2.4 trillion in job-creating investments. This plan utilizes every tool at the government’s disposal to get our economy moving again, including:
• Direct hire programs that create a School Improvement Corps, a Park Improvement Corps, and a Student Jobs Corps, among others.
• Targeted tax incentives that spur clean energy, manufacturing, and cutting-edge technological investments in the private sector.
• Widespread domestic investments including an infrastructure bank, a $556 billion surface transportation bill, and approximately $1.7 trillion in widespread domestic investment.

Our Budget Exhibits Fiscal Discipline
• Unlike the Republican budget, the Budget for All substantially reduces the deficit, and does so in a way that does not devastate what Americans want preserved.
• We achieve these notable benchmarks by focusing on the true drivers of our deficit – unsustainable tax policies, the wars overseas, and policies that helped cause the recent recession – rather than putting the middle class’s social safety net on the chopping block.

Our Budget Creates a Fairer America
• Ends tax cuts for the top 2% of Americans on schedule at year’s end
• Extends tax relief for middle class households and the vast majority of Americans
• Creates new tax brackets for millionaires and billionaires, in line with the Buffett Rule principle
• Eliminates the tax code’s preferential treatment of capital gains and dividends
• Abolishes corporate welfare for oil, gas, and coal companies
• Eliminates loopholes that allow businesses to dodge their true tax liability
• Creates a publicly funded federal election system that gets corporate money out of politics for good

Our Budget Brings Our Troops Home
• Responsibly and expeditiously ends our military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving America more secure at home and abroad
• Adapts our military to address 21st century threats; through modernization, the Department of Defense will spend less and stop contributing to our deficit problems

Protects American Families
• Provides a Making Work Pay tax credit for families struggling with high gas and food cost 2013-2015
• Extends Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child and Dependent Care Credit
• Invests in programs to stave off further foreclosures to keep families in their homes
• Invests in our children’s education by increasing Education, Training, and Social Services

Pretty radical, huh? Not particularly -- this budget from the "progressive" caucus might have been put forth by moderate Republicans back in the day.  And it actually contains some neoliberal stuff that makes me cringe -- for example, that vague line about "adapting our military to address 21st century threats" sounds suspiciously like a tacit approval of the Obama Doctrine: over the horizon drone strikes and targeted assassinations which are not only fiscally responsible -- they're kept secret. 

So, when do you think the White House will be giving this proposal so much as a glance or a mention? Don't hold your breath.

You see, Paul Ryan and his draconian budget are useful idiots. His Road to Doom is so extreme that it gives the Conserva-Dems the cover they need to negotiate from the right themselves and thus continue to serve their real masters without us noticing. Ryan goes for the quick kill by handing old people a check for a few grand and instructing them to shop around for crappy health insurance. The Democrats will more gradually cull older people from the population by raising the Medicare age to 67 and adjusting Social Security cost of living increases and reducing home heating assistance.

The Beltway Bozos, if they even bothered to read the CPC proposals, might notice that it balances the budget more quickly than Paul Ryan's plan (assuming that Ryan's plan is based on facts, which it isn't). The trouble is, the progressive method of balancing the budget involves stopping wars, reining in Wall Street to some extent and protecting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. And since those ideas are just not in the best interests of the One Percent, neither can they provide any benefit to the political puppets in either faction of the Money Party and their corporate-sponsored media stooges. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Racist War Propaganda

At first I thought this was the trailer for another Star Wars sequel when I saw it on TV over the weekend. Guess again:

Notice all those boxes of "Aid"' on the assault vehicles? Do they contain blood money for the relatives of the collateral damage? Bribes for the puppet dictators? Wads of cash for private contractors? Snickers?

This recruiting film is obviously aimed directly at a whole generation of  desperate unemployed and underemployed people -- and judging from the leading man, specifically at  African-American teenagers, whose unemployment rate is a staggering 42%. It is just another example of institutionalized racism, what author Michelle Alexander calls The New Jim Crow. The main character in the commercial is shown racing toward oblivion, the better to escape the chaos of life on the streets  and  NRA-enabled gun murders at the hands of vigilantes or a long stint at a for-profit prison for a petty drug conviction. The voice-over booms over the Dolby soundtrack: "Where chaos looms, the few emerge. Marines move toward the sounds of tyranny, injustice and despair — with the courage and resolve to silence them. By ending conflict, instilling order and helping those who can’t help themselves, Marines face down the threats of our time.”

The solution that our corporate-run government offers is not to abolish racial profiling by police thugs and civilian watch commanders, but to expand it for even more profit for themselves. Escape injustice and despair here by embracing it over there! And we'll even give you your own gun. "Which way would you run?" asks the recruiting commercial.

