Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Joy Boy of Joblessness

Live long, don't prosper.

Peter Orszag

That's the advice from one of the brightest young stars in the Plutocratic Galaxy of Greed. If you're whining about being chronically unemployed, just shut up and be grateful. You'll have less risk of turning into highway splat now that you no longer have to commute to work. If you're stuck in the impoverished suburbs, you don't have to breathe in the polluted air in our big city jobs centers. If you're lucky enough to live long enough to become warehoused in a nursing home, rejoice. You'll probably get better care in an economic depression than you would during a boom time. That's because there are theoretically enough people desperate enough to take a $9/hour job emptying bedpans than would have been the case without the government austerity policies dictated by capitalists gone wild.

Former Obama budget director/millionaire Citigroup executive Peter Orzsag has written a sleazy piece citing these and other "findings" to extol the upside of a crappy economy for the little people. And here you thought austerity had been thoroughly debunked!  "This is a morbid column about some unexpected and encouraging news," he cheerfully begins. (I can just envision him sitting at his engraved Apple laptop, cuddled up in a velvet smoking jacket, sipping Courvoisier as he taps out this drivel).
A reasonable estimate is that for every percentage-point increase in the unemployment rate, the U.S. mortality rate drops by 0.3 percentage point. In other words, and although it runs counter to our intuition, recessions may be bad for your our wallets but good for our health.
Orszag cherry-picks his way through various studies, noting that since destitute people can no longer afford to smoke and drink, they're being forced to protect their lungs and livers. He cites the economic collapse in Iceland, and the ensuing improved health of the inhabitants who found themselves priced right out of vice. Strangely, he does not see fit to add that Iceland actually let its banks fail and chose to bail out its people instead. He also doesn't mention that Iceland's recession has essentially ended, thanks to good public policy and a democratic system of government. 

America's depression, for all but the booming stock market and those at the very top, slogs on and on and on. Its long-term health effects are just now getting some serious attention.

To be fair, Orszag wrote his plutocratic puff piece before a more recent study was released, reaching the exact opposite conclusion: Joblessness does indeed shorten lives, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. From today's New York Times
“What is it about employment that has this huge impact on mortality, beyond the material resources it brings?” said Jennifer Karas Montez, the study’s lead author, a researcher at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies.
The study was an attempt to explain the reasons behind the troubling trend of declining life expectancy for the least educated Americans, particularly women. A study last year found that white women without a high school diploma lost five years of life expectancy between 1990 and 2008, a measure of decline last seen among Russians in the economic chaos that came after the fall of the Soviet Union. This year, researchers at the University of Wisconsin found that mortality for women had gone up in more than 40 percent of the counties in the United States since the early 1990s.
But the study raised more questions than it answered, in particular about why employment status affects physical health. Ms. Montez said there was some evidence that having a job offered intangible benefits that could improve health, including a sense of purpose and control in life, as well as providing networks that help to reduce social isolation.
Meanwhile, banker cum health expert Orszag actually thinks that statistics showing that unemployed people get more sleep is a huge plus. He either doesn't know, or chooses not to know, that excessive sleepiness is a sign of clinical depression. Or that the 30% increase in the past decade of our national suicide rate has been directly linked by the Centers for Disease Control to our unaddressed crisis of long-term unemployment. His glib conclusion:
None of which should make us plutocrats wish for economic trouble. (But it does, it does!) Higher unemployment means loss of productivity, lower income and mental anguish, and those are more than sufficient reasons to combat joblessness. There may be some small consolation, though, in learning that it probably doesn’t harm human health the way that we all imagined. (We can ease what little is still left of our Randian consciences, fellas!)
The Pete Peterson Fix the Debt cabal are going to jump all over this piece, and the dubious statistics behind it, in an effort to resurrect austerity policies in the wake of the epic scandal of the flawed Reinhart/Rogoff study. Their new, improved message: the Sequester and all the other whips and chains of gratuitous economic sadism may be painful, but a whole bunch of new cherry-picked stats now shows that they'll help all you peasants live to a shriveled old age.

The better to chain-CPI you with, my dears, said the Orszag wolf at the door. Yes, it is Orszag who's also been championing cuts in Social Security -- not because it'll actually help the economy, but because making people suffer for no good reason will magically tranform his old boss into a Profile in Courage in the eyes of Wall Street. That corner office is waiting.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Black Comedy for Terror Tuesday

From the Department of the Unintentionally Hilarious comes this observation from Senator Lindsey Graham on President Obama's ballyhooed Pivot to Peace:
At the end of the day,this is the most tone-deaf president I ever could imagine, making such a speech at a time when our homeland is trying to be attacked literally every day.
So here we have the top Congressional proponent of endless war on the global battlefield admitting that there is such a thing as blowback. And he actually wants it! By raining down drones from the skies, America is recklessly making itself a target for more terrorist attacks. Thanks, Lindsey, for speaking truth to power. You finally admit that we will stop getting attacked if we'd only stop attacking others. You even kind of admit that getting attacked turns you on. When you turn your country into a victim of The Other, it's so much easier for the real culprits of Corporate World to continue their stealth attack on the national economy.

 Lindsey's priceless quote is tacked on the very end of a very priceless piece by the New York Times' Peter Baker. The headline is In Terror Shift, Obama Took the Long Path.

A more apt title would be The Agony in the Rose Garden. Baker, with an assist from the usual high-ranking but anonymous White House propaganda sources, is jumping on the bandwagon of the latest PR campaign that portrays Obama as a Biblical Christ-like figure at war with his other self: the wrathful Old Testament patriarch of a deity.

"Revenge is mine" saith the Paternalist in Chief about the unknown militants targeted for assassination below his watchful eye.

"Let this drone cup pass from me", pleads Obama the Son, surrounded by his sleepy disciples in the Gethsemane of the Oval Office. "But let it be as you, not I, would have it." 

The only thing missing from the New York Times narrative are the bloody drops of sweat dripping from the presidential brow. His pronounced and vague sacrificial relinquishment of drone murder was "a pivot two years in the making," writes Baker. Talk about interminable spin -- this administration personifies it.
While part of the re-evaluation was aimed at the next president, it was also about Mr. Obama’s own legacy. What became an exercise lasting months, aides said, forced him to confront his deep conflicts as commander in chief: the Nobel Peace Prize winner with a “kill list,” the antiwar candidate turned war president, the avowed champion of transparency ordering operations over secret battlegrounds. He wanted to be known for healing the rift with the Muslim world, not raining down death from above.
Over the past year, aides said, Mr. Obama spent more time on the subject than on any other national security issue, including the civil war in Syria. The speech he would eventually deliver at the National Defense University became what one aide called “a window into the presidential mind” as Mr. Obama essentially thought out loud about the trade-offs he sees in confronting national security threats.
Rest assured that the anonymous sources revealing the secret gyrations of a tortured presidential psyche will never be punished under new whistleblowing guidelines, nor will Peter Baker's phone records ever be seized by the Department of Justice. This journalist is doing God's work, for God's sake, acting as the earthly conduit for the glorification of the powers that be. 

