Monday, April 30, 2012

His Icy Hotness

If you have been paying any attention to corporate media political coverage the past couple of days, you might think you were trapped in a seventh grade time warp. This is the narrative: Obama is the cool kid, and Romney is the nerd. Obama is the slow-jamming killah  and Romney the bumbling rich snob who has probably never even killed a fly. (Remember -- Obama did once kill a fly on national TV!). It's Ferris Bueller vs. Napoleon Dynamite. It's the junior high school election as covered by the junior high school newspaper. It's surface, it's shallow, and it's stultifying.

The president is being criticized for his unseemly bin Laden chest-thumping by the GOP, who used to have the market cornered on warrior presidents who never went to war themselves, but made a big show of landing on aircraft carriers and crowing "Mission Accomplished." Barack's bellicosity is so much more refined than Bush's, after all. He does not mumble and he doesn't strut (much) and he doesn't smirk. He slow-jams the Osama Bump, he kills at the White House Correspondents Dinner, he oozes charm and drives dorky Karl Rove nuts. You can practically hear the Turd Blossom whine in the latest SuperPac ad criticizing Barry for being cool: "It's not fair that you're the popular kid, and Mitt's the loser! Waaaaah."  

It's hard to tell which came first: the media complicity chicken or the government propaganda egg. Seemingly on cue, cable outlets and TV networks and major newspapers have all come out with the same story.  Even though tomorrow is International Workers' Day, what we are really supposed to celebrate is the first anniversary of the Death of bin Laden. Obama will give NBC an exclusive and "unprecedented" interview in the Situation Room on how it all went down. He'll coyly defend keeping the death pics secret even as he dishes on the gory details. He may even boast once again on those targeted drone killings that officially don't exist. The New York Times ran a glowing op-ed on "The Warrior President" which had Glenn Greenwald in fits. (Me too. It portrayed Obama as a tough guy who can both dance and operate a drone joy stick by proxy. Take that, Norman Mailer!). 

The Nation goes so far as to point out that the President is even deliberately starting to act black just to drive Mitt nuts:

 .... he's rubbing their faces in it, just like he did when he sympathized with Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. for getting arrested in his own home. And that gleams like troll gold to Republican strategists.
Obama has dared to be a cool black man more often lately. First, in January, he sang, “I—I’m so in love with you” at a fundraiser at the Apollo Theater, with Al Green in the audience, a totally engaging moment the Rove ad doesn’t fail to sneer at. (As Maureen Dowd wrote, “For eight seconds, we saw the president we had craved for three years: cool, joyous, funny, connected.”) Then, for a Black History Month celebration in the White House, Obama sang a few bars of “Sweet Home Chicago” with B.B. King, once again looking terrifically comfortable in his own (black) skin.
It's the youth vote, stupid! Maybe if the president portrays himself as a celebrity and knocks a few bucks off their crushing college debt, they'll get all fired up and head to polls this fall instead of Occupying. Personally, I give young people more credit. For one thing, you have to come equpped with a certain propensity for being sucked into a personality cult. For another thing, it's pretty insulting to be pandered to when you're unemployed and in hock to big banks up to your ears, only to be cajoled by a jive politician "Stupid youth, vote!"

Obama actually won the "Marketer of the Year" award from Ad Week after the 2008 campaign. His political machine and the access-hungry corporate media establishment are partnering up and rebranding his brand. New Obama has a spine of sub-zero titanium. He kills terrorists with frigid resolve. He slow-jams, but in a dignified adult way.  Even though he pretends not to be as sexy, that graying hair and dulcet voice make everybody hot. He is cool enough that he can still send shivers up Chris Matthews' leg. He is so cool that he makes the Republicans sweat. He is the personification of the Icy Hot Pain Relieving Patch! You've all seen that commercial:

Barack Obama Icy Hot is a typical politician topical pain reliever that gets ICY to dull the brain pain, then gets HOT to relax it away. He It temporarily relieves major angst minor pain associated with unemployment, lack of insurance, being spied on, foreclosure arthritis, tendonitis, and muscle strains and sprains.

Obama Icy Hot speeches formulations include Wall Street-vetted FDA permitted crumbs active ingredients to relieve minor pain. Obama Icy Hot products contain platitudes menthol or a combination of slow jams menthol and after-dinner jokes methyl salicylate.

These ingredients create cooling and warming sensations that divert attention from the actual pain and help block the pain signals being sent to the brain.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Today in Chutzpah: Bank of America Issues Human Rights Credit Card

Just when you thought they couldn't get any more brazen....

If you sign up for a usurious credit card from foreclosure fraudster, too-big-to-exist, bailed out corporate welfare leech Bank of America, they will donate 25 whole cents out of every hundred bucks you borrow to the LGBT lobby, a/k/a "The Human Rights Campaign."

In other words, they will make a profit of about a thousand percent off the APR backs of liberal do-gooders who still have enough credit to qualify for this scam. Has the Human Rights Campaign no shame for partnering with a global financial crime cabal responsible for creating human misery on a scale not seen since the Spanish Inquisition? This is the same bank, remember, that tried and failed to charge customers $5 for using their own debit cards, so we definitely know the financiers in this partnership have no shame. It is a moral characteristic absent in sociopaths. If corporations are people, then BofA is a person with an incurable personality disorder.

And what about this Human Rights Campaign? (not to be confused with Human Rights Watch, which I wrote about yesterday) According to Wikipedia, it is the largest LGBT advocacy and political lobbying group in the United States. It supports the re-election of, among others, Barack Obama (who is still "evolving" on gay marriage and recently passed on signing an executive order forbidding workplace discrimination against gays by government contractors.)

HRC came under hefty criticism for making a deal with President George W. Bush during his campaign to privatize Social Security: the lobby agreed to go along with his scheme in exchange for same-sex partners becoming eligible for benefits.  HRC was also slammed for giving high corporate marks to tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds a few years ago. As you may recall from yesterday's post, the R.J. Reynolds family has also been very, very generous over the years to the Democratic Party and Obama.