Besides the blatant racism inherent in this film, it also presumes geographical ignorance on the part of its target audience. The defunding of public education does serve a purpose, after all. These movie Marines storm the Normandy beaches and magically, immediately arrive in Afghanistan to rampage across the desert in a crusade of aggressive humanitarianism. War is Peace.

Leave it to the military industrial complex to partner with Hollywood to produce this overblown piece of pricey propaganda, and then waste even more taxpayer money to run it on the cable TV shows we already pay to watch. They have no shame because they are psychopaths.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Big Brother is a Big Fat Idiot

When smarmy Eric Holder announced the other day that Big Brother will now be keeping our private information for five years instead of 18 months, one thought immediately occurred to me. These humanoid drones must be up to their bloodshot eyeballs with totally useless information about innocent people! They have finally risen to the level of their own incompetence. They're lagging behind in their reading of our private business, simply because their reading skills are probably right down there at the abysmally low level of the average "educated" American. They can't keep up with the information overload because they weren't taught the necessary critical thinking and comprehension skills in school.

(This theory of course presupposes that actual humans will attempt to read and analyze the computerized output generated by their complex algorithms. If it's all automated with no human oversight at all, then we are definitely screwed. All the science fiction novels you ever read will come to life. I have visions of HAL 900 taking over that remote Utah data mining site they're building, and running amok).

So much dumpster diving by FBI and NSA agents. So many billions of emails with so many combinations of suspicious words to wade through. So many complicated algorithms and terabytes. So many sales receipts from Walmart, reams of photographs of people taking photographs of people taking photographs. Let's face it: there is an immense but finite number of people with security clearance working for the Surveillance State. Nobody knows the true number -- although Dana Priest of The Washington Post put it at about the entire population of Washington, DC a few years ago in her Pulitzer Prize winning series. It has probably at least doubled since then.

Nobody, writes Priest, has ever mapped the entire secret labyrinth of the massive security apparatus. Nobody, not even the Defense Secretary or the president, can tell you the names of all its of its many subterranean subsidiaries and private subcontractors. Nobody knows how much money is being poured down its maw, because so much of the funding is top secret and there is probably a lot of laundered money to finance whatever the hell it is doing. The Security State is an entity unto itself with a life of its own. It is way beyond any one person's control.   

And now Eric Holder says the behemoth needs more time to go through all the piles of what is likely utterly useless information. The reason he will not comply with Freedom of Information and Congressional requests on the actual workings of the Patriot Act is probably not so much that the information on state secrets is classified and sensitive, but because it will reveal ineptitude and paranoid pettiness on such an staggering scale that even the people who haven't been paying attention will start paying attention.

Senator Ron Wyden stood up last week and announced that if we only knew what our government is doing to our privacy, we'd be alarmed. He also might have meant we'd be appalled to learn that the Homeland has employed a confederacy of dunces to spy on us. And the irony is he can't reveal the unconstitutional machinations of the Secret Government and the Secret Patriot Act and the Secret Court because by doing so,  he would be breaking his oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. I love it when politicians use the Constitution as a human shield and then proceed to shred it to bits when we're not looking. 

This, remember, is the same politician who is partnering with Paul Ryan to voucherize Medicare. So I am not really expecting him to go all Serpico and do the courageous thing and spill the beans on government malefactors.  Although, wouldn't it be a treat to watch President Obama and Henchman Holder prosecute a United States Senator as a whistleblower under the Espionage Act? Not happening. All Wyden can do is passive aggression. "I know something you don't know. Na na na na na na!"

So what is a spied-upon citizen to do? Well, we can always turn the tables on them and do some spying ourselves. ProPublica has a great tool, for example, for regular people to help expose the secrecy of Citizens United -- the Supreme Court decision that enables rich elites and corporations to give unlimited anonymous money to candidates. The website says their invention has the potential to uncover illegal relationships between the politicians and the SuperPacs, which are supposedly independent entities unconnected with the campaigns. But come on. We know they've got their grasping tentacles wrapped so far around one another that they are truly one and the same corrupt corpus. 

Take lots of photos, everywhere and anywhere. Copy and paste all seven volumes of Remembrance of Things Past and email them to 100 friends. Start a dozen blogs and fill them with polysyllabic words the goons won't understand, like polysyllabic. Write a lot of comments in New York Times message boards (monitored by Homeland Security) and relentlessly make fun of the government while doing so. Use your imagination.