Current CIA Chief John Brennan is transformed by the Times into a John the Baptist figure, going forth into the desert last year to spread the drone message, pre-Obama's Sermon on the Mount speech. Barack had bigger loaves and fishes to fry, remember, worrying about getting re-elected at the same time he was having Terror Tuesday meetings to decide who'd live and who'd die. And because of grueling endless politics, he had to cast aside his inner gentle Jesus and become Big Daddy Deity:
While the agencies argued, Mr. Obama focused on winning a second term, boasting about the same aggressive approach he was privately rethinking. “Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22 out of 30 top Al Qaeda leaders who’ve been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement,” he said in response to campaign criticism.
But here's where the latest White House propaganda narrative starts to fall apart from the weight of its own glaring inconsistencies. After all the supposed agonizing and hand-wringing on the pivot toward love and peace,  the Old Testament appears to be winning out over the New Testament (or, as the Obama Administration chillingly calls his latest gospel, Archive 2.)  The article continues, 
Ultimately, the president and his team decided to tighten the standard for striking targets outside overt war zones. Instead of being authorized for any “significant threat to U.S. interests,” drone strikes would be used only in cases of a “continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons.” They would also be limited to cases with a “near certainty” of avoiding civilian casualties.
The C.I.A.’s opposition to shifting responsibility for drones entirely to the Pentagon resulted in a compromise: There would be a transition period for the program in Pakistan, which would be reviewed every six months to determine if it was ready to be moved to military control. Administration officials suggest that the transfer of the Pakistan drone program may coincide with the withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan in 2014.
Translation: the devil is in the parsing. New Testament same as Old Testament. One hundred percent certainty that a drone victim is a bad guy is replaced by "near certainty". Meaning what -- 51 percent? Hellfire missiles raining down on Pakistan will gradually subside from a raging downpour to a steady shower? And anyway, the withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan by 2014 is not going to happen. The bases, and the residual military "support staff" will stay forever.

And for all the talk about Obama's switching responsibility for the drone program from the CIA to the Pentagon, those protected, anonymous White House sources assure us that the hand of God will still be in ultimate control:
The hawks may be grumbling about it, but that’s to be expected,” said a senior government official who supported the strategy shift. “This is a big change. But no one is screaming.”
The hawks proposed a change of their own, suggesting, as The Daily Beast has reported, that the president leave individual strike decisions in authorized areas outside overt war zones to the Pentagon and the C.I.A. But the White House rejected that. Mr. Obama felt those decisions were the president’s responsibility: he wanted to keep his own finger on the trigger.
Thank God for God. The exalted figure who meditates on the teachings of Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine before acting as judge, jury and executioner will be keeping his own finger on the trigger. Rather than repudiate the power of the president to disregard the Constitution, he simply put the kibosh on hordes of bloodthirsty professional spies and soldiers running amok with the joysticks. Father Knows Best. And without so much as a by-your-leave from Congress, those same heartless creatures who voted down the triggerman's impassioned plea for gun control laws.

In the eternal internal struggle that is Obama, it looks like the murderous paternalist is here to stay, despite all the self-serving conflicted rhetoric. The Times piece concludes: 
Mr. Obama was also interested in instituting an independent review of how and when drone strikes would be conducted. Multiple papers were prepared and multiple options evaluated. Among them was a special court to oversee targeted killings, but the discussion became tied up in knots about how it would work. Would a judge have to approve such strikes in advance or after the fact? What about an independent board within the executive branch instead? Administration lawyers argued against surrendering presidential authority, and defense policy makers argued against giving up operational control.
That proved to be a debate Mr. Obama could not resolve. In his speech, he invited Congress to come up with ideas. He also thought it was time to review the authorization of force that Congress passed in the days after Sept. 11, 2001, and that has been the legal foundation for the war on terrorism. But after a two-hour discussion just days before the speech, he could not decide exactly how to do that, either.
Eventually, the president just decided to add one telling caveat to his aspirational message, the phrase that all politicians use when they want to placate the masses, yet have every intention of maintaining the status quo: Be Patient.

Change takes time, remember. Especially when the homeland is trying to be attacked, every single day.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Honoring Those Who Spoke Out

As MSNBC host Chris Hayes discovered to his surprise and chagrin last year, you don't criticize the term "war heroes" on Memorial Day and get away with it. Here are his fateful words:
Why do I feel so uncomfortable about the word 'hero'? I feel uncomfortable about the word hero because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. I don’t want to obviously desecrate or disrespect the memory of anyone that’s fallen, and obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism, you know, hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers and things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic. But maybe I’m wrong about that.
No, he wasn't wrong about that. I actually think his words were measured, sensitive and circumspect in addressing a subject deserving of a lot more outrage and vitriol. But such was the outrage from all over the political spectrum that he was soon forced to issue an apology, which ended thusly:
But in seeking to discuss the civilian-military divide and the social distance between those who fight and those who don't, I ended up reinforcing it, conforming to a stereotype of a removed pundit whose views are not anchored in the very real and very wrenching experience of this long decade of war. And for that I am truly sorry.
Since Hayes is one of the few bona fide journalists gracing the airwaves today, I think that his apology, in retrospect, was a relatively small price to pay for keeping his job. He was even considered ready for primetime and given a promotion recently by his corporate bosses of the media industrial complex. 

This is not the usual story. There is a long history of other fine reporters who have been fired from media empires or otherwise marginalized for speaking truth to power about our great American War Machine.

The late Howard Zinn had his Boston Globe column cancelled in 1974 after he spoke out against war. On Memorial Day, no less:
Memorial Day will be celebrated as usual, by high-speed collisions of automobiles and bodies strewn on highways and the sound of ambulance sirens throughout the land.
It will also be celebrated by the display of flags, the sound of bugles and drums, by parades and speeches and unthinking applause.
It will be celebrated by giant corporations, which make guns, bombs, fighter planes, aircraft carriers and an endless assortment of military junk and which await the $100 billion in contracts to be approved soon by Congress and the President.
You can read the whole thing here. It remains a classic of anti-war literature, even more timely than when it was written nearly forty years ago.

Chris Hedges resigned from the New York Times rather than hang around waiting to be fired, having been booed off the stage for delivering an anti-Iraq war college commencement address in 2003. An excerpt:
Because we no longer understand war, we no longer understand that it can all go horribly wrong. We no longer understand that war begins by calling for the annihilation of others but ends if we do not know when to make or maintain peace with self-annihilation. We flirt, given the potency of modern weapons, with our own destruction.
The seduction of war is insidious because so much of what we are told about it is true -- it does create a feeling of comradeship which obliterates our alienation and makes us, for perhaps the only time of our life, feel we belong.
War allows us to rise above our small stations in life; we find nobility in a cause and feelings of selflessness and even bliss. And at a time of soaring deficits and financial scandals and the very deterioration of our domestic fabric, war is a fine diversion. War for those who enter into combat has a dark beauty, filled with the monstrous and the grotesque. The Bible calls it the lust of the eye and warns believers against it. War gives us a distorted sense of self; it gives us meaning.
I.F. Stone had already been blacklisted from the mainstream press for decades when he became the first and only journalist to challenge Lyndon Johnson's veracity on the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident in the Vietnam War. Since no corporate outlet would have him, he'd started his own weekly newsletter, the archives of which can be found here. You might even call him the prototype of the independent blogger, answerable to nobody. His mantra has been largely ignored or forgotten by the sycophantic propagandists of war masquerading as contemporary journalists:
All governments lie, but disaster lies in wait for countries whose officials smoke the same hashish they give out.
See my previous post about smoking and drones. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