And, as you probably already guessed, Bank of America itself has been a big contributor to the campaign coffers of Barack Obama. As much as the corporate media try to claim that newly-populist Barry has been rejected this cycle by Wall Street, he is still raking in the banking cash. Ninety-one individual employees of BoA have already given him almost $60,000 this year alone, according to Open Secrets. And when the president speaks at the Democratic National Convention in an anti-union state this September, the venue will be Bank of America Stadium. So, folks, be sure to get your BofA Human Rights credit card today and use it to get cash back in hotels and restaurants and bars, and for balloons and bumper stickers and escort services campaign bling in Charlotte! Those two bits going to Gay Rights for every hundred bucks you spend will surely find their way into the pocket of our amazing evolving president. It's the endless cycle of neoliberal public-private partnerships. The only ones left out of the money loop are the taxpayers who foot the bill.

If the thought of this North Carolina orgy of crony capitalism is bumming you out, there will be alternate events, including a "March on Wall Street South" to coincide with the Democratic Con. Here's the website where you can get information on attending. You can even make a non-BofA credit card donation to help secure parade permits and other bureaucratic nonsense already being put in place to stifle dissent.

And don't forget May Day this Tuesday. If you are unable to attend a protest, don't have a job to call in sick to, don't have money not to spend, don't have a TV to turn off to avoid the propaganda, more ideas can be found here.

The solidarity promises to be severe. No credit cards are required.

Don't Leave Home Without It

Friday, April 27, 2012

Obama of Sunnybrook Farm

I don't know which is worse: the fact that the Obama Administration has scrapped protections for child farm workers, or the fact that this craven act has engendered so little outrage.

Human Rights Watch, though, has just issued a scathing report on the Labor Department's abandonment of a policy that would have protected minors from dangerous working conditions on farms, bluntly stating that our leaders are condemning vulnerable children to maiming and death. Conventional corporate media spin has it that the White House was the victim of a right wing disinformation campaign by Sen. John Thune and others, accusing it of waging a war against family farms, the American work ethic, moms and apple pie. They had no choice but to crumble! However, the proposed regulations would only have applied to farm employees under the age of 16 -- not to the children of farmers. Family farms, to the extent that they have survived predation by Agribusiness, would have been exempt. Obama never even fought back.

Yet again, this Administration has "caved" to Republican and corporate pressure because it does not want to be maligned as anti-family farm, anti-Heartland. However, what nobody is talking about (yet) is that the proposed rules would have adversely affected big tobacco farms in those all-important swing states of North Carolina and Virginia. Tobacco farmers employ migrant workers, and migrant workers bring along the kids to help out and make more money. They get paid by the bushel, and do not earn a regular salary. Among the new rules the Labor Dept. had been due to enforce was a provision prohibiting minors from exposure to toxic tobacco plants and the equally toxic pesticides used to protect them. Barring children from the harvest would have cut into the bottom line of R.J. Reynolds. Barring children from de facto slavery might have evoked the wrath of the powerful tobacco lobby. Protecting children from nicotine poisoning in the fields might have spawned a whole slew of anti-Obama SuperPac ads in Virginia and North Carolina -- two states crucial to his re-election. 

Although the president has been a public critic of Big Tobacco (his Justice Dept. fought back against cigarette makers' fight to keep warning labels and graphics off the packages) he also has had no qualms accepting money from donors enriched by the cancer-causing industry. The late Smith Bagley, heir to the R.J. Reynolds fortune, was a major Democratic fund-raiser and Obama bundler. Obama appointed his equally generous widow, Elizabeth, to a "global ambassadorship" at the State Department. She had been ambassador to Portugal during the Clinton Administration.

Of course, this big money/political rationale for throwing migrant farmworkers' children under the bus is pure conjecture on my part. I gave up trying to delve into the presidential psyche a long time ago. Who really cares what his reasons are, when the results of his reasoning are what really count. And who can be surprised by this latest deregulatory action from an administration that has already condemned thousands of asthmatic children to suffering and death by punting on smog regulations last year?

That may sound harsh, but it is no harsher than this embrace of Dickension child labor abuses by a Democratic administration. As Zama Coursen-Neff, HRW's deputy director of children's rights puts it in her report:  
The US Labor Department has caved in to Big Agriculture and their allies in Congress to abandon the most vulnerable working children in America. Instead of protecting child farmworkers, the Labor Department will look the other way when children get crushed, suffocated, and poisoned on the job.


Agriculture is the most dangerous work open to children in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Children risk pesticide poisoning, serious injury, and heat illness. In 2010, the latest figures available, 16 children under age 16 were fatally injured at work in the US; 12 of them worked on farms. Thousands more are injured each year.

In interviews with Human Rights Watch, child farmworkers have described working with heavy machinery, including tractors; falling from ladders; exposure to pesticides and experiencing symptoms consistent with pesticide poisoning; working in extreme heat to the point of dehydration; and “topping” and harvesting tobacco, risking nicotine poisoning, known as green tobacco sickness.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the US Department of Labor bears responsibility for determining what jobs are particularly hazardous, and thus off limits, for children under age 16 working on farms that are not owned or operated by their parents. Current rules, known as “hazardous orders,” which were drafted decades ago, prohibit operating certain equipment, working in areas with certain animals, working from a ladder at a height of over 20 feet, and applying the most toxic agricultural chemicals.
According to OSHA, most farm accidents happen to people over 65 and under 16. Three hundred children are killed on American farms every year. (Most child deaths are not related to work, per se; the OSHA numbers reflect all accidental deaths on farms. These might include household accidents, animal mishaps, motor vehicle accidents.) Adolescents already have a false sense of invincibility and usually don't have the maturity to operate heavy machinery safely. Tractor overturns are the most common farm accident, accounting for 44% of all fatalities. Most farms are located far from emergency medical facilities and ambulances usually take a long time to arrive. They are often too late.  

In case you were wondering what the Obama Administration has to say for itself -- well, not very much. The president can't even take his usual easy way out and blame Congress. Here is the official spin:
"The Obama administration is firmly committed to promoting family farmers and respecting the rural way of life, especially the role that parents and other family members play in passing those traditions down through the generations," the Labor Department said in a statement announcing the withdrawal of the rule.
"The Obama administration is also deeply committed to listening and responding to what Americans across the country have to say about proposed rules and regulations."
(Hint: the day before the decision, Sarah Palin complained on Facebook that President Obama was not pro- working family values and family entrepreneurial togetherness. Enter damage control, exit rules against damaging children.)