Back in the 60s and into the 70s, paranoid President Richard Nixon began a totally illegal CIA spying campaign against muckraking journalist Jack Anderson. Anderson got wise to it, and fought back with the help of his gaggle of children and assistants. Whenever they caught a goon in sunglasses taking pictures they snapped pictures right back. Anderson planted joke booby traps in his garbage cans to disgust the agents. If he was being tailed, he turned his car around and chased the tailers. On one occasion his kids managed to block off an entire motorcade of agents on their street and then proceeded to take their pictures. Nixon called off the pursuit only when Watergate seized his undivided attention.

Of course, those were the simpler, pre-Internet, pre-terror days. Richard Nixon was booted out of office, but he bequeathed his paranoia to most of his successors. President Obama, well on his way to becoming more Nixonian than Nixon, has the luxury of conducting his own operations behind the craven secrecy of a computer screen. We just never know when his clones are looking over our shoulders. So we might as well make their lives more confused than they already are, and maybe amuse them and ourselves at the same time.

Remember: the reading levels of Americans continue to plummet. Most high schoolers score only at fourth or fifth grade levels. Even the reading proficiency of college graduates rapidly deteriorates in later life, because hardly anyone reads any more.  The government is being very foolish in its systematic destruction of public schools in order to enrich the profiteers of private education. Without an educated surveillance force of the future, pouring billions into imperialism and domestic spying now is just pouring money into an infinite black hole. Even another century of pathological information mining and hoarding will not make a difference if the average spy can only read at a fourth grade level. Algorithms do not translate into human intelligence. Computers can't compensate for epidemic ignorance. OMG, WTF, LOL.

Big Brother's Opulent Resort

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Most Frightening Name in News

Fear-mongering NY Congressman Peter King has outdone himself. The same paranoid xenophobe who warned the nation about homegrown jihadists and the imminent application of Sharia Law at a Congressional hearing last year is back in the limelight, courtesy of CNN. He starred in the cable network's non-stop Fear Marathon yesterday, warning that hundreds, even thousands, of Mideastern types are in this country working in car dealerships and restaurants. They're not exactly doing anything wrong at the moment, but since they exist, they are susceptible to being convinced to attack New York City in the event that Israel bombs Iran. Some people simply can't graciously accept their relatives and friends overseas getting pulverized. And that should make Der Homeland very fearful.

 "This is a terrifying reason for us all to be very alarmed," intoned vacuous CNN host Wolf Blitzer in his signature monotone.

Blitzer's sonorous voice-over was accompanied by a video montage of goose-stepping and rappelling troops, ostensibly meant to illustrate what an Iranian occupation of the Big Apple would look like. When CNN does propaganda, it goes all in. Subtlety and subliminal imagery are just so 1984.

 There is an "A-Team" scarier than Al Qaeda just waiting to be inspired by an Israeli attack on Iran! The NYPD has caught Iranians taking photos of New York tourist attractions half a dozen times since 9/11!  They may look like innocuous car dealers, but they could be inspired to turn into terrorists any day now, warned King. He offered a lot of conjecture and no evidence. And the cable news stenographers asked not a single probing question. It was the lead story every hour.

King as much as admitted that his fear-mongering is just a PR campaign to defend the NYPD in the wake of the exposure of its draconian spying campaign against Muslims.

"Maybe this (the hearing and TV appearances) will deter the irrational and unbalanced attacks on the NYPD, who are trying to act pre-emptively," he told an unquestioning Soledad O'Brien. That clip is here. And to gin up our righteous patriotism even more, CNN unbelievably opened the King segment with Notre Dame's Fight Song. That was the personal choice of King himself, an ND alumnus.

Accompanying King's Congressional show hearing, which featured the testimony of an NYPD spy yammering about suspicious sightseeing by Iranian U.N. delegates, was a voluminous two-page report. It had obviously been hastily cobbled together in press release fashion. Here are a couple of representative examples of its overall vagueness:
There is general consensus among dozens of experts as well as current and former law enforcement and intelligence officials interviewed by the Majority Investigative Staff that Hezbollah – more than any other terror group – is the most capable of flipping a U.S.-based fundraising cell into a lethal terror force, should Iran decide that is in its interests.

Pinning down a reliable estimate of the number of Hezbollah operatives who now reside inside the U.S. is difficult because of their operational security expertise. But some officials estimate that, based on cases uncovered since 9/11, there are likely several thousand sympathetic donors, while operatives probably number in the hundreds.
This doesn't say a lot about the capability of our Homeland Security State, does it? The theory is that if Mitt Romney can flip-flop, then so can Lebanese car salesmen. Might, maybe, possibly may not constitute credible evidence. But it's better than just saying nothing, because saying nothing makes for a slow news day, and CNN always does its profitable best to act as the mouthpiece of the government/Wall Street complex. 