But to its credit on this platitude-heavy Memorial Day, the New York Times did use the occasion to finally criticize President Obama's backdoor proposal to modernize our fleet of nukes. As I laid out in a post last month, Obama's actions in this regard once again directly contradict his campaign promises. Here's my own Times comment to help counter today's outbreak of war glorification sentiment:

According to Hans Kristensen of the Federation of Nuclear Scientists, what Obama is proposing is nothing less than the development a stealth nuclear weapons system, every bit as streamlined and precise as his beloved drones, one "that expands the targets you can hold at risk from Europe, because by placing the explosion closer to the target you can choose a lower explosive yield. That is very important as there is less radioactive fallout. For many people this is a great concern because it means making nuclear weapons more 'usable'."
This should be sending a chill right up your spine, especially since there has been little fanfare in the media about this sneaky, deadly backdoor item in the president's budget -- not to mention lack of reaction from leaders of Congress. If they can't even rein in gun violence here at home, I suppose it's too much to ask that they put the kibosh on bigger, deadlier killing machines abroad.
When it comes to maintaining the military-industrial complex, no price is too high, no weapon too lethal, no defense contractor's pocket too deep, no politician too hypocritical.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Might As Well Face It, You're Addicted To Drones

 Yesterday's endless airy words about endless treasury-depleting wars from the Motormouth-in-Chief were last seen hovering somewhere over the blighted heap of waste formerly known as the Motor City. The monstrous rhetoric cloud is now believed to be headed west toward his hometown of Chicago, where nearly 50 public schools in poor neighborhoods are being closed to make room for more profits for real estate developers and the other denizens of the ruling class. From there, it will emphysemically wheeze its way to the site of an interstate bridge collapse in Washington State.

As he exhaled his oratory on the flag-draped stage of National Defense University, Barack Obama sounded like a strung-out rambling addict who grudgingly admits that he should probably cut back on his costly and deadly drugs, but just not yet. Not today. He's still in the bargaining stage. Quitting now would provoke too much tension. He's got plenty of time. He still thinks he's invincible and America is invincible, despite all those pesky little symptoms that keep popping up: crushing poverty, crumbling bridges, and civic rumblings here at home, dismal approval ratings abroad. A condemnation from the United Nations here, blowback there. But right now, he really needs that cigarette, that drink, that snort of coke, that vicarious thrill of the joystick, that puff of smoke, that bugsplat. He promises he'll cut back, though. Really truly he does. Trust him, he says.

I suppose that once you've indulged yourself with the power to kill at will, it must be a very hard habit to break. So let the bargaining and the obfuscation begin. First, the bait and switch -- he'll transfer the drone program from the secretive CIA to the "more accountable" special ops of the Defense Department. I'd say it's like a nicotine fiend trading Camels for Salem Menthol Lights and calling it an embrace of a healthier lifestyle. But Barack is too much into the hard stuff for that analogy. He's more like the guy who promises his concerned family members that from now on, he'll smoke crack in a locked bathroom rather than in the closet of the locked bathroom.

He'll appoint yet another expendable hack to make a list of potential Gitmo transfers. He'll play Santa Claus and check it twice, and then, to great fanfare and self-approbation, repatriate a few emaciated "folks" back over to Yemen. Once there, he'll no doubt secretly arrange for them to be housed with investigative journalist Abdullelah Haider Shaye, whose imprisonment Obama himself orchestrated when the reporter got too nosy and truthy about the women and children getting killed by his drone strikes. 

You see, when Barack Obama says that he loves freedom of the press, he means it in terms of their freedom to take his dictation. But when reporters ask questions of his underlings behind his back? They must be tamped down like one of his cigarettes. Shaye is thrown in jail over there, reporters are frozen out and and spied upon and threatened over here. The second-hand smoke we're allowed to inhale will be of the hygienically filtered variety, the pretense being that selective toxins are safe toxins. Barack Obama is selling you his lethal foreign policy the same way tobacco companies sell you their safe cigarettes.

He'll task another task force to draw up secret plans to set up a secret court to review his secret kill list. He'll appoint the attorney general to look into the same first amendment abuses that the attorney general himself orchestrated. That's the trouble with untreated addiction to a powerful drug. You don't even notice the nightmare quality of your own actions, the fact that your oratorical orifice is now spewing doubletalk. Just a few examples:
 We must define our effort not as a boundless ‘global war on terror’ – but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America.
Translation: Persistent efforts against specific networks the wide world over are different from boundless efforts against the specific networks taken as a whole. We will smoke only one cigarette at a time until we go through the whole pack, but we will never actually admit to smoking the whole pack. That would be unhealthy. Not to mention disgusting!
 But our commitment to constitutional principles has weathered every war, and every war has come to an end.
I may smoke like a chimney, but I eat healthy. Even when my ciggies get sucked down to the nub, I still look great and my teeth still gleam.
Now, this is not to say that the risks are not real. Any U.S. military action in foreign lands risks creating more enemies and impacts public opinion overseas. Moreover, our laws constrain the power of the President even during wartime, and I have taken an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States. The very precision of drone strikes and the necessary secrecy often involved in such actions can end up shielding our government from the public scrutiny that a troop deployment invites. It can also lead a President and his team to view drone strikes as a cure-all for terrorism.
At some level, I know that smoking causes cancer. I know that my second-hand smoke will cause disease and death. I fully accept that there should be some no-smoking areas scattered at wide distances, that even I should honor. But those secretive hidey holes are so damned tempting.
And for this reason, I’ve insisted on strong oversight of all lethal action. After I took office, my administration began briefing all strikes outside of Iraq and Afghanistan to the appropriate committees of Congress. Let me repeat that: Not only did Congress authorize the use of force, it is briefed on every strike that America takes. Every strike.
If I smoke like a fiend and cough in your face and spread my poison, it's because Congress hasn't outlawed cigarettes. Every time I light up, they know or they ought to know. So it's their fault that I can't quit. They know about every strike. Every lucky strike.

I'll never be impeached or tried for war crimes, because then they'd have to impeach themselves. Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld and I are all safe. Now hack away hack away hack away all, and to all a good night.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Quadruple Murder, Government-Style

The New York Times is now in the True Confessions business. In an obviously pre-approved leak immune from DOJ subpoena, the front page article by Charlie Savage can best be described as the warm-up act to tomorrow's killer of a speech by Barack Obama. To soften the Obama shocker for those who've not been paying attention, Attorney General Eric Holder is finally admitting that our government has killed four Americans in drone strikes! One of the homicides, says Holder, was the planned offing of radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.

The other three, including the killing of Awlaki's 16-year-old son, were "not specifically targeted", added Holder. They were apparently in that broad category known as signature strikes, conducted solely on the basis of age, sex, and location, location, location. Nowhere in his May 22 letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee does the AG express regrets for the error. Because, see, it wasn't actually a mistake. In the Orwellian mindset of the Obama Administration, all drone victims are considered guilty unless proven innocent post-mortem. And the administration hasn't yet figured out a way to put dead people on trial. Would they be Mirandized? Would a lawyer be assigned to the corpse if it is unable to afford one?