The Happy-Talk Bullshit

The Grim Reality (from the film La Cosecha (The Harvest)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Down on the Factory Farm

By Neil Gillespie
Cross-posted from The Justice Network

Many people are uninformed about farm animals, slaughterhouses, factory farms, industrial animal agriculture, and the normalization of violence accepted to put dinner on the table. Videos go a long way in understanding the killing of animals for human use, like those from Paul McCartney, Dr. Temple Grandin, bloggers, animal welfare organizations and filmmakers.

The book Eternal Treblinka, and others, describe the horrible suffering animals endure everyday in industrial factory farms. As Mark Bittman wrote in "The Human Cost of Animal Suffering" in the New York Times, "…once we accept that farm animals are capable of suffering (80 percent of Americans believe this to be true), we might well wonder what they’ve done to deserve such punishment."

Bittman interviewed Timothy Pachirat, author of "Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight". Pachirat worked five months in an Omaha slaughterhouse. Pachirat "took the job not as an animal rights activist but as a doctoral candidate in political science seeking to understand the normalization of violence."

Bittman wrote "The most publicized stories about industrial agriculture represent the exceptions that prove the rule: the uncommon torture of animals by perverse individuals in rogue operations. But torture is inherent in the routine treatment of animals as widgets, and the system itself is perverse. What makes "Every Twelve Seconds" different from (for example) a Mercy for Animals exposé is, says Pachirat, "that the day-in and day-out experience produces invisibility. Industrialized agriculture perpetuates concealment at every level of the process, and rather than focusing on the shocking examples we should be focusing on the system itself."

A video by Dr. Grandin discusses humane methods of animal dispatch. A video by Dax Jorgenson shows the humane butchering of a live hog from killing the animal to completion. Another video by Terrence Malachy shows the utterly inhumane killing of a hog. This is hard to watch, and the authorities should investigate this outrageous torture of an innocent animal.

There are alternatives to the normalization of violence accepted to put dinner on the table. The first step is this admission: The normalization of violence toward farm animals is unacceptable in a civilized society. Next, humane methods of animal farming and animal killing must be employed. For others, vegetarianism or veganism is the way to stop the normalization of violence toward farm animals.
David Aman of Krewe De Food made this point on the KDF Chicken Killing Demonstration blog post:

"Everyone who eats meat should participate periodically in its killing. If you're not a vegetarian then do yourself a favor and eat something that you kill. There would be a lot less meat consumption if us omnivores were a little more attached to the killing portion of our meat consumption. The industrialization of our food is doing something to our subconscious; can't say exactly how it has and will effect us but it can't be good.."

As John Cassidy said on the KDF "How to kill a chicken" video, "It's not fun... but it's how life goes on without Walmarts."
Mark Bittman described a similar reaction: "Pachirat says he has changed as a result of his experience, becoming increasingly interested in what he calls "distancing and concealment." He now intends to work on those issues as they relate to imprisonment, war, torture, deployment of drones and other sophisticated weaponry that allow impersonal killing. And it’s because these connections make so much sense that we should look more carefully at how we raise and kill animals."

Could the normalization of violence toward farm animals explain other undesirable aspects of our society, like torture, perpetual war, and the highest incarceration rate in the world? Is it any coincidence that corporations are also involved with perpetual war, incarceration, and industrial factory farms?
My conversion to vegetarianism began during a hunger strike in January 2012, followed by watching videos like Earthlings and Mercy for Animals that show the horrible violence farm animals suffer. Subsequently my desire to eat animals diminished.

Killing sentient beings like farm animals should not be taken lightly. Alexia Allen of Hawthorn Farm shows the respectful harvest of a chicken in her video. Farm Sanctuary has a petition to President Obama, End factory farming!, urging reforms to our food system recommended by the National Conference to End Factory Farming.
In this 2012 presidential election year we should be discussing this important issue, the normalization of violence toward farm animals. This issue may have wider implications for all of us. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

When Austerians Attack

Nothing brings the deficit concern trolls out of the warped woodwork like the annual report on the Social Security trust fund. Sanity takes a holiday, and  before you know it, there is an epidemic of punditry panic. Social Security will definitely maybe might start running out of money in a quarter century. It's been broke since it started, say the reactionaries,and it's still broke. The myth continues year after year after year. We have to fix it now, now, NOW! Fixing it means privatizing it, snipping a little here, slashing a little there, and government apparatchiks showing up on TV looking really, really grim and serious. Heaven forbid that they suggest raising or even scrapping the contribution cap on the FICA payroll tax to make the trust fund whole and healthy.

The Glum and The Feckless: Labor, HHS and Treasury

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones, (a supposedly left-leaning publication named after an anarchist founder of the labor movement), thinks old people can share the sacrifice by having their monthly checks "modestly" curtailed to make sure their great-great-great grandchildren can also retire someday. Apparently Mr. Drum thinks cutting back from two meals to eating once daily is a reasonable sacrifice, given that the average check barely keeps recipients alive, and given that grocery and gas prices are spiking sharply. Drum is a bona fide member of the Centrist Fetish Club and a fan of the debunked Cat Food Commission, whose mantra was that impoverished old people should share the sacrifice with Goldman Sachs. Grandma forgoes home heating and Lloyd Blankfein gives up the tax deduction on his corporate jet, and everybody is sacrificially ovine and equally happy. Blecch.

But do you know what really has the knickers of the markets and their government representatives in a twist? The fact that hordes of sick and damaged people are going on Social Security disability or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Those funds will start dwindling in only a few short years, because the ill and maimed are becoming unreasonable by taking the easy way out and not finding another nonexistent job. To hear at least one so-called expert tell it, The Long Depression is causing a mass outbreak of malingering.