When Attorney General Eric Holder tried to justify presidential assassinations in a Chicago speech earlier this month and was almost universally lambasted, CNN stepped up and called his defense of the indefensible "expansive"and "unflinching" in a post on its Living With Terror blog

The network even has its very own National Security senior steno producer, named Suzanne Kelly. She inanely wondered how these "strings of Hezbollah in the US are going to play themselves out." (Will they stretch like rubber bands or bounce like yoyos or snap like bubble gum?) She quotes the usual unnamed source: "A federal law enforcement official would not provide CNN with an estimate of how many people affiliated with Hezbollah are believed to be in the U.S. The official would say only that the cases the U.S. has brought involving Hezbollah have involved areas such as fundraising and attempting to procure arms and have not involved plots."

As Glenn Greenwald pointed out last month in writing about Erin Burnett, its "worst of the worst" correspondent, CNN has become a parody of itself. Burnett was on the air again last night to pour gasoline on the flames of Peter King's bonfire. She actually referred to the United States as "The Homeland" as she showed an image of the flag-draped New York Stock Exchange. This illustrates just who she perceives the real potential victims will be. (hint: it's not the 99%). Who besides a government apparatchik talks like Erin Burnett? (I am still trying to locate a clip of her latest mile-a-minute harangue).

Burnett is so frenetically over the top, adds Greenwald, that she even makes psycho Peter King look normal and reasonable.

Blitzer and Burnett: Defenders of Corporate Amerika

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Corruption is Now Complete

Sergeant Pepper Spray of UC-Davis has officially been replaced as National Bad Guy. That dubious honor now belongs to Sergeant Slaughter of the US Army. The cop who mounted a one-man chemical assault against peaceful student  protesters last year was placed on administrative leave and never charged with a crime. The soldier who got airlifted out of Afghanistan after his massacre of civilians as they slept in their beds will probably get a whole lifetime of administrative leave and will have to be charged with a crime. But if history is any guide, he could also eventually walk free, or at most spend his days under perpetual psychiatric care. His compatriots in the Haditha and My Lai massacres all walked free, once the public outrage abated and people moved on. 

The big difference is that Sgt Bobby Bales, as he is fondly being remembered by people who probably didn't know him all that well, is also being cast in the American media as a sympathetic victim who just snapped after one deployment too many. Legend already has it that he joined up out of patriotism, post 9/11,  to serve his country and fight the terrorists. Only... not so fast. It turns out that Bales may have joined the Army simply to escape accusations of fraud stemming from his stint as an investment broker. He'd been ordered to pay actual and punitive damages totalling more than $1 million to a retiree he had cheated out of his life savings. The Washington Post has the story.

But, whatever. Our duly elected president and Congress are set to legalize fraud anyway. The guilty shall be absolved. After Obama's in-house lobby of CEOs known as the Council on Jobs & Competitiveness told him they wanted the Sarbanes-Oxley Act dismantled, he was only too happy to comply. That was the law enacted during the Bush Administration in the wake of the Enron scandal; it made it illegal for corporations to defraud their investors, and forced potential cheaters to make honest disclosures about risk.

Now, the oligarchs have convinced their apparatchik in president's clothing that honesty is both a job-killer and a second term killer. It's not enough that they, like the war criminals, have walked free from past felonies. They won't be satisfied until they get permission to commit even more unpunishable crimes.

Hilariously, the weasels of the political class have named this scam of a bill the JOBs Act -- standing for "Jumpstart Our Small Business Start-Ups."  It passed in the House almost unanimously, giving lie to the narrative that bipartisanship is dead. Democrats and Republicans love to pretend-fight over contrived issues like birth control, the better to sneak their Wall Street-enabling agenda past the public. Democratic apologists are already making the excuse that their side was hoodwinked into voting for it, seeing how the name would fool anybody, plus they probably didn't have time to actually read it. What a joke. If they didn't have time to read it, it was because they were too busy fund-raising from the bill's actual mega-rich authors.  

The Senate is expected to pass the measure this week with the usual fast-track speed reserved for bills that screw the 99%. There is some surface pushback, but since Harry Reid made sure a super-majority will be needed to defeat it, some Democrats will be able to save face and brag how they voted against it and still get what they really want. 