Holder actually brags about Boss Obama's "unprecedented transparency about how counterterrorism activities are conducted". In his "leaked" May 22 letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, he goes to great lengths insisting that Awlaki was a leader of al-Qaeda, intimately involved in the Underwear Bomber plot and instigator of the Fort Hood shootings by an Army psychiatrist. However, according to Jeremy Scahill's exhaustively researched new book, Dirty Wars, although the cleric was certainly a radical, his radicalization was mainly part of the blowback against post-9/11 American Muslim-baiting and foreign Muslim killing. There is no direct evidence that gives him any leadership role -- let alone membership -- in Al Qaeda.

Nowhere does Holder mention that the erstwhile-respected Awlaki was actually courted by the Bush administration in the days after 9/11 to act as a sane voice of reason against anti-Muslim sentiment, but was later hounded by the FBI, possibly to act as an informant against his fellow Muslims. Awlaki was eventually harassed to the point of leaving the United States. He was ultimately thrown into solitary confinement in a Yemeni jail -- without charge -- at the behest of the Bush administration. The Bushies simply didn't like what they were reading on his anti-American blog, according to Scahill. I am only about a third of the way through this stunning masterpiece of investigative journalism, and can't recommend it highly enough.

Meanwhile, here's my comment to the Savage article:

Ever so conveniently, the "evidence" that Awlaki was anything more than a rabble-rousing blogger remains classified by the government. And if this week's news of the Obama administration's assault on journalism is any indication, any reporter daring to ask a federal employee for a look-see at said evidence will be declared an enemy of the state forthwith.

Holder, who has so speciously proclaimed that the criminal banking cartel is too big to jail, now asks us to blindly accept his rationale for state-sponsored murder. This, while peaceful Americans protesting their own victimization by the criminal banking cartel are being
tased and arrested right outside his office building. Can domestic weaponized drones be that far away?

Truth-telling is being frozen while our government wages secret wars with Hellfire missiles. "Some say the world will end in fire," wrote Robert Frost. "Some say in ice."

From the looks of things, the experiment known as America will end in both, unless more people wake up and take notice of the atrocities being committed in all our names.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Foolish Little Hobgoblin

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines."-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

 Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) has a little mind. He's also a fool. He's a grotesque hobgoblin who doesn't even have the decency to wait for scores of constituent bodies to be dug out of the wreckage before announcing that aid to his state must first be offset by cuts.

 From the Huffington Post:
Coburn spokesman John Hart on Monday evening confirmed that the senator will seek to ensure that any additional funding for tornado disaster relief in Oklahoma be offset by cuts to federal spending elsewhere in the budget. "That's always been his position [to offset disaster aid]," Hart said. "He supported offsets to the bill funding the OKC bombing recovery effort." Those offsets were achieved in 1995 by tapping federal funds that had not yet been appropriated.
You do have to give the guy an A for consistency. Coburn is treating Oklahoma exactly the same way he treats the other 49 states -- with all the sadistic intensity of a Charles Dickens villain. Most recently, he voted against Hurricane Sandy relief and against increasing the FEMA budget.

Emerson, quoted above, was an American contemporary of Dickens and the pacifistic founder of Transcendentalism. But ironically, he has become co-opted by the anti-government Tea Party movement, which in turn has been co-opted with great success by the Koch Brothers/Fox News oligarchic cult of selfishness now being represented by Coburn & Co. The famous line about consistency being the hobgoblin of little minds is from the essay called Self-Reliance, written as an anti-government rallying cry for independent thought. But the Tom Coburns of the world have now twisted Emersonian philosophy into a rallying cry for slashing the social safety net, for urging Americans to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and pull themselves out of the rubble, whether it be natural or created by the global financial Mafia. Emerson's emphasis on the spiritual over the scientific also fits in nicely with the creed of climate change denialism and the anti-intellectualism being peddled by the right wing in order to keep the heaving masses in their place and the plutocracy on its perch.

In a New York Times Magazine essay published in late 2011, Benjamin Anastas actually went so far as to blame Emerson himself for the rise of pathological right-wing selfishness: 
The excessive love of individual liberty that debases our national politics? It found its original poet in Ralph Waldo. The plague of devices that keep us staring into the shallow puddle of our dopamine reactions, caressing our touch screens for another fix of our own importance? That’s right: it all started with Emerson’s “Self-Reliance.” Our fetish for the authentically homespun and the American affliction of ignoring volumes of evidence in favor of the flashes that meet the eye, the hunches that seize the gut? It’s Emerson again, skulking through Harvard Yard in his cravat and greasy undertaker’s waistcoat, while in his mind he’s trailing silken robes fit for Zoroaster and levitating on the grass.
That's quite a stretch. Blaming Emerson for the rise of John Galt is like blaming Jesus for the rise of the Christian right. The Tom Coburns of the world have always pretended to love Christianity at the same time they've thumbed their noses at the radical socialism of its founder.
It's not even about the individual liberty they profess to love. It's about their pathological love of money, and making sure that once it's confiscated from the national treasury, it finds its way into the right plutocratic pockets. It's all about their pathological hatred of humanity.

The risk of tornadoes remains high in Oklahoma today. The risk to Oklahomans of the toxic stormcloud known as Tom Coburn will remain elevated for the foreseeable future, until that magical day when they come to their senses and send him on a one-way transcendental trajectory to somewhere over the political oblivion rainbow.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The United States Government vs.The People of the United States

This just in, from the same government watchdog group (Center for Media and Democracy) which exposed the nefarious machinations of the corporate state's American Legislative Exchange Council:

On May 20, 2013, DBA Press and the Center for Media and Democracy 
released the results of a year-long investigation: "Dissent or Terror:
 How the Nation's Counter Terrorism Apparatus, In Partnership With 
Corporate America, Turned on Occupy Wall Street.”

 The report, a distillation of thousands of pages of records obtained
 from counter terrorism/law enforcement agencies, details how
 state/regional "fusion center" personnel monitored the Occupy Wall
 Street movement over the course of 2011 and 2012.
The report also examines how fusion centers and other counter terrorism entities that 
have emerged since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 have
 worked to benefit numerous corporations engaged in public-private
 intelligence sharing partnerships. 

While the report examines many instances of fusion center monitoring
 of Occupy activists nationwide, the bulk of the report 
details how counter terrorism personnel engaged in the Arizona Counter
 Terrorism Information Center (ACTIC, commonly known as the "Arizona fusion center") monitored and otherwise surveilled citizens active in
 Occupy Phoenix, and how this surveillance benefited a number of 
corporations and banks that were subjects of Occupy Phoenix protest activity. 

While small glimpses into the governmental monitoring of the Occupy Wall Street movement have emerged in the past, there has not been any reporting -- until now -- that details the breadth and depth with which the nation's post-September 11, 2001 counter terrorism apparatus has been applied to politically engaged citizens exercising their Constitutionally-protected First Amendment rights.
I haven't read through the lengthy report yet, but the key takeaway from the synopsis is that (surprise!) corporations and government are one and the same entity. We're not in danger of becoming a fascist state: we're already there. Electoral politics is just the thin veneer that gives an ever-dwindling number of us the illusion that we still exist in a representative, participatory democracy.