A business editorial writer at the New York Times named Eduardo Porter has written a rather odiously indignant piece for today's paper. He suggests that once a person is deemed disabled or too sick to work, it instills a sense of laziness and apathy. His solution is to get those malingerers off their aching duffs and make them go back to work. He does not say where the jobs are, because that is not his job. His job is to tell the suffering masses to just get a job:

Every year, a vitally important issue gets lost in the din: disability insurance payments, which account for almost $1 out of every $5 spent by Social Security, are growing out of control.
Disability insurance takes too many workers out of the job market prematurely. It reduces their lifetime income and, to top it off, slows economic growth. Yet in contrast to the heated arguments about Social Security and Medicare, fixing the disability problem inspires hardly any discussion.
Notice it is not disability or disease that takes too many workers out of the job market. It is the insurance program itself! The social safety net is a hammock, allowing sick people to laze around when they should be working and slaving through the pain, and growing the economy and making the Plutocrats of the .01 percent even richer.

According to Porter, it is just way too easy to fake pain and get on the disability dole for life. He utterly fails to mention that recipients are periodically reviewed as a matter of course: depending on the length and severity of the condition, reviews are conducted as soon as six months after approval for temporary disability, or as infrequently as every seven years should the problem be deemed severe or permanent. 

And Mr. Concern Troll says since the benefits are so awful, why do we force these poor people to live on such a pittance? They would be so much better off working through the agony. Not once does he suggest a correlation between the increased numbers of disability cases and the health insurance crisis. It never occurs to him that people are putting off going to the doctor because they lack funds and that treatable diseases are needlessly turning into catastrophes and bloating the disability rolls. He does not mention the fact that 50 million and counting are uninsured. He fails to take into account that more and more employers are not even providing health insurance and that people who don't receive necessary care when they get sick are not productive workers. And it naturally does not occur to him that we can always raise the monthly stipend for our most vulnerable citizens by cutting the crap and scrapping the cap. (wouldn't that make a nifty campaign slogan?)

As a business writer, Porter turns to the economic, rather than the medical, profession to back up his specious claim that we Americans are just getting magically healthier all the time:
“The health of nonelderly Americans is improving consistently, and we have more technology to help people at work,” observed Mark Duggan, an economist at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania who has advised Social Security on the assumptions underpinning the trustees’ forecasts. “Yet every year the fraction of people on this program is growing.”
So, where is all this fantastic technology that helps disabled people work? Since most employers are cutting back wages and benefits, where are the examples of miracle bosses humanely helping slightly damaged workers keep their jobs? Porter doesn't offer any. 

Porter thinks we should rein in the unhealthy and jobless and cut off their lifelines. He is really ticked off that these disabled people even have the nerve to qualify for Medicare benefits after a two year waiting period. It does not seem to bother him that individuals too sick or injured to work are denied government medical coverage for 24 long months after they have been certified unemployable.  (The only exemptions to the two year wait are kidney dialysis patients and those with terminal Lou Gehrig's Disease.) This cruel irony of the government certifying people disabled while knowing some of them will get worse or die for lack of medical care is totally lost on him. The truth is that when some  people finally do start getting their paltry monthly checks, they suddenly  become too rich to qualify for Medicaid. And that their pre-existing condition makes purchasing private coverage too expensive. Oh well.

I'd never heard of Eduardo Porter before reading his opinion piece today. He must simply be the newest member of the Centrissimo Club, where David Brooks, Thomas Friedman and Kevin Drum schmooze, enthuse and peruse over the 99% plight. The Four Horseshit Men of the Apocalypse.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

UN Investigates US -- Finally!

For the first time in history, the United Nations is launching a human rights investigation within the borders of the United States -- specifically, a probe into the often-abysmal living conditions of 2.7 million native Americans. We are just now hearing about this, exclusively, from the U.K.'s Guardian. I guess it is too much of an embarrassment for the Administration's usual suspects corporate media mouthpieces to give it so much as an inside-page paragraph. It might take attention away from the Secret Service scandal or presidential fund-raising stats.

Finally. The rest of the world will learn that the greatest, most wonderfully exceptional country on earth is, in reality, a third world backwater of a banana republic when it comes to how it treats many of its poor and indigenous people. When the USA signed on to the U.N. mission in 2010 to explore the plight of the word's native populations, little did it know it would be included in the inquiry. The Americans kind of assumed the U.N. would be concentrating on the South American populations. After all, when our president talks about poverty and human rights abuses in his periodic oratories to the General Assembly, it's always about problems elsewhere.

The domestic probe, starting on Monday, will be led by James Anaya, the UN special rapporteur on indigenous peoples. According to The Guardian's Ewan MacAskill, the investigation is likely to strike a sensitive chord amongst our elite  political class:
Many of the country's estimated 2.7 million Native Americans live in federally recognised tribal areas which are plagued with unemployment, alcoholism, high suicide rates, incest and other social problems.
The UN mission is potentially contentious, with some US conservatives likely to object to international interference in domestic matters. Since being appointed as rapporteur in 2008, Anaya has focused on natives of Central and South America.
A UN statement said: "This will be the first mission to the US by an independent expert designated by the UN human rights council to report on the rights of the indigenous peoples."
Anaya, who hails from New Mexico, is expected to present his preliminary findings at a press conference on May 4, prior to a formal report to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Among the states he will visit is Oklahoma, the former Indian Territory established in the 19th Century as a concentration camp for the native populations banished from the Eastern seaboard during the infamous Trail of Tears. It was in Cushing, Ok that President Obama made a speech approving the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline last month -- and where protesting native Americans were literally kept caged, miles away:
“President Obama is an adopted member of the Crow Tribe, so his fast-tracking a project that will desecrate known sacred sites and artifacts is a real betrayal and disappointment for his Native relatives everywhere,” said Marty Cobenais of the Indigenous Environmental Network. “Tar sands is devastating First Nations communities in Canada already and now they want to bring that environmental, health, and social devastation to US tribes.”
Obama has actually gotten mixed reviews from native Americans. One Indian leader calls him the best friend the indigenous population has had since Richard Nixon advocated tribal self-determination as official United States policy. And the fact that the current president has met with Indian leaders every year and promised them that he "has their back" and appointed various task forces shows the usual Obama approach: steps in the right direction, with still a lot of work to do in the future.