Former N.Y.Gov Eliot Spitzer, who once prosecuted the fraudsters now hoping to be exempt from culpability, has a scathing smackdown of this latest political scandal in Slate:
Once again, the Puppets on Capitol Hill are about to slam the Muppets on Main Street. The country still hasn’t recovered from the Wall Street-induced financial cataclysm of 2008, yet Congress is preparing to enact the Orwellian ”JOBS Act”—a bill that should in fact be called the “Return Fraud to Wall Street in One Easy Step Act.” The bill will undo some of the most important reforms placed on Wall Street in a generation.
Even the staid New York Times is calling the proposed legislative chicanery "Orwellian" in its scope. From an editorial titled You Scratch My Back:
With their eye on campaign cash, President Obama and lawmakers from both parties have decided they can all get more from corporate constituents if they cooperate to enact legislation that big donors want.....

Its proponents — stock exchanges, venture capital groups, biotech start-ups, investment banks — say that the easier it is for companies to raise money, the more they will grow and hire workers. Its opponents — the current and former chairmen of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the association of state securities regulators, AARP, the Consumer Federation of America, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. labor federation and unions, several big pension funds and many prominent securities experts — have presented ample evidence to show that deregulation raises the cost of capital by harming investors and impairing markets, making it harder for legitimate companies to thrive.

John Coates of Harvard Law School recently told a Senate banking subcommittee that the proposals in the JOBS Act “could not only generate front-page scandals, but reduce the very thing they are being promoted to increase: job growth.” Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, and other supporters, notably Senator Charles Schumer of New York, have responded to the warnings by fast-tracking the bill for passage. Over the past week, Senate Democratic leaders scrapped plans for introducing a Senate version that presumably would have restored some of the protections gutted in the House bill. Instead, they chose to embrace the House version.

Former financial regulator William Black calls the JOBS bill the most cynical thing to come out of Washington in living memory:
The JOBS Act is something only a financial scavenger could love. It will create a fraud-friendly and fraud-enhancing environment. It will add to the unprecedented level of financial fraud by our most elite CEOs that has devastated the U.S. and European economies and cost over 20 million people their jobs.... Financial fraud is a prime jobs killer.
Powerful regulatory regimes -- strong accounting rules, strict corporate governance, tough securities laws, and vigorous civil and criminal enforcement of the regulations and laws is the greatest infrastructure for strong economic growth that a nation can provide. For decades, the U.S. had an enormous competitive advantage over other nations in raising funds through securities because investors placed great trust in issuers that were subject to effective regulation. U.S. equities traded at a substantial premium compared to securities issued in other nations (which means that companies could raise capital much more effectively and inexpensively). Regulators serve as the "cops on the beat" that prevent a Gresham's Dynamic in which "bad ethics drives good ethics out of the markets."
The only "cops on the beat" in evidence these days are the paramilitary thugs who beat up Occupy protesters, stop and frisk minorities on suspicion of being minorities, and spy upon Muslims. Fraud is being openly celebrated as a virtue and peaceful demonstration is being vilified as a crime. The political miscreants are no longer even trying to pretend they work for the people who voted for them. Mendacity must get so exhausting after awhile.

Do you really think Obama and his Justice Department are going to crack down on the psychopathic NYPD?  Think again. The president just had Billionaire Mayor Bloomberg to lunch, ostensibly to offer him a job in his second term. The president rakes in millions of dollars on any given day while canoodling with the obscenely wealthy and satisfying their every craven whim. His grand plan to shred Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is still very much on the table, despite his shallow populist rhetoric. Even serial Obama apologist Jonathan Chait has had enough of defending him. Read about the first (but not last) attempt at the Grand Bargain/Big Sellout here.

Electoral politics no longer has any meaning for regular people. The presidential horserace is a product of the mainstream stenographic media and SuperPacs  -- a shallow sporting event to which we are invited to take sides and pretend our vote matters. Rombamarama will be a contest between two guys vying to see who can raise the most money and who can do the most to please the plutocrats. That is it. 

The fact that Occupy is alive and well and growing every day is testament to the fact that the people are just not buying this crap any more.

It's time for a JOBS Act, all right. We need to Just Overcome B.S. And get ready for May Day.