This report chillingly coincides with the recent revelations that not only did the Obama Administration illegally seize the phone records of the Associated Press in a brazen effort to stifle the flow of information in the name of "national security", but that it also plans to prosecute journalists for the non-crime of attempting to solicit information from government sources. (We actually got a clue about this defacto policy during the Occupy crackdowns, when reporters had their cameras seized and their bodies thrown in jail to prevent their witnessing police brutality against the camps.) Our leaders have criminalized the First Amendment, and are casting a wide totalitarian net over whistleblowers and protesters and news organizations. They don't want their secrets revealed, because they don't want to be shamed and disempowered. They know that negative revelations will only create more dissent, more blowback from the victims of both capitalist predation at home and of imperialistic occupations abroad.

To the power elites, we are the enemy.The terrorist label can be applied to any one of us, at any time.

The Washington Post yesterday broke the story that the Justice Department may actually end up criminally charging the chief Washington correspondent for Fox News (!) based simply upon his asking questions about North Korea of a State Department official. As Glenn Greenwald lays out,
Under US law, it is not illegal to publish classified information. That fact, along with the First Amendment's guarantee of press freedoms, is what has prevented the US government from ever prosecuting journalists for reporting on what the US government does in secret. This newfound theory of the Obama DOJ - that a journalist can be guilty of crimes for "soliciting" the disclosure of classified information - is a means for circumventing those safeguards and criminalizing the act of investigative journalism itself. These latest revelations show that this is not just a theory but one put into practice, as the Obama DOJ submitted court documents accusing a journalist of committing crimes by doing this.
That same "solicitation" theory, as the New York Times reported back in 2011, is the one the Obama DOJ has been using to justify its ongoing criminal investigation of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange: that because Assange solicited or encouraged Manning to leak classified information, the US government can "charge [Assange] as a conspirator in the leak, not just as a passive recipient of the documents who then published them." When that theory was first disclosed, I wrote that it would enable the criminalization of investigative journalism generally.
All of this coincides, too, with the next installment in the series of Obama's grandiloquent exercises in opaque transparency. In a speech scheduled for Thursday, he will attempt to justify his World is a Battlefield agenda, including his rationale for targeted drone strike assassinations and keeping people imprisoned without charge or trial for over a decade at Gitmo.

To get yourselves prepared for the coming onslaught of propaganda, here are two more must-reads:

First, Marcy Wheeler has taken the time to formulate a chilling day-by-day timeline of the White House's recent campaign of secrecy and subterfuge as prelude to the Big Speech.

And then, the indispensable Chris Hedges advises us that surrender is not an option, bluntly predicting that we either rise up, or we die.  

I hope it's a nice sunny spring day where you live, whatever your geographical location in the great global Disposition Matrix.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

A Balanced Approach to Sadism

Studies show that government austerity policies are actually killing people, and that record poverty is immiserating at least one in five American families. Most, if not all of them, qualify for some sort of government aid. So, what do you think the House of Representatives will do about the crisis of poverty in America?

Believe it or not, Democratic leaders are willing to compromise with th GOP majority in a move to cut more than $20 billion from the food stamp program (now known as SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.) This is on top of the $4 billion cut already approved by the Senate. Those upper-crust Dems certainly saved the day, given that Tea Party sweetheart Rand Paul had hoped to destroy the food stamp program altogether.

 If snatching food from the mouths of children is what it takes to ram another agribusiness-subsidizing, corporate welfare farm bill through Congress, then so be it. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has reportedly signalled her willingness to whip her caucus into a balanced approach to cruelty, in order to meet the GOP Hate Machine halfway. Hungry people will be put on the table rather than having enough food on their table.

 Meanwhile, about 400,000 tons of refined sugar will continue to be subsidized by taxpayers. The politicians must reckon it'll help the austerity medicine go down, or something. Who knows what they're thinking, or even if they're thinking at all.

 And in order to sweeten the deal with the Republican nihilists even further, Democrats are also willing to decouple home heating assistance from food stamp approvals, thus forcing applicants to jump through more hoops to qualify for both programs. (currently, acceptance in one program automatically enrolls you in the other.) This will steer more federal dollars away from the poor,  because fewer people will even realize that they're qualified for both programs.

 Putting one over on struggling people is, unbelievably, giving our supposedly liberal politicians deficit bragging rights.That the austerity prescription has now proven to be snake oil for economic growth is a moot point, because the sadism is not only addictive, it has a long half-life. It produces a toxin that is very slow to excrete from the collective political brain, be it Democrat or Republican.

And so it is that Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN), considers it "indefensible" that some of his fellow Democrats selfishly don't want to cut "even a penny" of SNAP benefits during this time of record unemployment and underemployment and wage stagnation. "I think that's a ridiculous position," he peevishly snapped at a press conference on Friday.

Very silly indeed, when you take a look at some of Peterson's campaign contributions in the past year: (source: Center for Responsive Politics.)

Contributor                                           Total      Indivs      PACs

American Farm Bureau$17,500  $0$17,500
National Rural Electric Cooperative Assn$12,500$0$12,500
American Crystal Sugar$12,000$2,000$10,000
Land O'Lakes$10,500$500$10,000
AG Processing$10,000$0$10,000

Top 5 Industries, 2011-2012, Campaign Cmte

Crop Production & Basic Processing$207,818$53,986$153,832
Agricultural Services/Products$159,000$5,000$154,000
Food Processing & Sales$47,500$1,000$46,500
Forestry & Forest Products$34,500$0$34,500

When you consider that the Farm Bill is worth $940 billion, those campaign contributors to Rep. Peterson are certainly getting a lot of bang for their relatively puny bucks, wouldn't you say? I mean, only $12,000 from a sugar company that stands to share in an $80 millionbailout from the American taxpayer? Sweet. (sorry, I couldn't help it)

Meanwhile, from the Feeding America public policy group,  here are the grim statistics which show that cutting "even a penny" from SNAP will cause a world of pain for the struggling people who depend on it:
76% of SNAP households included a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person. These vulnerable households receive 83% of all SNAP benefits.
SNAP eligibility is limited to households with gross income of no more than 130% of the federal poverty guideline, but the majority of households have income well below the maximum: 83% of SNAP households have gross income at or below 100% of the poverty guideline ($19,530 for a family of 3 in 2013), and these households receive about 91% of all benefits. 61% of SNAP households have gross income at or below 75% of the poverty guideline ($14,648 for a family of 3 in 2013).
The average SNAP household has a gross monthly income of $744; net monthly income of $338 after the standard deduction and, for certain households, deductions for child care, medical expenses, and shelter costs; and countable resources of $331, such as a bank account.

It's pretty despicable that Pelosi and the Democrats are negotiating any food stamp cuts at all, given that sequestration has already threatened the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program (WIC) and other anti-poverty programs. And, the fact that so many liberal politicians and celebrities have taken what's called the "food stamp challenge" and discovered that it's very hard to survive on an average $30 weekly grocery stipend, makes it downright stupefying that they are not demanding that benefits be increased. Most people run out of SNAP benefits by the third week of every month. They go hungry, or if they're lucky enough to live near a food bank or soup kitchen that hasn't closed, they avail themselves of that shredding safety net as well. 