However, Andrew Cohen of The Atlantic wrote a scathing article in December, calling Obama's native American initiatives a lot of talk and little to no action. Coupled with the Senatorial blockage of the judicial appointment of Native American Arvo Mikkanen, and the decision by the Supreme Court to withhold from the Apache Nation documents relevant to its legal case alleging misfeasance by the federal government, Cohen caustically allows that Obama did make a nice show of going easy on tribes who collect eagle feathers.
Is the White House pushing for Mikkanen to get a hearing? No. Is it pushing Congress to help change the procedural rules in Indian trust cases so that American Indian litigants can have more access to federal documents that pertain to their claims against federal officials? No. Those things would involve the expenditure of political capital -- and the administration has shown repeatedly its unwillingness to spend in this area.
Congress is no friend of the American Indian. Surely this Supreme Court isn't, either. And there was a need to clarify the rules on eagle feathers. But is this really the best President Obama can do? I hope an American Indian leader says to President Obama today at the White House: "Don't worry so much about adopting 'a formal policy that memorializes' common prosecution practice; worry more about why there are still only two federal judges in American history who were or are of Native American descent."
If pressure by independent journalists and political activists can't get our corporocrats to do right by a forgotten group of marginalized citizens, maybe they can be shamed into it by the results of the United Nations investigation and the glare of world opinion. Then again, don't hold your breath.

A Little More to the Left.... Please! (Reuters)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Notes on Some Scandals

The Secret Service prostitution scandal in Colombia is not so much a scandal as it is a symptom. It is a manifestation of the long history of Yanqui arrogance and hegemony in Latin America. The elite imperialists of the United States have long viewed Central and South American countries as either Marxist enemies that must be ridiculed and punished (Cuba and Venezuela) or complicit and corrupt satellites (Nicaragua, Honduras). President Obama, following in the footsteps of his idol, Ronald Reagan, is busily establishing a coalition of the willing south of the border. He has been quietly building up our military presence in Colombia, site of more labor-related murders than all other nations combined. He is quietly using yet another corrupt regime as a base of operations for the expansion of the War on Terror.

Instead of fighting Al queda and the Taliban, we are in South and Central America to fight a phony War on Narco-Terror. Drugs are just one more excuse to flex American muscle, enrich American corporations and ignore and flout international human rights principles. The Drug Enforcement Administration -- much like the paramilitarized police forces within our own borders -- has been turned into a virtual Army, replete with high tech weaponry left over from Afghanistan and Iraq. The fact that the DEA is fighting a virtual war in Honduras, even assassinating members of alleged drug cartels, is not getting a whole lot of attention in El Norte. Charlie Savage of the New York Times did write a brief article on the Terror-Drug Fusion Wars last fall.

As a matter of fact, the corporate media as a whole have glossed over the horrors of life in Colombia and other repressive regimes and as true American government mouthpieces, have concentrated on the socialistic evils of Venezuela and Cuba, whose records on human rights are stellar in comparison. From the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR):

What leads editors to discuss Colombia’s nightmarish human rights record with less alarm than Venezuela’s flawed but clearly superior record? The answer seems to lie in the relationship between the editors’ views and U.S. strategic thinking. Over the time frame of this study, U.S. officials have highlighted human rights concerns in Venezuela out of opposition to the populist policies of its President Hugo Chávez, which they see as threatening to U.S. interests. At the same time, officials have tried to diminish the gravity of Colombia’s human rights problems in order to sustain political support for a number of military, anti-drug and trade projects the U.S. shares with Colombia.   
 Curiously, though government-linked Colombian death squads were in the habit of killing journalists, political activists and trade unionists over the entire time span of this study, virtually no editorials questioned the health of Colombia’s democracy, in stark contrast to the editors’ almost obsessive concern about the perilous state of Venezuela’s. Indeed, though President Uribe has been linked with death squads (Washington Post, 4/18/07), and former President Pastrana presided over a government with extensive death squad ties, the editors felt a need to insist time and again that the Colombian leaders were true and dedicated democrats.
The Obama Administration has been falling all over itself trying to justify approving the Colombian trade deal despite that country's horrible history of terrorizing its own people. As long as the government promises to try to cut back a tad on murdering trade unionists, then it's all good. Sound familiar? Just as banks can regulate themselves and factory farms can police their own filth and frackers can be relied upon to curb their polluting greed, Colombia shall be rewarded with no oversight and no penalties for non-compliance:

The Administration is asking worker rights advocates to believe that after over two decades of violence and impunity and other widespread violations that Colombia has now magically turned the corner on the basis of a Labor Action Plan signed in April.
As USLEAP* (US Labor Education in the Americas Project) and others have noted, the Plan has no enforcement measures and pressure for compliance will end as soon as the Colombia FTA is implemented. The Plan, which contains some positive features if fully implemented, must be given time to demonstrate concrete results in reducing violence and ending impunity, let alone addressing other long-standing obstacles to the exercise of basic worker rights. And there is not even a “Plan” to address violence against other human rights defenders or the negative impact that the FTA is expected to have on small farmers, Afro-Colombians and the environment.

Life in Latin American backwaters is cheap. So when Secret Service agents and military personnel hit the brothels and the bars the minute their jackboots touched Cartagena ground, they were simply exercising their rights as occupiers and conquerors. That they should objectify Third World Latina women forced to work as prostitutes to feed themselves and their children should come as no surprise. That they should expect to be secretly serviced for mere pennies should come as no surprise either. The only surprise is that somebody took the women's side for a change and the Americanos were exposed. 

It is of course also no surprise at all that our own politicians and pundits should concentrate on the symptom rather than the disease. The real scandal is a double one: the rushed approval of the Colombian free trade agreement, despite ongoing documented human rights abuses and murders of trade unionists, and President Obama's refusal to back down on his cynical War on Drugs. Corporate profits once again have trumped humanitarianism. Our Democratic president has pledged his allegiance to profits over people.

And how do labor leaders back home feel about this debacle? Well, Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO is "deeply disappointed" in President Obama. But not so much that he will withdraw his endorsement for Barry's re-election. And here you thought that this story couldn't get any more disgusting.