**Update: Harry Reid has yanked the bill after amendments more protective of investors and the import-export bank failed, and the final cloture vote looked set to fail as well. You can read further details from Dave Dayen via Firedoglake. I think a little burst of public sunshine helped them see things from a reasonable point of view. Meanwhile, lobbyists will continue to open their checkbooks in hopes of better days for the professional fraud class.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Unctuous Utterances

President Obama is totally to blame for the sharp rise in gas prices and he's simply ecstatic about it, say Mitt Romney and the usual suspects at Fox News. It's because he won't Drill Baby Drill, and because he won't allow construction of the tar sands pipeline, and because he's the heartless killer of a million jobs. Nonsense! say the reasonable people and pundits of pragmatic progressivism. No president can control the price of gas, fer cryin out loud! He's not a king, despite the fact that he has declared himself to be above the Constitution and can kill people. Stop piling on Barry. And of course, we are right and sensible to call out the GOP for the lying liars they are.

Obama, for his part, points to Congress and its tax subsidies for Big Oil as the reason for our pain at the pump, as well as the drumbeat for war with Iran, and rising demand because of voracious Chinese consumerism. These causes have at least a vestige of verisimilitude, and they sound good.
But in making this a conversation about politics, and the crazy side blaming the reasonable side and vice versa, what's missing is that neither party is really addressing the issue head on. No party and no branch of government is pointing the finger of blame where it really belongs: the greedy speculators at such too big to exist banks as Goldman Sachs. (I wrote about unregulated speculation in a Paul Krugman comment last week and was promptly accused of being a Republican sock puppet by another reader!)

It's an election year, and no politician wants to bite the hand that feeds him or her. There are a few exceptions to the rule, such as Bernie Sanders, and I'll get to him later. But first, let me indulge in one of my favorite pasttimes: the Parse a President game. This edition is from a slightly condensed version of Obama's Saturday radio address, titled Ending Subsidies for Big Oil Companies.

Hi, everybody. As I’m sure you’ve noticed over the past few weeks, the price at your local pump has been going up and up. And because it’s an election year, so has the temperature of our political rhetoric.

(It's costing families about $40 extra for fill-ups -- the same magic number I said the average family would get when we passed that tax holiday sunsetting thingmabob that will never really sunset, and will give us deficit hawks an excuse to cut Social Security. Oh well. Easy come, easy go.)

What matters most to me right now is the impact that rising prices have on you. When you’ve got to spend more on gas, you’ve got less to spend on everything else. It makes things harder. So I wanted to take a minute this weekend to explain what steps my Administration is taking when it comes to energy – most importantly, producing more of it while using less of it.

My approval ratings are down, so let me take some precious time away from my weekend and try to improve my numbers through a little friendly propaganda.

The truth is: the price of gas depends on a lot of factors that are often beyond our control. Unrest in the Middle East can tighten global oil supply. Growing nations like China or India adding cars to the road increases demand. But one thing we should control is fraud and manipulation that can cause prices to spike even further.
For years, traders at financial firms were able to game the energy markets, distort the price of oil, and make big profits for themselves at your expense. And they were able to do all that because of major gaps and loopholes in our regulations. When I took office, we did something about it.
The Wall Street reforms I signed into law are helping bring energy markets out of the shadows and under real oversight. They’re strengthening our ability to go after fraud and to prevent traders from manipulating the market. So it’s not just wrong, but dangerous that some in Congress want to roll back those protections and return to the days when companies like Enron could avoid regulation and reap enormous profits, no matter who it hurt.

Okay, here is where it gets really, really dicey. I am actually venturing into some blatant lying here, folks. That Wall Street reform law I signed to control speculation two years ago, that Dodd-Frank thing? Well, the oil speculation part has never even been enforced! Gary Gensler, head of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, has the sworn duty to stop folks like Goldman Sachs from manipulating the market and driving up oil prices to artificially high levels. The too big to exist banks are still ripping off you fine folks at the gas pump like there's no tomorrow. Of course, Gensler used to work at Goldman Sachs, but I am not telling you that. Goldman Sachs is a friend of mine and a friend of my friend, Michael Bloomberg. I am not going to diss them in an election year, or any year. Because they run the whole show. This is pure Kabuki. There is no oversight of the financial crime family. I repeat. No oversight.

What’s more, at a time when big oil companies are making more money than ever before, we’re still giving them $4 billion of your tax dollars in subsidies every year. Your member of Congress should be fighting for you. Not for big financial firms. Not for big oil companies.
In the next few weeks, I expect Congress to vote on ending these subsidies. And when they do, we’re going to put every single Member of Congress on record: They can either stand up for oil companies, or they can stand up for the American people. They can either place their bets on a fossil fuel from the last century, or they can place their bets on America’s future. So make your voice heard. Send your representative an email. Give them a call. Tell them to stand with you.