The stupefaction doesn't end with both parties merely bickering over whether people should literally starve, or simply go on a starvation diet.

Here is a scandal the corporate media are not talking about: JP Morgan Chase, which administers the EBT card program for SNAP recipients in some states, is just one of the corporations mightily profiting from the poverty of others. CEO Jamie Dimon even has the chutzpah to charge a quarter every time clients check their dwindling balances, making sure there's enough money left in Week Three for a quart of milk for the kids. In New York State alone, this too-big-to-fail/jail bank was awarded more than $125 million for handling SNAP debit cards. In Montana, for some strange reason, defense contractor Northrup Grumman was awarded the debit card food stamp contract. If I were a betting woman, I'd wager that some level of bribery was at play in order to magically transform a defense contractor into a safety net facilitator.

Naturally, not one politician is suggesting that these profiteers of penury take a cut of their own. And that's the unkindest cut of all.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Whither Progressivism?

by Fred Drumlevitch

(cross-posted from

Why do we blog? Do progressive political bloggers and the more structured progressive information sources matter, in the context of contemporary mainstream media’s massive footprint? What is the nature of mainstream media’s betrayal of democracy? How are mathematical models of infection relevant to dissent? Most important, what is to be done to advance progressivism? Those seemingly diverse questions are in fact intimately related, and can provide useful guidance as we strive to reverse the decades-long deterioration of the national social compact.

Bloggers: Pissed Is Prologue

It is apparent that serious political bloggers (and online commenters, as well) do so for a wide variety of reasons that may include the honing of one’s thoughts that hopefully results from formally presenting them, the desire for full control over their exposition, and the benefits of dialogue with like-minded individuals and rational opponents who may be quite dispersed geographically. Some old-fashioned idealism, a dash of ego, a hogshead of outrage, and a visceral appreciation for that old A. J. Liebling quip that “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one” might also be involved! We believe that we have an inalienable right to make our voices heard with regard to the governance of this country, and that right includes frequent and detailed expression if desired, not simply a largely co-optive vote every few years. We hope, in bits and bytes, for at least a modicum of influence with regard to the future of the nation.

Truth be told, though, the average independent blogger/commenter’s audience is minuscule, and even those that are most widely read reach an audience orders of magnitude smaller than that influenced by mass media’s “news” coverage and pundits. Worse yet, we are often “preaching to the choir”, addressing a self-selected group of generally similar-thinking people; much the same might be said about the more traditional progressive sources. In the parlance of an infectious disease political analogy, our contact rate is low, and mostly with those already “infected” with our political opinions — and that will not do much to further the spread of progressivism.

An aside: While the analogy of dissent in general and progressivism in particular as a communicable infection may initially be a bit off-putting, it ultimately should not be. A related metaphor is already in common use, the rapid spread of information being labeled “viral”. If an “infection”, progressivism is a beneficial one that immunizes people against the pustulant selfishness currently widespread among American right-wingers, much as cowpox protects against smallpox. If progressivism is an infection, I’m thankful to be infected. I assert that such a model is analytically useful even when the spread is not rapid, and has not — yet — produced an “epidemic” of rebellion.

Mass Media: Memory Holes and Burial Mounds

Moving on, well, what about the mainstream media as vector for progressivism? Here, we encounter other issues relevant to the control of information flow, and therefore to the control of dissent: unwarranted trust, and the low signal-to-noise ratio and high structural biases of modern Western mass media.

Despite the wide availability of alternative information sources in the Western democracies, the relative influence of accurate, bona fide alternative sources, measured across the still-important broad political middle of the population, may not be that much greater here than under authoritarian regimes. This occurs because some of the alternatives are not what they seem, and because the mainstream media in the democracies, inadequate though it may be, retains enough credibility with the bulk of the populace to maintain its dominance despite the many alternatives available.

That dominance comes at great cost to our society. Certainly, it is obvious to the thoughtful citizen that adequate coverage by the mass media of important problems and progressive solutions does not occur; the scant reporting of the Congressional Progressive Caucus budget proposals and of Senator Bernie Sanders’ trenchant analyses — even by the New York Times, the supposed U.S. “newspaper of record” — stand as clear examples. Even Paul Krugman, avowed liberal columnist for that paper, admitted on April 22, 2011 in his NYT “The Conscience of a Liberal” blog to inadequate coverage of the Progressive Caucus “People’s Budget”; he did mention it favorably two days later in his regular column at the paper, but never again referred to it by name within the Times. Nancy Folbre, of the University of Massachusetts, writing July 18, 2011 in the NYT “Economix” blog also noted the poor coverage of it by the Times, and elsewhere.

More recent coverage remains similarly deficient. The Progressive Caucus’ subsequent budget proposal, the fiscal year 2013 “Budget for All”, was released March 26, 2012. According to my own searches, done May 12, 2013 using LexisNexis, Google, and site-specific search tools, this moderately-progressive budget alternative has in the more than a year since its release received no formal news coverage or analysis whatsoever from the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, or USA Today, all “top-ten” newspapers based on U.S. circulation data. Upon release, it was superficially looked at in the Washington Post’s “2Chambers” blog of March 26, 2012. As commenter “kwilson4” succinctly noted there on April 1, 2012: “Ryan's budget got news stories in this paper. This budget is mentioned in a blog. Hardly balanced coverage. What gives?” There would be neither answer nor improved coverage from the Post. The only other (and very brief) mention of the “Budget for All” in that paper was in their “Wonkblog” of November 21, 2012. The CPC’s later and more limited “Deal for All”, House Resolution 733, was the subject of an August 1, 2012 photo and caption, and an op-ed piece by Congressman Keith Ellison on November 18, 2012, both in USA Today (and neither indexed by LexisNexis). An online column by Katrina vanden Heuvel at the Washington Post on December 31, 2012 made passing reference to that “Deal for All”. And Greg Sargent penned a WaPo opinion column February 5, 2013 on the CPC’s more recent “The Balancing Act” proposal, H.R. 505 (summary, full bill). Then, on March 14, 2013, the CPC’s just-released FY2014 “Back to Work” budget was referred to briefly by Paul Krugman in his NYT column and in more detail by Jamelle Bouie and Ezra Klein in two blogs at the Washington Post — with Klein beginning favorably, but pivoting to deride it as a “fantasyland” … “analogue to Ryan’s budget”. The New York Times editorial board gave this latest CPC budget a one-sentence derogatory reference in a March 15, 2013 editorial, columnist David Brooks devoted his March 18 NYT opinion column to lambasting it, and the Times referred to it in a March 20 article focused on House of Representatives budgetary polemics — all three assiduously avoiding mention of the CPC budget’s actual name. A Washington Post opinion column by Katrina vanden Heuvel on March 19 did a good job of advocating for it, while the Post’s Plum Line blog of March 19 references that vanden Heuvel column and adds one sentence of comment. And an article in the Los Angeles Times on March 20 (not indexed by LexisNexis) gave it one sentence of superficial description after its defeat in the House. These citations constitute the full extent of more than thirteen and a half months “coverage” by the above-referenced “journalistic” enterprises of all CPC budget proposals released since March 26, 2012. In contrast, a Lexis-Nexis search for co-occurrences of “budget” and (“Paul Ryan” or “Paul D. Ryan”) at those same four publications during the same March 26, 2012 – May 12, 2013 period produces a total of 1285 hits. And the Obama budget released April 10, 2013, which violates basic principles of progressivism (and morality), has already received extensive favorable coverage from those newspapers. Lastly, let us not forget the 2012 presidential election, where Jill Stein, Rocky Anderson, and all other third-party candidates were barred from the televised debates, and virtually ignored by the mainstream media not only during the campaign but even in defeat. My November 7 examination of the web sites for the New York Times, the PBS NewsHour, and the news divisions of NBC, ABC, CBS, and FOX, found national vote totals for the third-party presidential candidates only at CBS News.