* "The U.S. Labor Education in the Americas Project (USLEAP) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit organization based in Chicago that engages a wide range of organizations and individuals in the U.S. and abroad to promote full respect for the rights of workers in Latin America. Founded in 1987 as the U.S./Guatemala Labor Education Project, the organization advocates for fundamental changes to U.S. trade policies, demands corporate responsibility, denounces violence against trade unionists, and conducts worker justice campaigns in the banana, flower, and apparel sectors. USLEAP seeks a global economy in which all workers, abroad and in the U.S., are treated fairly, paid a living wage, and respected by corporations and governments." Its website can be found here.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Eyeless Shrimp and Toothless Government

So, there has been a huge ongoing cover-up of the disastrous effects of the Gulf oil spill! The government, the corporate-controlled mass media, and BP have all conspired to hide the truth that the worst episode of pollution in the history of the planet continues unabated. Massive portions of the sea floor are dead, and fish and other marine life have become so diseased and deformed that the people fishing those waters all their lives have never seen anything like it.

It took a news outlet half a world away to gather together obscure reports, connect the dots, amd expose the shocking truth. In case you have not yet seen it, do make sure to watch the video and read the story that Al Jazeera started running this week. Then ask yourself why virtually no American broadcasters or newspapers have picked it up, and why the United States government is belching a big "No Comment."

Tune in any time to MSNBC or CNN or Fox, and interspersed with the manufactured outrage stories of presidential politics, you will see those flashy, happy, slick, ubiquitous BP commercials. They lead you believe that the oil spill was actually good for the Gulf -- the water is clearer than ever, the seafood more abundant and tastier, the sand is whiter, tourism is booming, wildlife is thriving, and the mildly inconvenienced business owners have been handsomely compensated. The spots usually feature African-American actors, thus delivering the message that BP is socially liberal as well as environmentally responsible. (Ironically, the latest $100 million ad inadvertently includes a shot of some anti-BP protesters in the distance!)

The TV networks are obviously raking in the profits from these greed-washing spots. Do you really think they are going to bite the BP hand that feeds them? President Obama and the rest of the political elite class are not about to offend the corporate interests on whom they depend either, especially in an election year. They have been complicit in covering up the magnitude of this disaster from day one. Why should they rock the boat now, by admitting that the tragic effects will be playing out long after we have all faded away? The president, desperate to prove to independents that he is no environmental softie, has actually expanded drilling in the Gulf, allowing operations in even deeper water than that in which the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded.

The truth exposed by Al Jazeera is the polar opposite of the BP public relations assault. Tar balls are still washing up on beaches and getting caught in fishing nets.There are reports of third generation eyeless shrimp, hardshell crab that have devolved into softshell crab, rotting from the inside out, and fish and crabs with lesions and burns believed to be caused by the chemical dispersants used to break up the oil.  From the Al Jazeera report:

Keath Ladner, a third generation seafood processor in Hancock County, Mississippi, is also disturbed by what he is seeing.
"I've seen the brown shrimp catch drop by two-thirds, and so far the white shrimp have been wiped out," Ladner told Al Jazeera. "The shrimp are immune compromised. We are finding shrimp with tumors on their heads, and are seeing this everyday."
While on a shrimp boat in Mobile Bay with Sidney Schwartz, the fourth-generation fisherman said that he had seen shrimp with defects on their gills, and "their shells missing around their gills and head".
"We've fished here all our lives and have never seen anything like this," he added.
Ladner has also seen crates of blue crabs, all of which were lacking at least one of their claws.
Darla Rooks, a lifelong fisherperson from Port Sulfur, Louisiana, told Al Jazeera she is finding crabs "with holes in their shells, shells with all the points burned off so all the spikes on their shells and claws are gone, misshapen shells, and crabs that are dying from within … they are still alive, but you open them up and they smell like they've been dead for a week".

Rooks is also finding eyeless shrimp, shrimp with abnormal growths, female shrimp with their babies still attached to them, and shrimp with oiled gills.

"We also seeing eyeless fish, and fish lacking even eye-sockets, and fish with lesions, fish without covers over their gills, and others with large pink masses hanging off their eyes and gills."

Rooks, who grew up fishing with her parents, said she had never seen such things in these waters, and her seafood catch last year was "ten per cent what it normally is".
Al Jazeera gleaned much of its information from poring through esoteric scientific journals not easily accessible to the general public. When its journalists asked the the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration for comment, they were referred to NOAA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration). NOAA, in turn, declined to comment because of "ongoing lawsuits".

Meanwhile, if you rely on the Paper of Record (the N.Y. Times)  for all the latest BP disaster news, the only thing you learned this week is that lawyers hammered out their fees in the civil case, and that BP CEO Bob Dudley echoed his rosy TV commercial talking points. And there was this bland editorial about Congress being the opposite of Progress. Oh yeah, a criminal investigation by the Obama Justice Department is "continuing".

And continuing and continuing and continuing. The second anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion is tomorrow. Halliburton is still in business and more profitable than ever. Dick Cheney still has a new heart. Ann Romney is still fabulously rich. BP is still here, and so is the oil spill.

 Cancerous and Eyeless Shrimp from the Gulf (Al Jazeera)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Norky Gets Needled

My Motto: To Rob the Poor and Give To the Rich!

We are, of course, talking about Grover Norquist. The nurses and other demonstrators who gathered outside his Washington office today came armed not with hypodermics but with words, songs, signs and their sheer, vibrant physical presence. The occasion was Tax Day, that most dreaded of all days for Grover Norquist. The only days he hates worse than Tax Day are Christmas and every Wednesday. That's when the Social Security checks are direct-deposited in the bloated bank accounts of the old and sick. In Norquist's world, Mr. Potter is the hero of It's a Wonderful Life and freedom is defined as the slashing of the social safety net.  For those of you who may not be familiar with Dorky Norky, he is the dour-looking little man who has uttered such gems as "our goal is to shrink government to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub."