I am ignoring the fact that Senator Bernie Sanders has demanded that we do  something about those wild and crazy speculators. I am ignoring the fact that as your president, I have it in my sole power to release just a smidgen of our oil reserves to make Wall Street speculation stop in its tracks and prices drop like a rock. Why, just the other week, Reuters put out a false report that Gordon Brown and I had agreed we'd release our reserves. And the price of oil immediately tanked. And when it turned out the rumor was false, the price went right back up. What do you know about that?  Heh, heh. In the meantime, I will convince you its you and me against the world, babe, and blame both parties in Congress. I may as well call my campaign The Truman Show, get it? Because Harry ran against Congress. Congress evil, Barry good. Heh.  

And tell them to be honest with you. It’s easy to promise a quick fix when it comes to gas prices. There just isn’t one. Anyone who tells you otherwise – any career politician who promises some three-point plan for two-dollar gas – they’re not looking for a solution. They’re just looking for your vote.

They lie! Demonize Congress even more and forget about the banksters, folks! Trust me. Triple Heh.

If we’re truly going to make sure we’re not at the mercy of spikes in gas prices every year, the answer isn’t just to drill more – because we’re already drilling more. Under my Administration, we’re producing more oil here at home than at any time in the last eight years, that’s a fact. We’ve quadrupled the number of operating oil rigs to a record high, that’s a fact. And we’ve opened millions of acres on land and offshore to develop more of our domestic resources.

Never fear. By the time Election Day rolls around, this pain at the pump will be but a dim memory, Wall Street will have raked in billions, my campaign war chest will have swollen to bursting. And of course, I am drill baby drilling -- dangerous deepwater operations are back to full capacity and there will be a fracking well in every back yard if I have anything to say about it. Remember my State of the Union address? As long as the big polluters promise they won't use toxic chemicals in the water they shoot down into the earth, then it's all good. Forget about Dow Chemical and Bhopal and the BP spill. Let's look forward, not backward. And notice how I don't suggest that people actually drive less, or  conserve energy. Because this has nothing to do with an energy shortage and everything to do with greed.

(here, though, he does speak about fuel efficiency in the vehicles of the future, as well as solar and wind power. Nobody can quibble with that.) 

We can do even better. And we will. But what we can’t do is keep being dependent on other countries for our energy needs. In America we control our own destiny. So that’s the choice we face – the past, or the future. And America is what it is today because we have always placed our bets on the future. Thanks, and have a great weekend.

Again with the moving on meme. The only folks betting on the future and winning are the unregulated Wall Street greedsters. Your own futures? Meh.

You may recall last summer when Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont leaked a lot of embarrassing info about the oil speculators, proving that they had been the sole cause of the last (unexplained until then) big spike in prices in 2008. The  players in this regulated-in-name-only casino are all the usual suspects: Goldman, Morgan Stanley, the Koch Brothers, T. Boone Pickens. All the erstwhile "confidential" devils are here.

And now they're at it again, and Sanders is at it again. He and 69 other legislators have written a letter to Gary Gensler to remind him that he is falling down on the job and flouting the law in not regulating the Wall Street greedsters who continue to inflict so much human misery. I just wish he had also written directly to the president to ask why he is falling down on the job and not firing Gensler. Much as I love Bernie, he will only go so far and no further.

Sanders points out that the skyrocketing prices have nothing to do with a short supply or a particularly rising demand, the usual cause of spiking numbers. There is no shortage of oil in the world market. "According to the Energy Information Administration," said Sanders, "the supply of oil and gasoline is greater today than it was three years ago, when the national average price for a gallon of gasoline was just $1.90. Today, the national average is more than $3.70 a gallon at a time when the demand for oil in the U.S. is at its lowest level since April of 1997." 

Eighty percent of the futures market is now controlled by unregulated financial institutions, compared with just 30% a decade ago.

So with the exception of Bernie Sanders and perhaps a precious few other altruistic types who still act in the interest of the voters, here is what our elected officials are actually doing. Because this is how the dance is performed: The president pretends to push, and Congress passes, some watered-down legislation that merely nibbles around the edges of reform. The new rules never actually kick in right away, because can-kicking is so lucrative. To make sure the carious teeth of Dodd-Frank never clamp down and actually bite, lobbyists fall all over themselves, frantically contributing to campaign funds. The politicians sign their names to letters demanding enforcement of the rules, and they leak these demands to the media. We think they really care about us. Lobbyists lobby the politicians some more, and politicians get more campaign cash. The President blames Congress and tells us we can make a difference if we'd only pick up the phone and call them. His campaign sends out emails telling us to stop the Republican lies. He asks for $15 to help stop the Republican lies. The speculators laugh all the way to the bank, we get screwed, and the mad world spins.