The conclusion is inescapable: For the majority of the populace that does not take the initiative to actively seek out reputable alternative information sources, mainstream media’s minimal to non-existent coverage of progressive thought effectively equates to suppression. In our “kinder-and-gentler” megacorporation-run, advertising-sponsored information tyranny, no “ministry of information” directives prohibit certain coverage. No reporters are brutally “disappeared”. But the effect of the invisible hand is much the same.

In fact, mass media’s poor coverage of politics and other issues of great importance is, in some ways, worse than nothing. The trivial is abundant, and the most absurd far-right claptrap is presented with a frequency and deference unwarranted by any objective standard — while actually being fully explainable. Much of it may be understood as part deliberate noise component that obscures the signal of rational and moral solutions, part strongly-repeated Social-Darwinistic/ pro-business/ authoritarian/ militaristic/ jingoistic/ xenophobic content that seeks to phase-lock the populace to its reactionary paradigms. In 1956, the Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev ranted at the West “We will bury you”. He did not succeed, but the mainstream media of our modern so-called democracies has. That mainstream media, in its service to corporate, plutocratic, military, and governmental interests, has adopted a highly effective interment strategy with regard to progressive solutions to national problems, burying them under a never-ending flow of distracting rubbish and manipulative falsehoods. (For an in-depth look at this process, see the classic “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media”, 2002 updated edition, by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky). Progressivism has been thoroughly marginalized via domination, distraction, dilution, and distortion, the four horsemen of a disinformation apocalypse. Returning to the communicable infection analogy, both the absolute amount and relative strength of the infectious progressivist agent have been much reduced, thus greatly reducing the rate of transmission.

Under those conditions, waiting for progressive thought to passively spread to the majority of the American people is as futile as waiting for Reagan-inspired economic trickle-down to occur. The megacorporate mainstream media will not voluntarily assist — indeed, as I have argued, it is often an impediment — though profit considerations and fear of audience desertion may push them to anemically follow once a trend becomes too big to ignore. And the universe of progressive bloggers, websites, and traditional alternative press, alone or together, cannot solve the problem. In the United States, these elements have managed to communicate to a significant minority of the populace the ideological foundations for progressive opposition, plus important news and encouragement, but they have not remade the political landscape.

What Is To Be Done: Overall Strategy

A rational analysis suggests that a multi-pronged strategy is necessary, the first part of which is that progressivism should be actively communicated to all potentially receptive citizens. And one size does not fit all. We need a wide spectrum of information dissemination and involvement, ranging from modern electronic methods to old-fashioned leafleting and broadsides, picketing, marches, direct co-worker and neighbor engagement, broader organization, satire, and yes, even the theatrical absurdity, carnival-barkery of the late-1960s Yippie movement. We have begun to see those things episodically, and hopefully they will grow; in any season, the nation would certainly benefit from an “American Spring” rebuttal to the authorities’ anti-democratic efforts to quash visible protest.

But for the progressive message to be considered relevant by the broader target audience, it must be coupled with substantial progressive actions — serious electoral challenges by authentically-progressive candidates, unrelenting pressure by progressives on core issues such as adequate and fair taxation, proper national spending priorities, a livable minimum wage, the protection of civil liberties, and restraints on U.S. militarism both abroad and as expressed in corollary form by domestic law enforcement. We also need a broad range of other actions including the development of non-governmental institutions beneficial to the people and the movement (as suggested in Michael Kazin’s September 25, 2011 New York Times op-ed “Whatever Happened to the American Left?”). The breadth and depth of the national systemic rot necessitates a wide diversity of nonviolent actions both inside and outside of the system, vigorously pursued irrespective of which persons or parties hold political power.

Yet in all of that strategizing, there exists a significant paradox, game theory 101: A logical plan and extensive groundwork may well be a recipe for defeat, for the movement does not operate in a political vacuum, and every day the reactionary right acts in a multitude of venues to consolidate and extend its multi-decade dominance and looting of the nation. The seemingly-beneficial strategy of strengthening progressive foundations will actually be counterproductive if we excessively delay the actions that should arise from the foundations, or if enhanced foundations can be easily neutralized. We need to act accordingly.

Therein lay the genius of “Occupy”: finally, dramatic popular democratic action that hadn’t been expected, accompanied by a narrative at least part of which resonated quite broadly — a currency of protest, made current. Occupy melded action, education, consciousness-raising, solidarity, resistance to co-optation, unpredictability, and media spectacle. Even that combination, however, is insufficient to guarantee victory, particularly in the context of a mass media that shirks its duty to investigate and inform and an American public that has been extensively brainwashed into the meme of unfettered capitalism. As noted by Chris Hedges a year and a half ago (“Occupiers Have to Convince the Other 99 Percent”, at Truthdig, October 24, 2011), the bulk of the American people do not consider themselves to be even liberal, let alone leftist; they often view those political philosophies as alien by reason of style and ideology, or discredited by past accommodation and ineffectiveness. But one must be careful to not take away an incorrect conclusion from that. While a better political education of the public in the value of true progressivism would be desirable, it should never be forgotten that to act is semantically implicit in the word activism, and that to delay action until some supposed necessary fraction of the populace has first been thoroughly schooled in progressivism is simply a prescription for permanent impotence. Drawing upon an old metaphor, I would say that the workers of the world aren’t much impressed to hear yet again that they have nothing to lose but their chains; they could, however, be responsive to clear evidence of timely actions to help free them. Or to put matters in a more modern way (and as any salesperson can attest): Interest in a product is not sustainable if there are no signs that the product will be available within a reasonable time frame. We need to bring some examples of the product to market now. The most impressive argument for progressivism would be progressivism’s dynamic, determined, contemporary actions in support of the people — and there are countless ways that such desired actions could find expression.

What Is To Be Done: Let’s Get Specific

“Occupy” made a good start, and showed that strategy and tactics should include an amorphous and unpredictable component. However, I believe that achieving progressivism’s ultimate goal of an equitable, just, and humane society requires a greater current focus on a strategically-chosen set of more proximate goals, plus crystal-clear relevance, a broader permanent base, a diversity and flexibility of tactics yet resolute firmness with regard to goals large or small. None of that should surprise — it was the playbook of the African-American Civil Rights Movement during the time of its greatest gains, and such a strategy is needed once again, this time in the service of broader public needs, as Martin Luther King, Jr. and others envisioned. If social justice and economic justice are fundamental human rights as we claim, surely they merit, right now, specific substantive widely-supportable truly-non-negotiable demands, and concerted nonviolent action in furtherance of those demands, not merely the expression of anger or general yearnings that history indicates will likely permit continued co-optation and suppression by the traditional power structure.