Norquist is the high priest of what is essentially a cult of Republicans, all of whom must sign his pledge to never raise taxes if they are elected to public office. Should they break their promise, he will destroy them. He is single-handedly responsible for Washington gridlock. No new taxes, no new programs, no government protection for our most vulnerable citizens. No jobs, no infrastructure spending, no new teachers. Cut, slash and burn. No, no, no. Norquistian is a synonym for nihilistic.

Thanks to Deborah Klaus, a D.C. registered nurse and poet who blogs as DreamsAmelia on the Shelved in Cyberspace site, for sending in some great photos and commentary on today's protest. Grover did not actually appear, she told me, to meet the people outside on 12th Street NW. He was probably curled up in a fetal position in a gold-plated bathtub deep in the noxious bowels of some undisclosed location. But one of those "patriot millionaires" did show up to protest -- Eric Schoenberg, a former schoolmate of Mitt Romney and current professor of behavioral economics at Columbia, he informed the protesters that where he comes from the bathtubs are the size of cars.... or in the case of the .0001% -- houses.

What the Tax Day protest crowd lacked in numbers, they more than made up in enthusiasm and creativity. The group even serenaded Grover (sung to the tune of Over the Rainbow):

Someday, Grover won't reign so--
We'll be free
To make wise budget choices
Based on sound policy.

Someday, Grover won't pain so
Many folks.
Just an unhappy memory--
Butt of a thousand jokes.

A pledge he wrote when he was ten
Now dominates our Congressmen's
The only oath that they should take
is for our flag and people's sake
To serve our nation!

Some say Grover's insane, though
if that's true,
Time we stopped letting Grover
Tell us all what to do!

As Deborah points out, just showing up to demonstrate for 40 minutes sends a message, making the oligarchs just a smidgen less confident in their everlasting power. If we have learned anything from Occupy Wall Street and other protests, it is that the rich and powerful have extremely thin skins. They do not like to be called names, they don't even like to be called rich. The latest ploy of inheritors of unearned, largely untaxed wealth is to call themselves "legacy families." Mitt and Ann Romney have been put on the defensive when confronted with their obscene riches and forced to whine that they don't "feel rich".

I'll let Deborah tell it in her own eloquent words:

People don't have to have elaborate education, think of themselves as "an activist" or be particularly "political" or aligned with any party, not Dem, Repub, OWS or Tea Party---they just have to put even a fraction of engagement into our democracy as they do filling up their car with a tank of gas, returning books to the library, shopping at the mall, or buying groceries---a modicum of thought to preserving democracy by protesting anti-democratic forces should be as intrinsic as a routine errand----but, sadly, it is not---and so, I am the first to admit, we get what we deserve: the best government money can buy. If we're too lazy to bar anti-democratic intruders at the door, then one has to expect an infinite parade of tyrants and opportunists at the helm of the state....
Those who say, well, I won't complain because I don't try are sadly mistaken about the nature of a society. The roof over their head is being defined by laws that favor the 5 largest banks in the U.S. over the individuals that inhabit them; the laws favor health insurance corporations over individuals who still may receive inadequate care or become bankrupt; the laws favor drug testing and packing private prison systems over something as trivial as immigration status while large corporations not only never go to jail but pollute and steal from the poor for the rich with all the back-slapping blessings of our elected nauseum...
But the acceptance of corporations as more powerful than individuals, of debt as a way of life rather than unionizing for higher wages, seems to be a breaking of a treaty with the middle class that, inexplicably, so many seem willing to relinquish. One can look back on the decades-long history of westward expansion and broken treaties with Native Americans and can understand why Native American thought and politics do not dominate our society---they were outgunned and outnumbered, and consistently lied to and misled by our fledgling government. But it seems that the passivity of millions and millions of middle class may herald a similar fate where people will be written out of the Constitution, out of the courts, out of all laws, and only corporations will have any rights at's not much fun to be a sheep being led to slaughter-- the bleating of a few is not going to delay the inevitable one iota--the whole herd has to revolt and run backwards....
And here are more of Deborah's great photos and captions:

Our protest was so small, it only required one cop to maintain law and order!
(Who looks like he became distracted in political debate.....)

Brenda King, my colleague, nurse for 41 years! Why should nurses pay higher taxes than Wall St. traders? Brenda will be uninsured if she retires before she is eligible for medicare. She doesn't want any cuts to medicare or social security--she loves paying her taxes because it continues to help families just as her devotion to their lives as a nurse does.

This guy (Eric Schoenberg) was our "token rich guy" who told us he had a taxable income of $700,000 in 2005 and only paid 15% on it and wants to pay more. His immigrant grandparents always told him it was not their efforts alone, but the laws of the country they lived in that helped them to be so successful.  Schoenberg is an expert in the psychology of money!

Thank you, Deborah! If Norky ever gets sick (er), I sincerely hope you and your group are assigned to cure whatever ails him. It'll be a long slog, but if anybody can do it, you can!

Happy Tax Day, everybody!

Monday, April 16, 2012

It's Alive

A strong young heart is now trapped inside Dick Cheney's body. It has no choice but to beat and beat and beat, enabling the ghoul of the 21st Century to fly around in his private jet, spewing his rejuvenated hate speech less than three weeks after getting his taxpayer-funded surgery. 

The man responsible for the deaths and dismemberments of thousands upon thousands of innocent people lives on to brag about it. When most people would still be recovering from such radical surgery, the undead Dick Cheney is on full zombie display. Rather than humbly fading into the background, he feels compelled to go on a speaking tour to celebrate torture, and to call his successor an "unmitigated disaster." The successor, mind you, made sure that Dick Cheney has Secret Service protection for life. That is how globally despised he is. The successor has guaranteed that Cheney will never be prosecuted for his war crimes. Cheney knows that his successor will never betray him, because he gifted him with unprecedented unitary executive power. It is but a short hop, skip and jump from "enhanced interrogation techniques" to "beyond-the-horizon" foreign policy -- a/k/a assassinations at presidential whim. President Obama is not only an accessory after the fact, he is going Cheney one better -- and Dick may just be feeling a wee twinge of jealousy to replace those old cardiac twinges.