Fingerpointing USA (from top, Gensler, Sanders, Obama)

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Other War Against Women

The war against women is nothing new, and it isn't limited to the GOP misogynists who don't want us to have access to birth control. The war against women is really an economic one, waged by the .01 percent against the rest of us. The real war is the class war being waged against the women, men and children of the 99%. The birth control battle, while odious, is just a part of the larger oppression of poor women, working women, and minority women. Wealthy white women get treated with dignity and respect, regardless of the medical circumstances. Paris Hilton will never be forced to undergo an ulstrasound if she doesn't want one. 

You don't get the big picture by reading or watching the mainstream media accounts. The debate that rages is whether it's false equivalence to compare Rush Limbough's vitriol with Bill Maher's potty mouth. Liberals are torn between championing the hate machine's right to free speech and calling for its silencing. Reactionary politicians are trying to out-do each other in creative medievalism, turning routine ob-gyn visits into torture. There is not a little pornography in the current political discourse.

And meanwhile, American women are still only earning about 82 cents to the man's dollar -- an apparent increase from just a few years ago, when we got 75 cents to the dollar compared to men. However, that increase is mainly due to the fact that men lost more jobs during the meltdown; the hard truth is that everyone's wages have shrunk. Men's pay decreased by two percent, while women lost an average of .09 percent. Moreover, black women still earn only 70% of what white men get, and Latinas, just 60%.

The  Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, much vaunted by the Obama Administration as one of his signature legislative accomplishments, really has had nothing much to do with the very slight improvement in the pay scales of working women.
As a matter of fact, Lilly Ledbetter herself is having trouble making ends meet on her meager retirement benefits. In an interview with WNYC this week, she said her income has fallen by over 50% since her husband died in 2008. Despite her fame and her seat of honor at the State of the Union address, she is "just scraping by."  You can listen to the interview here. Instead of contributing to politicians who are co-opting this brave woman for their own ends, you might want to purchase Mrs. Ledbetter's new book. It's called "Grace and Grit." As she says in the audio, income discrimination is not just a woman's problem -- it's a family problem. I highly recommend listening to the whole thing. It will open your eyes and make you mad as hell. You'll find out how she did all the work herself to get the law changed, and that she didn't earn a single extra penny as a result of her efforts.

Jenny Brown of Labor Notes writes that over her lifetime, the typical working woman loses $379,000 because of the continuing income gap. And as Lilly Ledbetter has experienced, this loss carries over into retirement. Social Security benefits are predicated on the amount of lifetime earnings. And then too, wage discrimination is usually built right into jobs that are traditionally held by women.

Hospitality and retail jobs are a big part in the "improving" employment statistics, because the increasing wealth of the one percent has given them scads more money to burn in hotels and restaurants and stores. So of course thousands more servants and lackeys are needed to meet the needs of the very rich. And service industries are dominated by low-paid female workers. The average wage for a restaurant server is only $2.13 an hour -- well below the legal minimum wage, but exempt from the law because tips theoretically compensate. Only they often don't, because employers don't make up the difference as they are required to do. Some bosses force the wait staff to pool their tips among the cleanup crews and even pocket their own cut.

Then there's the hotel business. The Hyatt Chain, owned by the wealthy Pritzker family, is notoriously anti-union and anti-woman. Management ordered heat lamps turned on striking workers outside the Chicago hotel during a heat wave last summer. At the Hyatt hotel in Santa Clara, California, bosses celebrated “housekeepers appreciation week” last September by grafting photographs of housekeepers’ faces onto bikini-clad bodies on surfboards. If Hyatt employees want health insurance, a $400 monthly premium is deducted from their checks.

Yet Hyatt heiress, Forbes billionaire and Obama bundler Penny Pritzker has a seat of honor at the White House Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. That should immediately suggest that this hilariously named in-house lobby of CEOs and a few token, co-opted big labor leaders has absolutely nothing to do with jobs. When you hear the word "job creator" in Washington, it refers to an oligarch who not only wants to keep more of his/her hoarded wealth, but wants to make sure what little the rest of us have left is taken away through "shared sacrifice."

President Obama was happy to pose with Lilly Ledbetter at a few photo-ops, and never hesitates to use her name as a campaign talking point. But he also never dreamed of appointing her to his phony jobs council. She might have spoken too many inconvenient truths. She might have made Penny Pritzker uncomfortable.

The war on women is bipartisan. The Republicans just have an uglier and more vocal way of expressing it. 

A Study in Contrasts: Ledbetter (top) and Pritzker