In the near term, the most pressing item on the agenda must be to block all moves by the wealth-lackey Social-Darwinist Republicans and spineless complicit Democrats to cut social spending as even a partial response to the contrived crisis of the “fiscal cliff” and its sequelae. Members of the poor and middle classes have for decades been losing ground not only relative to the wealthy but also in comparison to their same-class historical peers, particularly when costs such as higher education, health care, and retirement are included. Note, though, that with regard to the poor, the argument needn’t — shouldn’t — be based solely upon a relative decline. By absolute measures, many in this country live under conditions of appalling deprivation that should shame the well-off who clamor for reduced taxes and cuts to government-funded social services. The bottom line is that our less-fortunate citizens bear little or no responsibility for our national economic problems, and it is patently unjust — actually, immoral — for them to be expected to bear any of the burden of economic remedies.

We must also effect a transformation of the very nature of the U.S. national economy, both governmental spending as well as the spending that comprises the rest of our economy.

Substantial cuts to our bloated military spending should be front and center in any attempts to reform U.S. governmental finances. It is often stated by progressives that U.S. military spending exceeds that of the next fifteen or so countries combined. Less well publicized is what that military spending would buy for this country and its people if applied to more rational and moral uses. The tradeoff is astounding, far in excess of the even-then high costs that President Eisenhower cited in his April 16, 1953 “The Chance for Peace” speech. At that time, Eisenhower equated the cost of one fighter plane to one-half million bushels of wheat. (Note: Eisenhower’s reference to one-half million bushels of wheat could not have been the lower flyaway cost (marginal cost), which for the F-86D, the most expensive F-86 variant/derivative operational at the time of his speech, was at 1953 prices the equivalent of only about 183,000 bushels of wheat. So he was probably referencing full life-cycle costs). Now, the procurement cost of the modern F-35B/C is an estimated $237 million per planenearly thirty-four million bushels of wheat (at May 10, 2013 closing prices for May futures) — with the estimated life-cycle cost even higher, $618 millionmore than 88 million bushels — per plane, and $1.51 trillion for the entire F-35 program216 BILLION bushels of wheat at current prices! (Time Magazine in its U.S. December 3, 2012 issue incorrectly reported the F-35B cost at $160 million apiece, and $400 billion for the whole program; the New York Times in a November 29 article incorrectly reported cost per plane as $137 million, and total program cost as $396 billion. All those lower (but still massive) costs appear to be based on outdated and/or optimistic estimates of both the flyaway cost and R&D costs, both of which have already ballooned far more than the GAO and the Pentagon have been willing to admit. Most important, though, is that the vast majority of mainstream media references have grossly under-stated the true cost by ignoring all operating costs).  Calculate some relevant equivalencies — in health care, education, physical infrastructure, social services, environmental preservation and restoration — and then talk up — no, shout, scream — all the various numbers, as loudly and as often as possible, so that the obscene opportunity costs of our national militarism can be brought to the forefront of public consciousness. U.S. military spending should be significantly reduced, and it can be, without harm to either our national security or economy. The military spending reductions mandated by “sequestration” are actually only a tiny fraction of the much more substantial military cuts that should begin now and continue over at least several years. Worth noting is that an 89% cut in U.S. military spending occurred post-WWII, 1948 vs. 1945, and that very large cut, even at a time when military spending comprised a much greater percentage of our GDP than it does now, did not cause our economy to collapse. Rather, it heralded an era when our industry would greatly increase output of products that our populace needed and wanted.

As to the non-governmental portion of our economy, much of it has failed both the nation and the people. While so-called conservatives continually denounce the government for its supposed distortions of what they see as an otherwise wondrous free market, the truth of the matter is that our most damaging systemic distortions originate with inadequately-regulated capitalism itself, and include: reckless financial system speculation and other misuses of capital; unfair advantage resulting from information differentials; anti-competitive domination by a small number of large corporations in many economic sectors; subjugation of labor leading to the exploitation, endangerment, and even deaths of workers; off-shoring and outsourcing destructive of individuals and communities; sophisticated manipulation of consumer demand via advertising; and countless instances of environmental damage, the costs of which are not borne by the perpetrators. All of this is greatly exacerbated by business’ subversion of democratic political processes through undue influence over politicians and by concurrent marginalization of opposition viewpoints. Not only are fundamental global, national, and human needs not being beneficially addressed by contemporary capitalism, they are often very much worsened by it. As FDR understood (but many contemporary capitalists do not), governmental policies and regulations reining in the excesses of capitalism and promoting basic social and economic justice do not harm capitalism, they assist its survival.

Fundamental changes to that non-governmental segment are necessary. The excessive political influence of corporations effected through advertising and political contributions must be ended; corporations are not people, and artificial economic constructs should not have the free speech or other rights of individuals. An increase of the minimum wage to living levels would permit those at the bottom of our economy to live with a measure of dignity. Progressive import tariffs based on the degree to which trans-border businesses negatively externalize costs would partially counter the current “race to the bottom” in worker compensation and environmental degradation caused by so-called “free trade”. Our present tax revenues being wholly inadequate to correcting the well-documented needs in this nation, particularly in the context of American capitalism’s inherent dedication to maximizing its own profit regardless of societal costs, we need a much more progressive domestic tax structure with some significant (but certainly bearable) tax increases on the well-off, on capital gains, on corporate profits, and most of all, on financial system transactions (especially for short-term holdings, which cannot with any honesty be called socially-useful investments). This would not only help fund government-directed infrastructure and social programs, it would also discourage the non-productive speculation that has become rampant in modern capitalism. The stick can be accompanied by carrots: a concomitant expansion of tax credits and subsidies for individual and business activities that responsibly address true needs could provide a modest financial incentive to “do the right thing”, as well as promote a competitive diversity of approaches to remedy our problems. (Caveat: Strong controls are absolutely essential to prevent inter-governmental “bidding wars” and other abusive manipulations by business of governmental incentives such as were detailed in New York Times articles in-print December 2, 3, and 4, 2012). A further benefit of an economic restructuring that increases our focus on true needs and genuine desires is that such an economy would be more resistant to recession.

For the long term, none of these issues should even require debate. Our fundamental human rights, as well as the obligations of government, the corporations, and the wealthy, to both the nation and the people, should all be legally codified via new Constitutional foundations — a twenty-first century Bill of Rights that establishes a framework for a rational and moral social contract. However, the degree to which our older Bill of Rights has been shredded during the past decade by deceptive or demagogic politicians aided by reactionary courts and a complicit mainstream press suggests that serious sociopolitical activism will always be necessary.

The great mass of ordinary Americans must escape the abattoir of mainstream-media-assisted co-optive American politics — where we are first herded to a place of individual and collective paralysis; then drained of our hopes, dreams, and future; carved up into manipulable political-demographic chunks; and finally rendered completely powerless. Genuinely-liberating transformative action is essential, and time is short.

Copyright: Fred Drumlevitch
Fred Drumlevitch blogs irregularly at

He can be reached at FredDrumlevitch12345(at)

(Fred asks that Sardonicky readers also leave comments at his blog.)