Cheney made his surprise appearance Saturday at a Wyoming Republican confab, and reminisced about himself for over an hour. That is apparently what psychopaths do when they get a second chance at life. No regrets has Dick Cheney, no joyful epiphany, no devoting the rest of his life to serving the less fortunate. He did thank his donor and doctors, but failed to mention health care for the 50 million and counting uninsured Americans. He has probably never given them a thought.

And if he touched upon the fact that his 20-year addiction to cigarettes caused his own coronary disease, it obviously didn't sink in on the audience. According to the Washington Post, the GOP confab included "smoke breaks" to enable delegates to go outside and light up. They stood around and puffed and huffed and worried about their favorite son. I know you're all choked up about it, too.

There is always the chance that Cheney could reject his new heart, and he will be on preventive immunosuppressive drugs for the rest of his life. But I wonder if, given the vitriol flowing through his veins, this might be the first case in medical history of the heart rejecting the patient.


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Hey, Barack! You Don't Know Frack

I have never seen a dual presidency quite like that of Barack Obama. Candidate Obama is in full-bore populist rampage mode. Fair shot, fair shake, fair share, put the glare on the millionaire! (Romney).

Then, there is President Obama, who is in (literally) full-bore deregulation, pro-business mode. The latest shocker was in the form of a Friday news dump that took even some in the oil and gas industry by surprise. The White House announced the formation of a Gas Fracking Task Force made up of a panoply of federal agencies and industry kingpins. Its purpose is to streamline and alleviate those onerous regulations that now require frackers to prove that injecting millions of gallons of water and toxic chemicals into shale in order to extract natural gas is safe. This is a huge hint that the major fracking polluters will be allowed to regulate themselves, just as Wall Street is starting to police itself again, and e-Coli and salmonella-contaminated factory farms can now inspect themselves to help reduce bad government overreach. Corporations have long complained that rules and regulations designed to protect the public health and welfare make it too hard for them to make a buck. Obama appears to be listening.  

If Republicans were acting like the president, you can be sure there would be an outcry from what is left of the left. But when a Democrat acts like Dick Cheney, and colludes with energy corporations in their ongoing rape of the earth, there is nothing but silence. 

Unlike Cheney, though, the Obama Administration has announced its new Frack Force with openness and self-righteousness. The only sneaky part is that the heavy hitters of the oil and gas industry just happened to be waiting in the wings the minute Obama signed his executive order ("Supporting Safe and Responsible Development of Unconventional Domestic Natural Gas Resources")  and then proceeded for their first sit-down with the government agencies they effectively own. From Obama's official announcement:
In 2011, natural gas provided 25 percent of the energy consumed in the United States. Its production creates jobs and provides economic benefits to the entire domestic production supply chain, as well as to chemical and other manufacturers, who benefit from lower feedstock and energy costs. By helping to power our transportation system, greater use of natural gas can also reduce our dependence on oil. And with appropriate safeguards, natural gas can provide a cleaner source of energy than other fossil fuels.
For these reasons, it is vital that we take full advantage of our natural gas resources, while giving American families and communities confidence that natural and cultural resources, air and water quality, and public health and safety will not be compromised.
Translation: You are all fracked, whether you like it or not. But, skilled politician that I am, I will never use that dreaded F word in any of my spiels. Big Business will rake in record profits and provide a few temporary, low-paying jobs. We say that this cheaper natural gas will help power our transportation systems without mentioning that high-speed rail and other transportation and infrastructure bills have been DOA  for a long time. This Frack Force will aid my re-election bid by allowing me to continue to spout the canard that it will reduce our dependence on foreign oil. This is utter bullshit, since although domestic production is higher than ever,  the oil and gas extracted from our lands are the property of multinational corporations who sell it on the global market. What is fracked in the Banana Republic of the Homeland will not stay here. It will be sold abroad, at a huge profit to our tax-evading corporations, who will continue to hoard their ill-gotten gains 

When it is burned, natural gas of course is cleaner than oil or coal. As the president you elected to serve and protect you, I choose not to mention that the evidence is clear that the actual process of extracting it is a major and proven polluter of our domestic water supply. People are already getting sick by drinking poisoned well water. The EPA is already being forced to deliver potable drinking water to victims of fracking. This, of course, is being done at taxpayer expense. Polluters continue to enjoy our long sacred national tradition of never cleaning up their own messes. We have the SuperFund program for that.

The government bureaucrats are right on top of things, people! Our aim is to lull you and to dull you, and give you that false sense of security. Then, when the next deregulatory disaster strikes, we will have covered our asses through the creation of this phony task force.  Ooops! Mistakes were made!  We tried, or at least made ourselves appear to be trying.  Nobody could ever, ever have foreseen......

The Executive Order of Friday the 13th came mere weeks after oil and gas tycoons griped to Cass Sunstein, the Obama Administration's go-to guy for deregulation, that rules making them divulge the poisons used in fracking are cutting into their bottom line. One of their demands is to be allowed to voluntarily inform the public on just what measures they are taking to keep us safe. The industry currently runs a "disclosure" website called FracFocus, which purports to divulge chemicals used, and other fracking arcana. All their chemicals, of course, are either good for you, innocuous, or rigidly contained within pipes that will never break -- even in manmade earthquakes! The only glitch is thatwhen you visit the website, you discover some of their well data are more than a year out of date! I wonder if the execs were honest about that little catch. I wonder if the White House even asked.

Business Roundtable Chief Lobbyist John Engler reveals on the BRT website that he met personally with President Obama last month to urge relaxation of public health and safety rules in order for the industry to pocket more money, more quickly. He says the Frack Force is a good first step.  But in the spirit of bottomless sociopathic greed, he also complained that Obama is not also forming a task force to explore freakin' fracking for oil, too. There is crude a-wasting in North Dakota, for crying out loud. Public lands, Indian lands, private lands. They want it all.

As Dave Dayen of Firedoglake notes in a post today, not one independent outside environmental group has been invited to meet with the Frack Force. Nobody from the National Resources Defense Council, or the Sierra Club, or the Water Council. And most especially, not film-maker Josh Fox of "Gasland" fame. He might have documented the private discussions, or even offered President Obama a glass of fracky-brown Pennsyltucky well water to taste -- and we can't have that, can we?

The Famous Exploding Tap Water Scene from Gasland